Can the Blues hit the heights of last season?
Roberto Martinez ’s men went for the proverbial stroll in the park when Arsenal last visited Goodison Park . The two sides were scrapping it out for the fourth and final Champions League spot and while Arsenal eventually won the war, the battle that day wasn’t even close.
The challenge for the Blues now is to repeat that performance, albeit in hugely different circumstances.
Win tomorrow and the Blues could strike an early blow against the Gunners and dampen the optimism that continues to spread at the Emirates after a somewhat fortuitous victory over Crystal Palace.
It just depends whether Everton get get into their stride so early in the season. Last year’s victory came on the back of a five-match winning streak and capped off a spell of magnificent performances for Martinez’s men.
Last season the Blues drew each of their first three league games, and only got their first win of the season against Chelsea midway through September.
And that could be the key, this could be the game that wakes Everton up from their new season slumber, just like the match against Chelsea last year.
The Goodison Park crowd will play their part, and so will the late afternoon kick off.
They may not have quite hit their stride just yet, but meeting the Gunners so early in the season holds many advantages for Everton.
Arsene Wenger’s side are yet to find their rhythm. They toiled against Crystal Palace and didn’t exactly pull up any trees in Istanbul. Factor in that energy sapping trip and the Blues may well have the edge in terms of fitness levels.
With Alexis Sanchez yet to completely settle into life in London, Mesut Ozil still to return to full fitness after the World Cup and Mikel Arteta injured, the Gunners aren’t yet in tip top shape and Martinez’s men must take advantage.
There’s also a psychological element to tomorrow’s big game.
Arsenal must overcome their own demons in this clash too. Everton’s 3-0 win may not have been the biggest scoreline that anyone posted against the Gunners last season, but it could well have been the most significant. Wenger’s side had expected to go to Goodison Park and get a result, getting their title push back on track at the same time, humiliation and a scrap for fourth place followed. Returning to the scene of the crime mightn’t be so easy.
All Everton have to do is take advantage.
Can Lukaku get among the goals?
Martinez pulled off a masterstroke last term when he deployed Romelu Lukaku on the right flank alongside Steven Naismith in the centre. Both men got on the scoresheet and Lukaku tormented the hapless Nacho Monreal throughout the game, capping off his performance with a run, shot, goal and a big hug for his boss.
How Martinez would love another embrace from the big man on Saturday afternoon.
Lukaku has, incredibly, been in for some criticism following his performance at Leicester.
Martinez isn’t worried, but that’s part of the dance when you pay £28m for any player and with each game that goes by without a goal the naysayers will only have more ammunition.
Also, getting his first goal of the season will only help Lukaku’s confidence after a below-par World Cup.
There couldn’t be a more perfect time for Lukaku to get among the goals and his physical presence and ability could give the Arsenal defence problems.
Whether Martinez goes with the same tactics as last season remains to be seen, Wenger will surely have planned for it this time around but there’s no guarantee he can stop it.
Monreal will face the daunting task once again with the news Kieran Gibbs will miss the clash at Goodison Park.
If Lukaku does play off the right hand side then Monreal will hope to be more prepared for the Belgian’s pace and strength.
Aiden McGeady and Steven Pienaar will also have given Martinez much to think about with their performances against Leicester City last weekend.
The Blues boss has a big decision to make, but he will be hoping that, whatever conclusion he comes to, Lukaku will start paying off a huge chunk of that £28m fee with another hugely significant goal against the Gunners.
Another cuddle wouldn’t go amiss either.
Will Kevin Mirallas return?
Martinez will need to make sure he has some aspirin at home, because he faces another selection dilemma in the shape of another Belgian international, Kevin Mirallas.
The Blues boss admitted this week that Mirallas was often the man for the big occasion , and he was another that performed so admirably in last season’s victory, and almost got on the scoresheet too, only for the goal to go down as an Arteta own-goal.
Mirallas’ pace could provide an oft-shaken Arsenal defence with another worry and allow the likes of Naismith and Lukaku to find space in behind the Gunners backline.
But he faces a fight to get into the team after McGeady’s performance against Leicester.
McGeady needs a run of games after finally showing that his undoubted ability can translate to performances, and goals, against Leicester City.
Meanwhile, on the opposite flank, Pienaar’s partnership with Leighton Baines looked like it was getting back to its best.
The reality is that Mirallas may have to wait in-line for his turn in the starting line-up, but Martinez won’t complain.
Who better to bring on late in the game for the Blues?
Mirallas’ presence, whether it be on the bench or on the pitch, will ensure that Arsenal’s defence will be unable to rest throughout the 90 minutes on Saturday.
It’s now up to the Belgian to prove exactly why his manager is so confident he can continue to give the leading teams nightmares, starting with the Gunners tomorrow.
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