After a less than impressive showing in the 4th round of the FA Cup on Sunday the Arsenal host the Toffees at Ashburton Grove tonight in one of a seemingly interminable series of “must win” league fixtures. After two helpings of Yorkshire pudding the FA Cup will now allow us to sample some jellied eels at Brisbane Road.
Our opponents tonight are Everton, who’s club motto translates to “Nothing but the best is good enough” and their semi-official nick name is “The people’s club” as given to them by the present manager. David Moyes being another dour Scotsman in charge of a multi-league title winning north western club(Everton have been Champions of the old First Division nine times although in the Premier League their best finish has been 4th) – it would be interesting to learn just why they see themselves as “The people’s club”; I can only imagine it’s some slight on their red neighbours at Anfield for having a more international fan base.
Further in the past Everton have also been called the “School of Science” although the physical and bludgeoning style of play they adopted to win their last honour, the FA Cup in 1995, saw them given the tag “The dogs of war.”
Everton will be arriving in London on the back of a draw against the “Bus stop in Fulham” in their FA Cup tie (the day before our game against Huddersfield) where they were without their top scorer in Tim Cahill. Having been on Asia Cup duty on Sunday it is doubtful if he will play due to a combination of jet lag and fatigue which will probably rule him out. “The Bus stop in Fulham” team having been busy in spending cash in the January transfer window in such a manner as to make their Chief Exec’s claim on breaking even in the near future seem even more ludicrous than usual.
Cahill has scored 9 league goals this season, with the next highest number of league goals being 3, scored by Seamus Coleman, Mikel Arteta and ex-Leeds Jermaine Beckford. Cahill aside Everton’s strikers have failed to score consistently so one would expect them to continue to struggle in front of goal without their Australian spear head.
Aside from Cahill the Toffees will have no absent first teamers with the departure of Pienaar to the Stratford Wanderers being the only major change the opposition will have to make to their first XI from the return fixture.
Back then Arsenal prevailed with a 2-1 win in November, a victory which though hard fought was more comfortable than the score line suggests as the Everton goal was scored in the 89th minute.
In the league Everton have drawn their last two games and beaten the aforementioned Stratford Wanderers in the game before; they now sit 14th in the table, with an overall 5 wins, 12 draws and 6 losses in all league games. By way of comparison we are in 2nd place due to 14 wins, 4 draws and 5 losses.
An enforced change to Arsenal will be the loss of the Squid for one match due to his red card on Sunday; however it was highly likely that our current preferred centre back pairing would have started tonight anyway, namely Johan and Kozzer as the congestion in the top 3 spots of the Premier League allows us no leeway in terms of potentially dropped points.
On the assumption that Sagna is recovered from the concussion suffered in the second leg of the Carling Cup semi-final against Ipswich last Tuesday I expect him to start tonight.
As one of the joint second highest scorers in Everton Coleman will be a threat down Everton’s right flank and it is for that reason Clichy should be recalled as Gibbs looked a tad rusty on Sunday and in any case Wenger should play his first choice left back.
Similarly Leighton Baines at left full back for Everton has rightly gained praise for his performances and we’ll need Sagna to be on form to nullify his attacking threat down our right flank.
Another midfield threat will be Jack Rodwell, similar in some ways to our own Jack Wilshere who I expect to line up against him as he is in fine form. Marouane Fellaini will use his considerable height and strength to snuff out as much of the attacking play coming from our midfield as he can so it’s important we send out our first choice XI, meaning a midfield of Cesc, Jack and Song with as front three of Robin, Theo or Arshavin (being brought in due to Nasri’s hamstring injury) and Bendtner.
Yet another potential sticking point in midfield will be the obdurate Heitinga who tops Everton’s yellow card count with 4, closely followed by Fellaini with 3 yellows and 1 red.
For the above reasons I expect us to line up as follows:
Subs: Almunia, Arshavin, Chamakh, Eboue, Gibbs, Denilson, Diaby
Inclusion of Denilson and/or Diaby in that mid field would seriously weaken our engine room in the face of a hard-working, although technically less gifted, Everton midfield.
Your humble scribe will be at the game behind the goal at the clock end shouting/cheering himself hoarse having lubricated the throat with the prerequisite quota of peronis at a bar in the vicinity of the stadium beforehand.
With hindsight it can be argued that a shade too much rotation took place on Sunday and we were slightly lucky to get through to the next round however I expect our first string to focus their minds on keeping up the pressure on the team, managed by our “friend” with the whiskey infused proboscis, that play in Salford.