Everton will be motivated by revenge as they try to wrap up a UEFA Cup spot against Arsenal today.
David Moyes’ team can secure the fifth place finish that guarantees European soccer if Villa fail to beat Wigan Athletic and the Toffees win at the Emirates Stadium 24 hours later.
That could be a tall order considering Arsenal are unbeaten at home this season and Everton last won at the north London club way back in January 1996.
But if the lure of continental action next season is not enough motivation, Moyes will be able to remind his players of their frustrating loss to the Gunners earlier this term and Arsene Wenger’s scathing assessment of Andy Johnson.
Everton led through Tim Cahill’s goal and dominated for long periods against Arsenal at Goodison Park in December before eventually slumping to a 4-1 defeat that Moyes insisted was harsh on his side.
“It should be a great occasion on Sunday. Arsenal have been very good this season, but we’re going to try and get a result,” Moyes said. “We played well against them in the first half this season when they were going really well.”
The chance to avenge that result can only add to Everton’s desire today and Johnson will be especially keen to make a point.
Wenger’s claim two years ago that Johnson often exaggerated fouls to win penalties and free-kicks still rankles with the England international.
Johnson has struggled for goals this season and Moyes believes he has gone into his shell since Wenger and Jose Mourinho singled him out for criticism.
Now the Everton manager wants his forward to be more aggressive in the penalty area again.
“He works hard for everyone, but maybe he needs to remonstrate a bit more when decisions go against him. Saying nothing is obviously not working,” Moyes said. “I think it is important that he comes alive again and gets back to being a menace in the penalty area. He needs to draw attention to himself. Maybe the decisions that have gone against him have made him become a quiet person on the field. Hopefully we’ll see AJ back to his best in the last couple of games.”
Moyes’ hopes of gaining a crucial win have been boosted by Mikel Arteta’s return to fitness. The Spanish midfielder should start after stomach and groin injuries.
While Everton eye Europe, Arsenal could mathematically still win the Premier League in the unlikely event that Manchester United and Chelsea both lose this weekend.
Realistically the Gunners, who are four points behind the joint leaders, will have to settle for third place and the knowledge that they should go even closer next year if Wenger can add strength in depth to his talented young squad.
Persuading Mathieu Flamini to stay would be a bonus for Wenger, but the French midfielder, the most pleasant surprise of Arsenal’s season, is still to sign a new contract.
Juventus and AC Milan are reportedly interested in Flamini, who can leave on a free transfer in June and Wenger is unsure if he will remain at the Emirates.
“I know that if it’s down to football then he will stay here. If it’s down to football or financial resources he might not stay here,” Wenger said. “He is free to choose a different direction, everybody is free out of contract and you have to respect that. Certainly we should get an answer this weekend.”
Flamini could return from an ankle injury today, but Robin van Persie will miss out after suffering a thigh injury in the 6-2 win at Derby and Alexander Hleb is suspended.