Before every Arsenal fixture, we'll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners' next opponents.
Arsene Wenger's side take on Everton in the FA Cup quarter-finals on Saturday, to find out more, we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and journalist Dave Prentice.
Everton were extremely impressive in a 1-1 draw at the Emirates in December, and while Roberto Martinez’s side relied on a late Gerard Deulofeu strike to snatch a point, the Toffees dominated the first half and played a style of football rarely seen from an away side on Arsenal’s ground.
Martinez’s centre backs and holding midfielders stayed in deep, central positions to guard against counter-attacks, but great attacking freedom was given to the full backs, Seamus Coleman and Bryan Oviedo. The latter is out for the rest of the season with a broken leg, but Leighton Baines has returned, and offers a greater attacking threat from the left.
"Mirallas has tremendous speed and races in behind the opposition defence"
Baines’ crossing from deep is dangerous and he can break towards the byline to provide measured cut-backs, like the goal he made for Romelu Lukaku in last weekend’s 1-0 win over West Ham. Baines’ relationship with left winger Steven Pienaar is excellent, with the South African drifting inside at exactly the right moments to open up space on the overlap.
In that 1-1 draw, Everton’s key player was Ross Barkley, who started at the head of the midfield triangle and varied his position excellently, dropping deep to create overloads in the centre of the pitch, before darting forward to provide a goal threat.
He’s also good at drifting laterally into pockets of space away from the opposition holding midfielder. In recent weeks the 20-year-old has found himself on the bench with Leon Osman favoured, but Barkley will probably return here.
Lukaku’s recent injury absence means Martinez has often fielded wingers up front, and both Kevin Mirallas and Steven Naismith have shown ability in that position. Mirallas has tremendous speed and races in behind the opposition defence, while Naismith naturally drifts towards the flanks and his movement has been excellent.
At the back, club captain and England regular Phil Jagielka is expected to miss out through injury. Antolin Alcaraz, who won this competition with Martinez at Wigan last season, is an option but it’s more likely Everton will use John Stones, a promising 19-year-old who is tall and good on the ball, but lacks a little physical strength.
DAVE PRENTICE, LIVERPOOL ECHO
It's been an excellent season for Everton, probably a lot better than most people expected.
Roberto Martinez has introduced a new style of play and the players have embraced that very quickly, and after two or three weeks of bedding in, we started to see the fruits of that. The players deserve as much credit as the manager for that because they were open to the new manager's ideas and have really put those into practice.
Some of the performances have been outstanding and it has been good to watch. Form has dipped a little bit in the last month or so - I wouldn't say that's a coincidence though as Romelu Lukaku was missing during that period and Everton are a little bit light up front when he's not around. All in all, it's been a very positive campaign.
"Roberto Martinez has introduced a new style of play and the players have embraced that very quickly"
The performance at the Emirates in December was one of Everton's best this season. A draw was the least they deserved, especially with the way they dominated possession. Defensively, there's a major doubt over Phil Jagielka, who has an injury. Antolin Alcaraz hasn't played much football this season and John Stones, though excellent when he has played, is still a young lad finding his way in the Premier League.
But I think Everton will go into the game thinking that they will let Arsenal worry about them and try to dictate possession and create some chances.
The two players that have stood out all season but haven't got the headlines that they deserve are Gareth Barry and James McCarthy. Barry has been a model of consistency but McCarthy has kicked on again since the turn of the year. He's the one player who is really impressing now and has been an excellent signing. He's been worth every penny of his transfer fee.
Despite the result last weekend, Arsenal are still a very talented team. You wonder if there's a bit more pressure on them after a small dip in the Premier League and losing in the Champions League too. Maybe this is a more important game now than it would have been two or three weeks ago.
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