Football: Prime movers heading in different directions

Everton must stop Arsenal clinching the title tomorrow to help their fight to avoid relegation for the first time since 1954. Phil Shaw on an intriguing weekend
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The Independent Online
THEY are the two most durable survivors in the English game's elite division and were prime movers in the advent of the Premier League. But for Arsenal and Everton, who meet tomorrow knowing that a home win would clinch the Gunners' 11th championship, a parting of the ways may be imminent.

Highbury's glory, in which Ian Wright stands by to play a part following the untimely injury to Dennis Bergkamp, will be Goodison's grief. A decade after Everton would have been competing for the European Cup but for the post-Heysel ban on English clubs, defeat would bring a step closer the prospect of derbies with Tranmere rather than Liverpool.

Four years ago, Everton escaped relegation to the level at which they last played in 1954 by scraping past Wimbledon on the final day. Failure to prevent Arsenal's 10th consecutive Premiership victory is likely to leave their hopes hanging on an indentical result at home to Coventry a week tomorrow.

Everton's fate is now inextricably entwined with that of Bolton. A home win over an already-doomed Crystal Palace today would see Bolton clamber over Howard Kendall's team and out of the drop zone.

The momentum is suddenly with Bolton. Palace's morale will not have been enhanced by the decision of their chairman, Ron Noades, to take joint charge of playing affairs, while next Sunday's final reckoning looks less arduous for the Lancashire club now that Chelsea have admitted their priority is the Cup-Winners' Cup final 72 hours later.

In normal circumstances, Kendall might have viewed Bergkamp's absence as a major fillip. However, Arsenal have had to learn to succeed without the newly elected Footballer of the Year, and Arsene Wenger may have the ideal understudy.

Wright, though totally dissimilar in style to the Dutchman, should be fresh, if not quite match-fit, following his long lay-off. Apart from his desire to underline his worth to Glenn Hoddle, he also has the extraordinary record of 12 goals in nine matches against Everton.

In the unlikely event of Arsenal faltering, Manchester United's tussle with Leeds on Monday will have added spice it hardly needs. Wenger would then have an unexpected opportunity to emulate George Graham's feat of 1989 by clinching the title at Liverpool on Wednesday.

Even the bluest of Evertonians would be shocked if their team threw the race open again. Indeed, by tonight, their concern may extend beyond Bolton to Barnsley, whose penultimate fixture leads them to a Leicester side with fewer home wins than anyone other than Palace. Only three points will prolong the struggle for Barnsley, who conclude with a visit by Alex Ferguson and company.

The point Wimbledon ground out at Coventry in midweek makes them safe; further proof, if any were required, of the managerial skills that may eventually lead Joe Kinnear back to today's visitors, Tottenham.

An unfavourable goal difference leaves Spurs still needing another win to secure their top-flight future. Whether it comes today may hinge as much on David Ginola's response to being told he is not good enough for France's World Cup squad as on the hunger of Les Ferdinand and Jurgen Klinsmann to make it to the finals.

Ginola has consistently belied his image as a dilettante. In a more successful side he would have been a valid choice as Footballer of the Year. His skills were never in doubt at Newcastle, but it is a curious paradox that Spurs, the definitive fancy dans' club, have brought out hidden depths of industry.

Quite how Kenny Dalglish thought he could do without Ginola is a mystery, given Newcastle's mediocrity. While they would confirm their status by beating Chelsea, such considerations could almost become secondary compared with the scrutiny to which Alan Shearer will be subjected.

With France 98 looming, the England captain's recent boorishness has been alarming. Setting aside Dalglish's risible denial that it was an act without malice, the boot he swung into the face of Leicester's Neil Lennon can only be interpreted as proof of his frustration with his own and Newcastle's indifferent form.

Shearer would normally have been odds-on to finish as the Premiership's top scorer. In his protracted absence, his former partner at Blackburn, Chris Sutton, moved into the lead and now has 17 goals, one more than Dion Dublin, whom he faces at Coventry today, and Bergkamp, Jimmy Hasselbaink and Michael Owen.

Spearheaded by Owen, Liverpool take on West Ham, who harbour Uefa Cup hopes but last won at Anfield in 1963 and have scored just twice in 15 visits. Paul Ince's reaction to the abuse he invariably receives from his old club's followers will also come under the microscope, especially since it is only 10 days since his altercation with a West Ham fan outside Wembley.