The best that could be said of this anticlimactic affair is that both Everton and Arsenal will be reasonably happy with a point apiece. Duncan Ferguson said he wanted to be tucking into Christmas dinner with another three points in the bag, but as Everton games under their colourful caretaker manager go, this was quiet.
As openings of new eras go, with both Carlo Ancelotti and Mikel Arteta watching from the stands, it was worryingly underwhelming. Everton saved one of their most insipid performances of a below average season for their freshly arrived new manager, while Arsenal gave an adequate account of themselves but no more, Freddie Ljungberg’s challenging selection giving Arteta plenty to think about. The bad news for Ancelotti is that his new side looked as if they could play until Christmas without scoring a goal, and though credit is due to a callow Arsenal side for showing resilience the Italian must already be concerned about how Everton might perform against a proper Premier League side, not one showcasing their talent at under-23 level.
A scrappy and forgettable first half passed without a shot on target, both teams trying hard to impress the onlookers in the posh seats but failing to come up with any effective attacking ideas or produce any moments of quality. Everton were particularly disappointing, given that this was Ferguson’s last game in charge and Arsenal had obligingly fielded such a callow and inexperienced side.
When Alex Iwobi departed injured after 11 minutes without managing to make any impression on his old club, Ferguson sent Cenk Tosun on in his place and moved Richarlison to the wing. It was a bold attacking statement but it means Gylfi Sigurdsson and Fabian Delph became too detached from the front three, with the former spending much of his time playing even deeper than the latter.
Considering the levels of excitement reached here in the last couple of weeks it was dismally poor fare for the home side to serve up to the most illustrious manager in the club’s history, and the hope expressed in several half-time conversations was that Everton had not been reckless enough to allow any sort of cooling-off period in Ancelotti’s contract.
At least the second half turned out to be a little more eventful, even if it was the visitors who most visibly perked up, possibly realising they were not about to be rattled by a stadium at fever pitch after all. Jordan Pickford produced a splendid reaction save to keep out a goal-bound effort from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang immediately after the interval and a couple of minutes later Lucas Torreira opened up the Everton defence on the left only to pick the wrong option in passing to the Arsenal captain when others were better placed to shoot.
Everton took over an hour to cause the Arsenal defence any real concern, when Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison and Tosun all had a go from inside the are before the ball was cleared for a corner. VAR checked to see whether one of the shots had been deflected by Torreira’s hand but not even new technology was able to give the home side any leverage in the game.