December 22, 2019 | News | No Comments
Saturday’s clash at Goodison Park ended in a dour 0-0 draw but the visitors’ new manager will have been enthused by his players’ workrate
When Mikel Arteta stood in front of his Arsenal players for the first time on Friday, he told them he would be watching their attitudes while he sat in the stands at Goodison Park the following afternoon.
Arsenal’s new head coach – who officially begins his new job on Sunday – will, therefore, have been more than happy with what he saw from his team as they drew 0-0 at Everton.
Quality-wise, they were certainly lacking, particularly in the first half, but the workrate that was on show was far superior to anything we have seen from the Gunners in recent weeks.
In that sense, Arteta got what he demanded.
“I want people to take responsibility for their jobs and I want people who deliver passion and energy in the football club,” the Spaniard told reporters in his first press conference.
“Anyone who doesn’t buy into this is not good enough for this environment or this culture.”
Arteta’s words were evidently taken on board by the Arsenal players, even though it was Freddie Ljungberg who was in charge, for the final time, at Goodison Park.
And although the visitors mustered just six shots on goal throughout a fairly drab 90 minutes on Merseyside, they certainly put a shift in that will have been appreciated by both Ljungberg on the touchline and Arteta in the stands.
It was made more impressive by the fact this was Arsenal’s youngest starting XI for a Premier League match since the 2-2 draw at Fulham on the final day of the 2010-11 season.
Ljungberg handed Emile Smith Rowe his first league start, while Reiss Nelson, Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli were also named in the Gunners XI.
Alexandre Lacazette was named among the substitutes, finally coming on after 77 minutes, but club-record signing Nicolas Pepe never made it off the bench.
Mesut Ozil, meanwhile, missed out through injury, although Ljungberg admitted before the game that the German – who reacted angrily to being substituted against Manchester City last weekend – would not have been involved even if he had been fit.
Given the form that Everton have been in under interim boss Duncan Ferguson, fielding such a youthful team was a risk from Ljungberg, but Arsenal’s youngsters certainly weren’t overawed at Goodison.
In an attacking sense, they offered little during the opening 45 minutes, other than a late effort from Martinelli which flashed wide, but they were disciplined in midfield and compact at the back, with Saka impressing at left-back.
And after the interval, they started to ask more questions going forward, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang drawing an impressive point-blank save from Jordan Pickford.
That was one of five shots on goal Ljungberg’s side had during a vastly improved second half. Everton, meanwhile, could only manage four.
Given Arsenal’s confidence-sapping run of form, which had seen them win just one of their last 12 games ahead of Saturday’s match, this was an encouraging showing from such an inexperienced line-up.
As Ljungberg enthused on BT Sport afterwards, “I loved the spirit we saw and that’s what you need in the Premier League.”
It certainly played its part in what was Arsenal’s first clean sheet on the road in the league since the opening weekend of the season at Newcastle.
Calum Chambers and David Luiz were excellent at centre-back, while in front of them Lucas Torreira and Granit Xhaka offered the defence the type of protection that has been missing for most of the campaign to date.
After taking in Saturday’s game, Arteta will certainly be even more aware of the size of the task that faces him at the Emirates, but Arsenal’s new head coach will also be pleased with how the players responded to his first rallying cry.
He wanted to see attitude and the club’s young Gunners displayed plenty.