Welcome to coverage of a game that will go a long way to deciding who takes the last Champions League spot. Everton host Arsenal this Sunday lunchtime and whoever wins will have fourth place within their grasp.
If Everton win today, they move to within a point of their opponents with a game in hand. If the Gunners win however, they’ll go seven points clear and feel they’ve probably done enough finish in the top four yet again.
The home side have not beaten Arsenal since March 2007, but they are second only to Liverpool in the Premier League form table. The Toffees have won their last four league games, while Arsenal have won just once in their past five away fixtures.
Ross Barkley should be fit for Everton after being substituted with a calf complaint in the win against Fulham. Republic of Ireland midfielder Darron Gibson is nearing a return to first team training after a serious knee injury.
Arsene Wenger can name Aaron Ramsay in his match-day squad for the first time in 2014. The Welsh midfielder had an incredible first half to the season before being sidelined with a thigh injury.
Everton- Howard, Baines, Distin, Stones, Coleman, McCarthy, Barry, Osman, Naismith, Mirallas, Lukaku. Subs: Robles, Hibbert, McGeady, Deulofeu, Barkley, Garbutt, Alcaraz.
Arsenal- Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Monreal, Arteta, Flamini, Rosicky, Cazorla, Podolski, Giroud. Subs: Viviano, Jenkinson, Bellerin, Kallstrom, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey, Sanogo.
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Full time thoughts – It’s advantage Everton in the race for the final Champions League spot. They remain one point behind Arsenal but they have a game in hand. The two Manchester clubs still have to come to Goodison Park so it’s a difficult run in for Roberto Martinez’ men but based on today’s performance they should fear no one. They have two of the finest full-backs in the league, a solid midfield and real attacking threat. They have six wins in a row in the league, a club record, and if they can play in the same manner for the rest of the season they will be mixing it with Europe’s elite next season.
Arsenal were ten points clear of today’s opponents at the start of February. However a downturn in form has cost them dearly at the stage of the season when they usually kick on. The past few seasons it has been their performances in the run in that have allowed the Gunners to clinch a spot in the top four after underwhelming results early in the campaign. This year looked different and Arsenal fans dared to hope of a first title in a decade. However yet again it is the lack of consistency over the course of a season which has cost Arsene Wenger’s men dear.
The visitors never really looked like scoring today, with Olivier Giroud unable to convert the few half-chances that came his way. Creative influences like Santi Cazorla couldn’t get possession close enough to the Everton goal to threaten. The introduction of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain gave Arsenal a bit more potency in attack but it came after Everton had wrapped up the game with their third goal. The only bright side for Arsenal today was the return from injury of Aaron Ramsay. Their season stuttered once he got injured in December.
93 mins – Sanogo found by Sagna and the substitute finally beats Howard. But… He’s offside and it doesn’t count. Howard takes the free-kick and the final whistle goes.
90 mins – Three minutes added.
88 mins – Barkley shows great strength to hold off Arteta and takes umbrage to an arm to the face. He shoves Arteta and Baines has a go too. Capping off a torrid afternoon for Arsenal, Arteta is the one who gets a yellow card in the aftermath. Not a happy day for the midfielder at his former club.
85 mins- Substitution for Everton as loanee Lukaku makes way for loanee Gerard Delofeu. Lukaku caused problems all day for the Arsenal defence.
85 mins – Oxlade-Chamberlain with a thumping shot from 25 yards that Howard tips onto the crossbar and out for a corner.
84 mins – Oxlade-Chamberlain hip checked by Gareth Barry in the box. I’ve seen them given but the referee waves play on.
81 mins – Ramsay threads a pass into space for Cazorla to run onto but the Spaniard didn’t read his intentions and the ball rolls out of play. Sums up Arsenal’s day.
80 mins – Substitution for Everton as former Aiden McGeady replaces goalscorer Stephen Naismith.
75 mins – Sanogo called back for a dubious offside. He dragged his shot across the goal and wide anyway.
72 mins – Seamus Coleman really enjoying his afternoon. Another sublime bit of skill to make a fool of Monreal on the right. It’s not just Coleman though, every single Everton player looks supremely comfortable on the ball right now.
70 mins – Substitution Final throw of the dice for Arsene Wenger as Sanogo comes on for Olivier Giroud. The French striker huffed and puffed today without really creating any chances of note.
68 mins – The visitors finally in possession and Cazorla gets a shot away that doesn’t really trouble Howard.
67 mins – Cheers following every Everton pass now as Arsenal can’t get near the ball.
65 mins – Substitutions for Arsenal. Ramsay and Oxlade Chamberlain on for Flamini and Podolski. Might be too little too late from Arsene Wenger.
62 mins – This could be a rout if Arsenal don’t regroup quickly. Coleman showboats down the right, doing keepy ups at full pace. He finds Lukaku whose pass reaches Barkley and the youngster shoots straight at the goalkeeper.
60 mins – GOAL! No sooner have I said that and Everton score on the counter attack! Mirallas surges forward in midfield and attempts to find Naismith. Scezny gets to the ball but pushes it back in front of the goal where Arteta seemed to get the last touch ahead of the on-rushing Mirallas.
60 mins – An hour gone at Goodison Park and while Arsenal have been brighter in the second half so far, they still don’t look much like threatening Tim Howard. Everton are looking to exploit the visitors on the break.
55 mins – At the other end Vermaelen does well to stop the ball from getting to Naismith who had nipped in behind the Arsenal defence.
53 mins – Mirallas is pressured by Sagna and brings the ball back into his own six yard box. Howard has to rescue the situation before Giroud pounces. Thirty seconds later Stones loses out to Cazorla on the left and an excellent Distin intervention is needed to stop Flamini from finding the target.
50 mins – Podolski finds some space on the left but John Stones comes across to cover. The 19 year old does well to get the tackle in and win a goal kick.
48 mins – Monreal sends in a dangerous cross after good build-up play from Arsenal, moving the ball across the field. No-one there to take advanatage of the ball in.
14:33 – Second half begins.
14:32 – Arsenal are back out early for the second half, talking among themselves. They need a big effort in the second half. Everton just emerging.
Half time thoughts – Arsenal have lot to do if they are to overturn the deficit in the second period. Everton are getting joy down both flanks as the Gunners attempt to play through the centre. Baines has threatened down the left on a number of occasions and Lukaku had all the time in the world to come in from the right and pick his spot for Everton’s second goal. If Arsene Wenger doesn’t direct Cazorla to stay out wide, or bring on Oxlade-Chamberlain to give Baines something to think about, then it’s difficult to see Everton losing this. They looked very comfortable in the first 45 minutes.
45 + 2 mins – Howard gathers a cross with Giroud lurking. The half time whistle goes.
45 mins – Two minutes extra to be played at the end of the first half.
43 mins – Yellow card for Flamini who will miss the next two games. The French midfielder mis-controlled a pass and took out Barkley while trying to retrieve the ball.
39 mins – Two saves in a minute for Howard. First he parries a Podolski cross away from the on-rushing Giroud, then reacts acrobatically to tip away a Podolski drive.
37 mins – That was Lukaku’s 13th goal of the season and he tries to add to his tally almost immediately. He drags a similar effort to the left and wide.
33 mins – GOAL! Lukaku receives the ball in space on the right. No Arsenal player comes to meet him and the Belgian makes his way to the edge of the box and dispatches and unstoppable effort beyond the goalkeeper’s outstretched arms.
32 mins – Arsenal’s first corner of the game. Stones uncharacteristically shaky so far in this game and the young Everton defender miskicks the ball close to his own goal. Giroud unable to pounce before Everton clear.
30 mins – Scezny down smartly to stop a Mirallas effort creeping in at the near post. Everton’s movement causing Arsenal problems in the first half hour.
27 mins – Everton very comfortable at the moment. They’re making inroads down the left as Santi Cazorla is playing narrow and allowing Leighton Baines space to get forward. If Kevin Mirallas can get into the game more then Arsenal will need to shore up the right side of their midfield.
23 mins – Mirallas tries to find Naismith behind the Arsenal defence. A clearance from Mertesacker goes back to the Belgian who doesn’t trouble Scezny with a tame effort.
20 mins – Naismith gets on the end of a low McCarthy drive across the box but can only divert the ball into the arms of the keeper. At the other end, Giroud fails to connect properly with a searching Sagna cross.
17 mins – Good play from Everton results in a corner which Mirallas overhits.
13 mins – GOAL! Naismith finishes coolly after Lukaku’s initial shot is blocked by Scezny. This just after John Stones put his own team under pressure with a poorly executed pass across his own goal. Howard did well to rescue and set up the move that led to Naismith’s third goal in two games.
12 mins – Naismith with a dangerous tackle on Arteta. The forward escapes a booking. Arsene Wenger looks furious.
11 mins – Nice link up play between Mirallas and Baines but the full-back is judged off-side before he can find someone with a ball across the six yard box.
10 mins – Flamini tests Howard with a shot from distance after Distin fails to control a long ball.
8 mins – Substitution Ross Barkley on for Osman as the Everton captain is unable to continue. The captain’s armband goes to Leighton Baines.
6 mins – Early chances for Everton. Naismith fails to find Lukaku with a cross, Seamus Coleman eventually whips the ball in from the right and but it’s cleared to Sagna. Leon Osman takes the full-back out and gets a yellow card and a knock to the head for his troubles. He goes off to receive treatment.
5 mins – Podolski with another attempt which goes out of play even further from the goals than the last.
4 mins – Boos for former Everton midfielder Arteta.
2 mins – Lively start here. Podolski with Arsenal’s first shot. Wide to Howard’s left.
1 min – Close! Leon Osman lets fly with a volley from just outside the box. Narrowly sails past the top right-hand corner with the keeper beaten.
13:30 -And they’re off.
13:29 – Ross Barkley and Gerard Delofeu on the bench for Everton today. Kieron Gibbs is injured and Nacho Monreal takes his place at left full-back for Arsenal.
13:27 – They’re almost ready to kick-off on Merseyside. Remember a win for Everton would greatly increase their chances of finishing in the top four for the first time since the 04/05 season. A win for Arsenal will see the North London side put a near impossible distance between them and their opponents today.
13:25 – The teams are out. The tunnel in Goodison Park is barely big enough for the two sides.
13:20 – Everton’s on loan midfielder Gareth Barry has been talking up his team-mate James McCarthy this week, saying he’s one of the best midfielders he’s played alongside. High praise indeed, considering he’s played in teams with Steven Gerrard, Yaya Toure and Marc Albrighton.