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Everton vs Arsenal match preview - resurgent Toffees look to make it three in a row

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Former Blue Mikel Arteta under pressure as he returns to Goodison Park

Everton v Arsenal - Premier League - Goodison Park Photo by Ian Hodgson/EMPICS/PA Images via Getty Images

Everton certainly proved me wrong at the King power Stadium on Wednesday.

I had a bad feeling going into the game, despite the Chelsea win, but any fears I had proved totally unfounded as the Toffees came away with the points thanks to a wonderfully professional performance.

The introduction of Ben Godfrey and Mason Holgate into the full-back positions had brought a new-found solidity to the Toffees back line that has yielded back-to-back clean sheets after a run of 12 games without one in all competitions.

In addition, Michael Keane looks to be playing the best football of his career, Alexi Iwobi is looking far more settled and benefiting from a run of games in the side, while Abdoulaye Doucoure arguably put in his best Toffees performance to date at the King Power.

Leicester City v Everton - Premier League Photo by Tony McArdle - Everton FC/Everton FC via Getty Images

The win lifted Everton in to fifth place and right into the mix for European qualification. The table is so tight at the moment so one or two wins can take you a long way - another win on Saturday and Everton could go second.

It would be a fine way for Carlo Ancelotti to mark 12 months in charge on Monday. The Toffees were 15th when he arrived so there has already been a huge improvement. Finishing the season in the European places would represent a job well done and justify the excitement around his appointment when the detractors were lining up to have a pop.

The game is also the start of run of five matches in 14 days over the festive period, including the huge Carabao Cup quarter-final against Manchester United.

There will be little room to pause breath and it will put a strain on an already stretched squad. But the team can go into it full of confidence and with their campaign back on track after that blip a few week’s ago.

The opposition

Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta was linked with the Everton job 12 months go but ended up at Emirates Stadium, while Carlo Ancelotti, who had been linked with the Gunners, ended up on Merseyside.

The former Toffees midfielder will be making his first return to Goodison as a manager on Saturday.

He led the north London club to FA Cup success in August, a well as a Community Shield triumph over Liverpool to start the campaign. But the wheels have slowly come off in recent weeks, to the point where the club finds itself in something of a crisis.

Arsenal v Burnley - Premier League Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Their midweek draw against Southampton leaves the club down in 15th place having lost seven out of their last 11 Premier League matches. The are also showing a worrying lack of discipline with three red cards in their last five Premier League games.

The Gunners hierarchy are believed to be united behind Arteta, with technical director Edu publicly backing him earlier this week, but it’s clear results need to improve quickly if that loyalty is not to be tested to breaking point.

Previous meeting

Arsenal 3-2 Everton, February 23, 2020

Arsenal FC v Everton FC - Premier League Photo by Rob Newell - CameraSport via Getty Images

Dominic Calvert-Lewin gave Everton the lead after just 49 seconds in what turned out to be a thrilling encounter at the Emirates in February.

Eddie Nketiah and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang put the Gunners ahead only for Richarlison to level before the break. Sadly, Everton were still asleep at the start of the second half, with Aubameyang scoring 26 seconds into the restart to give the home side the win.

Recent form

Everton

Leicester (A) Won 2-0

Chelsea (H) Won 1-0

Burnley (A) Drew 1-1

Leeds (H) Lost 1-0

Fulham (A) Won 3-2

Arsenal v Burnley - Premier League Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Arsenal

Southampton (H) Drew 1-1

Burnley (H) Lost 1-0

Dundalk (A - Europa League) Won 4-3

Tottenham (A) Lost 2-0

Rapid Vienna (H - Europa League) Won 4-1

Team news

FBL-ENG-PR-LEICESTER-EVERTON Photo by ALEX PANTLING/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Seamus Coleman is fit to return after nearly six weeks out with a hamstring injury.

James Rodriguez is again unavailable with a groin problem but is expected to be fit for the Manchester United game.

Midifelder Allan suffered a hamstring injury against Leicester and is still being assessed, though he is likely to miss the rest of the festive fixtures.

Fabian Delph is also out with a hamstring injury suffered at Burnley.

What they said

Everton boss Carlo Ancelotti: “We have progressed. The position in the table is good now compared to when I arrived but we need another six months to reach our target which is to reach a European position. Now we are there but we have to do well to keep that position.

“The top of the table is really compressed. We don’t want to look too far. At this moment we have an important game against Arsenal, who are a strong team, and we prepare to do our best. Our momentum is good and we want to keep this.”

Arsenal head coach Mikel Arteta: “I had seven incredible years at Everton, they treated me incredibly well, we were very successful for the team and the results that we had in the moment, and I still have a lot love, admiration and friends over there because I am grateful they treated me really well and I really enjoyed being part of their family.

“It was David Moyes [in charge] for the whole period and all the coaching staff who were there implemented a way of playing that was new to me, because I was coming from a different education.

“I had to adapt, I learned a lot of things, it was a challenge. I had to embrace and adapt to it, and I really enjoyed it with everybody at the club because I built up really strong relationships with them and of course the fans.”

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Everton v Liverpool - Goodison Park Photo by Peter Byrne/PA Images via Getty Images

Final word

Everton will likely go into the game as favourites given the two sides’ respective form, a sign of the differing fortunes Carlo Ancelotti and Mikel Arteta have had in recent weeks.

A third successive win would send out a real statement and all but banish the memories of that autumn dip a few weeks ago.