Everton Vs Arsenal: The Show Must Go On

So then, a tough one tonight. Everton away is never a comfortable trip. Well, ok we won 6-1 there a couple of years ago but I think the point is that it’s not one that we look forward to. It’s not really one that we look at as a nailed on three points and that’s because in ten years of David Moyes’ management they’ve become a team that is hard to beat first and foremost.

It’s impossible to look at the job Moyes has done at Everton and not be impressed. Every year his job has gotten harder as the club has had to sell top players without really replacing them and yet they’ve been kept clear of trouble and indeed reached for the European places on more than one occasion. There’s been an FA Cup final and real stability at the club in Moyes’ tenure and that takes a manager of real calibre at a club where funds are clearly restricted.

We saw in the game earlier this season that they’re more than capable of frustrating skillful opponents, of keeping flair at bay. In the end it took a goal so good it has been rightly hailed as Robin Van Persie’s best of the season to break them down. On their own pitch tonight we will surely find things just as difficult. They recently beat Spurs there through something of a rearguard action, and though our form says that we’re on a roll and Spurs weren’t, we can’t expect this to be anything other than a big test.

Everton will be smarting of course from a heavy defeat in the derby against Liverpool last week. It’s certainly not the way that they wanted to mark David Moyes’ ten year anniversary in charge of the club. They’ll be looking for a response in a big game to wipe away that memory and I don’t see them suffering too much of a hangover from that match.

For our part though, we’ve done sterling work in the league over the last month or so. Consecutive victories have seen us rise clear of Chelsea and to within a point of Spurs. Chelsea will be facing a massive test this evening as they go away to Manchester City and we have to be right there to punish them if they can’t get it done, or indeed if they can then we need to make them look at the league table and see that such an effort still availed them nothing. In short, three points are vital tonight. One poor result is all it would take for the good feeling around the club to be jeopardised once more.

Arsene Wenger talks about how the feeling around the club is different this year to the way things were after the disappointments of last spring. This year, we’ve responded to disappointment rather than rolling over and accepting it and we are playing some of the best stuff of our season. We’ve come from behind to win our last four league games, we’ve won twice in injury times in those matches. At the moment, this is an Arsenal team that doesn’t give up, and perhaps more importantly it’s a team worthy of a top three finish. That’s not something we can afford to let slip. There’s still a long way to go and time for the nightmares of last season to become the nightmares of this one as well. That’s a healthy fear to have, one that should stop it from becoming a reality.

Of course tonight sees the return to Goodison Park of Mikel Arteta. Our midfielder has had an understated but I think quite crucial role in our season. At Everton he was far more of a creative hub than I think he is at Arsenal. He’s had to adapt his game a little bit but he gives the side a good balance and he’s a calming influence in the middle of the park. When he was out injured I think we badly missed him, it upset the rhytmn of the team and we looked less assured in possession. Where some criticism of Arteta seems to have come in is around the slightly obvious fact that he’s not Cesc Fabregas, but then nor is he supposed to be. I think some people are guilty of looking at him and thinking “Spanish” + “central midfielder” = “Fabregas replacement”. But he isn’t the one who has been playing in that position. Generally its been Aaron Ramsey who has filled that role and Arteta has had a less advanced, less creative part to play.

So then, its a big game tonight and one that I finally feel able to enjoy after the events of the week. I am very relieved that it’s not taking place in the shadow of the death of a young man, but rather that Fabrice Muamba is doing well in hospital and if there’s one thing that we should keep in mind as we watch on tonight, it’s that win, lose or draw we watch this game because we enjoy it, it’s not life and death.

That said, winning is always fun, so I’ll take a bit of that. Enjoy the game.

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