Can Everton stop Arsenal surge?
There are no teams in the Premier League in better form at the moment than Arsenal or Everton, who meet this Sunday afternoon in what is surely the game of the weekend.
The Gunners, with 11 wins from their first 14 fixtures, are riding high at the top of the table, four points clear of Chelsea and six clear of Manchester City. But Everton, fresh from their great win at Old Trafford, are in the top four mix, too, and Arsene Wenger knows that his side will need to be on their game if they are to take all three points from the visitors.
Coral make Arsenal 11/5 second favourites for the title behind 6/4 City, but they have still to convince everyone that they have what it takes to go all the way. Yes, they are in a great position now, but they have been in past seasons, too, only for their challenge to evaporate at the sticky end of the season.
Wenger is sure it will be different this time and certainly when you look at the array of creative talent at his disposal, you have to take this challenge extremely seriously.
Critics wonder how they will cope if striker Olivier Giroud is injured, but you know things are going well when Nicklas Bendtner (who stood in for the rested Frenchman on Wednesday) scores a goal and Wenger also has the opportunity of bringing in reinforcements up front in the transfer window next month.
And anyway, Arsenal, with Aaron Ramsey in particular scoring for fun, don’t seem to be having too many problems putting the ball in the net at the moment – they average more than two goals per game this season.
Everton, despite their fine recent run of results, are not at Arsenal’s level – they are 100/1 to win the title with Coral and 5/1 to finish in the top four – but that doesn’t mean they can’t get anything from their trip to the Emirates.
Roberto Martinez is versatile tactically and has the playing personnel to frustrate the home team’s attacking intentions as well as forwards with the ability to create danger at the other end.
Arsenal’s defence will, of course, need to keep a close eye on Romelu Lukaku (15/8 to score, 13/2 first or last), while Gerard Deulofeu, the teenager on loan from Barcelona, has already shown that he is a cut above the ordinary and could also do the home side some damage if Martinez lets him loose.
This is a big test for both Arsenal (4/6) and Everton (4/1) and might well end in a stalemate (14/5), an outcome which perhaps wouldn’t dismay either camp.