Arsenal vs Everton

, 7 March, 0comments  |  Jump to most recent
FA Cup 6th Round Preview

The most important match of Everton's season so far rolls around tomorrow as they make the trip south to London for an FA Cup Quarter-Final clash with Arsenal. The plum draw of the round handed the Blues their toughest test of the competition so far against one of the five remaining top-flight sides but they know that a place at Wembley in the Semi-Finals awaits the winners.

Having played the Gunners off their own park for most of the Premier League edition of this fixture earlier in the season to earn a 1-1 draw, and also buouyed by last weekend's win over West Ham, where Romelu Lukaku marked his return to action with the winning goal, Roberto Martinez's men will approach this potentially daunting tie with a fair degree of confidence.

That the Spaniard demonstrated in last season's FA Cup how effectively he can work his magic to steer the underdog to victory — his Wigan side demolished Everton at this stage, of course — will only add an extra dimension to what is a fascinating contest.

Given the calibre of the opposition, it behooves Martinez to pick his strongest available team so it will be interesting to see whether he persists with Joel Robles in goal given how the Spanish 'keeper was been given the gloves in all of the previous rounds this season. It's worth noting, too, that he was between the sticks in last year's FA Cup final against Manchester City and for that fact alone his manager may feel he is the man for this particular job as well.

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Robles has been erratic when he has played for Everton thus far, though, and there are plenty of Evertonians who feel that Tim Howard must play given the opponents and the stakes.

While Lukaku is surely nailed on to start at the other end of the pitch, Martinez will have decisions to make in defence and midfield, particularly if, as expected, Phil Jagielka doesn't pass a fitness test on his strained hamstring. The Blues' Captain has made one surprise return from a similar injury already this season when he started the Anfield derby at the end of January and it didn't end too well. Arsenal aren't the same counter-attacking menace as Liverpool were that night but Jagielka would need to be sharp nonetheless as the Gunners do possess pace in their ranks.

John Stones deputised superbly against West Ham last weekend but, as is natural given his teenage years, is prone to the odd positional mistake or misjudgement of the flight of an aerial ball so Martinez will need to balance his precocious talents with the more experienced but more pedestrian Antolin Alcaraz who hasn't played since the debacle at Anfield. Stones will likely get the nod.

In midfield, the smart money will go on Kevin Mirallas swapping in for Gerard Deulofeu. Though the Belgian played an hour for his country in midweek, he has the benefit of being rested last weekend and his greater experience and more reliable end-product should see him selected ahead of the young Spaniard. Deulofeu, as was the case the last time the two sides met where he scored a stunning equaliser, will likely be kept in reserve as a potential weapon later in the game.

Elsewhere in midfield, the elder statesman Leon Osman will surely edge into the starting XI over Ross Barkley who is still feeling his way back to form, with Steven Pienaar continuing his link-up with Leighton Baines down the left.

Arsene Wenger will be forced into some reshuffling of his own given the metatarsal fracture Jack Wilshere sustained on England duty in midweek, while defender Lorent Koscielny is a major doubt. The Gunners will have one eye on the second leg of their Champions League tie with Bayern Munich, which they trail 2-0 from the home leg, and could also be distracted by their faltering League title challenge. So, a few cracks for Martinez to exploit.

With the possibility of a replay hovering in the background, this isn't quite a do-or-die situation for Everton but the knowledge that they can't lose will hopefully rouse some more enterprise from them in the final third where they were, again, found a little wanting against the Hammers. Lukaku's presence leading the line will undoubtedly help but Martinez will need big performances all over the park... and a quiet, professional one from Mr Controversy in black in the middle.

Kick off: 12:45pm
Referee: Mark Clattenburg

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