First up is a Premier League game at home to Everton tomorrow afternoon and it's followed by a midweek trip to Napoli on Wednesday night for a game where Arsenal can lose by two goals and still qualify but will win the group if they avoid defeat. That game is followed by an early kick off on Saturday at home to free scoring Manchester City and then a trip to Chelsea nine days later both in the Premier League. At least there will be a good break between the City and Chelsea games, but the other three games are very close together thanks to TV scheduling.In recent weeks Arsenal have quite often played before the other teams at the top of the league and put the pressure on them by winning. This week Arsenal will play last and already City have drawn at Southampton and Chelsea have been beaten away to Stoke. There's a great chance for Arsenal to increase their lead over the two teams who are seen as the favourites to win the league.
Of course Everton are no pushover as they proved by winning away to United last week and their only league defeat so far this season came away to free scoring City. They were on the end of two very bad refereeing decisions in that game and were by no means outplayed by City. They will come to Arsenal full of confidence and will think they have every chance of getting something out of the game.
They have some very good players and will look to catch Arsenal on the break as often as they can. Their defensive record has been very good in recent games too with the exception of the 3-3 draw at home to Liverpool, but local derbies are difficult games to predict. They have kept clean sheets in five of their last six games though and only Arsenal can match that record. Only Arsenal have a better defensive record away from home than Everton and their defence won't be easy to break down.
Arsene Wenger rotated the team on Wednesday night by making five changes from the team which beat Cardiff 3-0 the previous weekend. The same players will be available for tomorrow and I expect the boss to make a few changes.
In defence I'm not sure if he will bring Kieran Gibbs back in at left back as Nacho Monreal was impressive, but Carl Jenkinson will definitely deputise for the still injured Bacary Sagna. In midfield I think both Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil will both play again and I wouldn't be surprised if two defensive midfielders are deployed in Mikael Arteta and Mathieu Flamini. I have no doubt that Olivier Giroud will return and the other player to make the 11 could well be Jack Wilshere.
As good as Everton have been so far this season they will have their work cut out trying to keep up with an Arsenal team who are full of confidence and playing very well at the moment. They have won 11 of their 14 league games and have won their last six home games in a row. The only goal they have conceded in their last six games was the one which saw them lose at United and they have the best defensive record in the league. They have only conceded two goals in those six home wins in a row and scored 14 and that's a record which speaks for itself.
I expect Arsenal to dominate possession and Everton to look to take their chances on the break or from set pieces. If Arsenal play both Arteta and Flamini their defensive contribution will be very important to stop Everton breaking and I hope do both do play. It's important for Arsenal to take advantage of the slips by both City and Chelsea and a win would be a magnificent result ahead of the games they have coming up.
It certainly won't be easy for Arsenal to get that win but I think the Everton defence can be got at despite their recent defensive record. If they can put enough pressure on Everton and play the game with a high tempo I think they will make chances. It's a matter of taking those chances when they come along while limiting Everton's chances at the other end.
A draw would be by no means a bad result for Arsenal but a seven point lead at the top of the league is something which Arsenal have to give their all to try for. If they can win they will still be on top of the league after they have played both City and Chelsea in their next two league games regardless of the results against those teams. That's something which has to be considered by the boss when he's picking the team and it's why I think he will play both Ozil and Ramsey.
It's hard to overestimate the importance of those two players to the Arsenal team and how they play at the moment. It may be a risk to play them both with the Napoli game meaning so much on Wednesday night, but I don't think they will be quite so important in that game. With Arsenal knowing exactly what they have to do against Napoli I think they can cope without the two of them if they have to and still get the result they need.
It would be great to have a virtually full strength Arsenal team going to City next Saturday morning with a seven point lead at the top of the league and looking to end a City's incredible record at home. If they're going to do so a I think three points off Everton are the perfect way to start the week and I think they will beat Everton. It will probably be a very close game and could well be decided by one piece of magic and I think Arsenal possess the players who are capable of making that happen.
That's it for today.
See you tomorrow.