The Blues entertain a resurgent Arsenal side at Goodison Park on Wednesday night (kick off 20:00 GMT), in a match rearranged by virtue of Everton’s participation in the FA Cup Quarter Finals last weekend.
Arsenal are currently on a five match winning sequence in the Premier League, and have put themselves back in contention of overtaking North London rivals Tottenham in to a 3rd place finish and securing automatic qualification to next seasons Champions League.
This looked unlikely back in January, when the Gunners lost all three league matches during the opening month of the year, with defeats away to Fulham, Swansea and a home defeat against Manchester United.
Whilst beating Sunderland with a late Thierry Henry goal at the Stadium of Light in a 2-1 victory, it is perhaps the dramatic comeback against Tottenham from 0-2 down, to win 5-2 that has finally got Arsenal’s topsy-turvy season back on track.
Unfortunately for the Gunners, the recent run of good form has come when they have been knocked out of the League Cup, FA Cup and despite a spirited second leg come-back against AC Milan, also eliminated from the European Champions League 3-4 on aggregate.
This will mean a seven consecutive season that manager Arsene Wenger has failed to win a trophy for Arsenal.
The fact that Arsenal are now within a point of Tottenham is down to one man, Robin Van Persie. The Dutch marksman’s 26 league goals (33 in all competitions) has enabled Arsenal to stay in contention with the leading sides in the league despite a largely in consistent season from the Gunners.
Van Persie’s wonder-goal at the Emirates in early December was the difference between Arsenal and Everton that day, and he is unquestionably the key danger man for the Gunners on Wednesday night.
Arsenal will have benefited from a weekend off, and will arrive to Goodsion on Wednesday fresher than their opponents, who will be playing their fourth game in just over ten days.
Their main injury doubts will be centre-back Sebastien Squillaci, who has been missing since the Gunners FA Cup 5th Round exit at Sunderland. Arsenal will also be missing long term injury absentees Jack Wiltshire, Abou Diaby and Per Mertesacker.
Everton will be keen to bounce back in the league, following the disappointing Merseyside Derby defeat and failing to find the killer blow against Sunderland on Saturday.
It will be tough against an inform Arsenal side and a team they have failed to beat home or away since a late Andy Johnson strike in March 2007 in a 1-0 win at Goodison.
Click here to see Andy Johnson’s late, late winner versus Arsenal, 18th March 2007
Everton will once again have an almost fully fit squad to choose from, though both John Heitinga and Sylvain Distin looked like they were playing through injuries in the later stages of the FA Cup Quarter-Final and Darron Gibson is still likely to be absent with the knee injury that has kept him out of the past five games. It will be interesting to see if the wear and tear of the recent games will affect any other players in the build-up to the game, so expect changes to the team selection.
Given the precedence set in the Merseyside Derby, it will be interesting to now see where David Moyes’ priorities lie. With the clash with the Gunners, quickly followed by a long trip to South Wales at the weekend to face Swansea before the FA Cup Quarter-Final reply, will the Blues boss mix and match his side for the visit of Arsenal, or play his strongest side?
This will not be an easy game, and Arsenal out of the two sides arguably need the 3 points more.
Mikel Arteta will also be keen to return to his home of 6 and a half years and put in a performance to show the Evertonians of what they are missing. He is sure to be given a rousing reception from the Goodison Park faithful before kick-off.
However, this is a clash under the Goodison flood-lights, and as proven against the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham recently, if Everton are focused, they can be a match for anyone on their own turf. I can only see a draw.
Everton 1 Arsenal 1