Pre-Match Report

Everton v Arsenal - Match Preview

12/13: Arsenal 0-0 Everton - Aaron Ramsey

“He brings energy, he brings drive going forward, he brings a presence in the box. So I'm very happy that he's back.

“Let's not forget that Aaron has been injured since December 26 and we are now in April. So that means of course he has been out for a long, long time - over three months. We have missed him.”

It says much about Aaron Ramsey’s season that, even though he is unlikely to start in a crucial game on Sunday at Everton, his return has dominated the pre-match agenda.

It is wrong to say Arsenal’s title bid has faltered without him; Arsène Wenger’s side were top well into the New Year. However it is diverting to think how they might have fared had the Welshman maintained his fitness and form from earlier in the campaign.

"This is the period where the pressure is on. Experience helps to deal with that of course, but it is important as well that you have a positive mentality around the team as well."

As it is, Ramsey’s return coincides with a couple of the most prominent fixtures in the handful that remain.

According to Wenger, the trip to Goodison Park is a “six-pointer” in the race for the top four. While next weekend’s FA Cup semi-final against Wigan can set up an end-of-season showpiece for a side that has offered so much this season.

The Latics lifted the trophy last term but that historic footballing fairytale will forever be grounded by their relegation, funnily enough at Arsenal, the following week.

Likewise, for Wenger, an FA Cup final (and even an outright win) would not fill the Champions League-sized hole left by finishing outside the top-four this season.

Everton are four points behind Arsenal with a game in hand. Roberto Martinez led Wigan to that FA Cup success last season and this term has taken the Toffees to 60 points from 31 games – their best ever Premier League return at this stage.

“Martinez has done well but then Everton have always done well,” said Wenger. “If you look at their results in the last 10 years you will be surprised by their position in the Premier League. They played in the Champions League before, so [Goodison Park] has always been a difficult place to go.

“However they have improved the squad well this year. They got McCarthy and Lukaku, who is a huge strength for them.

“Going to Everton is always a game where you need to perform and be up for it. That is what we will try to do. So let’s take care of our quality, our attitude and our game. That is the best way to deal with it.”

Arsenal travel with some momentum having come from behind to draw with Manchester City last weekend.

“I felt it was a positive draw because we responded to a big frustration against Swansea in a good way,” said Wenger. “We were a bit nervy at the start but slowly, when we got into the game, we became stronger and stronger. I believe we finished better than Man City but overall you could say the draw was a fair result.”

The intervening eight days has allowed Wenger precious time to work with his squad; something they benefit from as, in this period, a lack of focus can so easily consign a year of work to the scrap heap.

Team News

Arsenal: Gibbs (doubt - ankle), Wilshere (foot), Walcott (knee), Ozil (hamstring), Koscielny (calf), Gnabry (knee), Diaby (knee)

Everton: Barkley (doubt - calf), Jagielka (hamstring), Pienaar (knee), Traore (hamstring), Kone (knee), Gibson (knee), Oviedo (broken leg)

“You can correct tactical problems that you see in the game,” said Wenger. “You have a bit more time to get players back when they return from injury and you have more time to work with them. Also you can give a little rest to the players who need a breather. Those are the positives.

“However the challenge is to keep being switched on. The concentration is not as natural when the flow of the games is not as big.

“But then this is the period where the pressure is on. Experience helps to deal with that of course but it is important as well that you have a positive mentality around the team as well.”

The Arsenal manufactured one of those in the second half against Manchester City. Call it guts, call it character, they hauled themselves back into a game that seemed out of their control.

That is not the situation on Sunday. Fourth place and the ability to advance beyond it, remains within Arsenal’s reach.

The primary aim must be to retain their grip.

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