Arsenal and Everton go into Tuesday night’s Premier League clash knowing that defeat could deal a crushing blow to their hopes of reaching the Champions League qualification places. Arsene Wenger’s side, who currently occupy third spot, are four points and three places ahead of David Moyes’ charges. These two teams go into this fixture in good form, and with their chief rivals, Chelsea and particularly Tottenham, stuttering as the finishing line approaches, both managers know the significance of a positive or negative result at the Emirates Stadium.
Six weeks ago the Gunners and the Toffees were up against it in the battle for the top four and it seems that, not for the first time in the last few years, they are both beginning to kick in the turbo when the pressure is off. Now, this may seem like a strange thing to say given that the pressure to reach the Champions League, especially in Arsenal’s case, is immense, but when they needed to step up when silverware was on offer, both teams were found wanting.
Arsenal’s trophy drought now stretches to eight years and yet again this season they suffered a poor late winter/early spring as they capitulated to Bayern Munich in the Champions League and more shockingly at home to Championship strugglers, Blackburn Rovers, in the FA Cup. Everton, whose expectations of success really only stretch to a cup competition, had yet another massive opportunity to reach a Wembley final, only to buckle at home to subsequent cup finalists, Wigan Athletic, and as per their annual late season charge, the Blues are going through the gears all too late in the day when given the authority of their early campaign performances, they should have Champions League football sewn up already.
Speculation has been mounting for some time around the future of both managers as disappointment, disaffection and underachievement has thwarted the ambitions harboured by both bosses. Also, large sections of both sets of supporters have been questioning whether a change at the helm is needed after such long periods in charge for the present incumbents.
The Gunners will go into the game as favourites being on home soil, although they do not look as secure as in previous years, while Everton’s away record shows a safety first mentality with seven draws on the road. Moreover, the head-to-head between the two in the Premier League years and throughout the 11 years of the Wenger and Moyes’ rivalry shows the Frenchman has the Indian Sign over his Scottish counterpart. Moyes has amassed a grand total of two points from his visits to North London and Everton haven’t returned to Merseyside with all three points since January 1996.
But, possibly this year more than any other for Moyes, he must feel confident of pulling off a surprise win over Arsenal on their turf. He takes his side there in decent form with three wins from the last four games, which would have been four from four but for a late Spurs equaliser at White Hart Lane last weekend. More importantly this is not the formidable Arsenal of Campbell, Vieira, Bergkamp, Pires and Henry from his first five years at Goodison. This is the inconsistent and often flaky Arsenal of Koscielny, Rosicky, Walcott, Gervinho and former Toffees hero, Mikel Arteta.
Without a victory, Everton’s faint hopes of Champions League football next year will disappear. They’ve done well to hang on to the coat tails of the better financed and better equipped clubs they’re currently tussling with. As time begins to ebb away quickly for the Blues, this isn’t quite the last chance saloon for their top four challenge, but with tricky away fixtures remaining in the pipeline, anything other than a win could see the Fat Lady warming up her vocal chords.