Everton set crosshairs on leaders Arsenal

07 December 2013 01:46

The strength of Arsenal's grasp on top spot in the Premier League will be tested on Sunday when Manchester United's latest conquerors Everton visit the Emirates Stadium.

Arsenal have bounced back from their 1-0 loss at United last month with three consecutive victories, culminating in Wednesday's 2-0 win over Hull City, but the chasing pack remain on their tails.

The London club could have had their lead whittled down to a single point by the time they take to the field on Sunday, if second-place Chelsea emerge victorious from their trip to Stoke City 24 hours earlier.

Third-place Manchester City and fourth-place Liverpool also have opportunities to close the gap, while Everton themselves know that a win would take them to within just four points of Arsene Wenger's side.

"They have played many of the big teams in the league and overall are in a very strong position in the league," said Wenger of Sunday's opponents.

"They have just come out of a win against Manchester United. We are lucky this season a little bit, because there is always a big warning before we play these teams, because they have exceptional results.

"That keeps us on our toes. We know for us it is a big game."

While Arsenal have twice tasted defeat this season, and both United and City have been beaten on four occasions, Everton have lost just once, at City on October 5.

Allied to their successes over Chelsea and United, it has seen Roberto Martinez's side emerge as the team most likely to muscle in on the traditional heavyweights' tussle for Champions League qualification.

Wednesday's 1-0 win at Old Trafford was Everton's first league success at United since August 1992 and will give them the belief that they can end a similar run of 17 games without victory at Arsenal that stretches back to January 1996.

Bryan Oviedo was Everton's match-winner at United, netting in the 86th minute to claim his second goal since coming into the team at left-back in place of injured England international Leighton Baines.

Baines has been linked with a move to United but manager Martinez rejected suggestions that the Costa Rica international was being groomed as his successor.

"Nothing changes," said the Spaniard. "We are in the middle of the season, we have just gone 14 games and the only thing we are thinking about is finishing the season with the strongest squad possible.

"The last thing we want is to lose experienced players, players who mean a lot to Everton and who represent a lot in terms of what we want to achieve."

While Martinez hopes to see Baines -- who has a broken toe -- return to action before Christmas. He has admitted that Ivorian striker Arouna Kone's knee injury is likely to keep him out for the whole season.

Wenger, meanwhile, is likely to restore Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere and Olivier Giroud to his starting XI, having made five changes for the victory over Hull.

However, right-back Bacary Sagna and forward Lukas Podolski are not yet ready to return from their respective hamstring injuries.

Former Everton midfielder Arteta has been impressed by his old side's recent form and believes that their victory over United suggests they could be on the verge of a breakthrough campaign.

"Everton are having a great season and they have got great results against top teams, which is not easy," he said.

"It was a big result (at United), it was massively important for them and will boost their confidence, so we are going to face a really difficult team for sure."

Source: AFP