Carlo Ancelotti probably would have preferred that his team’s off week came at any other time this season.
The Toffees are hot — they’ve 11 points out of their last possible 15, with wins against Watford and Crystal Palace coming in the first two weeks of February. And yet, Everton sat out last weekend, putting a good run of form on hold.
Ancelotti and the Toffees now return to face an Arsenal side that’s played twice in the last week — a 4-0 thrashing of Newcastle and a Thursday 1-0 victory over Olympiacos in the Europa League. Still, you could argue Everton enters the match in better form, and certainly with more rest, giving them a real chance to get a result at the Emirates on Sunday.
Three points will be the goal as Ancelotti sets up his team for this match, which could prove vital in Everton’s chase for a Europa — or dare I say Champions — League place.
Tactics and Formation
When last these two teams met, it was a bit of a strange match. Both clubs had just appointed new managers — Ancelotti and Mikel Arteta — but neither coached their sides on the day. Instead, the two watched on as Everton and Arsenal threw rocks at each other for 90 minutes, then mercifully the final whistle signaled the end of a 0-0 draw.
In the time since, Ancelotti has clearly impacted the style and performance of Everton, but Arteta has yet to really make his tactical imprint. Five of Arteta’s eight Premier League matches in charge have ended in draws.
Arteta has committed himself pretty regularly to a 4-2-3-1 that sees Mesut Ozil play the No. 10 role with two pacey wingers (most recently Nicolas Pepe and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang) flanking him.
I don’t anticipate Ancelotti will change much in response to Arsenal’s expected tactics, meaning a 4-4-2 from the Italian. There is always a danger in getting overrun in the center of midfield when matching up a 4-4-2 against three central midfielders, but given a key player is returning for Everton and that Ozil doesn’t really contribute much defensively, I doubt Ancelotti will be too concerned.
Starters (likelihood of starting rated out of 10)
Jordan Pickford - 10/10
Lucas Digne- 10/10
Yerry Mina - 9/10
Mason Holgate - 10/10
Djibril Sidibe - 9/10
Andre Gomes - 8/10
The Portuguese midfielder is miraculously fit and ready for action after his horrific ankle injury against Tottenham Hotspur earlier this season. Ancelotti has said that he will feature in this match, and frankly I’d expect him to go right into the starting lineup given the shortage of influential options at the position.
That said, I wouldn’t expect him to go more than around 60 minutes.
Gylfi Sigurdsson - 7/10
If the 4-4-2 is the way of the future, and Gomes is — as expected — an automatic starter in the midfield duo, that leaves one spot for the other four central midfielders in the squad. For now, I expect Gylfi Sigurdsson to continue to start, as he’s been the most regular of the four to play during Gomes’ absence.
Alex Iwobi - 8/10
Theo Walcott looks unlikely to be available for this match, which opens the door for Alex Iwobi to get back into the side. He seems to be part of Ancelotti’s long-term plans, but Bernard’s solid play in the left wing / No. 10 hybrid role has largely been keeping him out of the lineup in recent weeks.
This week, look for him to play the Walcottian, more direct role down the right side.
Bernard - 9/10
Dominic Calvert-Lewin - 10/10
Richarlison - 10/10
It’s possible that Ancelotti slides Richarlison over to the right wing to replace Theo Walcott, and instead inserts Moise Kean alongside Dominic Calvert-Lewin at striker. But this strike partnership has been such a successful one that I have a hard time seeing Ancelotti breaking it up.
Fabian Delph - This part of the bench gets interesting, given that you’d expect only two of Schneiderlin, Delph, and Tom Davies to make the matchday 18. Despite Delph’s miserable performance in his last match, Ancelotti has pretty consistently preferred him to Davies since he took over. Schneiderlin, who started Everton’s match against Crystal Palace and acquitted himself reasonably well, seems the closest to a lock among the three.
Everton faces Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Leicester City, and Tottenham between now and mid-April — all matches more difficult than this weekend’s trip to Arsenal. The Toffees’ away form has been middling, but this is a match where they really need to get a result if they want to keep pace in the European rat race.