Everton end what has been a torrid and depressing season with a visit to London on Sunday, ending on a relative high after securing their Premier League status with a thrilling come from behind win over Crystal Palace, on an unforgettable Thursday night at Goodison Park.
Blues fans had to endure an emotional rollercoaster - a microcosm of the season as a whole in some ways - going from the bottomless depths of despair as the team trudged in at half time trailing by two goals, only to experience an uncontained rush of relief at the final whistle. Following on from that night, the campaign ends tomorrow against Arsenal with nothing of consequence on the line, for the Toffees at least.
Safe at last, manager Frank Lampard and Director of Football Kevin Thelwell can sit down and plan for the future. For Gunners boss and former Everton favourite Mikel Arteta, there is still the battle to secure fourth place and Champions League football, in a head-to-head race with north London neighbours Tottenham Hotspur.
Supporters making the trip to the capital tomorrow do so able to experience a match with no pressure, no doubt a welcome relief.
Arsenal have experienced a stronger season than had been anticipated, though it has been streaky, with strings of good form sandwiched around slumps, not something unexpected considering the relative youth of their squad. The Gunners have suffered 13 league defeats, an unusually high total for a team entering the season finale in a battle for Champions League qualification.
Arteta is very much a disciple of his former boss at Manchester City, Pep Guardiola in his tactical setup, emphasizing possession, fluid progressive football and playing out from the back. Using a 4-2-31 or 4-3-3, the Spaniard relies on fullbacks for width and wide attacking players such as Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe cutting inside looking for shooting opportunities. Midfielder Martin Odegaard has become increasingly influential in orchestrating play.
A problem for the Gunners has been the intentional desire to keep their squad small this season, compounded by several players leaving on loan in January. This has left the team vulnerable to injuries to key personnel, which is one reason why they enter Sunday’s crucial game coming off two bad losses.
Everton 2-1 Arsenal, December 6th 2021
It seems an awfully long time ago that these two teams last met, at Goodison Park back in the doomed Rafa Benitez era. That night, Everton fell behind via an Odegaard strike in the waning seconds of an opening period dominated by the visitors, but rallied strongly after the restart. An inspired Richarlison carried the fight to the Gunners, levelling the game with ten minutes to go, before a stunning effort from Demarai Gray in injury time decided the contest in favour of the Blues. The win helped Benitez stagger on into the new year, before Farhad Moshiri eventually pulled the plug on his ill-fated reign.
No updates from Lampard during the pre-game press conference. Definitely missing will be long-term absentees Andros Townsend and Nathan Patterson. Salomon Rondon is still suspended after his wild red card last weekend. Donny van de Beek and Ben Godfrey made the bench on Thursday, along with Allan (who may be nursing a groin problem) and all should be available Sunday. Yerry Mina may also return to the match day squad, along with Fabian Delph.
What they Said
Everton boss Frank Lampard: “[on long-term plans] It’s been second in the list of priorities...we want to take the club forward. It has to improve, we have to improve...I have to get to work in preseason...can we make this squad stronger and more balanced? I believe we can”
“We don’t want to be here next year, but we understand if we don’t make positive moves it’s possible”
“[on the players] We had a run of games were we didn’t get results and that’s testing for everybody...they’ve really pleased me with their attitude and togetherness...”
“I want the squad to be a bit more robust. We’ve had far too many injuries. I came into injuries and those injuries continued and ramped up. I lost two centre backs in my first week here, one for ten weeks and one for five weeks”
“We will go and do our absolute best to approach the game in the right way...a couple of players that maybe haven’t had opportunities will get opportunities, but we’ll be going full pelt to try and get the right result”
“[tactics going forward] There’s a long time for that kind of stuff, in terms of the work we’ll do preseason, the potential recruitment...if we want to start playing a bit better between the lines it starts from the back...we’ll look at all the things and through the middle of the pitch...how we add and improve”
“[on key player exits] I don’t know and those discussions will happen quickly. I’ve not felt that yet...if that is the case we’ll sit down and probably look at the best way through it”
“[on recruitment] I have a great relationship with Kevin (Thelwell) in terms of where I feel we can move forward with the squad...I want a happy, determined camp in every department that moves in the same direction”
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta: “We have created expectations that this club deserves...and in the last two matches we haven’t been able to fulfil these expectations”
“[on the previous meeting] We lost control...we analysed it and tomorrow hopefully is different”
Everton will likely not deviate from the way they’ve played recently on the road, though it is hard to imagine Lampard not switching to the 4-3-3 that the team employed to great success in the second half on Thursday. There will no doubt be some rotation and it is doubtful whether players with any lingering fitness issues will be risked in a largely meaningless match. The Blues manager has a winner’s attitude, so will be sending the team out expecting a competitive performance even as the hosts seek a win themselves.