League leaders Arsenal will face a tough test of their credentials when they host in-form Everton at the Emirates on Sunday (16:00 GMT, live on Sky Sports).
Arsenal come into Sunday’s match on the back of three consecutive victories, including Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Hull. They sit atop the Premier League table with 34 points from 11 wins, one draw and two defeats, four points clear of nearest challengers Chelsea.
Arsene Wenger (pictured) shuffled his pack, giving first starts of the season to Nicklas Bendtner and Nacho Monreal, but Arsenal still maintained their level, outshooting Hull 20-7 (13-4 inside the penalty area) and emerging victorious thanks to goals early in each half from Bendtner (his first league goal for the club since December 2010) and Mezut Ozil.
The victory was Arsenal’s eighth in their last 10 league matches and also their fifth clean sheet in their last six. The complementary attributes of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker have been combined into a strong central defensive partnership, with Arsenal keeping seven clean sheets and conceding just twice in their last nine matches as a pairing.
Further forward, Olivier Giroud is in fine form, providing a strong focal point up front. Aaron Ramsey has been one of the outstanding footballers of the season, driving forward from central midfield to score 13 goals and provide six assists in all competitions. Ozil and Santiago Cazorla provide additional final third invention.
Arsenal’s matches have generally followed a similar pattern. The Gunners have scored first in 18 of their 21 matches in the league and in Europe, and have only once failed to win after going ahead. Two of their three defeats in all competitions and their only Premier League draw came in matches when their opponents scored first.
Bacary Sagna is expected to return to the squad for this match after missing the win over Hull with a hamstring injury. Mathieu Flamini will face a late fitness test on the groin injury he picked up on Wednesday, while Abou Diaby, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Lukas Podolski and Yaya Sanogo all miss out.
Everton come into this match on the back of an excellent 1-0 victory away to Manchester United in midweek. They have made a strong start to the season and are fifth in the table with 27 points from seven wins, six draws and just one defeat.
Wednesday’s victory was Everton’s first an Old Trafford since 1992 and further evidence of the superb job Roberto Martinez has done since taking over from David Moyes in the summer. Although United edged the shot count, Everton controlled the midfield area and were rewarded for a good display when Bryan Oviedo scored from close range in the closing minutes.
Martinez has been quick to implement a possession-based style of play, but in Chelsea loanee Romelu Lukaku has a striker more than capable of facilitating a more direct style when appropriate. It was Lukaku’s shot-come-cross that assisted Oviedo’s late winner on Wednesday, and his return of eight goals in 10 appearances is also highly impressive.
While Everton’s attacking approach has evolved, Martinez has correctly decided not to mess with a defensive unit that were always very well organised under Moyes. Goalkeeper Tim Howard and defenders Phil Jagielka, Seamus Coleman and Sylvain Distin have started all 14 of Everton’s league matches, with only injuries preventing Leighton Baines from doing so as well.
Baines is now expected to be out of action until the new year with the broken toe he picked up during the Merseyside derby, so the impressive Oviedo will retain his place at left-back for Sunday’s match. Arouna Kone and Darron Gibson are long term injury absentees.
Arsenal vs Everton Betting Tips Verdict
Last season’s equivalent fixture ended 0-0, one of two draws in the last five league meetings between the sides at the Emirates. Arsenal won the other three and are undefeated in their last 12 matches against Everton at all venues. Everton last won away to Arsenal in 1996.
These teams possess two of the best three defensive records in the league and have each prevented their opponents from scoring in five of their last six league matches. Both play attractive football underpinned by strong defensive organisation.
Everton will come into this match high on confidence following their midweek victory over Manchester United, but Arsenal have been firing on all cylinders so far this season and have sufficient offensive weaponry to find their way through an Everton defence that did concede three at home to Liverpool just a couple of weeks ago.
Arsenal are marginal favourites in what is sure to be an interesting match.