Arsenal travel to the KC Stadium this afternoon, knowing that victory would place fifth-placed Everton under immense pressure in the race for the fourth place trophy. Having been on the back foot following defeat at Goodison Park, can Arsenal make their experience in this situation tell?
Arsène was sure they could, predictably bullish about his charges and rightly so. Everton, like Tottenham in years before them, have casually tossed away the advantage they had accrued; it is up to Arsenal now to leave them with a summer of wistful what might have beens. They won’t be alone on that charabanc, we’ll be keeping them company at some point as we reflect on the ability of a soon-to-be-relegated Sunderland to swipe as many points on their travels against the rest of the top six as we were in total. It is one of the statistics about this season which makes for disturbing reading.
The race for the Premier League title turned in Liverpool’s favour as Mourinho’s men tripped over their own laces, lurched forward a couple of paces and fell flat on their faces. It’s the sort of stumble Arsenal made with devastating consequences weeks ago. How a three horse race has transformed into a one horse canter this week is baffling. I thought the fourth-placed trophy was the one that no-one wanted to win before Arsenal emerged into pole position. I am sure that Liverpool will reluctantly make the most of
Earlier in the week, talk emerged of taking a psychological advantage into next month’s FA Cup final. That might be the case if Hull win today and they will be the nation’s favourite underdog at Wembley but for Arsenal, such nuances are irrelevant; it is an important afternoon in only Premier League circumstances. It’s a fixture that Arsenal have enjoyed in recent years, going back to the time when The Tigers were promoted in a blaze of perma-tan. It’s a fixture that Arsenal ought to win and have lost in the past; the sort where avoiding defeat has been a measure of progress.
Team news was mixed for Arsène when he briefed the media. Nacho Monreal and Mesut Özil are likely to be available, the German international returning at a timely moment in preparation for the summer’s World Cup in Brazil. That Arsenal benefit is a happy by-product. For today, the biggest benefit is Mathieu Flamini being available in midfield. The Frenchman’s suspension denied Arsène the chance to rotate Mikel Arteta on Tuesday night, a chance he will surely take today. In the Official Magazine, the Spaniard talks of the anguished he personally visits upon himself after matches. Goodness knows how he will have been post the thrashing’s at the homes of the top three. His words resonate as they reflect how supporters feel albeit we enjoy victories for far longer than the final whistle.
Indeed the midfield is an interesting prospect this afternoon. Kim Kallström played well on Tuesday night which begs the question of whether retaining him in the starting XI is more beneficial to Aaron Ramsey’s recovery? It’s a decision Arsène has to make and one where he has to pay heed to the data from the medical team over what is his strongest XI on paper. Ramsey’s return at Wembley was vital and he made an enticing cameo against West Ham; it must be tempting for Wenger to include his star midfielder in the line-up but I hope that if he does so, he is more than certain of the player’s fitness.
The line-up I would expect this afternoon is:
Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Flamini, Kallström; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla, Podolski; Giroud
Everton take on Manchester United immediately after the final whistle is blown on Humberside and ideally that will signal the gap between fourth and fifth at four points.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.