Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is confident his side will not be bullied in tough away trips again this season – starting at Everton today.
The Gunners head to Goodison Park looking to produce a much-improved display than the 3-0 defeat suffered in April, which looked to have put a huge dent in ambitions of finishing in the top four of the Premier League once again.
Wenger admitted it was a “low point” of a roller-coaster campaign which would eventually finish in triumph, lifting the FA Cup at Wembley and having overtaken Everton after they faltered in the closing matches.
It was Arsenal’s failures away to their title rivals – suffering heavy defeats at Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea – which ultimately scuppered any championship ambitions for a team who had been top of the table until February.
Wenger accepts there can be no repeat if Arsenal are to last the distance through to May 2015.
“Last year, yes in the quality of our performance and even more than that in mental resistance, the mental steel on the day, that (Everton away) was one of our low points,” Wenger said.
“At the start I played with Arteta and Flamini in the middle of the park; we had not Ozil, we had Ramsey on the bench, just coming back from injury. We played with Podolski and Giroud, and we were a bit bullied.
“At the back we had Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Monreal and Sagna. It was an off day, as well physically. Yes (I was worried we would not make the top four) because it was not in our hands any more. It was in the hands of Everton. It was only their defeat against Crystal Palace at home that allowed us to get there.”
Wenger feels this time around, things can be very different.
“Many teams think that (Arsenal can be bullied). We get that question many times,” he said.
“But if you look at the results from the last three or four years away from home, we are the team with the best away results.”
Meanwhile, Everton boss Roberto Martinez believes the game will be provide a good measure of his side’s level.
The Blues drew 2-2 at Leicester last week in a game they really should have won and the Spaniard knows they face a much tougher task today.
“You need to face this sort of opposition,” he said.
“It is true that until you play against sides like Arsenal and Chelsea you don’t have the answers on the pitch.
“As a team we are ready. I feel pre-season was perfect, a real success. Now we have to make sure we are as strong a team as we can be. You can only see that when you face opposition like we are going to face at the weekend.”
Ross Barkley will be out for a prolonged period due to a knee injury sustained in training last week. Both Kevin Mirallas and Seamus Coleman will hope to step up their fitness and start having come off the bench in the draw last weekend.
Mikel Arteta will miss the trip because of an ankle problem. Per Mertesacker, Lukas Podolski and Mesut Ozil could return, as could forward Yaya Sanogo (hamstring). Kieran Gibbs, Theo Walcott and Serge Gnabry are all out.
Everton (4-2-3-1): Howard; Stones, Jagielka, Distin, Baines; McCarthy, Barry; McGeady, Naismith, Pienaar; Lukaku
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Szczesny; Debuchy, Chambers, Mertesacker, Monreal; Wilshere, Flamini; Sanchez, Ramsey, Cazorla; Giroud
Everton – Steven Pienaar
The playmaker had the most disjointed season of his Everton career last term, but he looked fit and sharp at Leicester last week where he was the Blues’ best player. Look out for his majestic understanding with Leighton Baines.
Arsenal – Mathieu Debuchy
The France international has settled down extremely quickly following his summer move from Newcastle with some polished displays at right full-back. A tenacious defnder, Debuchy has also offered a threat going forward and has seamlessly filled the hole left by Bacary Sagna’s departure.
Despite Arsenal getting hammered in the same fixture last season, expect a more resilient performance from Arsene Wenger's men. Neither side was impressive in their opening fixture so we're going for a draw. Everton 1-1 Arsenal