Result: Everton 0-0 Arsenal
Competition: Premier League
Date: 21 December 2019
Venue: Goodison Park
Starting XI: Leno, Maitland-Niles, Chambers, Luiz, Saka, Torreira, Xhaka, Nelson, Smith Rowe, Martinelli, Aubameyang
Subs: Martinez, Mavropanos, Mustafi, Guendouzi, Willock, Pepe, Lacazette
Freddie Ljungberg’s final game as head coach saw Arsenal take a point from an exceptionally drab 0-0 draw with Everton at Goodison Park.
On an afternoon of few chances, the broadcast cameras regularly honed in on incoming coaches Mikel Arteta and Carlo Ancelotti. Both men did well to stay awake.
Freddie Ljungberg gave youth the nod in his final game as interim head coach. Shorn of the injured Kieran Tierney, Sead Kolasinac, Rob Holding and Hector Bellerin and the suspended Sokratis, he cobbled together a back four with Bukayo Saka and Ainsley Maitland-Niles wide of Calum Chambers and David Luiz.
Granit Xhaka returned from a concussion to join Lucas Torreira and Emile Smith Rowe in midfield. Gabriel Martinelli and Reiss Nelson played up top with captain Pierre-Emerick Aubemayang.
Pepe and Alex Lacazette had to make do with a place on the bench and when asked about Mesut Ozil, nursing a foot injury, Freddie bluntly replied, “Mesut wouldn’t have been in the squad anyway given what happened in the last game.”
Dull. Boring. Dreary. Shabby. Lacklustre. Bleak. Sombre. Lethargic. Take your pick. The opening 45 minutes was awful. There’s no point sugarcoating it.
Everton, who had their new coach Carlo Ancelotti also watching from on high, showed a bit more forward intent in the opening stages but we weathered what storm there was.
Moments of note? Alex Iwobi picked up a hamstring problem and have to go off after 11 minutes in his first game against us since his summer move to Merseyside. David Luiz took out both Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin without getting booked. And Lucas Digne crossed the ball very badly every time he got it; set pieces, open play, literally every time.
When it came to keeping possession, it felt like the only people on our team were Leno, Luiz, Xhaka and Chambers. They had the ball a lot. As soon as we moved into the final third it was like the pitch turned into a swamp. Suddenly we slowed down, players stopped moving, passes were under-hit. Inevitably we turned backwards. Back. Back. Back. Across. Back. Across. You’ve seen it before.
Everton were similarly awful. It was almost as if they were lured into an average performance by what they were up against.
In the closing stages of the half, Tosun fired over from close range and Martinelli snatched wide having been clear on goal. He should have gone across Pickford, instead he sliced into the stands. At the break, neither side had forced a save or hit the target.
Thankfully, things got more interesting. For about five minutes.
Richarlison from a tough angle pulled a shot wide in a crowded box and Pickford acrobatically denied Aubameyang from close range. The striker had another chance not long after but couldn’t get any power on his effort from the edge of the box. In truth, he probably should have left Torreira’s pass for Smith Rowe who seemed to be in a better position.
As the game opened up, we started to find space to break on the counter. Snippets of promising play included Saka and Martinelli combining down the left and Luiz and Smith Rowe taking charge of situations by carrying the ball forty yards or so before offloading. The latter’s afternoon ended on 65 minutes when he was replaced by Willock.
There were nervous moments as VAR checked to see if Torreira and Chambers, who’d both put their bodies on the line, had cleared a Calvert-Lewin shot legally. Replays suggested it was off the Uruguayan’s chest. Fine margins, but great defending.
At the other end, Aubameyang fired high and wide again. He was removed with 13 minutes to go with Lacazette coming on in his place. Duncan Ferguson replied by putting Kean on for substitute Tosun. He loves subbing a sub, doesn’t he?
Chambers, Xhaka and Luiz all gave the ball away in dangerous positions as the game edged towards the 90th minute but aside from a Davies pot-shot that was always going wide we rarely looked threatened by a poor Everton attack.
A first clean sheet in 15 games is very welcome, as is a point on the road, but there’s no hiding that Mikel Arteta has a huge job on his hands.