Huddersfield can approach Man United test with 'total freedom' - Wagner
When Everton travel to Arsenal on Saturday, the teams might wish to compare notes as both meander their way through disappointing domestic campaigns ahead of a potentially pivotal summer and ongoing doubts over their respective managers.
Neither team has lived up to expectation and current form reflects the lack of consistency. Everton beat Leicester 2-1 in midweek but had won none of their seven previous games; Arsenal lost 3-1 at Swansea and have won only one of their last five league games.
With Everton isolated in ninth and Arsenal now adrift in sixth, both teams are at least a couple of places below where they might expect to be. Both teams also ranked among the busier in the January transfer window, including the transfer of Theo Walcott between the two clubs for around £20 million, the 28-year-old swapping red for blue in search of regular football after not starting a league game for Arsenal this season.
Without a league start since April, Walcott had reached the end of his time at Arsenal. While no doubt keeping found memories of his 12 years in North London, Walcott might believe he has something to prove to his old team after a reduced role for much of his final year at the club.
That hunger, and the chance to play regular first-team football again, perhaps accounts for the rapid start Walcott has made on Merseyside. In only 180 minutes, with two goals and an assist, Walcott has already directly contributed to three goals, which is 11 percent of Everton's league tally for the entire season. His 14-minute midweek double against Leicester made Walcott only the eighth Everton player to score in the league this term.
The two close-range strikes seemed simple enough, though partly because Walcott made both look effortless. The ease of both finishes showed the touch of class in the final third that has been absent in this Everton team for much of the season. It was a reminder of the finishing ability that helped him score more than 100 goals for Arsenal.
To add further context to this fast start, Walcott now stands fifth in goals and joint fourth in assists among Everton players after just two matches. His average of three shots per game is a team-high. All three of the shots on target against Leicester were from Walcott.
Even at this early stage, his all-round performances are just as impressive as the attack-minded aspects, displaying a rarely mentioned work rate and willingness to contribute to the defensive effort. After countless attempts in recent years to identify a player comfortable out wide and capable of mixing craft and graft, Everton might finally have struck lucky.
With his pace and finishing ability, Walcott is the best bet if Everton are to stand a chance of ending their miserable record in this fixture and in matches against Arsenal in general. Arsenal have scored 100 Premier League goals against Everton. No other Premier League team has ever scored as many goals against another Premier League team.
Since Graham Stuart and Andrei Kanchelskis scored in a 2-1 win in January 1996, the winless Everton run at Highbury and the Emirates stands at 23 matches in all competitions. Four successive Emirates defeats, with 11 goals conceded, offers a snapshot of recent meetings and highlights the challenge facing manager Sam Allardyce and his players this weekend.
Allardyce also must weigh up whether right-back Seamus Coleman can cope with two matches in the space of four days after returning from his double leg break and 10 months out of action. A debut for centre-back Eliaquim Mangala seems unlikely but remains plausible due to Allardyce's frustrating knack for rotating centre-backs on a weekly basis.
Allardyce requires a plan capable of securing a rare Everton win in this fixture and nullifying Arsenal's home form that is second only to Manchester City. Arsene Wenger's team has scored two or more goals in 10 of their 12 home games this season.
But there is some hope for the visitors. Though the Swansea defeat came away from the Emirates, the blueprint to defeat Arsenal should remain the same for Everton in this match. Only Watford have dropped more points than Arsenal from winning positions this season.
Preferably without conceding first, as Swansea did, Everton need to try to capitalise on that potential vulnerability. Everton performed best against Leicester when pressing the ball and forcing mistakes. Arsenal might not possess the same quality or fear factor as years gone by, but there is more than enough quality available to pick a still makeshift Everton defence apart if the away side merely turn up in damage-limitation mode.
Everton can be bold without being reckless, and the best hope of ending this 22-year run of misery is a positive approach, with Walcott at the forefront of it against his former club.
Luke is ESPN FC's Everton blogger. Follow Luke on Twitter @lukeofarrell.
BURNLEY VS. MAN CITY
BURNLEY: Team news to follow.....
MAN CITY: Playmaker David Silva is doubtful due to a hip injury. Defender John Stones could be back in contention after missing the midweek victory over West Brom through illness. Striker Gabriel Jesus (knee), winger Leroy Sane (ankle), midfielder Phil Foden (ankle) and left-backs Benjamin Mendy and Fabian Delph (both knee) remain on the sidelines.Provisional squad: Ederson, Bravo, Walker, Stones, Otamendi, Laporte, Kompany, Zinchenko, Danilo, Gundogan, Fernandinho, Toure, De Bruyne, B Silva, Sterling, Diaz, Nmecha, Aguero.
BOURNEMOUTH VS. STOKE
BOURNEMOUTH: The Cherries will again be without defender Adam Smith because of a thigh problem. Forward Jermain Defoe remains absent having fractured his right ankle. Defender Tyrone Mings continues his recovery form a back problem.Provisional squad: Begovic, S Cook, Francis, Ake, Daniels, L Cook, Fraser, Gosling, Ibe, Stanislas, Wilson, Boruc, Simpson, Arter, Surman, Pugh, King, Mousset.
STOKE: Paul Lambert will assess new signing Badou Ndiaye as the 27-year-old did not train with his new teammates until Friday. Lambert has no new injury concerns but could opt to make changes up front after the impact made by substitute Peter Crouch in the midweek draw with Watford. Lambert has also been impressed by Saido Berahino's finishing in training, although he wants the former West Brom forward to improve his fitness.
BRIGHTON VS. WEST HAM
BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION: Bruno has been passed fit after sitting out the last three matches to rest a minor back problem. New signing Jurgen Locadia has begun training after a hamstring injury but is not match fit, while Jiri Skalak and Steve Sidwell (both ankle) are sidelined.Provisional squad: Ryan, Krul, Bong, Bruno, Duffy, Dunk, Hunemeier, Rosenior, Goldson, Schelotto, Suttner, Kayal, Propper, Knockaert, Stephens, March, Izquierdo, Gross, Ulloa, Murray, Hemed, Baldock.
WEST HAM: Jordan Hugill is in contention after signing on transfer deadline day, as is the fit-again Michael Antonio. Marko Arnautovic and Manuel Lanzini are close to returning from thigh injuries but remain sidelined, alongside Andy Caroll (foot), Jose Fonte (ankle), Winston Reid (groin), Pedro Obiang (knee), Edimilson Fernandes (ankle) and the suspended Arthur Masuaku.Provisional squad: Adrian, Hart, Collins, Ogbonna, Rice, Cresswell, Zabaleta, Byram, Noble, Burke, Cullen, Mario, Oxford, Haksabanovic, Makasi, Antonio, Hernandez, Hugill, Martinez.
LEICESTER VS. SWANSEA
LEICESTER: Riyad Mahrez's continued absence means Leicester manager Claude Puel will have an unchanged squad. Captain Wes Morgan (hamstring) has resumed training but he is not yet ready to be considered for selection and the defender remains the only injury absentee.Provisional squad: Schmeichel, Hamer, Jakupovic, Maguire, Huth, Fuchs, Simpson, Chilwell, Benalouane, Dragovic, James, Albrighton, Amartey, Gray, Silva, Ndidi, Iborra, Choudhury, Vardy, Okazaki, Iheanacho, Diabate.
SWANSEA: Deadline-day signing Andre Ayew picked up a hamstring problem during his last few weeks at West Ham and Swansea will determine the results of a scan to see if the returning striker can make his second debut for the club. Loan signing Andy King is unable to play against his parent club, while Renato Sanches remains out with a muscle problem.Provisional squad: Fabianski, Naughton, Van der Hoorn, Fernandez, Mawson, Olsson, Ki, Fer, Clucas, Dyer, J Ayew, A Ayew, Bony, Narsingh, Abraham, Nordfeldt, Roberts, Rangel, Bartley, Britton, Carroll, Routledge.
MAN UNITED VS. HUDDERSFIELD
MAN UNITED: Marouane Fellaini joins the club's injury list after coming off shortly after being brought on at Tottenham. Defender Eric Bailly and striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic remain absent and defender Daley Blind has been out with an ankle issue recently but Alexis Sanchez is in line to make his home debut for United.Provisional squad: De Gea, Romero, Pereira, Valencia, Darmian, Jones, Lindelof, Smalling, Rojo, Shaw, Young, Matic, Carrick, McTominay, Herrera, Pogba, Lingard, Mata, Martial, Rashford, Sanchez, Lukaku.
HUDDERSFIELD: The Terriers will be without Danny Williams again, after he missed the midweek defeat to Liverpool due to the dead leg. Chris Lowe (groin) is also ruled out as the Terriers try to end a four-game losing streak which has left them just a point above the relegation places. Loan signing Terence Kongolo was taken to hospital after feeling ill following the Liverpool game, but he has been given the all-clear.Provisional squad: Lossl, Coleman, Malone, Hadergjonaj, Schindler, Jorgensen, Smith, Kongolo, Hogg, Mooy, Pritchard, Ince, Van La Parra, Depoitre, Quaner, Billing, Sabiri, Mounie.
WEST BROM VS. SOUTHAMPTON
WEST BROM: Jonny Evans could return after missing the defeat to Manchester City with a hamstring injury. Liverpool loanee Daniel Sturridge may make his home debut after coming on as a substitute at the Etihad Stadium and fellow new arrival Ali Gabr could feature, but Nacer Chadli (hip) and James Morrison (Achilles) remain sidelined.Provisional squad: Foster, Myhill, Nyom, Evans, McAuley, Hegazi, Gabr, Gibbs, Brunt, Yacob, Livermore, Field, Phillips, McClean, Barry, Krychowiak, Burke, Rodriguez, Robson-Kanu, Rondon, Sturridge.
SOUTHAMPTON: Saints have doubts over striker Manolo Gabbiadini, who missed training on Thursday due to a hip problem. Recent signing Guido Carrillo could be given his first start after making his Premier League debut as a substitute against Brighton in midweek, but fellow forward Charlie Austin remains out with a hamstring injury.Provisional squad: Forster, McCarthy, Taylor, Soares, Pied, Yoshida, Stephens, Hoedt, Bertrand, McQueen, Gardos, Lemina, Romeu, Hojbjerg, Davis, Ward-Prowse, Rose, Tadic, Redmond, Long, Carrillo, Gabbiadini.
ARSENAL VS. EVERTON
ARSENAL: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang may have to wait for his Arsenal debut as illness could rule him out. Arsene Wenger has confirmed Henrikh Mkhitaryan will make his first start but Jack Wilshere has also been ill and could be sidelined, while Danny Welbeck (hip) and Santi Cazorla (Achilles) remain absent.Provisional squad: Cech, Ospina, Mertesacker, Holding, Mustafi, Koscielny, Chambers, Monreal, Mavropanos, Bellerin, Nelson, Kolasinac, Maitland-Niles, Wilshere, Xhaka, Elneny, Ramsey, Ozil, Iwobi, Mkhitaryan, Aubameyang, Lacazette.
EVERTON: On-loan defender Eliaquim Mangala is set to be in the squad. Sam Allardyce may decide to rest Seamus Coleman after his first appearance in 319 days following a double leg fracture, while midfielder James McCarthy is in the early stages of rehabilitation from a similar injury.Provisional squad: Pickford, Kenny, Jagielka, Keane, Martina, Gueye, Schneiderlin, Walcott, Sigurdsson, Bolasie, Calvert-Lewin, Robles, Coleman, Mangala, Williams, Davies, Rooney, Niasse, Tosun.
CRYSTAL PALACE VS. NEWCASTLE
CRYSTAL PALACE: Team news to follow.....
NEWCASTLE: Rafael Benitez will make a late decision on loan signing Islam Slimani, who is nursing a minor thigh injury. Keeper Martin Dubravka will go straight into the squad after completing his switch from Sparta Prague and he will be joined by Rob Elliot following his recovery from a back problem, but defenders Jesus Gamez (ankle) and Florian Lejeune (foot) are still out.Provisional squad: Darlow, Dubravka, Elliot, Yedlin, Manquillo, Dummett, Haidara, Lascelles, Clark, Mbemba, Merino, Hayden, Shelvey, Ritchie, Atsu, Murphy, Diame, Kenedy, Perez, Slimani, Joselu, Gayle.
LIVERPOOL VS. TOTTENHAM
LIVERPOOL: Centre-back Virgil van Dijk is set to return after being rested at Huddersfield. Midfielder Adam Lallana has returned to training after a recurrence of a thigh problem but is unlikely to be ready for Sunday. Defender Nathaniel Clyne, who has not featured this season because of a back injury, is close to returning to training and has been named in the club's Champions League squad for the knockout stages.Provisional squad: Karius, Gomez, Van Dijk, Matip, Robertson, Henderson, Can, Wijnaldum, Salah, Firmino, Mane, Mignolet, Alexander-Arnold, Lovren, Klavan, Moreno, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ings, Solanke.
TOTTENHAM: Lucas Moura is unlikely to make his debut as he needs to improve his fitness after joining from Paris St Germain, but Serge Aurier and Harry Winks are both in contention having recovered from ankle and calf injuries respectively. Toby Alderweireld and Danny Rose are also back in training and could return.Provisional squad: Lloris, Vorm, Gazzaniga, Rose, Davies, Walker-Peters, Vertonghen, Alderweireld, Sanchez, Dier, Foyth, Aurier, Trippier, Wanyama, Sissoko, Winks, Dembele, Oakley-Boothe, Alli, Eriksen, Son, Lamela, Llorente, Kane.
WATFORD VS. CHELSEA
WATFORD: Heurelho Gomes is still out after being sidelined for three matches with a back complaint. Didier Ndong could make his first Hornets appearance following his deadline-day switch from Sunderland. Younes Kaboul (foot), Miguel Britos (ankle), Kiko Femenia, Will Hughes (both hamstring), Isaac Success, Craig Cathcart, and Nathaniel Chalobah (all knee) remain unavailable.Provisional squad: Karnezis, Bachmann, Zeegelaar, Janmaat, Kabasele, Cleverley, Doucoure, Pereyra, Richarlison, Carrillo, Prodl, Holebas, Capoue, Stewart, Gray, Okaka, Deeney, Deulofeu.
CHELSEA: Team news to follow.....
Huddersfield boss David Wagner is happy with the commitment of his squad as they try to pull off a "miracle" Premier League survival.
Wagner's side began the season in strong form and recorded a famous victory over Saturday's opponents Manchester United in October. But they have now gone seven league games without a win, including four defeats in succession.
The latest of those, a 3-0 home loss to Liverpool, left the Terriers just a point above the relegation places ahead of the trip to Old Trafford, where Jose Mourinho's side will be seeking revenge for their 2-1 defeat at the John Smith's Stadium earlier in the season.
Wagner did limited business in the January transfer window as Terence Kongolo joined on loan from Monaco and Alex Pritchard arrived on a permanent deal from Norwich.
But with Martin Cranie and Joe Lolley joining Middlesbrough and Nottingham Forest respectively on deadline day, Wagner believes the players at his disposal are fully committed to the cause.
"The idea was to try to strengthen the squad, even if everyone knows how difficult it is, especially for a club like us,'' Wagner told a news conference.
"We added to our group and Martin and Joe left and it makes sense for us because everybody knows we have a big challenge in front of us, to try to be successful with only players who 100 percent commit. They had opportunities to move on and I totally respect their decision.
"We know exactly which group of players try to make another miracle happen and this is that we stay in the Premier League."
Speaking about the game against Manchester United, Wagner added: "It is important we have belief rather than dreams. We will try everything to steal something from this game. We are so excited about this event, there are not a lot of better occasions in the football world.
"Why shouldn't we be positive? At the start of the season everyone thought after 25 games Huddersfield would be bottom of the table with maybe 15 points.
"Now we are one of the teams fighting for survival. No-one likes defeats, but we are positive because we are fighting, something no-one expected. Nobody expects anything from us so we can take this game with total freedom."