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Aug 22, 2014

Five questions: Everton vs. Arsenal

Alexis Sanchez came inches from winning it for Arsenal in the 89th minute despite being a man down, but it ended in a scoreless draw.

With the second week of the Premier League kicking off on Aug. 23, ESPN FC has five questions ahead of the marquee match between Everton and Arsenal on Saturday.

Will Jack Wilshere take his chance?

This feels like a crucial season for Jack Wilshere.

Inconsistency has plagued his career so far, whether that's to do with fitness or form, but he has looked in pretty good physical shape so far this term and has been given a crucial role in the Arsenal side for the opening few games.

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In Mesut Ozil's absence, Wilshere has played in the No.10 role, the designated creative fulcrum, but results have been rather mixed.

He was lively against Manchester City in the Community Shield but frustrating against both Crystal Palace and Besiktas, in many ways providing a neat summary of his whole career so far: He shows promise but goes missing a little too often to fully deliver on it.

It seems unlikely that Arsene Wenger, despite confirming that this game is the one he planned to reintroduce his German players in, will start with Ozil against Everton, meaning Wilshere will have another chance to impress. It will be tough, as he'll face two of the Premier League's better deep midfielders in Gareth Barry and James McCarthy, but if Wilshere can provide the sort of spark everyone thinks he's capable of, he might still keep his place.

If not, it's likely to be another frustrating season for the midfielder.

Arsenal will be concerned with marking Romelu Lukaku, left, on Saturday, but the Gunners will need Jack Wilshere to have a good game to get a result.

How will Arsenal's defence cope with Romelu Lukaku?

Given that Calum Chambers has spent most of his nascent career at right back, the 19-year-old has performed admirably in a slightly unfamiliar central role thus far this season, so much so that it's easy to forget his tender years.

However, his opponents to date have been a Manchester City side who could have displayed their lack of interest in the Community Shield more only if they'd played in flip-flops, a Crystal Palace side reeling from the loss of their manager, and Besiktas, for whom Demba Ba caused a good few problems.

Romelu Lukaku might not quite be good enough for Chelsea, but he's certainly good enough to trouble a rookie defender like Chambers, so if the young defender is pressed into action again this weekend, he will certainly have a battle on his hands.

Added to this troubling defensive mix for Arsenal are injury concerns over Laurent Koscielny, the defender making it through the Besiktas game only after passing a fitness test, so one has to wonder how fit he will be.

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Also, Wenger's caution over his German players, who haven't yet played a minute since the World Cup despite many of their international teammates featuring heavily for their own club sides, is understandable, but Per Mertesacker could be thrown into one of the toughest tests in the Premier League a little, shall we say, 'lightly raced.'

All of which adds to potential problems for a defence breached twice by Lukaku last season. The Belgian's hero as a youngster was Didier Drogba, a name that quite possibly leaves Arsene Wenger in a cold sweat, and there's a good chance that Lukaku could emulate his idol this weekend.

Will Leighton Baines cope with Alexis Sanchez?

While his good form last season earned him a justified place in England's World Cup squad, and it's a little unfair to single out one player as being particularly incompetent in Roy Hodgson's squad, Leighton Baines' positional problems were exposed rather harshly in Brazil.

In truth, it's not like we didn't know this already -- Baines has always been a better attacking full-back than a defensive one, his laser-guided crosses covering a multitude of sins at the back -- but it will be a concern for Roberto Martinez this weekend. For Baines will not be allowed any slips by Alexis Sanchez, who has looked lively, to say the least, in his early outings for Arsenal.

The Chilean winger will pounce on every error Baines even looks like committing, his relentless style a worry for even the most secure full-back, of which the Everton man is not one. If Baines is not on his game, then it could get ugly for the Englishman.

What will Arsenal do without Mikel Arteta?

The base of Arsenal's midfield has been a source of much consternation for their fans in recent years, Wenger's failure to buy a proper replacement for Patrick Vieira, some nine years after he left, bordering on the self-destructively stubborn.

Still, Mikel Arteta has been a decent stop-gap since his arrival four years ago, and his injury against Besiktas, which saw him leave the ground with a protective boot over his ankle, will be a blow for the Gunners.

Arteta might not be the most fearsome man in his position, but he is at least a steady and calming presence in midfield, something that Mathieu Flamini, his likely replacement, is not. The Frenchman was better than many expected last season but doesn't provide the sort of solidity Arteta does, and Arsenal will miss the Spaniard's ability to retain possession against the likes of McCarthy and Barry.

Who will take advantage of Arteta's absence for Everton?

Arteta's injury makes Ross Barkley's absence (for how long we still don't know, but he'll definitely be out on Saturday) a double shame for Everton, because without him they could lack someone to really take advantage of the hole in Arsenal's side.

If Barkley was fit and on form then he could've had terrific fun exploiting the gaps left by the lack of Arteta, but as it is, Roberto Martinez could field the busy but rather more workmanlike Steven Naismith behind Lukaku, if he sticks with the same eleven that drew with Leicester.

Naismith is a perfectly decent player, but he obviously lacks the creative spark of Barkley. So an alternative option could be to nominally start the slightly more tricky Steven Pienaar in the middle, with the pace of Kevin Mirallas and Christian Atsu either side. Martinez could ask all three to interchange and try to dominate the space in front of Arsenal's back four that way. It would be a bold move, but Martinez has showed in his time on Merseyside that he is not afraid of such decisions.

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