After the mid-week internationals, we get back to my favorite competition of all, the FA Cup. Arsenal are set to take on Everton at the Emirates on Saturday, and in preparation for the visit of the Blues, we checked in with Darren Melling of SBN's Everton Blog Royal Blue Mersey. Our answers to their questions? Why, they're right here! Thanks for asking!
Here are some questions and, fortunately for the success of the 3Q concept, some answers.
TSF: First, as you asked us: How high on the list is the FA Cup for Everton fans?
RBM: Top of the list, it's the only trophy we're left in with a realistic chance of winning. Personally, I love the FA Cup. I follow Everton home and away and love nothing more than a trip to Stevenage, Scunthorpe, Macclesfield and the likes.
There is a genuine belief that we can get something out of the game on Saturday. We have only conceded one goal on our run so far in the cup (v Swansea last round) and have been pretty much scoring for fun in it. There is an air of optimism about the place, especially with some of the teams who have been knocked out to date, in that Roberto Martinez could win the cup for the second year running.
TSF: Everton look well-placed to lock up a European place for next season. Is the Europa League enough, or do Evertonians think that the fourth CL spot is a realistic aim?
RBM: At Christmas, top four seemed very realistic. However, we didn't strengthen in the transfer window in January despite only having one recognised striker on the books. This showed; Spurs away springs to mind where we seemed to dominate possession, create the best chances but not have Lukaku to take up the positions to finish them. Then, Spurs go down the other end and with their only shot on target in the 90 minutes Adebayor scores the winner. We've slid down the table a little because of this, but not slid far enough that the Europa League is out of reach. And with Man City winning the three handled jug an extra place goes to the league now. So, Europa League it is.
TSF: Roberto Martinez appears to have breathed new life into a squad that was already performing well under David Moyes. What is the most notable change under Martinez?
RBM: The positivity of the way we play. You seen it yourself when we played you in the league this season. A Moyes Everton would have come to the Emirates to "come out alive," probably with a centre half in midfield, sitting deep and hoping to counter.
Under Martinez, we went to win. We totally dominated the first half and were unlucky not to go in at half time a goal to the good. I think we were very good value for the draw. And then you look at when we played Moyes at Old Trafford. United went all direct. We got the ball down, passed it around quickly, were patient for the killer opportunity and when it was on we took it. We totally deserved the 1-0 win there.
In short, we are more patient, more positive and a lot easier on the eye. Oh, and he has trust in youth too.
TSF: Romelu Lukaku has done an amazing job for Everton and is clearly a favorite there. Any chance of Chelsea letting him sign permanently, or will they reclaim him only so he can sit on their bench?
RBM: This one is up in the air. Sources within the club tell me that he's asked the club to do everything they can to get him to stay. His brother actually told me at the Emirates he is very happy, his brothers are happy and his father is happy and that any move is up to Chelsea. So, he likes it here and, like you say, he is very popular not just with the fans, but with the staff and other players too. He went a bit off the boil before his injury and had a dry spell, but he's played virtually all season and you forget he is only very young in footballing terms.
I'd love to keep him permanently, a striker like that is exactly what we need. But, the ball is in Chelsea's court and I'm sure Champions League football will be a huge factor, one which we probably won't be able to offer him.
TSF: What is the one thing Arsenal must prevent Everton from doing in order to win?
RBM: Having time on the ball. If you give us that we will score. We play a patient game, looking to drain the opposition physically and mentally by moving off the ball, passing it neatly, winning it back quickly when we lose possession and starting again. I think our weakest area will be at centre back, but that's only if Jagielka doesn't play. And to be honest, it isn't really a weakness. John Stones has been excellent there and is going to be some player.
I think the way Arsenal will win is if they are quick on the break. We lack pace in the middle of midfield. What we lack in there is made up by James McCarthy and Gareth Barry being very very good readers of the game. Everywhere else is pretty much covered - except defending set pieces!
TSF: As we are a largely American-based blog (most of the writers and a good number of the readers), here's our Federally Mandated US National Team Member Question: Tim Howard is 34. Is he Everton keeper for the foreseeable future, or are Everton looking to bring in someone else in the next season or two?
RBM: I would say Howard is here for many years to come yet. He's been largely superb for us since he made the move from Manchester United many moons ago. We struggled to replace Neville Southall until we signed Nigel Martyn. However, when his career was cut short through injury worry set in again. Howard has been a permanent fixture and, again, his errors have been very minimal. He has a new coach now who is a bit eccentric in his ways, but seems to be getting the best out of Howard.
We did sign Joel Robles from Athletico Madrid (even though he was on loan at Wigan last season with Martinez) and he has been playing in cup games. However, he is only very young and has a lot to learn. He has cost us one or two goals this season but seems competent enough to push Howard all the way.
I think Tim is peaking around about now, but he seems to look after himself and is in good shape. I can see him playing until he is about 40.
TSF: And finally, a score prediction for the game?
RBM: I'm actually very confident, unfortunately for you guys. We have our injured players back and are looking to finish the season on a high. We have an excellent chance now in this competition and I know Martinez's style is to go for the win. I think we might just get it. 2-1 Everton.
Many thanks to Darren for taking the time to do this.