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Everton Preview: 3 Points Please

After enduring eight days of utter boredom, we are now faced with the prospect of two league matches within four days. Hurrah hurrah.

I am sure the players would have welcomed the opportunity to rest and recharge, as we’d played four games in sixteen days prior to this break. However, we are on a winning run at the moment, and there’s concern that our momentum will be lost. The team needs to be aware of this and focus from the very outset.

We have taken maximum points from a tough fixture list over the past month. After Everton tonight, we host Villa at home on Saturday. In the same period, Chelsea meet Man City and Spurs host Stoke tonight, with Spurs visiting Stamford Bridge at the weekend.

If we win the next two, and with favorable results in the Spurs and Chelsea matches, there is a distinct possibility of leapfrogging into third place, even cementing it with a gap to fourth.

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. The important thing is to win our games and if other results fall our way, well, that’s an added bonus.

The worrying thing is that we’ve shipped the first goal in all of the last four league games. While we’ve shown a fantastic never-die attitude to come back and win all of them, sooner of later we’ll drop points if we keep conceding first.

Especially against the fourth tightest defense in the Premier League. Only Liverpool, Manchester United and Manchester City have conceded less goals than Everton this season. If we do go behind, we’ll be chasing the game against a very organised defensive unit.

It is definitely Attack vs Defense tonight. As much as Everton have been miserly in conceding goals, they have also struggled to find the net themselves. Only Wigan and Stoke have scored less than the Toffees. On the other hand, the Gunners are the third most prolific in front of goal.

I expect the same starting XI from the Newcastle game, bar one change:

Szczesny
Sagna – Koscielny – Vermaelen – Santos
Song – Arteta – Rosicky
Walcott – The Ox
RvP

I feel Arsene will choose to bring in the experience of Andre Santos at left back. Gibbs has not been at his defensive best since returning, often getting caught upfield and not tracking back quickly enough. He was at fault for Newcastle’s opener as well, allowing Hatem Ben Arfa to turn on to his favored left foot and beat Szczesny at the near post.

Earlier in the season, the Brazilian looked like a defensive disaster waiting to happen. But he’s made up for that with some good performances since that second half at Stamford Bridge. Yes, he lacks the pace of the young Englishman. But his reading of the game, anticipation and positional awareness is excellent and his tackling is clean. Importantly, he will pose a much bigger attacking threat down the left side.

Up front, RvP will need to weave his magic to get past the impressive Distin. Walcott, on current form, should provide a stiff test for Leighton Baines, while the Ox will look to trouble Phil Neville. If we bring our best game, the front three should have enough to fashion more than a few opportunities.

In midfield, the key for Arsenal will be retaining possession and moving the ball quickly. Song will be charged with closing Pienaar down and disrupting play, while Arteta will look to get the better of his former teammate Fellaini in keeping Arsenal’s passing game flowing.

Speaking of Arteta, my appreciation of the Spaniard (see yesterday’s post) is shared by the manager. Arsene called him a ‘quiet hero’ yesterday, and had some nice words for the midfield man:

I believe he is a winner and a fighter as well. I think he possesses both aspects of the game of a real midfielder – that means he can defend and he can attack. That is what we looked for.

He is expected to receive a warm welcome at his former club, which he deserves. After all, his best years have been given to Everton and I think the supporters will be aware of that. Mikel also seems to be a very likeable guy, so I do not expect much abuse to be directed at him.

Here’s hoping for a great game of football. If not, a 1-0 will do just fine.

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