Arsenal and Everton meet in the pick of the FA Cup quarterfinals on Saturday, with injuries potentially to play a significant part in deciding who moves onto Wembley. Here’s a rundown of how both teams could line up at the Emirates Stadium.
Lukasz Fabianski is expected to take over from Wojciech Szczesny in goal for Arsenal, having been handed the gloves in the three previous rounds of the FA Cup. The elder of the two Poland internationals has impressed in all three, conceding just one goal in the process.
Everton have used a similar approach this season, with backup Joel Robles deployed in the FA Cup. The club’s first-choice keeper, Tim Howard, will doubtless want to start in such a glamorous fixture, but manager Roberto Martinez has hinted that the Spaniard will continue between the sticks. Robles certainly has some fine memories of the FA Cup having been in goal for Martinez’s Wigan team when they beat Manchester City in last year’s final.
With a first trophy in nine years in sight, Arsenal are likely to field their first-choice back four. That would mean center-back pairing Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny being flanked by Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs. Koscielny is a slight injury doubt having missed France’s friendly on the Netherlands on Wednesday, but is expected to recover in time. Arsene Wenger could elect to bring the fit again Thomas Vermaelen in for a rare appearance, but has rarely deviated from the generally secure and complimentary partnership of Koscielny and Mertesacker.
Roberto Martinez may not have the option to call upon his first-choice center-back pairing, after admitting that Phil Jagielka is “very unlikely” to be involved. That constitutes a significant blow for the visitors, with the England international and partner Sylvain Distin having been a big part of Everton having the joint-second best defensive record in the Premier League this season. John Stones filled in as Everton kept a clean sheet against West Ham but the 19-year-old faces a much tougher test on Saturday.At full-back, the excellent duo of Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman will be looking to take advantage of the space that could be provided in front of them by a narrow Arsenal midfield.
Wenger has little option regarding the selection of his two players in front of the back four. Jack Wilshere has joined Aaron Ramsey on the injury list, and while Kim Kallstrom may be available, there is little prospect of him starting having not played competitively for three months. It means that Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta are likely to be paired together, unless the more offensively minded Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is handed a deeper role. While limiting Arsenal going forward, a partnership of Arteta and Flamini will mean that they should be able to prevent either Ross Barkley or Leon Osman finding those pockets of space between the lines that have been a big part of Everton’s play this season.
Further forward, Mesut Ozil may return to the fold having played for just 24 minutes in the past two matches. If Oxlade Chamberlain is selected alongside him on the flank then that will help provide Ozil with an all-important runner to receive his through balls. Santi Cazorla, Tomas Rosicky and Lukas Podolski will vie for the other spot, although neither, perhaps with the exception of Rosicky, have been in sparkling form of late.
Everton can call upon their first-choice central-midfield pairing of Gareth Barry and James McCarthy. The two signings from last summer have been the bedrock of Everton’s fine performances this season and their adapting so well to Martinez’s passing philosophy. The duo helped Everton to boss large spells of the match against Arsenal earlier this season, with the Merseysiders enjoying significantly more possession at the Emirates.
In the advanced midfield role, Barkley has now not started since aggravating an injury in the match with Aston Villa over a month ago. While Osman has impressed in the meantime and Barkley can still be inconsistent, the 20-year-old has that extra bit of quality. In the wide roles, Steven Pienaar and Kevin Mirallas are set to start. Mirallas has the pace to cause problems and is capable of producing a goal out of nothing.
Wenger has a big decision to make up front. Despite his two goals against a lackluster Sunderland team two weeks ago, Olivier Giroud again looked far from his sharpest in the defeat to Stoke last week. Meanwhile his alternative, Yaya Sanogo, although having shown some encouraging signs, still looks very raw and missed a glorious chance late on against Stoke.
Martinez has no such dilemma after Romelu Lukaku returned from injury and promptly scored the only goal of the game against West Ham. His comeback is a represents a huge boost, with Everton having missed the Belgian desperately during his month on the sidelines. While Steven Naismith linked up play well and made intelligent runs, he has nowhere near the same threat in the penalty box as the striker on-loan from Chelsea. Had Lukaku been available, then it is no exaggeration to say that Everton’s two defeats during his absence, against Tottenham and Chelsea, could well have been victories.
D: Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs
M: Arteta, Flamini
Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ozil, Cazorla
D: Coleman, Stones, Distin, Baines
M: McCarthy, Barry
Mirallas, Barkley, Pienaar
Neither side comes into the fixture in the best of form. Recent defeats for both Arsenal and Everton in other competitions mean this match takes on an extra importance and should increase the chances of both fielding very strong lineups. If Wenger does rotate his team, with the ambitious aim of overturning a 2-0 deficit at Bayern Munich on Tuesday in mind, then widespread criticism will be directed his way.
Arsenal have looked increasingly jaded and labored of late, however, with the lack of squad depth perhaps coming back to haunt them at this crucial part of the season. Everton have also lacked spark in recent weeks, as their prospects of Champions League qualification have faded almost entirely from view. It does mean that Martinez’s players should go out with even more intensity on Saturday in the aim of trying to end a strong season with the reward of a trophy. With Lukaku back, they should give Arsenal plenty of problems, although with the absence of Jagielka providing encouragement to Arsenal at the other end. It could well be a repeat of the meeting between the two aesthetically pleasing teams last December and a replay back at Goodison Park.
Arsenal 1-1 Everton