Few will be surprised should the recently-prolific Aaron Ramsey rack up a few awards this season, while Arsenal fans are celebra the much-improved Olivier Giroud as much as they are still cooing over their big-money signing Mesut Ozil. It’s exciting times to be a Gunners fan.
But should Arsenal win the Premier League and end a well-documented barren spell, Arsene Wenger is likely to owe much of his gratitude to his defensive unit.
In goal, Wojciech Szczesny has improved his concentration levels, cut out the errors and proven a matchwinner on several occasions already this season. And the Polish keeper is more than open about how much he is enjoying playing behind a solid back four that is currently the stingiest in the Premier League.
With Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny keeping out club captain Thomas Vermaelen, the pair have been integral to ensuring that Arsenal’s “against” column reads only 10, from 14 games.
While scoring goals has rarely been an issue under Wenger’s free-flowing football blueprint, a meaner backline is arguably the key to Arsenal finally posing a prolonged assault on the title. The Gunners are 12/5 third favourites to lift the Premier League trophy for the first time in 2004.
But on Sunday they’ll welcome another side who know a thing or two about keeping clean sheets. Everton (4/1 to win) have condeded only three more goals than Arsenal (7/10) this season, making them the second best at the back along with Southampton.
Yet there is something rather unexpected about the Toffees’ defensive stability. As Wigan manager, Roberto Martinez was hailed for the attractive, if somewhat cavalier, football played by the north west underdogs. Under the Spaniard, few expected Everton to be the type to grind out 1-0 victories. Yet in big matches against Chelsea and most recently at Old Trafford, that’s exactly what they’ve proven themselves capable of doing.
Their clean sheet against Manchester United was their fifth in their last six league games. Arsenal boast exactly the same record from their last six. Even missing first choice full backs – Bacary Sagna for Arsenal and Everton’s Leighton Baines – hasn’t jeapordised their respective stability, thanks to impressive stand-in performances from Carl Jenkinson and potentially a find of the season in Bryan Oviedo.
Given the mountain of evidence lauding both sides’ rearguard resistance, it’s certainly worth looking at the draw at 13/5, with the 0-0 available at 11/1. There may not have been a 0-0 at the Emirates in any competition for 14 games, but just to add further incentive to the suggestion that one may be due is the fact that the last time there was a nil-nil, in April of this year, it was against Everton.
In fact, in the last four games between these sides, no game has seen more than two goals scored, making the under 2.5 goals bet at evens a solid punt, while you can add the draw (draw and under 2.5 goals) for increased odds of 18/5.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.