Everton go into Saturday evening’s game against Arsenal having beaten strong opposition in the form of Chelsea and Leicester City in their past two matches. Carlo Ancelotti’s side have brought a dip in form to a halt with two notable victories and Arsenal are now in their sights.
Ancelotti previewed the encounter and also spoke of the latest injury news ahead of the game while discussing how his side are progressing against his objective of qualifying for a European place.
Coleman fit, James unavailable
Ancelotti confirmed that captain Seamus Coleman “is fit and has a strong desire to play” against Arsenal having missed the past few games through injury. That does mean that the back four could be in line for a slight reshuffle, despite Mason Holgate, who scored against Leicester, and Ben Godfrey impressing in recent games, but the Everton manager reiterated that “I have to choose the lineup”.
“Coleman is available, James not yet, it is a little problem on his calf but it’s too soon to put him at risk,” Ancelotti added. “He is working and we hope he will be ready for the game against Manchester United [in the League cup]. Fabian Delph is the same, he’s doing individual treatment but it’s too soon to talk about coming back.”
Everton will be without Allan after the midfielder went off with a hamstring injury in the win over Leicester on Wednesday evening.
“Allan had a problem with his hamstring,” Ancelotti said, “and we don’t know how long it will be. We don’t know how many games but he’s not going to play for this period of games. No [he doesn’t need an operation], I don’t think so.”
Pressure on Arteta
Having defeated Chelsea and Leicester in their past two games there is no doubt that confidence is high once again on the blue half of Merseyside. Arsenal, meanwhile, are struggling and pressure is growing on Mikel Arteta as his side are winless in five games and positioned in 15th in the table.
“I don’t have advice in this sense,” Ancelotti said of Arteta’s task. “Our job is complicated, there is pressure but this is absolutely normal. Each manager has to reach a target or a goal, Arsenal may have a different goal to another team but I think it is the same for every manager.”
Better defensively without James?
Everton have also kept two clean sheets in their last two games, their only other shutout came in the opening game of the season. Is it just coincidence that the latter two have come when James Rodriguez has been out of the team?
“No, I don’t think so,” Ancelotti responded. “It is true we have had three clean sheets and two were when James was not there but the first one he was and it was against a tough opponent in Tottenham with a fantastic striker. I think we had a period when we didn’t defend well as a team.
“Our defence’s ability doesn’t depend on whether James is there or not, it depends on the concentration we have and our ability to work together. The games in which we kept a clean sheet we played with a low block which didn’t give space behind us. I think that was the reason for the clean sheets: concentration and low block.”
It was Robin Olsen who was in goal for Everton against Leicester and kept Brendan Rodgers’ side at bay. This was another display of Ancelotti’s willingness to rotate his goalkeepers, with Jordan Pickford dropped to the bench like he was against Newcastle United last month. It is expected Pickford will return for the game on Saturday.
“I consider a goalkeeper a player and as we rotate a defender or a striker sometimes I want to rotate also goalkeepers,” Ancelotti said. “I started it in Real Madrid when I had two great goalkeepers: Iker Casillas and Keylor Navas. Casilla was a world champion and he understood, everyone understood. So there is no problem with this. There is less risk to make mistakes. If you stay on the bench for sure you don’t make mistakes.”
Progress at one year anniversary?
Sunday represents Ancelotti’s one year anniversary at the club - the first game he attended as manager was also against Arsenal. Asked whether his side are on track to achieve the goal of qualifying for Europe, and more generally about the team’s progress, the Everton manager gave a sensible answer.
“We have progressed, the position in the table is good. The season started two, three, four months ago but we need another six months to reach our target which is reaching a European position. Now we are there [in fifth] but we have to do well for six months to keep that position.
“We can think about this [challenging for Champions League places rather than Europa League] but the top of the table is really compressed. There are a lot of teams with 20 points, it is so compressed. We don’t want to look too far ahead. We have a game against Arsenal, a strong team and we prepare to do our best and carry on our good momentum.”