Though there was plenty to be positive about, it was a familiar feeling of frustration for Everton against Arsenal last week.
Everton’s woeful record at the Gunners, as well as the rest of the ‘big six’, is well known, but Sunday represented a golden opportunity against an Arsenal side still finding their feet under Mikel Arteta.
There isn’t much between the two teams at present but the difference on the day was ruthless finishing combined with some dozy defending. Yet Everton still had enough chances to at least draw and possibly even win, meaning the game should go down as a real chance missed.
We have been here before of course, as Gary Neville quite rightly pointed out. if Everton are ever going to break back into the division’s elite, results at grounds like Emirates Stadium need to improve, quickly.
I mean you haven’t won at arsenal for 24 years , you are crap in big matches ( and I actually don’t want you to be ) , your team shrink in nearly every big game I see and you ask me to talk you up!!— Gary Neville (@GNev2) February 24, 2020
That said, there is still plenty to be positive about, none more so than the return of Andre Gomes, who came on for the last half an hour and played like he had never been away.
His ability to play penetrating forward passes has been badly missed and it will be interesting to see how he fares now he has two strikers to aim for in front of him.
Everton’s frustrations were completed by nearly every other result going against them, dropping the club back into the bottom half of the table. However, the congested nature of the league means just five points separate Everton from Sunday’s opponents Manchester United in fifth, making the game fairly pivotal.
The race for Europe is so unpredictable because of all the team’s inconsistencies, everyone is vulnerable. But that makes games between those sides all the more important.
Last week was a blow to Everton’s European hopes but it wasn’t terminal, as a win on Sunday will lift them right back into contention.
Another loss though and the gap will start to grow imposing, and require something something special to overcome it between now and the end of the season.
Manchester United maybe just three points behind fourth place, but that should not disguise another turbulent season for a side that for so long dominated English football.
Years of botched recruitment has taken its toll, leading to arguably the weakest Red Devils squad in a generation.
It has left Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with the unenviable task of spearheading the rebuild, with the backdrop of supporter anger at executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward.
Some, though not all, supporters are also questioning Solskjaer’s ability to revive United’s fortunes after the dramatic drop-off in form immediately after his permanent appointment last spring.
The rapidly emptying seats at Old Trafford as Burnley coasted to a 2-0 win last month said it all. The contrsSt to the Sir Alex Ferguson years was stark.
Yes, despite all that, United head to Goodison on something of a high. They are unbeaten in seven matches in all competitions since that burnley defeat, keeping a clean sheet in six of those games.
January signing Bruno Fernandes has quickly found his feet in the heart of the United midfield and offers the kind of attacking threat we expected from Paul Pogba, who has hardly featured this season due to injury.
A win at Goodison could lift them into the top four, a remarkable achievement given the difficulties they have endured this campaign.
It would also prove cathartic for Solskjaer, who said last season’s 4-0 thrashing at Goodison was the lowest moment of his tenure.
The Toffees were in the midst of their Duncan Ferguson-led revival when they earned a battling point against the Red Devils.
Victor Lindelof’s own goal but Everton in front in the first half but Mason Greenwood’s strike with 13 minutes left denied the Blues a rare win at Old Trafford.
Arsenal (A) Lost 3-2
Crystal Palace (H) Won 3-1
Watford FC (A) Won 3-2
Newcastle United (H) Drew 2-2
West Ham United (A) Drew 1-1
Club Brugge (H- Europa League) Won 5-0
Watford FC (H) Won 3-0
Club Brugge (A - Europa League) Drew 1-1
Chelsea (A) Won 2-0
Wolves (H) Drew 0-0
Andre Gomes is in line to start after playing half an hour as a substitute at Emirates Stadium last weekend. Theo Walcott has also been passed fit.
Lucas Digne has a calf problem and will be assessed while Morgan Schneiderlin is set for a spell on the sidelines after knee surgery.
What they said
Everton boss Carlo Ancelotti: “The fight for Europe is still open and will be after the game [regardless of result]. A win will be important for the table and our confidence.
“Manchester United is a strong team in a good moment but… our house [Goodison Park] is important.
“The support of our fans gives us more confidence. We can play with more focus here and it is true that to play at home is an advantage.
“They were easy mistakes [against Arsenal], we worked on that this week and I hope we can improve there.
“The performance was good and we ruined it with little details – but little details are really important.
“We have to be focused there and we will test if we have improved in those situations against United.”
Man Utd boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on last season’s 4-0 defeat at Goodison: “That was the lowest I have been. We know that, we remember that it was just a capitulation.
“We had absolutely nothing about us, even though all the goals were counter-attacks from set-plays, long balls from throw-ins. But everything you didn’t want to see, we saw in that game.
“Everton, at home, they are hard to play against with the two up front. With the strikers, they put balls into the box, we knew what we were up against so I’m 100 per cent sure we will put a better performance up.
“I can, with hand on heart, 100 per cent say these boys will never give in, and never give up like that team did. These are the boys we want to build the next team around.”
This is the second match in a run of four tough games against sides near the top of the table and with one defeat already, Everton cannot really afford to lose again if they are to harbour serious European ambitions. Memories of last season and their recent strong home form should give them confidence, but United also arrive buoyed by recent results, meaning this one is too close to call.