Pre-Match Report

Premier League: Arsenal v Everton - Preview

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By Richard Clarke
Britain has been freezing for days.

Now Arsène Wenger must make sure his side don't do the self same thing in the title race.

Arsenal's ascent towards the top of the table was tamed in midweek by the postponement of the home clash with Bolton due to snow. It was their much-touted match in hand and victory would have taken them second, within a point of Chelsea.

The postponement means Arsenal's game of catch-up re-starts on Saturday.  However, in Wenger's eyes, his side are their own self-help gurus. At this traditional time of re-invention, he thinks, to borrow a phrase, they can feel the fear and win the title anyway.

"We are going for trophies," he said with confidence at his pre-match press conference. "And at the moment we are in a position where we can win them.

"We are not guided by fear not to achieve. We are guided by desire, excitement and ambition so we just want to go for it.

"At the end of the day, I believe you can be proud of your season when you can say we have gone as far as we could and given absolutely everything. This team promised at the start of the season that they would do that in every single game and at the moment they are achieving it. If you respect that I believe you always have a very good chance to win trophies.

"We are a developing team because our players are quite young so there was no reason why we should give up. Losing the Chelsea game was a good mental test. It was a surprise that we came back so quickly but now we want to go above them."

On Saturday, Arsenal will be without Alex Song for the first time due to the African Nations Cup and Cesc Fabregas, hopefully, for the last time, due to his current injury. The Spaniard has been out since December 27 with a hamstring problem.

Denilson (back) had been scheduled return for the Wednesday's frosty fixture anyway but the extra few days has allowed Tomas Rosicky to recover from his hamstring problem.

There was further good news on Friday when Nicklas Bendtner returned to the Club for assessments on his long-standing groin injury.

"He should join in next week," said Wenger. "His fitness is not too bad because he worked hard but can only run in straight lines because he has a groin problem. When players have that injury they cannot change direction."

It is ironic that bad weather should have hit this weekend's fixtures more than any others so far. That is because they are the reverse rubbers of the opening day; games of course which are normally played in brilliant August sunshine.

Arsenal's performance at Goodison Park in the summer matched the weather, thumping six goals past Everton. Wenger believes it set the tone for the campaign.

"It did," he said. "We had very little credit before the season started and that was maybe a little bit of a wake-up call for everybody not to discount Arsenal too much.

"Everybody thought it was a positive accident for Arsenal but afterwards we showed not only through our victories but also through the quality of our game that we can compete. It is now Everton in the home game and we want of course to continue winning our home games if we are to challenge for the title."

It would be wrong to suggest that 6-1 scoreline also set the tone for Everton's season. Yes they have been down among the relegation candidates but, in recent times, they have hauled themselves back into mid-table. However they are a far cry from the belligerent outfit who last broke-up the ‘Big Four's' monopoly of the Champions League places.
"Yes you don't expect them to be down there," admitted Wenger. "But they have had many injuries this season and they have heavy fixtures as well.

"However Everton are Everton and at some stage in the season they always come back on a good run. That is why we never discount them. I don't think at all that they are candidates to go down. When they get all their injured players back they will be much more consistent."

However if you are looking for consistency then you only have to look at Wenger's record in this particular fixture. In the last 13 Premier League home games against Everton, Arsenal have won 12 times and drawn once.

"There is no secret to that," smiled Wenger. "We have a good record against many teams in the Premier League."

However, in the circumstances, nothing but another victory will do on Saturday.

Despite the snow and ice, title-chasing sides cannot afford to slip up on these occasions.

Like everyone in Britain right now, Arsenal must be sure-footed.


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