It might just be me, but Sunday’s match against Everton at the Emirates feels like a tipping point for Arsenal. The Gunners have won two straight matches for the first time since early October, have conceded just 5 goals in 9 games in 2020, and have yet to lose this calendar year. Add to that the lifeline that was Manchester City’s Champions League ban and 5th place becoming a qualification spot, and it feels like Arsenal have a chance to make something of what looked to be a lost season. A win takes them three points off fifth, on-form, and poised to strike. A draw or a loss and they remain stuck in the mid-table quagmire and the momentum fades.
But Everton are also a side trending upwards under a new manager. The Toffees are 5-2-1 in the Premier League under new man Carlo Ancelotti, with the only loss coming to Manchester City. They also dropped an FA Cup match against Liverpool in that stretch, but that’s Liverpool. Everton are two points ahead of Arsenal in the table, and I’m sure they are harboring European aspirations of their own.
The two sides played to a nil-nil draw at the start of the Christmas period, with Arsenal managing the only two shots on target of the contest. Here’s how I described it in the recap, “a lot of running, a lot of enthusiasm, and not much quality to the football.” You can’t really take much away from that match, however. It was the lame-duck bowl between Freddie Ljungberg’s Gunners and Duncan Ferguson’s Toffees.
Mesut Özil is available for selection after missing the trip to Greece because his wife is expected to give birth soon. It doesn’t appear as if she has had the baby yet, so I’d wager Özil’s availability is touch and go. Lucas Torreira has recovered from the illness that forced him to miss out against Olympiakos and is available as well. Hector Bellerin, who was held out on Thursday for precautionary reasons due to groin tightness, returned to full training and is being assessed ahead of the match. Sokratis picked up a right knee injury against Olympiakos and is a doubt. The long-term absentees, Cedric Soares, Kieran Tierney, and Calum Chambers, remain unchanged.
For Everton, former Gunner Theo Walcott faces a late fitness test after picking up a minor knee injury last weekend. Bernard has recovered from the knock that forced him to miss time and is available for selection. Most notably, Andre Gomes is expected to be in the matchday squad for the first time since noted “nice guy” Heung-min Son broke his ankle in early November. I’m pleased to see Gomes back in action so soon after his horrific injury, but I hope that if he plays against Arsenal, he shows every bit of the rust that should have accumulated during his 16-week layoff.
I also hope Arsenal spoil Alex Iwobi’s coming home party by taking all three points from visiting Everton. I’m sure the fans at the Emirates will give him a warm welcome, but let’s keep it at that. I’d rather not find out if Iwobi would celebrate a goal against his former club.
WHAT: Arsenal vs. Everton
WHERE: The Emirates
WHEN: Sunday, February 22nd 8:30 AM PT | 11:30 AM ET | 4:30 PM BT
US TV: NBCSN and Telemundo. Stream here.
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