Like two middle aged men fighting with mops round the back of the school gym after going home time, this was the battle of the caretakers.
Freddie Ljungberg for The Arsenal and Duncan Ferguson for Everton had both been parachuted in to hold the fort after their teams’ failing managers were ousted for crimes against points acquisition.
By yesterday morning both knew this would be their last game in charge, with new managers already announced: Mikel ‘Action Man’ Arteta* for us, and Carlo ‘Could Be An Extra In The Sopranos’ Ancelotti for them.
So, two temporary bosses in their final game; two teams under the watchful eye of their incoming managers; it could have turned out to be anything.
In the end it was a dull 0-0 draw with Arsenal shading it as the better team (just).
Freddie’s final game in charge ended with a clean sheet, a point away from home and a half decent performance.
Our legendary Invincible was dealt a very bad hand when he stepped up from assistant head coach to temporary head coach. The team was on a run of terrible form with confidence shot to hell and no perceptible style or tactics.
To add injury to insult, when Unai Emery was shown the door, his coaching team left with him, leaving Freddie with no back-up. Per Mertesacker joined him from the youth academy but it was still a massive ask to turn things round.
His brief tenure comprised an away draw at Norwich, a home defeat to Brighton, an away win at West Ham, an away draw at Standard Liege, a home loss to Man City and, finally, an away point at Everton: P6 W1 D3 L2.
So at this point I think I can speak for all of us at AA when I say: Thank You Freddie!
In the circumstances it was probably as well as any stand-in could have done results-wise, but Freddie also acquitted himself well in the way he conducted himself and the way he talked about the job (in particular with his courageous frankness about how little support he was getting from the club).
Throughout his tenure Freddie showed a willingness to give young players a chance and that was reflected in his starting 11 for the Everton game.
Emile Smith-Rowe was given his first Premier League start, Saka was again preferred at left back (with Tierney and Kolasinac injured), Maitland-Niles at right back and Nelson and Martinelli further forward.
If Freddie has doubts about some of the senior players, his decision not to pick Ozil, Lacazette and Pepe was an elegant way of expressing them. (Ozil was not on the bench and is allegedly carrying a knock).
After a bright first couple of minutes we fell back into some of the bad habits that have become too familiar recently: poor first touches, misplaced passes, lack of running off the ball, risky balls that fail to come off and put us in immediate trouble. David Luiz in particular seemed to want to misread every pass and foul every Toffee that came in range.
Gradually – very gradually – we settled down and although Everton had the better of the first half, they never threatened our goal and for once Bernd Leno had a quiet time.
We looked good on the break occasionally, with Saka, Nelson and the tireless Martinelli all causing problems at different times. We had one great chance to get a one-on-one with Pickford but Smith-Rowe fluffed what should have been a simple pass to put Martinelli in. And Martinelli would later get through to the left of the Everton goal only to slice his shot wide of the near post.
In the second half our confidence and comfort level grew, even if we were creating few chances. The best opportunity of the game fell to the largely anonymous Aubameyang when a ball across the penalty area reached him on the edge of the six yard box. Unfortunately it was at an awkward height and he could only shin it towards the net without much power (although it still forced Pickford into a good reaction stop).
In the end 0-0 was probably fair given that neither side’s attackers were able to make much headway.
There was plenty for Arteta to feel positive about (especially the young players) and also plenty for him to work on. I said in comments after the game that I feel a lackadaisical attitude has been allowed to creep into our squad in the last year or so. I get the impression that Emery was to discipline what Attila the Hun was to diplomacy and that players were seldom called out for sloppy mistakes.
In his first interview as Arsenal boss Mikel talked about being ruthless and about making sure the culture was right. I think he’ll need to take a firm hand for a while (and risk being disliked by some senior players) until the team learns who’s in charge.
Frankly this group of players probably need to hear some hard truths, so I hope he has at it.
*For American readers, Action Man is the British equivalent of the GI Joe toy, with perfect plastic hair, just like Arteta.
For once had a quiet game and got the clean sheet that his excellent recent performances have deserved.
A very decent all-round performance from AMN. He was alert, strong in the challenge and offered help in attack at times.
Calum Chambers 7.5
He’s looking like our most accomplished centre half at the moment (at least until Holding returns). Got the MoTM award from Steve McManaman on the television.
David Luiz 6.5
Had an erratic first 20 minutes but was pretty solid thereafter.
What a good young prospect this lad is. He did well with his defensive duties and was dangerous when he attacked. This sort of experience (playing fullback) will make him a better attacking player in the long run.
A really tidy game from Granit. He is always comfortable on the ball and was our best outlet when we had to play out from the back through Everton’s press.
Tried one silly and unnecessary flick pass in the first half which almost put Everton through on our goal, but overall had a solid game.
I was delighted to see him start, but whether it was nerves or just an off day he seemed to be playing with steel capped Dr Martens instead of footy boots. His first touch was terrible and his passing was way off. In the second half he had a decent chance to take a shot at goal but hesitated because he seemed to be intimidated by the presence of Aubameyang (who was in a worse position to take the shot). It doesn’t matter though. We’ve seen enough of this young man to know he’ll come good.
A solid shift and some good attacking moments, but there were times when he could have imposed himself more.
How can any Arsenal fan not love this kid? Non-stop chasing, running and pressuring despite being kicked off the park. He could have done better with a shooting chance but his attitude is exemplary.
Not involved for most of the game. It’s not really his fault as he does not work as a central striker with the type of system we were using. Looked a bit peeved when substituted. I don’t see him as a captain.
Came on for Smith-Rowe and looked pretty good.
Had about 15 minutes but the chances didn’t fall his way. His effort was as good as we’ve come to expect.
Head Coach 8 (MoTM)
Thank you Freddie.