News24

Arsenal face Everton test

2009-01-27 06:32

London - Game by game and piece by piece, Arsenal are beginning to stitch their tattered season back together.

The north Londoners' recent performances may have lacked some of their renowned swagger, but for the moment manager Arsene Wenger is not complaining.

An eight-game unbeaten run is the club's best of the season and such consistency is welcome given the way they scaled euphoric highs and plunged to desperate lows earlier in the campaign.

There is still work to be done - the Gunners may be undefeated since December 10 but they have been held to four draws since then - and a trip to Everton on Wednesday will test the side's new-found resolve, but at least foundations have been laid for a late-season charge.

Arsenal, currently fifth in the table to Everton's sixth, can ill afford any slip-ups.

With Aston Villa showing no sign of losing momentum in their own quest to break into the English Premier League's top four, any dropped points could be decisive in the final reckoning.

Indeed, for all the talk of Villa gatecrashing the established elite, it has been rather overlooked that Everton themselves could draw to within two points of Arsenal with a win at Goodison Park.

Nevertheless, Arsenal manager Wenger can afford to feel bullish. The club's crippling injury list is starting to ease, albeit gradually: William Gallas should be ready to return to the heart of the defence on Merseyside, while Eduardo da Silva's rehabilitation from a badly broken leg continues apace, with the club hopeful he could be fit for a first team comeback next month.

A similar date has been set for Theo Walcott, who is progressing well from his dislocated shoulder.

Even Tomas Rosicky, the Czech midfielder who has spent so long on the sidelines many Arsenal fans must have forgotten he is even on their books, has started light training again, although there is still no immediate hope of a competitive return.

Wenger has every right to feel proud of his side's durability in the absence of so many key creative players and even last weekend's goalless FA Cup draw with Championship side Cardiff assumed a positive hue in the light of his injured stars.

"We have more and more players who are only 20 or 21 who have already beaten Manchester United and Chelsea and handled Premier League games," Wenger said.

"Don't forget that you become really mature at 23 at that level so they will be ahead of that," the Frenchman added.

"That's why I believe that we have to show now that we have the mental quality to win trophies and the mental quality required is consistency."

Arsenal's revival will be subjected to a rigorous examination at Goodison, where they will meet an Everton side brimful with belief.

David Moyes's men upset the odds twice against their city neighbours Liverpool last week, holding the title contenders to league and FA Cup draws at Anfield, and are also unbeaten in eight games.

They are also set to be bolstered by the return of a trio of attacking players from suspension and injury.

"We've never doubted ourselves in the big games and we've proven this week that we can cope," Everton defender Joleon Lescott said.

"We've obviously got some massive games coming up but again we are confident we can hold out at the back and we know we've got goalscorers like Tim Cahill, Victor Anichebe and Marouane Fellaini to come back in as well.

"We're very positive."

AFP