Everton to win on Ancelotti’s Goodison anniversary

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 21: Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti looks on during the Premier League match between Everton FC and Arsenal FC at Goodison Park on December 21, 2019 in Liverpool, United Kingdom. (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images)
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 21: Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti looks on during the Premier League match between Everton FC and Arsenal FC at Goodison Park on December 21, 2019 in Liverpool, United Kingdom. (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images) /

After fine wins over Chelsea and Leicester City in their last two matches, Everton host Arsenal on Saturday afternoon.

It’s almost exactly a year since Carlo Ancelotti became Everton manager strolling into Goodison Park on that sunny day in December 2019. Of course their opponents that day were Arsenal.

So can the Toffees make it three out of three to celebrate before they take a break from Premier League action and face Manchester United in the Carabao Cup quarter-final?

If the Blues repeat their performances from those two wins this past four days, then I think the answer will be a resounding yes.

That’s never certain of course and with the injury to key midfield lynchpin Allan, it could be a more difficult prospect. It will be interesting to see how Carlo Ancelotti solves this problem and who he picks to replace his Brazilian defensive workhorse.

This will depend to some extent on whether Seamus Coleman can recover fully from his recent injury problems and return at right-back. That would free Ancelotti to move Mason Holgate into midfield as he would appear to be the most obvious like-for-like replacement for Allan.

The other injury issue for Ancelotti to consider is James Rodriguez. At the time of writing it seems unlikely he will be fit enough to face Arsenal.

But even if he was, would Ancelotti be tempted to still stick with his midfield three of Abdoulaye Doucoure, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Andre Gomes considering how well they played after Allan left the pitch on Wednesday?

I know that almost sounds like heresy to consider not picking the Colombian star if he’s available, but he might think it’s better not to tinker with a winning team. Also if Coleman isn’t fit enough to play then Ancelotti might have no choice but to go with this side, at least to start with.

Saturday’s game will be a year on from when both Ancelotti and Gunners boss Mikel Arteta were at Goodison Park to start their respective managerial careers at Everton and Arsenal.

Looking at the two teams twelve months on it appears at the moment that the Blues have made more solid progress.

Although the past month or so have seen some really disappointing results, there are enough signs overall that Ancelotti is gradually molding the side he wants and improving the players at his disposal.

In particular the huge improvement of Dominic Calvert-Lewin and the massively positive impact of the three main summer signings Allan, Doucoure and Rodriguez are the big plus’s so far.

Now with the side he selected for these past two matches, he also seems to have solved the headache of a defence that was conceding an alarming number of goals.

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The Gunners have had a difficult season so far and are currently sitting 15th in the Premier League table, not where they expected to be when the campaign kicked-off.

Arteta, (who was strongly linked with the Toffees job after Marco Silva left), was lauded for how well he was doing at the end of last season when Arsenal finished strongly and won the FA Cup yet again at Wembley.

This season though hasn’t been such a success, Arteta’s team have struggled to score enough goals while old defensive problems have resurfaced to compound those issues.

Gunners star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang signed a new deal this year after a superb season in 2019-20, but he’s been a shadow of the player we saw last term.

And Arsenal had already lost their last three consecutive home games when Southampton took the lead at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday night.

Although the Gunners managed to find an equaliser through Aubmaeyang – which the under-pressure Arteta certainly needed – they also had another player sent off, their third in the past five Premier League matches. That player was centre-back Gabriel who was the subject of a much-publicized tug-of-war between the two clubs in the summer transfer window.

So they will be missing their best defender for the trip to Goodison Park, which is certainly a piece of good fortune for the Toffees. They might also have to do without expensive summer signing Thomas Partey, their version of Allan, who has been injured.

Arteta has tried to replicate at the Emirates the style of his mentor Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola. Unfortunately he doesn’t have the players that Guardiola can call upon.

So while Arsenal usually have a lot of possession in games they often fail to do much with it and without Aubameyang scoring the goals they lack a cutting edge. If they monopolize the ball for long periods on Saturday that won’t bother this current Everton side who are happy to let opponents have it and put up a now really solid defensive wall for them to try and break down.

Given all that and those missing defensive players, I expect Everton to make it a third consecutive win. But I’m never overconfident and if the Blues can’t adequately replace Allan it might be a tighter match than it would have been.