7th December 2013
With their title rivals dropping points on Saturday, Arsenal have a unique chance to go seven points clear at the Premiership summit, although the home game against high-flying Everton is going to be anything but a walk in the park. The Toffees go into the match on the back of the impressive triumph at Old Trafford and are currently on a seven-match unbeaten run.
Even if not too many people saw the Gunners as genuine title contenders before the season started, Arsene Wenger and his men have done brilliantly to prove the doubters wrong, and they definitely look like one of the main candidates for the trophy at the moment. And while their title rivals continue to drop points almost on regular basis, Arsenal are showing an incredible consistency that has rarely been their biggest trait in the past. The fact they are the ones usually enjoying a lion’s share of possession certainly helps the back four, but given the Gunners have now kept six clean sheets in last seven games speaks volumes about the performances of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny above any others. Meanwhile, the team continue to score goals from everywhere, with opposition players usually powerless to prevent the likes of Ramsey, Ozil, Wilshire and Cazorla from being a real danger in the final third. The Gunners are likely to face a difficult task against one of the best defences in the league, which is why we could see a low-scoring game at the Emirates. Arsene Wenger will have Jack Wilshire, Kieran Gibbs and Olivier Giroud back after they were rested in midweek, but Bacary Sagna continues to miss out and Mathieu Flamini faces a fitness test.
Everton are also doing much better than anyone could predict, with Roberto Martinez proving why he is considered one of Premier League’s best managers. The team obviously needed some time to adapt to the new boss, but once everything fell into place, the Toffees embarked on an excellent run of results. Their back line is again in full working order, as witnessed by five clean sheets in last six games, whereas the team are also scoring quite a few goals. It was midweek’s triumph against Manchester United, their first at Old Trafford after 21 years, that gave the team another huge boost and cemented their place in the top 6. As a result, the Toffees are now in a position to further close the gap behind their top 4 rivals, although everybody knows that another stellar defensive performance is a must if Everton are to get something from this match. This is exactly why hard-working Leon Osman is likely to return to the starting line-up, with more creative Ross Barkley probably the one to make way. Meanwhile, Antolin Alcaraz is back in contention, but Leighton Baines, Arouna Kone and Darron Gibson remain sidelined.
While both sides have got plenty of attacking potential, they are also extremely strong in the back, and the importance of the match could make both managers adopt a more cautious approach than they usually do. It is for that reason that we are unlikely to see a highly entertaining match at the Emirates.
Verdict: Under 2.5 goals
Best Odds: 11/10
Bookmaker: William Hill
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