Preview: Arsenal v Everton
07:30 27 February 2015
PA Wire/Press Association Images
Just as it seemed the shackles were off after a morale-boosting win at Young Boys in the Europa League, the inconsistency that has plagued Roberto Martinez’s second season at Everton reared itself again in the draw at home to Leicester three days later.
The Foxes became the 10th team to leave Goodison Park with at least a point, and the home side were grateful for an 88th-minute own goal that prevented a damaging defeat. Instead, their fourth straight home draw left the Toffees still scratching around in the bottom half. It is in stark contrast to the free-wheeling, clinical victories on the continent that have kept alive faint hopes of prolonging the club’s return to European competition beyond a season.
Dumped out of both domestic cups at the first hurdle, many Evertonians are tired of the unswerving optimism of their manager, whose side have won only two of seven league games following European exertions. Martinez plucks rays of sunshine from every poor performance, but the disaffected would argue he has been found out.
Romelu Lukaku is Everton’s top scorer with 13 goals, and while the Belgian had one of those days against Leicester, the £28m striker’s hat-trick in Berne last week demonstrated what a handful he can be.
His compatriot Kevin Mirallas has gone off the boil since his infamous penalty miss against West Brom last month, but the winger may view the Emirates as the perfect stage on which to showcase his undeniable talent.
Steven Naismith also provides a goal threat, whilst midfielder Ross Barkley – a player who sparkled in this fixture last season – would appear to save his best performances for the big occasions.
Everton’s struggles can be dated back to the last meeting between these two sides at the start of the campaign when the Toffees, who went into the game as favourites, surrendered a two-goal lead.
First-half strikes from Seamus Coleman and Naismith had put the Merseysiders on track for a repeat of the 3-0 victory over the Gunners last April that left Arsenal’s Champions League hopes out of their hands.
Just as it appeared inevitable that another chapter in Arsenal’s woes away to top six clubs was about to be written, two goals in the last seven minutes by Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud rescued a point Arsene Wenger’s side scarcely deserved.
Everton will look to stifle Arsenal’s intensity and ingenuity in the same way they ran Chelsea close recently, but the Gunners will win this, 2-1.