When Arsenal l traveled to Goodison Park in April they were on the end of yet another destruction at the home of one of the Premier League’s best sides. A 3-0 defeat wrested away control of the final Champions League place and had rumors swirling that manager Arsène Wenger could walk away at the end of the season. Of course things would turn around, with Arsenal going on their customary late-season surge and Everton’s relatively shallow squad falling short.
That Champions League group place has yet to be secured, however, and when Arsenal return to Merseyside on Saturday, it will be in the middle of a two testing playoff legs against Turkish side Beşiktaş. Not ideal circumstances for what is an early examination of whether Arsenal can display the resolve they so sorely lacked last season when traveling to the Premier League’s big guns.
A goalless draw in Istanbul leaves Arsenal’s Champions League fate in the balance and also came at the expense of an injury to Mikel Arteta. The former Everton midfielder will be denied a return to his former club on Saturday by an ankle problem. While the summer signing of Alexis Sánchez, among others, created plenty of buzz around the Emirates Stadium, it has certainly not been a straightforward start to the season, despite an opening Premier League win over Crystal Palace. World Cup winning trio Mesut Özil, Per Mertesaker and Lukas Podolski had a delayed return to preseason training and are still doubtful to be involved for the first time against Everton, while other World Cup participants also look short of sharpness. Wenger, though, has struck an optimistic tone, and believes the visit to Goodison Park represents an opportunity for his side to show how they’ve grown since April.
“First of all a team is life and life is movement,” he said, according to Arsenal’s official website. “That means the team doesn’t stand still, we move forward and improve. We have young players, which means that every year they can be better. Also the team improves with success, which we had a reasonable [amount of] last year. We have a good opportunity on Saturday to show that we have moved forward and that we are stronger than last year.”
Arsenal are not the only club to have suffered an early-season injury blow. Before the campaign even got underway, English midfield starlet Ross Barkley damaged his knee ligaments. Early fears were that Barkley would be ruled out for several months, although manager Roberto Martínez has since expressed his relief that surgery will not be required and he could be back within eight weeks. More positive news comes from the availability of Irish duo Seamus Coleman and Darron Gibson for the visit of Arsenal. After a draw away at newly promoted Leicester City last weekend, Martínez is desperate for Everton to kick start their season at Goodison Park.
“It's out first home game and there is a special feeling around our fans,” he said, reports Everton’s official website. “We need to make sure that we have a real platform to build on at home and that we are really positive. We need to use that for the season ahead. That's the pressure we need to put on ourselves, and that means making sure there is no margin for error in this game.”
Prediction: Martínez outwitted Wenger in April, with Arsenal unable to adjust to Romelu Lukaku starting high up on the right side. Nacho Monreal struggled that day and will again be in the firing line in the absence of Kieran Gibbs through injury. Arsenal also struggled on more than one occasion against Everton last season against the impressive midfield partnership of Gareth Barry and James McCarthy. They will be back in tandem on Saturday and could help provide Everton with a large share of possession, particularly with Arsenal missing Arteta. Still, Arsenal have more offensive options this time around, with Aaron Ramsey fit and in form and the pace of Alexis Sánchez providing a valuable extra attacking threat. An entreating draw could be in store.
Everton 1-1 Arsenal
Kickoff time: 12:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Live Stream: NBC Sports Live Extra