How quickly things can change in football. Just 15 days ago, Everton were a club approaching genuine crisis. Dumped into the relegation zone following yet more humiliation in the Anfield derby, they were forced to finally sack Marco Silva despite not really having laid any plan of succession.
Barraged by rumour, speculation and punditry suggesting that a Mark Hughes, David Moyes or Eddie Howe would be the logical step to take charge at a club that had lost its way under another failed managerial appointment, many Everton fans found themselves at their lowest ebb for many a year.
Thanks to some well-timed serendipity in Naples, Farhad Moshiri’s perpetually open purse strings and the work of a hitherto undervalued member of the coaching staff, Evertonians will spend Christmas pondering the fact that one of the most decorated managers in European football history will be in the dugout on Boxing Day when Burnley come to town.
It is to Duncan Ferguson’s credit that the Blues are not still on the proverbial canvas right now and there is a strong case for arguing that had he not wrung five precious points from three daunting-looking Premier League fixtures and lifted this club out of the bottom three, Carlo Ancelotti would not have become the third full-time manager of the Moshiri era.
The Scot cajoled, inspired and schemed to drive the Blues to that stirring 3-1 win over Chelsea and a creditable 1-1 draw at Manchester United and if the injuries, illness and plain fatigue plaguing his squad all conspired to serve up an ugly goalless draw against Arsenal this afternoon, he can at least be content that he ends his brief stint at the helm unbeaten over the course of 90 minutes in those four games he oversaw.
There was no escaping how poor this encounter was between two clubs trying to dig themselves out of the holes their respective form has created for them over the course of the season so far. Arsenal’s was bad enough that it cost Unai Emery his job at The Emirates shortly before Silva was dismissed at Goodison Park but save for a brief spell of attacking “lightning in a bottle” over nine minutes at West Ham in the Gunners’ previous away game, their caretaker boss, Freddie Ljungberg, hasn’t had quite the same impact as Ferguson.
It was felt that would give the Big Yin an advantage this afternoon but, drained by three matches in less than six days, and let down by some of their returning players, Everton couldn’t produce a repeat of that display against Chelsea or the closing stages against Leicester in the cup in midweek.
In truth, the number of goalmouth incidents worthy of mention from this game could fit on a postage stamp. For the first time since the tedium of the Sam Allardyce days, Everton failed to register a single shot on target — though it’s worth mentioning that two potentially goal-bound efforts, one from Gylfi Sigurdsson and another from Dominic Calvert-Lewin were blocked — and they had Jordan Pickford to thank for making the only genuine save of the match.
The England keeper batted away a close-range shot by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang early in the second half from a chance that looked for sure as though it would hand Arsenal the lead following Calum Chambers’s near-post flick-on. It was his only real involvement other than to field a tame shot from the Gabonese striker a few minutes later but it helped ensure that Ferguson hands the reins to Ancelotti with another point on the board.
Mostly, as the Italian watched from the Directors’ Box flanked by Moshiri and Bill Kenwright, he will have surveyed a team that needs a significant injection of talent if it is to get to where he no doubt envisages and plans it will. He will have been impressed with the effective way in which Everton pressed and harried the visitors, dropped back into a stubborn and disciplined shape when they didn’t have the ball and, for the most part, made Arsenal’s young side look decidedly ordinary.
But while there was clear evidence of mental and physical tiredness as countless passes went astray, there was also a desperate lack of quality. Sigurdsson returned from illness and went fairly close with a free-kick but once more disappointed when so much is expected of him; Delph was energetic and tidy in midfield but was unable to influence the team much in the final third; and Digne was frustratingly wasteful from dead-ball situations.
Sidibé brought his own intensity and energy back to the right flank, Pickford did his job, Mason Holgate demonstrated the poise he has exhibited so impressively in recent weeks, Richarlison was game and Yerry Mina was the standout performer on the day. Meanwhile, Calvert-Lewin played the role of tireless target man well but he was hampered by the utterly ineffective Cenk Tosun who had, in what might have been Ferguson’s one mistake on the day, been introduced after just 10 minutes when Alex Iwobi went off with a hamstring strain.
The Turk was not pleased to be substituted himself with 18 minutes to go — ironically enough in favour of Moise Keane, the sub who was subbed in controversial fashion at Old Trafford last Sunday — but he had offered next to nothing during the intervening hour of play and could have no complaints. Once again, you suspect that if a buyer or willing loan can be found next month, Tosun will be out the door.
Ferguson rightly milked the applause at the final whistle, however, for what has been an emotional fortnight. He galvanised a fragile team and rediscovered some buried spirit in a team that had been carved up Liverpool a day before he was handed the baton and suffered a dreadfully meek 2-0 home defeat to Norwich the week before that.
He will have earned his place on Ancelotti’s coaching staff and can look forward to the next chapter in his education under a fifth Everton boss knowing that he made an unmistakable contribution by stabilising the team, providing a platform from which the new man can build.
Everton played out a dreadful pre-Christmas borefest against Arsenal in what was Duncan Ferguson's last game in temporary charge.
The Big Yin had a number of midfielders returning, with Sidibe and Digne replacing Baines and Coleman. Sigurdsson and Delph started in midfield.
Arsenal kicked off but it was Everton who won an early corner that was woefully delivered by Digne. Calvert-Lewin and Digne then tried to knock each other out. Everton attacked the Gwladys Street end with some decent spirit Calvert-Lewin winning a second corner that was yet again equally woeful from Digne, thus setting a dismal tone for the game.
Richarlison did well to gather a nice forward ball but lost it immediately as Iwobi went down with a hamstring problem and had to be replaced by Cenk Tosun. A free-kick found Richarlison at the far post but his shot was charged down. Richarlison went down on the corner of the Arsenal area, Sigurdsson stroking his shot just wide of the near post.
Everton were dictating much of the early flow of the game but had not really threatened Leno's goal. David Luiz clumsily took out Calvert-Lewin, allowing Sigurdsson to swing in another free-kick with limited effect.
Tosun gave away a poor free-kick, making a striker's challenge to put the Everton defence under threat but Pickford was out strongly to punch away setting up a break down the right that saw Saka booked for kicking the ball away to prevent Everton's quick throw-in.
Davies tried to dribble through four defenders, Torreira the man to limit his progress. But the pace and intensity required of Everton was not sufficient to really test the visitors, allowing Arsenal to see more of the ball as they strung together some attacks. Everton broke but the scrappy style was lacking in composure, Tosun only able to poke a difficult ball at Leno.
A ridiculous spell of pass the parcel at the back ended with Pickford launching he ball straight into touch. What Carlo Ancelloti made of this dreadful stuff didn't bear thinking about. Why were Everton so lacking today? Still tired after Wednesday's huge effort against The Foxes? They never seem to do well with these horrible lunchtime games.
Sidibe pressed well but his cross was dreadfully overhit. The quality of the play was approaching pitiful — not what was needed on such an auspicious occasion, as the required cohesion and passing finesse was lacking. But Sidibe got the ball in to Davies whose unconventional cross to Tosun was impossible for the Turk to control. At the other end, Martinelli had a run on goal, firing narrowly wide after a clumsy Davies tackle had tried to stop the forward ball, earning him yet another yellow card.
Duncan needed to kick a few arses at half-time.
There was a little more life as Digne got the ball in to Richarlison who spun and drove his shot low across the Arsenal goal. Arsenal won a corner at the other end that was cleared deep by the Blue shirts. Mina had to time a last-ditch tackle and from the corner Pickford had to bat away a goalbound shot, the first of the game.
And it was Arsenal who continued to show more life, Aubameyang shooting straight at Pickford. Sigurdsson's shot on their goal was deflected out for a corner that avoided a slew of Blue shirts in the Arsenal penalty area, and set up an Arsenal attack that saw a dangerous high kick by Saka, chinning Calvert-Lewin.
The pace was better but the skill levels painful, Tosun drilling a cross-ball at Davies that he could never control. Arsenal won a corner after Martinelli got behind Digne. An hour gone and the game was only slightly more interesting, but in need of some changes.
A corner won by Calvert-Lewin came to nothing and the first change was made by the visitors. A bit of better movement and a session of pinball off Calvert-Lewin's shot, the ball hitting an Arsenal arm but no penalty and the corner came to nothing. Keane replaced Delph with Holgate moving back into midfield.
Sigurdsson was booked for a foul on Saka. Sidibe did well to marshall Martinelli. Finally, Moise Kean was readied for his big moment to change the game, Tosun coming off, Ferguson again subbing his sub. The Italian lad had a couple of touches but David Luiz was just too clever for him.
Arsenal played themselves into trouble, Holgate winning a free-kick. But nothing came of it as the ball found its way back to Pickford and launched into touch. The ball came to Davies but his shot was well off target. Kean was dispossessed whenever he touched the ball and nothing was happening in what had been a simply dreadful game.
Kick-off: 12:30pm Saturday, 21 December 2019
Everton: Pickford, Sidibe, Holgate, Mina, Digne, Davies [Y:45'], Delph (72' Keane), Iwobi (11' Tosun (80' Kean)), Sigurdsson [Y:75'], Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin.
Subs: Baines, Bernard, Stekelenburg, Coleman.
Arsenal: Leno, Maitland-Niles, Chambers, Luiz, Saka [Y:28'], Torreira, Xhaka, Nelson, Smith-Rowe (68' Willock [Y:90+1']), Martinelli, Aubameyang (78' Lacazette).
Subs: Pepe, Mustafi, Martinez, Mavropanos, Guendouzi.
Referee: Kevin Friend
StalemateI was out in the pub on Friday evening when I received a message from a mate asking if I wanted to join him in the Dixie Dean Lounge for the match. Naturally, I jumped at the chance and awoke rather excited on Saturday morning…not least because of the prospect of catching a glimpse of a certain Carlo Ancelotti.
I arrived before the rest of the party and was sat nursing a drink or two and nattering away to some of the very pleasant staff who do a great job in Hospitality. Once everybody was at the table we enjoyed a very nice meal, and before long were in our seats. We had already heard by now that Carlo Ancelotti had been confirmed as our new manager, and I was tipped off by someone that he was sat near to us.
Ste and I were rather awestruck as we shimmied to our seats as just a few rows in front of us to our left Carlo was stood there having a chat with Marcel Brands. Shortly after Mikel Arteta followed and sat a bit further away from us on our far left. The sirens blared, the teams took to the field and, as they were going through their pre-match rituals, Duncan Ferguson looked up and waved in our direction, not at ourselves of course – his family were sat directly in front of us. He then also waved at Farhad, Bill, Carlo and Marcel, all of whom sharply waved back approvingly.
We were surprised to see so many players return from injury and sickness for the game, with Lucas, Djibril, Fabian and Gylfi all returning to fitness and making the team. Arsenal had also made many changes with Freddie Ljungberg unhappy with his team’s effort against Manchester City.
Alas, neither team really got going on the day and it was quite the damp squid of a game. It wasn’t through lack of effort from the lads, but these games can happen from time to time, when the fluidity of the game doesn’t quite happen, passes don’t meet their players and moves break down. When that happens, it's difficult to build momentum and it became quite the stalemate.
Arsenal were jittery in defence and on another day a botched clearance may have resulted in some luck and we may have benefited but it wasn’t to be. The Gunners’ were well backed by their vocal supporters and they may have travelled back to London feeling they should have snatched this. They certainly had the more clear cut opportunities in the game but were wasteful when Gabriel Martinelli thrashed wide in the first half, and then Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang forced Jordan Pickford into the only save of note all game when he reacted quickly to palm out his effort.
I was watching Duncan fairly closely and throughout the game he was often muttering to somebody behind him who was out of my view, presumably John Ebbrell. At the break, I actually walked back up the stairs alongside Mikel Arteta, who seemed very focused with his head down. I wished him good luck though he didn’t react at all. I’ve got a lot of time for Arteta. I thought he was a fabulous player for us. I hope it works out well for him there, just so long as it is not at our expense of course.
Despite a good effort, the second half was much like the first - a lot of huff and puff but with no end product and, despite a late rally of sorts, it almost felt like a relief when Kevin Friend blew his whistle to end the game. Arsenal’s left-back, Bukayo Saka, was on a yellow card for a big chunk of the game and had already done one rash challenge on Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Therefore it seemed a wasted opportunity to not get a winger on to take him on. We could have given Bernard a go or even put Moise Kean there. Instead, we substituted the substitute, Cenk Tosun. Cenk hadn’t exactly set the world alight, but I’d have liked to have seen a winger given a go there.
We waited around to see Duncan leave the field. It was great to see him get such great applause, largely from the Gwladys Street, and heart-warming to see him give his sweatband and his tie to a young supporter. His impact over the last four games really shouldn’t be understated. Let’s be fair, we’d all have taken five points from them league games, and losing on penalties to Leicester City in the cup is hardly one we can lay the blame for at Duncan’s door.
He’s also had to deal with quite the injury crisis during this time. He’s done a good job of lifting the club at a very difficult time and I’m pleased he is getting the opportunity to carry on working at Everton under Carlo Ancelotti. We actually saw Duncan very briefly later on and he was kind enough to stop for a photo with us, despite being pushed for time.
As for Carlo, well, I was very disappointed when Marco was sacked, largely because we’ve had so much managerial change over the last few years that I didn’t want any more. However, had I have known at the time that our next manager was going to be Carlo Ancelotti, I certainly wouldn’t have been complaining. Well done to Farhad, Marcel and Bill for making such a canny appointment. Nobody anticipated we would be getting one of the best managers in world football; we all expected David Moyes.
The future all of a sudden seems brighter. Let’s hope we get off to a flyer with a win on Boxing Day.
Pickford: Had very little to do but some of his kicking was rash. 6
Digne: I’m not sure he was quite fit but he managed to get through the game. His corners and free kicks were very poor. 5
Holgate: Had a good game, both in defence and also in midfield when he was pushed up in the second half. Mason is probably the biggest success story of Duncan’s short spell as Caretaker Manager. 7
Mina: While he was atrocious on Wednesday, he played well against Arsenal. He went down late in the game with cramp but just about got through to the end. 7
Sidibe: I like Djibril. He keeps things simple and uses the ball intelligently. Our best performer in this game in my opinion. My man of the match. 7
Delph: Fabian had a very good first half. He was snappy in the tackle and used the ball well. He couldn’t keep it up for the second half though and came off, hopefully more through stiffness/tiredness than anything else. 6
Sigurdsson: He didn’t get on the ball much, though his role seemed to be to sit a bit deeper than Fabian and protect the defence a bit. 6
Iwobi: He began on the left but didn’t survive for long as he came off after only 11 minutes I would presume with sickness as he didn’t seem to get any knock. 3
Richarlison: He toiled but he is clearly jaded and/or carrying a knock and he couldn’t really get going. 5
Davies: He was busy throughout but he isn’t suited to the right wing. I’d have liked to have seen a winger come on to stretch Arsenal a bit in the last 20 minutes. 6
Calvert-Lewin: I thought he led the line pretty well and kept on scrapping. 7
Tosun (for Iwobi): Got involved early on but didn’t really contribute a lot. 5
Keane (for Delph): As this change was done to push Mason into midfield instead, I wonder if bringing on Bernard at this point and putting Tom Davies into midfield may have been a wiser option. Tom was on a yellow card though so maybe that was part of the thinking. Michael struggled to get going, and is clearly low on confidence. 5
Kean (for Tosun): He didn’t have the desired impact, unfortunately. Hopefully, life will improve for Moise under Carlo. 5
Everton play the second of three successive home games when they face Arsenal in the Saturday lunchtime encounter, a fixture that comes quickly on the heels of an intense cup quarter-final on Wednesday evening.
With the club still waiting to rubber-stamp to widely reported appointment of Carlo Ancelotti, Duncan Ferguson will be in the dugout once more having overseen a win and a draw in the Premier League and a 2-2 tie over 90 minutes with Leicester before the disappointment of defeat on penalties in the Carabao Cup.
The Scot has had a galvanising effect since taking the reins from Marco Silva and he will need to summon more energy from his charges despite the quick turnaround. Everton's players exhibited some signs of fatigue against the Foxes, particularly in a poor first-half, but rallied in the second to claw back a 2-0 deficit.
That kind of resolve and determination will be needed again this weekend as the Gunners travel looking for their second consecutive away win, with their own imminent managerial appointment in the form of Mikel Arteta perhaps providing a fillip for a team that has also been struggling for form this season. If he is chosen as Unai Emery's successor, Arteta won't be in the visitors' dugout but he could be watching on from the stands.
Ferguson's pre-match press conference will no doubt shed light on which players he might have available for this one after he was forced to deploy Mason Holgate as an emergency central midfielder in the last two matches. Fabian Delph is getting closer to recovering from a hamstring strain but might
not be risked but Gylfi Sigurdsson could be available after missing the Manchester United and Leicester games through illness. There is also a question mark over Bernard who
Djibril Sidibé appears to have been afflicted by the same bug but he might also return but Lucas Digne is likely to be ruled out again with a groin strain. Thankfully, Leighton Baines has been turning back the clock by doing an impressive job as his replacement.
For Arsenal, caretaker boss Freddie Ljungberg will have Hector Bellerin (hamstring), Sead Kolasinac (ankle), and Granit Xhaka (concussion) assessed before making his team selection. The Swede has seen his team draw at Norwich and Standard Liege but lose at home to Brighton and Manchester City since he took temporary charge but did record a 3-1 win at West Ham two weeks ago.
The feeling watching Everton blitz Chelsea was that the teetering Gunners would find it difficult to live with the Toffees in that kind of mood but much depends on how great a toll the high-energy matches under Ferguson have taken on the players physically.
Regardless, if the home team can retain the spirit that has been such a welcome feature of Ferguson's interim tenure while nullifying the Gunners' undoubtedly talented attack, there is every chance they can grind out another three points to usher in the new regime on a high.
Kick-off: 12:30pm Saturday, 21 December 2019
Referee: Kevin Friend
Last Time: Everton 1 - 0 Arsenal
Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Coleman, Holgate, Mina, Baines, Davies, Sigurdsson, Iwobi, Bernard, Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin