“I think it's a bit similar to when we played Liverpool. They had a very strong record when they came here and the challenge will be identical.
“This is a team who have a good technical level and have just had a good result against Manchester United. So we know we want to turn up with a huge performance.”
Arsène Wenger said those words on Friday afternoon when the visit of Everton, statistically the hardest team to beat in the top flight, represented ‘just’ another big game.
|Arsenal: Sagna (hamstring), Diaby (knee), Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee), Podolski (match fitness), Sanogo (back), Ryo (hamstring)
Everton: Alcaraz (doubt - hamstring), Baines (toe), Kone (knee), Gibson (knee)
Now it is massive opportunity as well.
Saturday’s results mean Arsenal will go seven points clear at the top of the Premier League if they can inflict a second defeat of the season on Roberto Martinez’ men.
“Big”, “huge”, “massive” – if we start using that language now where can we go for the rest of the pre-Christmas period when the fixture list reads Napoli (a), Manchester City (a) and Chelsea (h)?
Perspective is always required and seven points is certainly a bridgeable gap but its presence would chip away at the notion that, as good as they have been, Arsenal’s challenge will inevitably fall away.
Victory on Sunday would ensure Wenger’s men start a fourth month at the summit. They would certainly be top at Christmas – always a significant marking post in the season.
The current side have already matched the Invincibles start by taking 34 points from their first 14 games. It is another minor milestone but one that Wenger sees as a small “prop” for the squad’s belief.
“It's a little indication that shows the consistency and efficiency of the team,” he said. “You do not go to a definite conclusion from it but it's interesting to compare.
"This is a team who have a good technical level and have just had a good result against Manchester United. So we know we want to turn up with a huge performance."
“The next game is always the most important in our job and that's what you want to gain from these numbers - the needed level of confidence to go into it with belief and determination. I think that's what we want to take from it.”
Everton’s psyche had its own fillip in midweek with a wonderful 1-0 win at Manchester United. Martinez’ men withstood a barrage of chances before grabbing a late goal to turnover their former manager David Moyes.
Like Arsenal, Everton have recorded five clean-sheets in their last six games. They also boast a victory over Chelsea at Goodison Park and their only defeat came at Manchester City back on October 5. Not bad given they changed a long-standing manager themselves in the summer.
“Martinez had the ambition to come in and follow David Moyes, who has done well himself for such a long time,” said Wenger. “At the moment it is working very well for them. Lukaku and McCarthy have been added and, [for me], Ross Barkley is shining.
“You could see that coming when you saw his performance here at Emirates last year. Even when people started to question him a little bit when he played in the Under-21s, you could see that the boy is class. He confirms game by game that he will be a great player in England.
“Also, at the back, Distin and Jagielka are used to playing together with the goalkeeper. This triangle is certainly one of the keys to being stable defensively. They have played together for years now and that helps.
“So Everton have kept a good defensive stability from the years before plus they have added some spark and creativity offensively.”
For Arsenal you could say it is the opposite equation. They have kept the goals Wenger’s sides inevitably manufacture but have added a miserly resolve at the back.
Only seven goals have been conceded in the 13 games that followed the 3-1 defeat to Aston Villa on the opening day of the season.
Whilst we should remember that Arsenal have had an excellent 2013 overall, the transformation from that day has been incredible.
And the gap at the top of the table will make it glaringly obvious should Wenger’s men win on Sunday.
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