Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger believes that Sunday’s clash with Everton presents both a chance to stay in the title race as well as staying ahead in the battle for the fourth and final Champions League place.
Having won just once in their last five Premier League matches to be cast adrift of the top three, Arsenal’s title chances would appear all-but gone for another season. Meanwhile, they now face the peril of looking over their shoulder and seeing an in-form Everton side just four points behind and with a game in hand. But Wenger is seeing the glass half-full.
“It's an opportunity to go forward and as well an opportunity to make a distance with Everton," Wenger explained, reports Arsenal’s official website. "As I told you after the last game against Man City, we look in front of us and behind us as well. That's what the game is about on Sunday.
"For us it's very difficult to imagine the impact it will have on finishing fourth, but it's a game we want to win. Everton have won against Swansea in the last minute and they have a never-give-up attitude, which gives them credit. They still have a difficult program as well -- like all of us they have to play a lot of difficult teams."
After a humiliating 6-0 defeat to Chelsea and a late own goal that cost them a win over Swansea, Arsenal recovered some pride and confidence by coming from a goal down to earn a point with Manchester City last week. They will be further boosted going into the fixture at Goodison Park by the return to the squad of Aaron Ramsey. The midfielder, who played such a key role in Arsenal’s fine start to the season, has been absent since Boxing Day with a thigh injury.
“He's an all-round midfielder who can score goals and always drives the team forward,” Wenger explained. “He's a real box-to-box player so it's good to have him back. It's an area where we are short because we have many midfielders out. We have [Jack] Wilshere and [Mesut] Ozil out in this area, so of course it's good to have him back.”
While Arsenal have struggled of late, Everton have won five league matches in a row to firmly rekindle their Champions League hopes. Whatever happens form here on out, it has been an excellent first season in charge at Goodison Park for Roberto Martinez. The Spaniard, though, who declared during his interview for the job with owner Bill Kenwright that he would get Everton into the Champions League, will not be content with mere plaudits for their pleasing-on-eye-style. And the former Wigan boss believes his side’s superb form at home, where they have won eight matches in a row in all competitions, could make the difference.
“We respect and admire this Arsenal team and we know we'll have to be perfect,” he said, according to Everton’s official website. “But if we achieve that level of perfection in our performance, we're capable of competing against anyone at Goodison -- it's the perfect place to try to do that.
"It [Everton's home form] is very significant, especially at this stage of the season, where the season has been so good and the players have earned the opportunity to be challenging for a top-four finish. It's not by accident that we've got ourselves into this position and we want to fight now for every point we can. "With four games out of the seven to be at Goodison, that's going to be a major influence, and we're going to use that to our advantage.”
Everton: Martinez is hopeful of having Ross Barkley back after the young midfielder went off with a calf injury in the 3-1 win over Fulham last week. The news about captain Phil Jagielka is less positive with the defender still not yet ready to return from a hamstring problem.
Arsenal: While Aaron Ramey is back available, there is a doubt over Kieran Gibbs due to an ankle injury. Nacho Monreal should return to take the left-back slot if Gibbs is unavailable. The likes of Mesut Ozil, Laurent Koscielny and Jack Wilshere remain unavailable.
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League encounter will kick off at 8.30 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by NBCSN, with a live stream available via NBC Sports Live Extra.