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Know your opponent: Everton

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We chatted with our friends at Royal Blue Mersey ahead of Friday’s match.

Everton v Arsenal - Premier League Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Arsenal and Everton renew Premier League acquaintances on Friday at the Emirates. The Gunners will look to keep their four-match unbeaten run intact, the Toffees are looking to end a five-match winless slide. We chatted with Matthew Chandler from Royal Blue Mersey to get an update on things from the blue side of the Mersey.

Be sure to check out my answers to their questions here.

TSF: I guess we have to talk about The Super League. How do you feel that Everton were not included? Do you think the club would have said yes had they been invited? Keep in mind that it was $425M up front on offer and that y’all are building a new stadium.

RBM: Glad that Everton were not included, and no I don’t think the club would have said yes had they been invited. I know that’s easy to say in hindsight but both a statement from our board of directors and a radio appearance from our owner, Farhad Moshiri, thoroughly condemned the Super League and stressed that their stance would have been no difference had Everton been offered the chance to join.

I don’t think that money is a massive stumbling block for the new stadium, to be honest. It will get built eventually. Plans are far enough down the line now and there seems to be enough investment already going into it.

TSF: After a red hot start, Everton have been up and down. Why’s that? What changed from the run of form at the beginning of the season?

RBM: Injuries. Allan, Abdoulaye Doucoure, James Rodriguez, Lucas Digne, Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin have all played at the same time in only five league games for Everton this season. Our record in those matches reads: won four, drawn one. We are also the only Premier League side to have suffered knocks to every single one of our senior players this season.

So, while Carlo Ancelotti has had to be pragmatic, and at times made us not particularly enjoyable to watch, I don’t place any blame on him for our fluctuating season, really. We finished 12th last year, remember. This campaign has still been a vast improvement on the previous.

In truth, Ancelotti has been dealt a really bad hand. A compressed season, no fans (even if that’s the same for everyone), a bloated squad compiled by about four previous Everton managers. I think the fact that we started so well was slightly illusory. Eighth feels about where Everton should be finishing.

TSF: What do Everton need to do — transfers, tactics, whatever — to take that next step to be considered a serious Champions League contender? Is that even a realistic goal for the club?

RBM: Keep signing the right players, for a start. Last summer’s additions - Ben Godfrey, Allan, Doucoure and Rodriguez - have been superb.

Sticking without Ancelotti goes without saying. Unless things go absolutely catastrophically wrong, I’d like to see him in charge for at least three years. Constantly changing managers every 18 months has, evidently, got us nowhere other than back to square one, and who would we get who could do a better job than Ancelotti?

The only other thing I’d say is have more luck. A more ‘normal’ season next year (hopefully) will surely help with injuries. Like I alluded to before, the Champions League should be a realistic goal for Everton with a manager like Ancelotti, but even with him on board, it was never going to be a realistic goal straight away. So, I suppose another thing they need is time.

TSF: Will both of Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison be at the club next year?

RBM: Yes. Calvert-Lewin doesn’t seem the type who will push for a move. He’s a Sheffield United fan but I genuinely think he loves playing for Everton and relishes wearing our number nine shirt.

I’d be less certain about Richarlison, who I’d rather sell out of the two, but I think when push comes to shove, he’ll give us at least one more year.

TSF: How has former Arsenal man Alex Iwobi been this season? Do you see him fitting into Ancelotti’s plans going forward?

RBM: Too often he’s been totally ineffective. I still have no idea where Iwobi’s best position is - he’s played left and right wing-back, right wing, left wing and at number ten this season, and never consistently convinced in any of them.

I don’t see a future for Iwobi simply because I don’t know what he offers. He made a quite veiled dig about not being played in his favourite position during the last international break - trouble is, you can’t blame Ancelotti for not knowing what that is. I would sell this summer.

TSF: What have Everton done best this season on the pitch, like what is the thing you feel most confident the side will be able to do match-in, match-out?

RBM: Show more mental resilience. Coming from two goals down to draw at Manchester United was a testament to that, as was winning at Anfield for the first time since 1999. And while it’s at times been a drag sitting through Everton games, when things really click and Digne fires those bullet crosses in, or Rodriguez threads those gems through to Richarlison or Calvert-Lewin, they are a pleasure to watch.

TSF: Do you think they’ll be able to do [whatever that good thing is] against Arsenal?

RBM: Well, they’ve never won at the Emirates, so they should take heart from those United and Liverpool away results and performances in that regard. I definitely think they can hurt Arsenal if they show enough ambition. I know Arsenal battered Slavia Prague last week but I saw nothing from them against Fulham that worried me for this game.

TSF: How will Everton set up against Arsenal?

RBM: Ancelotti likes to mix and match, but the performance in the 2-2 against Tottenham last Friday was encouraging, so I imagine he’ll stick with roughly the same setup:

(3-4-2-1) Pickford; Godfrey, Keane, Holgate; Digne, Coleman; Davies, Allan; Sigurdsson, Rodriguez; Richarlison.

There’s one change there from the team which started against Tottenham - Seamus Coleman for Alex Iwobi, who has been largely poor since leaving Arsenal for us in August 2019. Calvert-Lewin should be back from injury, but I suspect Ancelotti may restrict him to the bench for this one.

TSF: What are some of the key matchups on Friday, and how do you see those matchups playing out?

RBM: Michael Keane looked vulnerable in a back three against Spurs. If Everton play a back three again, then whoever leads Arsenal’s line should target him primarily. Though, with all due respect to presumably Eddie Nketiah (given Lacazette and Aubameyang are both out), I’m not sure he’ll provide as stern a test as Harry Kane.

Gylfi Sigurdsson and Rodriguez will be important to keep quiet; I’ve been a big critic of Sigurdsson but he was terrific against Spurs, scoring twice, while Rodriguez can just weave magic so effortlessly.

TSF: And of course, what’s your prediction?

RBM: An entertaining 1-1.

Thanks Matthew!