By Richard Clarke

Arsenal’s recent revival has not affected the way the team are perceived.

Arsène Wenger’s side are still considered underperforming also-rans; a team who are a shadow of their former selves and desperately in need of new blood – Russian or otherwise.

However, 90 minutes of quality this evening at Goodison Park could change that.

Just to illustrate the difference in perception. Everton are regarded as one of the country’s form sides after a run of six games without defeat and having conceded just one goal in that period. Ahead of this fixture, Wenger himself suggested they are title challengers.

However Arsenal have not lost in eight games and have clawed back significant points on Liverpool and Chelsea since Christmas – though not Aston Villa and Manchester United.

Wenger’s side are more graft than craft right now but at least their results suggest they belong in the title race. That’s increasingly important right now given that, according to the Frenchman, six teams are involved and, of course, only four will qualify for the Champions League.

“I would not dismiss Everton for the title race,” said the manager. “They will be as competitive as Villa and I believe we are a close rival to Liverpool, Chelsea and Man United.

“I believe it is much tighter than everyone thinks. Everton can be involved as much as Villa. It can be six teams.

“So for now let's be quiet, focused and continue on. We are in a strong position in the Premier League, the Champions League and the FA Cup. Let's take advantage of that and let people talk. Our job is to focus on what we want to achieve.

“We have got fair criticism this year, but we have overcome that and we are now hungrier than ever. It is a good opportunity to show that at Everton.

“It is very open in the top six and nobody today can say who will be in the final four. I just remember that no-one dismissed us in December [2005] and we qualified on the last day of the championship against Tottenham when they lost to West Ham.

“And in March last year we had been top of the table for most of the season but did not win the title. Because football is football and you cannot say with 16 games to go that the position a team are in is guaranteed because they are four points ahead.”

At his pre-match press conference Wenger suggested that he would be naming the same squad as at Cardiff on Sunday but for Gael Clichy coming back after suspension in place of Jack Wilshere. In addition the manager has an interesting choice at centre back with Kolo Toure, Johan Djourou and William Gallas competing for two places.

Everton have had a weird season. Their recent success has been achieved without a recognised striker. Yakubu, Louis Saha and James Vaughan are out in the long term so free-scoring midfielder Tim Cahill has been employed as a lone striker.

However, on Sunday at Liverpool, it was suggested their formation was 4-6-0 for long periods. Unarguably defence has been their strength.

Understandably, therefore, Everton are seen as a ‘road’ side. They are sixth in the main table but have the fourth best away record and the 16th best tally at home.

Their Goodison Park record against the big four also does not bear scrutiny – just two points from their last 24.

Arsenal, on the other hand, are unbeaten in their last four away fixtures and have won half of their last 10.

But then statistics never determine a season. Frankly, the numbers have been on Wenger’s side since Christmas.

Now they need the performances and, following that, the wide perception to join them.

Copyright 2014 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 5 Dec 2008