Moyes planning to spike Gunners and lay siege to top four

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The Independent Football


David Moyes has been reflecting for some weeks now on his sense that he is finally delivering Everton's perennially pessimistic fans back to the place where they were in the Eighties, when the club was "at the forefront of English football". The fact that anything less than a point at home to Arsenal today would be a surprise result for many is an illustration of why he feels that way.

Since that intense October day at Goodison when Mark Clattenburg played a full part in Liverpool collecting the points from the Merseyside derby, Everton have lost only once and that, last Sunday, to a Manchester United side who seemed tamed until Steven Pienaar played the fall guy so Moyes has grounds for optimism.

Each time the big clubs arrive at Goodison, Moyes is at pains to point out that Everton command the ambition to do more than simply stop good opposition these days, though he did suggest yesterday that creativity may not be in the greatest abundance this afternoon, given the threat posed by Arsne Wenger's young side.

"I hope we can play good football but the first thing you have to do against Arsenal is stop them from playing, and that is a big task," said Moyes, who does not have much sympathy with Wenger's concerns about the way Portsmouth stifled the Gunners on Boxing Day. "The job of a coach is to find a way of getting a result and I will be hoping to do the same," Moyes said.

Neither is Moyes much convinced by the John Terry school of thought, which has it that Arsenal do not travel well up north. "You have to remember that we are still playing a fabulous side, and you cannot ignore the fantastic ability throughout the squad," he said.

And yet, recent history is on Everton's side. The last two league games between the sides at Goodison have ended 1-0 for the hosts and, while not diminishing the task ahead of him, Moyes does accept that Arsenal whose league position has been undermined this month by draws at Newcastle and Portsmouth and defeat at Middlesbrough are "a little bit down from where they were two months ago."

Moyes is surprised by what Arsenal have achieved since Thierry Henry left. Cesc Fabregas "in the top two or three players in the Premier League; a player I really admire" stands out for him. But if Everton do find the means to do some playmaking of their own, they can look to Fabregas's compatriot and close friend, Mikel Arteta, not to mention the man who has managed to break the frown of a steadfast Moyes at many a post-match press conference lately: Tim Cahill.

The Australian, who has flourished in Moyes' 4-5-1 formation, and managed eight, often spectacular, goals in just 14 appearances this season, declared yesterday that it was "just so exciting being in the box scoring goals". There was certainly no disguising the joy he feels at his return to the side, at the end of a difficult year in which damaged medial ligaments and a twice-broken metatarsal have left him sidelined for long periods.

The commanding role of Joleon Lescott has also contributed to the Everton run which has taken them to sixth in the league, the semi-finals of the Carling Cup and with an unbeaten flourish the last 32 of the Uefa Cup.

Yet Moyes still feels that a top-six, rather than top-four place is more realistic, even though he fancies that his side can "put the cat among the pigeons and get amongst the big boys" in the second half of the season.

Fourth place is "a difficult task," Moyes said, albeit not impossible, as his side showed in 2004/05. "We have done it before and that was down to us playing well rather than anyone else slipping," he said. "Money is always the comparison with the top four and in that respect we are still down the list.

"There is a closer challenge from other clubs this season but that is largely down to money. Aston Villa, Manchester City and ourselves have spent big. But I still think you have to go a long way to break in."

If this afternoon goes his side's way, Moyes may find himself reappraising that position.



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