Currently with the inside track for a top-four spot among the four teams vying for the final two Champions League places, Arsenal look to press their advantage Sunday when they face Everton at Goodison Park.
The Gunners (19-6-6) are level with Chelsea on 63 points, one back of Tottenham Hotspur and two better than Manchester United, but have a slightly better goal difference than the Pensioners. Arsenal already were given a boost with Wolverhampton’s win over United, and Spurs are idle this weekend since Brighton and Hove Albion had their FA Cup semifinal match versus Manchester City.
Chelsea will get the opportunity to match or better Arsenal’s result Monday when they host West Ham United in a London derby.
Arsenal are unbeaten in their last six league matches (5-1-0) and seeking a fourth win on the trot in all competitions following a 2-0 home victory over Newcastle United on Monday. Aaron Ramsey scored on the half-hour and Alexander Lacazette secured the win seven minutes from time as the Gunners also recorded their third consecutive clean sheet in all competitions.
The challenge for Unai Emery is for Arsenal to carry their Emirates form to the road. The Gunners have just one road win in their last eight league matches (1-4-3), and that came at relegated and last-place Huddersfield Town.
“In all my career, I’ve felt and done the same (home and away). It’s not just for me. I watched other teams and usually every team gets more points at home than away. After this, how can we take our performances and the best result away? It’s our challenge,” Emery said at his Friday press conference. “The last matches in the Premier League – Tottenham and Huddersfield – we’ve had good performances and results, being competitive. We need to feel in our moment that we’re getting better and being competitive at home. We want to be the same away but we know that the difficulty is that in each match at home, they can feel better.”
Emery may have to perform a juggling act with his XI, especially in the midfield. Lucas Torreira is serving the final match of his three-match ban for his red card issued in the March 2 draw versus London rivals Tottenham Hotspur, and Granit Xhaka is facing a late fitness test due to a groin injury.
Ramsey, though, is expected to be available having shaken off his a groin injury as his matches in a Gunners shirt continue to dwindle ahead of his impending move to Juventus. Centre back Laurent Koscielny is also a concern due to a bruised foot.
While Arsenal are in a good position at the moment, Emery knows things can change rapidly since his side play five of their final seven matches away from the Emirates.
“We have confidence now but we know it’s very difficult and I think it’s a long way until the last matches,” the gaffer said. “We’ll think about each match coming, (get) the information on how we can take them.
“I am very realistic. We are in a good moment. It depends on Sunday as well, these three points, but now each match is very important for that. If we win, we are third. If we don’t win, we can’t hold this position.”
Everton (12-7-13) are starting to pull together for a late-season push for a top-seven finish that could result in a Europa League qualifying berth, but the Toffees still have a four-point gap to overcome while overtaking Wolves, Watford and Leicester City. Marco Silva’s side are seeking their first three-match winning streak of the term and also a third straight victory over a London club.
The Toffees followed up a 2-0 victory over Chelsea with a 2-0 triumph at West Ham United on March 30 behind goals from Kurt Zouma and Bernard in the first 33 minutes. Take away Everton’s late collapse at Newcastle United in which Jordan Pickford wobbled the final 25 minutes as the Toon Army riled the Sunderland native, Silva’s side have been playing their best football of the season and recorded clean sheets in the four league matches bracketing that defeat.
“In terms of performances, I think last week’s is probably in the top three since I’ve been at the Club,” defender Michael Keane told evertonfc.com. “I don’t think there are many games where we have played as well for 90 minutes straight. There have been games where we have had really good halves, but I think we dominated for 90 minutes. It was very pleasing.
“The mood is very positive in the squad and hopefully we can keep it up. We need to be consistent and keep playing to that level week in, week out.”
Pickford was again the centre of controversy earlier in the week when he was part of a disturbance outside a pub early Monday morning in the Sunderland area. Both the club and Northumbria police are investigating the incident involving the England No. 1, who reportedly had to be restrained after a group of men were verbally abusing his fiancée.
Silva appears to have read his keeper the riot act and told reporters Friday, “If you ask me as a manager, and for us as a club, we are not happy with what has happened. Football players have duties but obligations as well. It is clear to them what the obligations of a football player are. It is a matter for us to remind him.
“He can learn many, many things. The first chat we had at the beginning of the week I was clear with him and, in that moment, the feedback he gave me was a big (lesson) to learn what had happened.”
Ramsey set up goals by Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang three minutes apart in the second half to power Arsenal to a 2-0 victory in the reverse fixture in September, undoing what had been a quality Everton effort before the Gunners’ 1-2 strike.
Arsenal have won four on the bounce and eight of nine overall against Everton and last term’s 5-2 thrashing at Goodison Park brought about the end of Ronald Koeman’s tenure with the Toffees.
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Everton 1, ARSENAL 2.
(Photo courtesy Everton’s official Twitter account)