Our rather mad run of ten consecutive televised matches comes to an end with this game. So does a month where we’ve played more league games than we will in January and February combined. Our performances in the league this month have been fairly poor, and it may not be a coincidence that this form has come during our busiest period of the season. In three of the first four months of the season, we only played three league games, in December we’re playing seven. Obviously the other teams face the same schedule as us, but with the way we play football when we’re at our best it’s more noticeable when we play poorly. We don’t really need to overreact to the result and performance against Portsmouth. Both Liverpool and United have only left Fratton Park with a point this season, and we had two or three clear cut chances that, on another day, may have seen us win comfortable. Pompey truly parked their bus in front of the goal, especially in the second half, and they’re not an easy side to score against, they’ve conceded the same amount of goals at home as us and Chelsea.
Everton have been in fairly rich form recently, and find themselves sixth in the table, leading the pack of average sides that are pushing for European football this year. Before the United game, they had won five of their previous seven matches, until a moment of idiocy from Pienaar handed their opponents a late victory, and they’ve since won again, at home to Bolton. Everton are a good side, they’re doing well under David Moyes (who is currently the third longest serving Premier League manager behind Arsene and Ferguson) and have proven to be a tough away trip in recent seasons. Our most recent memory of Goodison Park was conceding a late winner from Andy Johnson last season, and the season before that we again lost 1-0 thanks to an early James Beattie goal. At home this season Everton have won eight, drawn three and lost two in all competitions. If anything this will be a tougher test than the one we faced on Wednesday night, and the players will need to be up for the fight. Two wins in five games isn’t really good enough in a period when United have been utterly unstoppable, and we can’t afford to let them open a gap. United have West Ham away at the weekend, not exactly a guaranteed three points, so we’ll see what happens.
In the Premiership under Wenger, we went our first eight matches against Everton without losing, winning seven of them. They’ve been one of our favourite teams to play in the Wenger era, winning seventeen, drawing three and losing four of the twenty four meetings between the two sides in all competitions, and being the visitors for two Premiership trophy presentations. Two of those four losses have come at Goodison Park in the last two seasons. We last won there in August of 2004, with a 4-1 victory on the opening day of the season. Our record at Goodison in the last twelve seasons is five wins, two draws and four losses.
After starting an unchanged side in three consecutive league games for the first time in fuck knows how long, Wenger may be tempted to change it a little for this match. Not that Everton away is an obvious game to start resting everyone, but for the players to have to play at different ends of the country four days apart and play ninety minutes both times, might be a bit too much to ask of them. We play our best football when we’re at our fittest, and we certainly won’t be that at the weekend. Our worst performance of the season and only loss came after a similar bout of travelling and an unchanged team selection. As per usual we miss Robin van Persie. He won’t be back for new years day either, although Wenger is still insistent that it’s a "short term problem". Gallas is in the squad after some doubts over his foot injury. Theo Walcott is back fit, but won’t be in the squad for this game. Eboue is to be rested. I expect the back five will remain unchanged, we’ll see a couple of changes in midfield and attack. Rosicky and Hleb will play left and right respectively, and we’ll either play 4-4-2 with Bendtner and Adebayor upfront, or 4-5-1 with three in the middle, maybe Diaby in addition to Fabregas and Flamini. We’ll see. I’d like to see a 4-4-2. We’re not getting enough space in midfield with the 4-5-1.
Subs: Lehmann, Senderos, Diaby, Diarra, Eduardo.
Everton definitely miss Leon Osman, Leighton Baines, Alan Stubbs and Iain Turner through injury. Andy van der Meyde is most likely injured too. McFadden isn’t injured but hasn’t been in the squad in recent games, possibly due to his comments about considering a move away from Everton in January. If he does play, it’ll be in place of Pienaar. Graveson and Neville face late fitness tests, I suspect Carsley and Hibbery will start in their places.