Everton host Arsenal as Mikel Arteta returns to his old stomping ground. Goodison Park is becoming a fortress with Everton unbeaten in eight at home. Recent wins over Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham are testament to this; Everton kept clean sheets in all three. However, this recent run is in danger of stalling. Whilst the Merseyside derby is the only Everton blemish in 11, it is now one win in four.
Wednesday’s visitors, Arsenal, are enjoying their own good run, winning their last five in the league. This has led to them becoming the first side, in the Premier League era, to win four consecutive games from a losing position. Recovering from a losing position is one of Arsenal’s strong points, this season, with the Gunners gaining 19 points that way – a league high. Arsenal have also come from behind to win in four of their last six away games.
The edge is with Arsenal in recent meetings with Everton losing the last three. Since Andy Johnson’s winner in March 2007, two games have ended level with Arsenal winning seven. Arsenal are unbeaten in their last four trips to Goodison Park; winning three with one match drawn. During those four visits, the Gunners average over three goals a game; scoring 13 times.
The contrast between the sides is clear with Arsenal favouring a passing game whilst Everton’s strength is in defence. Only the two Manchester clubs and Liverpool can point to stronger defences than Everton. The problem for the Toffees is at the other end of the pitch with only Wigan and Stoke scoring less. The Toffees have registered 28 times, in the league; Robin van Persie has 26. Everton will need to be wary of the Arsenal striker, he has five in his last four matches. Van Persie’s form dates back to last season with 44 goals in his last 45 Premier League games.
Everton’s squad is almost at full strength with no injuries and suspensions. Steven Pienaar returns after being cup-tied and Darron Gibson is close to a return after his knee injury. The visitors are without long-term injury victims, Jack Wilshere and Per Mertesacker (both Knee). Abou Diaby is in line to return (Hamstring) with Sebastian Squillaci still absent (Groin).
Mikel Arteta will make his first appearance at Goodison Park since his departure to the Emirates. The Spanish playmaker is one of, if not, the best Everton player in the last 20 years and his transfer did not sit well with a number of fans. In terms of numbers, experience and quality, midfield is the weakest part of Everton’s squad. There are only six recognised midfielders tied to Everton on permanent deals and two of those are Jack Rodwell and Ross Barkley.
Some said the Spaniard’s powers were on the slide as he neared the end of his time at Everton. However, as the table below shows, Everton are clearly missing the best little Spaniard they knew. Everton’s two biggest weaknesses are ball retention and creating chances; two of Arteta’s strongest attributes. Despite playing in a deeper role, Arteta (49) has made more than twice as many chances as Everton’s best midfield creator (24).
Given his central position, crossing and dribbling are not a big part of Arteta’s game. However, the Spaniard still compares favourably to the best Everton player in each category. An accusation often levelled at Arteta is that he only passes sideways. Statistics suggest otherwise; Marouane Fellaini is the only Everton midfielder who plays a higher percentage of forward passes.
Fellaini excels in defensive areas for Everton and Arteta is not far behind. They are level in terms of interceptions and Fellaini’s tackle success rate is just 2% higher. Arteta has four goals, this season, a return better than any Everton player; four players tied on three. The above table highlights Arteta’s strengths and compares them to Everton’s whole midfield. The Spaniard’s knee injury, against Newcastle in 2009, has had a lasting effect but he remains a top class midfielder.
After uninspiring starts, both clubs are turning their seasons around. For Everton, a shot at the FA Cup is all that remains as a push for European football never materialised. Arsenal’s recent upturn has forced them back into the running for a Top 3 finish. Everton raise their game, against Top 4 sides, with their lack of creativity less apparent. When visiting sides sit back, as Sunderland did on Saturday, David Moyes’ side lack the guile to break them down.
Overall, Wednesday’s clash looks set to be an interesting one.
* Darron Gibson, Jack Rodwell (hamstring) and Seamus Coleman (thigh) are all expected to miss out for Everton.
When the sides met, back in December, Everton did not manage a shot on target
Tim Cahill has scored in 3 of Arsenal’s last 4 visits
Everton have conceded in the 70th minute in 4 of their last 7 against Arsenal