Rightly or wrongly, Sam Allardyce’s name has often been associated with “ale house football”, usually on account of his preference for keeping things simple and direct when his teams go forward. He is supposedly renowned for a back-to-basics approach for coaching defences, too, but Everton’s pub-league defending was ripped apart by Arsenal at the Emirates today.
Not for the first time this year, the Evertonians who had made the long journey south to the Capital were forced to endure an unacceptable capitulation by their team and a miserable journey home. Allardyce was adamant that it wouldn’t happen again after watching the Blues embarrass themselves against Tottenham last month and yet here he was again, in the very next away game, having to explain another abject defeat. (Groundhog Day isn't just the 2nd of February if you're a Blue.)
As it was at Wembley, his instinct was to blame the players for failing to carry out his instructions — to essentially copy Swansea’s game plan from the other night when they beat Arsenal at the Liberty Stadium — and the almost inconceivable statistic rolled out at the interval that Everton had managed to make just three successful tackles in the first 45 minutes lent his stance plenty of credence.
There were horror-show performances throughout his starting XI in the first period and while the second was marginally better, the Gunners were still able to carve them open with consummate ease to allow Aaron Ramsey, of all people, to claim a hat-trick and complete the 5-1 drubbing. Only the helpless Jordan Pickford, the energetic Theo Walcott and, perhaps, the industrious Oumar Niasse could look at themselves in the mirror during the break; the rest were simply wretched.
It took the introduction of Tom Davies at half-time and, later, that of Dominic Calvert-Lewin to lift this Everton display above the embarrassing. With a combined age of 39, they demonstrated character, drive and pride in the shirt where before there had been precious little of it from their more experienced team-mates and the young striker was rewarded with a consolation goal. Davies, meanwhile, was rightly singled out for praise by his manager after the final whistle.
The performance may have been unforgivably bad but Everton’s players were, arguably, set up to fail by a manager who looked for all the world to have waved the white flag from the outset, his eyes set firmly on next weekend’s more winnable date with Crystal Palace instead.
He made a point in his pre-match press conference of highlighting his belief that Arsenal are defensively weak but sent his charges into the Emirates with both hands tied behind their backs with a poor team selection and formation. He railed against his players’ inconsistency in his post-match interviews but had made five changes to the team that beat Leicester City in midweek, a lack of consistency in his own team selections that have been a feature of his short tenure thus far.
Gylfi Sigurdsson, one of the architects of the midweek win, and Wayne Rooney watched on from the bench alongside £21m signing Cenk Tosun. Allardyce then deployed a five-man defensive line, with Eliaquim Mangala thrown into an unfamiliar system in an equally foreign team just three days after arriving on loan, behind dual “defensive”midfielders — in quotes because Morgan Schneiderlin makes a mockery of the term — and it quickly became apparent that no one knew who was responsible for what and who was supposed to be picking up whom. It was no surprise, then, that the Blues’ back line looked all at sea in what was a devastating first 20 minutes.
Henrik Mkhitaryan and Mezut Özil revelled in the space afforded them and Ramsey profited as early as the sixth minute when a rapier-like move on the edge of the visitors’ box ended with the Armenian midfielder firing in a low cross that found the Welsh international unmarked in the centre to tuck home.
If that was deemed easy from the hosts’ perspective, so, too, would their second and third goals which arrived eight minutes and 13 minutes later respectively. First, Shkodran Mustafi beat Ashley Williams to Özil’s corner and flicked it into the six-yard box where Mangala was left trying to pick up two men and Laurent Koscielny stooped to head in easily at the far post.
Then, with Özil and Alex Iwobi enjoying oceans of space on the left flank as none of Kenny, Schneiderlin or Michael Keane made any attempt to press the ball, the Arsenal duo combined to set Ramsey up for an uncontested pot-shot from 25 yards that took a decisive deflection off Mangala and fly into the roof of the net via Pickford’s despairing glove.
It was nearly four after Walcott had been denied a goal on his ill-fated return to the Emirates by a tremendous covering challenge by Mustafi when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was sent into the clear after Keane had missed a tackle in the Gunners’ half. Pickford came to the rescue on that occasion, saving the Gabonese striker’s shot, but he was left stranded by abysmal officiating eight minutes before the break.
Again, with no one closing any of the advancing red jerseys down, Mkhitaryan played the ball neatly through the Everton defence for Aubameyang who was clearly a yard offside but the referee’s assistant’s flag remained at his side and the scoreboard was changed to read 4-0.
It was the first time an Everton team had conceded four goals in the first half in the Premier League era and it was very nearly five just three minutes later. Nacho Monreal connected with a corner from the right but saw his header bounce back off the post and then had a fierce drive deflected wide after Arsenal had kept the move alive.
With the hapless Keane removed, Davies on and Everton playing with a more orthodox back four, things improved and Walcott and Niasse almost combined impressively to make it 4-1. Though the Senegalese striker connected with the former England international’s whipped cross, his effort only found the woodwork.
It was a lofted delivery from the other side, however, that did produce a goal for the Blues 19 minutes into the second half and it came from Martina – Everton's much-maligned makeshift left back had more attacking output than Yannick Bolasie – who picked out Calvert-Lewin to head powerfully home.
The young striker was, unfortunately, partially responsible for the fifth Arsenal goal, though. His sliding attempt to keep the ball in on the touchline in his own half gifted possession to Mkhitaryan and he quickly spotted Ramsey completely unmarked in the centre. The rest was simple enough — low cross, side-foot finish, humiliation complete.
Calvert-Lewin will learn from the error, one that could be excused given his overall efforts in tandem with Davies trying to drag this Everton display into the realms of the respectable. For others, like Schneiderlin, player supposedly at their peaks, there could be no excuses.
As he has done so often this season, the Frenchman jogged and strolled his way through the game with nary a concern for tackling, pressing or closing Arsenal players down. He wasn’t alone but he was the glaring and infuriating standout amongst the dross. Whether it’s irreparable confidence or a lack of buy-in from the players for what they know to be an interim hire short-term, there appears to be little respect between this group of players and their manager.
The previous defeat of similar magnitude to Arsenal cost the last manager his job and if there is any accountability in the corridors of power at Goodison Park, this abject capitulation should see Sam Allardyce out the door as well. It won’t be immediately — there’s surely only so much embarrassment a club can endure in one season — but Farhad Moshiri and the board would do well to remember days like this at the end of the season and not let any uptick in results in the coming sequence of theoretically more favourable games cloud their judgement.
Since the Blues’ last clean sheet on Boxing Day, the wily “Fireman Sam” and his defensive imperative has overseen 17 goals against in all competitions. Everton are clawing their way to 40 points at the moment but should he succeed in his remit of keeping this Everton side up, Allardyce should be moved aside, with the task of building for the future handed off to a long-term hire with the vision to rebuild this broken squad with a new five-year plan in mind.
This is a club desperately in need of leadership and direction.
After a shocking five changes to his winning side from Wednesday night against Leicester City, Sam Allardyce watched impotent as Arsenal smashed four past hopeless Everton before the break. Calvert-Lewin got one back when he came on but Ramsey sealed his hat-trick with Arsenal's fifth, the Gunners making it 10 goals against Everton this season.
Sam Allardyce retained Theo Walcott in the line-up for his early return to The Emirates, with Eliaquim Managala getting his first outing. Schneiderlin returned also but both Rooney and Sigurdsson were on the bench, along with Tom Davies.
Coleman was rested after his exertions on Wednesday, and Jonjoe Kenny returned in defence. Holgate was back on the bench after his reported strop last week, where Cenk Tosun continues to kick his heels as he struggles to get into the English game.
For Arsenal, Arsene Wenger gave debuts to his new signings, Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang, while Everton slipped to 10th before kick-off based on other results, notably another win for Bournemouth.
Theo Walcott kicked off for Everton but the following hoof saw the requisite turnover. However, Everton continued to press the Gunners back and keep them penned in for the first few minutes. A slow Arsenal attack eventually won a dangerous free-kick, Williams clumsy, and Ozil drove it off the wall.
But, in the follow-up, an easy ball out for Arsenal to the wing, past the jogging Martina, and cut back in perfectly for Ramsey to slam it past Pickford. So simple, despite the line of blue watching the ball played right through them. Aubameyang played a clever little reverse pass down the right. Mkhitaryan in space in the box. He fires low and hard across the face of goal. Ramsey rushes in to powerfully sidefoot home from close range! Everton were ripped apart with ease.
Managla tried to get down the left and cross from the byeline but was thwarted. Kenny then got down the right and crossed, but straight to Cech after Mkhitaryan strolled in from the left, unchallenged, and let rip from 25 yards, just wide.
After Ramsey got free, and Arsenal won a couple of corners, they scored with consummate ease from the second, with two attackers beyond Managala on the far post, no opposition as Koscielny converted. Everton 2-0 down after 15 minutes following an appalling team selection from Sam Allardyce.
This was going to be painful watching as Arsenal settled into exhibition play, taunting the Blues at every opportunity. They strolled down the left, centered to Ramsey in space and he leathered one, slightly deflected, past Pickford for the third. Absolutely Shocking.
Everton at least won a corner, but it was defended away. A dropping ball then fell for Martina, driven well wide of the Arsenal goal. Walcott showed good skill to release Niasse who was scythed down by Koscielny.
Bolasie got a fleeting chance to run at goal but failed to shoot. Mangala then put in a great cross but it was defended away. Walcott did very well to get free and looked set to score but Mustafi did very well to block his shot behind. Everton initially pressed from the corner but ended up back in their own half, yielding possession.
Ramsey clipped Gana, Schneiderlin floating the free-kick wide but Arsenal got free and Aubameyang galloped ahead of the Blues runners to fire home the fourth — only he drove his shot at Pickford's legs.
Aubameyang would make it four with ease although he broke early and was offside for Mkhitaryan's smart ball splitting the Everton defence, a simple chip over Pickford into the Everton net. It was almost five as Monreal hit the post on a corner, and then following up, his goalbound shot was deflected behind for another corner.
Everton got forward and tried to force their way into the Arsenal area but the tight marking was impenetrable. A Schneiderlin free-kick from deep was met by a determined run and punch from Cech.
The Arsenal forwards then tried to walk it in, but could not decide amongst themselves who should take the final shot and the Blue shirts cleared the danger to end the most unbelievably awful first half 'display' from a shockingly poor Everton side.
The only change Allardyce made was Davies for Keane, switching to a back four, but no creativity from Rooney or Sigurdsson. Mustafi was carded for a late challenge on Niasse, the set-piece whipped in well by Walcott for a corner, taken short by Walcott and a blocked shot from him, followed by a cross batted away by Cech as Everton at least showed a bit of fight.
A sweeping move from the right, a brilliant cross from Walcott, Niasse has to score... but fails, hitting the post.
Everton had done well since the break, making all the running, Davies getting wide but taking too long to cross and getting blocked by three defenders. But their failure to score in this 10-minute spell saw Arsenal settle and regroup.
On the hour, Walcott was withdrawn for Calvert-Lewin, Everton presumably playing 4-4-2? Some nice passing, a good cross from Martina, and there was Calvert-Lewin to head home a difficult finish with Niasse falling backward in front of him. 4-1.
Niasse and Calvert-Lewin then combined beautifully to drive in on the Arsenal goal but Niasse had strayed offside.
Cech limped off, his 200th clean-sheet spoiled, replaced by Ospina. Niasse did well to win a corner, driven deep by Schneiderlin and almost setting up a chance on the recycled ball. But at the other end, some simple football after a mistake by Calvert-Lewin, sliding to keep the ball from going out and Ramsey got his hat-trick off a good pullback.
Allardyce's final change was to bring on Cenk Tuson in place of Oumar Niasse with ~15 mins left. Some good running by Davies down the left who picked out Calvert-Lewin but his shot was extremely poor. Davies had shown plenty of determination in the second half, and better skills than for quite a while.
Calvert-Lewin did his best to win a penalty late on, by running across the defender and slowing then falling flat on his face. No. Davies took on three defenders and won a corner that ended with Gana firing at Ospina.
The second half was not the whitewash it might have been but nothing will eradicate the horror of that dreadful first half.
Scorers: Ramsey (6', 19', 74'), Koscielny (14'), Aubameyang (37'); Calvert-Lewin (64')
Arsenal: Cech (70' Ospina), Bellerin, Koscielny [Y:23'], Mustafi [Y:52'], Monreal (46' Kolasinac), Ramsey, Xhaka, Iwobi, Ozil, Mkhitaryan, Aubameyang.
Subs not Used: Chambers, Maitland-Niles, Elneny, (73Wilshire) Lacazette.
Everton: Pickford, Kenny, Mangala, Williams, Keane (46' Davies), Martina, Gueye, Schneiderlin, Walcott (62' Calvert-Lewin), Niasse (78' Tosun), Bolasie.
Subs not Used: Robles, Holgate, Rooney, Sigurdsson.
Referee: Neil Swarbrick
Everton return to London for another difficult Saturday evening kick-off as they face Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium where they can hopefully build on the midweek win over Leicester.
Certainly, the Blues should travel in a far more positive frame of mind than had Wednesday's match gone the other way. Now, they have the platform to go the Capital with a measure of self belief and, potentially — given Everton's history in this fixture and Arsenal's recent frailties — an attitude that they may as well just go out and have a go.
With just one Premier League victory since the turn of the year and defeats away from home to Bournemouth, Nottingham Forest and Swansea, Arsene Wenger's position at the North London club is back under heavy scrutiny.
It's a sequence that has left them sitting in sixth place coming into this weekend and eight points off the top four places that were almost their divine right before last season. The Gunners remain very strong at the Emirates, however, having only lost once there and they would be third in the league if only home games counted.
They have also moved to replace the departed Alexis Sanchez with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang but the pacy striker is doubtful because of illness which could prevent him from making his debut this weekend.
That would be music to Sam Allardyce's ears as he prepares for what promises to be as difficult an assignment as last month's trip to Wembley to face Tottenham. Everton were hammered 4-0 that day but the hope is that enough was learned that day to avoid another drubbing of that magnitude.
For one thing, the back line is expected to be different, with Phil Jagielka unlikely to be asked to play a second game in the space of four days. Ashley Williams or Mason Holgate — the younger centre half played against Spurs and didn't come out that game too well — could come back into the team or Allardyce may decide to hand an immediate debut to new loan signing, Eliaqium Mangala.
The Frenchman could also end up replacing Cuco Martina at left back instead but the manager's recent rhetoric suggests he is more than happy with the Curacao international's performances. On the other side of defence, Seamus Coleman will need to be managed but, in light of his “almost superhuman” (to use his manager's words) efforts in midweek, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him start.
In midfield, while Wayne Rooney fulfilled his brief as a deeper-lying midfielder in mostly impressive fashion against Leicester, it remains to be seen whether Allardyce opts for the more defensive posture of two holding midfielders instead given the calibre of the opposition.
With James McCarthy injured, that could mean a recall for Morgan Schneiderlin alongside Idrissa Gueye and Rooney or Gylfi Sigurdsson possibly dropping back to the bench.
Further forward, Allardyce's comments to the media hint at Oumar Niasse continuing as the main striker, with Theo Walcott in line to play against his former club just two weeks after leaving the Emirates in a £20m deal.
22 years without a win and some awfully one-sided games decided in Arsenal's favour in between mean that it's been a while since an Everton team went to the Emirates and gave the home side a scare.
It would be nice for the Blues to be one of those teams that can give Wenger's men an early bloody nose and put them off their stride to such a degree that they can be beaten. Bournemouth certainly showed the way against Chelsea on Wednesday but there has been little evidence of Allardyce the spoiler so far; hopefully he can rediscover that side this weekend.
Kick-off: 5:30pm, Saturday 3 February, 2018
Referee: Neil Swarbrick
Last Time: Arsenal 3 - 1 Everton
Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Coleman, Keane, Mangala, Martina, Gueye, Davies, Schneiderlin, Sigurdsson, Walcott, Niasse