Arsene Wenger is known to some as ‘The Professor’. To others, he is known as much worse, but for now we’ll stick with the initial moniker. He may have to give up that title – along with any chance at winning the Premier League title – though.
Why? Because on Sunday, it was Chelsea who were in the big chair, dishing out lessons to a youthful Arsenal side. The first-half was ‘How to Counter-Attack’, and after lunch, ‘How to Defend’. But if The Gunners played their parts as obedient kids at the weekend, Chelsea face a seemingly unruly lot on Wednesday evening. Not quite enfant terrible, and led by 33-year-old Phil Neville, it is Everton who invite us to their place in our next Premier League game.
Still smarting – mentally and physically – from a bruising encounter with near neighbours Liverpool at the weekend, David Moyes’ side will be looking to take points from us to attempt to kick-start their fast-faltering push for European football next season. After Saturday’s defeat at Anfield, Everton currently sit in the area marked ‘mid-table mediocrity’; a healthy ninth but nine points behind their main rivals for Europa League football, Aston Villa and Manchester City – the latter of whom still have a game in hand on the Toffees.
Everton have been the model of inconsistency since their now customary slow start to a Premier League season. After losing their opening game of the season – and shipping six goals in the process – against Arsenal, Everton seem to have been playing catch-up ever since. David Moyes, hands tied by financial concern at the club, will most likely again lead Everton to a top-half finish despite furrowed brows over the balance sheets, but any signs of advancement to the next level seem a long way off yet.
In a sense, it is a shame. Everton have real quality in their side with the likes of Marouane Fellaini, Tim Cahill, Steven Pienaar and the aforementioned Neville – come on, admit it – making up a strong midfield, but with injuries always looming, it’s hard for the talented Moyes to make any kind of headway.
It’s astonishing that he has been able to squeeze 11 goals from Louis Saha – a man who gives Arjen Robben’s injury record a dead leg then sprains a wrist in the process – but the Frenchman stands proudly as Everton’s top scorer this season. He is without a goal since mid-January however, with Pienaar, Osman and loan signing Landon Donavan chipping in to bring Everton four wins and a draw in their last five league games before defeat at Liverpool.
Everton will be without Phil Jagielka and Tony Hibbert for the visit from Chelsea, with Joseph Yobo and Fellaini doubts through injury. Pienaar also has a one-match ban courtesy of a late sending-off at the weekend. The returning Mikel Arteta – another victim of the annual injury-crisis at Goodison Park – should be eager to get back into the side.
Squeaky clean Chelsea – ahem – have no suspensions and almost a full strength side, with John Terry likely to shake off an injury picked up against Arsenal and soldier on before a highly-publicised trip to Dubai at the weekend. Barring any other major ‘sports star scandal’ between now and Wednesday – Tiger Woods, reclaim the baton as this year’s sporting love-rat, please – all eyes will be on him once again. José Bosingwa and Juliano Belletti are reportedly close to full-fitness but are still some way off being risked on Wednesday. Carlo Ancelotti may look to shake up the side before our FA Cup game on Saturday, with Ricardo Carvalho possibly one victim of the rotation system.
As mentioned at the start of the preview, we continued our imperious home form with another win on Sunday, taking this season’s Premier League tally at Stamford Bridge to 12 wins, no defeats, and one draw. Of course, it was Everton who proved too tough to break down back in December, with our defensive frailties and their dogged approach resulting in a 3-3 draw.
We hold the upper hand in terms of total games between the sides, and the last time we lost to Everton was back in November 2000, with Danny Cadamarteri and Kevin Campbell cancelling out a Sam Dalla Bona opener for a 2-1 win. The game itself is a collector’s item, as the team-sheet included Winston Bogarde in the starting XI, one of only two times he managed that feat. He lasted 81 minutes. The last time Everton took all three points at the Bridge was Boxing Day of 1994, with Paul Rideout bagging the only goal of the game.
Alan Wiley is the man in black for the Goodison fixture. He has already overseen three Chelsea games so far this season, the opening weekend win over Hull City and two games – one draw followed by defeat on penalties, and one win – against Blackburn. He has reffed three Everton games also, with the Toffees winning two and losing one under his watch. He was in charge of Chelsea 1-1 Everton two seasons ago. Wiley is somewhat card-happy, so don’t be surprised to see a few yellows dished out on Wednesday.
After Manchester United’s ‘we don’t even need to break a sweat’ win over Pompey on Saturday, they face a far trickier tie on Wednesday with an away game against Aston Villa, who humbled them at Old Trafford earlier in the season. Villa are unbeaten in their last eight games, and haven’t conceded in three, which makes good reading for us.
If results go our way, we could be looking at a five-point lead at the top of the League. Let’s hope Everton are as well-behaved as Arsenal when they are being given a schooling, or they may find themselves on the receiving end of a proper caning.