Everton take on Arsenal on Monday evening with the shockwaves from last week’s Merseyside derby defeat still reverberating through the club.
The vitriolic scenes at the final whistle felt like a watershed moment, the camel’s back, under strain for so long, was finally broken and the fans had endured enough.
The club’s response was to dismiss director of football Marcel Brands, the Dutchman paying the price for a muddled transfer policy that has taken the club backwards.
It was not all Brands’ fault of course. He was never really given the room to do his job and he should not be made the sole scapegoat for the mess the club currently finds itself in.
But if his departure at least streamlines recruitment and ensures clearer accountability then that is a step in the right direction, even if handing even more power to Rafa Benitez is worrying in itself.
All that will do little to help Everton’s immediate concerns, which is Premier League points.
The Toffees are without a win in eight games, losing six, their worst run of form for 22 years.
That terrible run has seen them slide down to 16th in the table, just five points above the drop zone. With tough fixtures to come Everton could well find themselves in the relegation zone by Christmas.
A truly sobering prospect.
Arsenal had the honour of being the Premier League’s first crisis club of the season, with three straight defeats putting the spotlight on Mikel Arteta.
However, the Gunners responded with a run six runs and two defeats from eight matches, with a 1-0 win over Watford earlier this month lifting them up to fifth.
Defeats on the road at Anfield and Old Trafford have checked momentum, but there does at least to be a positive direction of travel with this young squad assembled by Arteta, who will celebrate three years in charge of the club later this month (the same day Everton appointed Carlo Ancelotti) with the likes of Emile Smith Rowe, Aaron Ramsdale and Bukayo Saka starting to flourish.
One player struggling for form is Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The Gabon forward hasn’t scored in five games, missed a penalty against Watford and an open goal against Newcastle.
I think we all know what is going to happen next.
The same fixture last season saw Everton win 2-1 in front of 2,000 fans at Goodison Park six days before Christmas, with the three points briefly lifting them up to second in the table.
Everton could welcome back Yerry Mina after nearly two months out with a hamstring injury after the defender resumed full training last week.
Salomon Rondon could feature after being forced off with a muscle injury against Liverpool, while Andre Gomes is available again after a calf problem while defender Mason Holgate returns to the squad after serving a three-match ban.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Tom Davies are still sidelined.
Arsenal 0-1 Everton, April 23 2021
Everton completed their first double over Arsenal since 1986 as Bernd Leno’s own goal secured a 1-0 victory at the Emirates back in April, their first league win away at Arsenal since 1996.
The final word
Each week I keep thinking Everton’s poor run cannot get any worse, but it does. It means every game is a big game now as they badly need to scrape some points from anywhere to lift themselves away from danger. Any aspirations of a European challenge have now faded, with simply staying in the division the main aim.
Rafa Benitez looks to have won the power battle off the pitch, but that will only last if he starts picking up results on it. And fast.