Goodison is packed, but there’s not much noise. Z Cars is playing, but it seems somehow more sombre, even listless, than it has ever sounded before. The players are trudging out, fans sat silently, until there is an announcement on the PA system and Goodison Park erupts into rapturous applause. The minute of adulation was laced with both sorrow and gratefulness, as Evertonians and football itself offered a fond farewell to Howard Kendall.
With the loss of Howard Kendall we have said goodbye to the greatest figure in this club’s 137-year history – in my opinion at least. Not only was he central to the much-hallowed Trinity in which Alan Ball and Colin Harvey also starred, but he was the architect of the most trophy-laden period in the club’s history. Kendall was as pivotal to the incredible league-winning side of 1970 as he was to the Division 1 champions of 1985 and 1987. He taught us that there is hope even when things seem dire that our fortunes could change dramatically for the better, that glory truly was in Everton’s DNA, and nothing for us, no matter where we go or what we do, can top being there at Goodison Park on freezing cold afternoons screaming our lungs out for the Blues. In his passing we lost a leader, a legend and an icon, who brought us unparalleled joy. Thank you Howard. You were truly the most Everton of us all.
In the end the game against Manchester United at Goodison on Saturday felt a bit like a WH Auden poem. It didn’t quite feel right, and if the players weren’t affected as much as we were, you would never have known it from their performance. Manchester United certainly played well – some touted it as their best performance under Louis van Gaal – but we were awful. The third goal encapsulated the whole thing: Jagielka giving the ball away cheaply, Rooney being given the freedom of Goodison as a pair of quick passes carved the defence open, Tim Howard diving in the wrong direction like he has a lazy eye that fools him or something.
It was a bad day at the office. We were poor, but that doesn’t mean our season is destined to go into a nosedive. They were the better side, but it doesn’t mean we won’t made a better fist of it next time. Tim Howard was a tit, but that doesn’t…never mind. We were outthought rather than outfought, which is more concerning. Next up we face a side that will be ready for us. A side that just inflicted a first defeat of the season on a rampant Bayern Munich. A side we haven’t beaten at their place since 1996. Oh, this is going to be fun isn’t it.
Arsenal are the opponents, and the Emirates is the destination. It’s the only Premier League ground (minus the Vitality Stadium, but we haven’t travelled to Bournemouth yet) that we haven’t won at. We’ve drawn four of our encounters there, losing five. Our foul run even extends beyond the erection of that cushioned soulless bowl and into our trips to Highbury, where we toiled since a 2-1 win in January 1996. Graham Stuart and Andrei Kanchelskis got the goals that day. Ah, the nostalgia. That of course means we’ve never beaten them at their place under Arsene Wenger. But that lid on Twitter who says “LOOOOOOOOOL” all the time wants him gone, and those utter sweats in the stands sitting all game checking out their phones for the next North Face sale boo whenever they lose because #WengerOut bruv. You know they’re all bad Tories in there because they’re the only ones who could afford a ticket. Go around that lot on a matchday and see how many of them went to Wembley for the 1979 Cup Final. Dare ya. Probably none as there’s been a cull and only mid-twenties accountants who like to unwind by sitting in silence for 90 minutes before telling all the LADs in the boozer that Ozil is fakhin’ useless. No club in-fights quite to the degree Arsenal fans do, and it’s great entertainment from the outside.
It’s a good team though, made to look infinitely better whenever Petr Cech is between the sticks. Don’t forget, this man saved a Leighton Baines penalty before it was cool. In your face de Gea. Bellerin may look like he should be on a gap yah bothering Cambodians but he’s Arsenal’s right back now and he’s rapid, which is exactly what the FIFA bell contingent in the Arsenal crowd count as a vital component. Resident lanky bastard Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny should be in the middle with Monreal on the left. This is where it gets a bit interesting because another injury to Aaron Ramsey means there isn’t much depth because Jack Scrappy Doo and Mikel Arteta with the stink of Brylcreem coming off him aren’t playing either. So it’s Coquelin and Cazorla sitting deep with Sanchez and Ozil flanking Walcott, who’s dangerously close to actually working out his purpose in this game. So they certainly pack a punch. They’re the Anthony Joshua and we’re the next Scottish melt hauled in the ring to take him on. As long as we don’t punch like Joel Robles we’ll be sound. Put on a couple of wingers, put some pressure on their full-backs so they can’t bomb forward, put McCarthy on Cazorla and leave him on there all afternoon. Sorted right? That’s Naismith starting then.
Howard in net, Coleman, Stones, Jagielka and Galloway at the back. They looked unco-ordinated against United so hopefully we’ve actually worked on that in midweek. Barry and McCarthy need to get going now because neither of them have played as well as they can, a target more ambiguous in Barry’s case nowadays. Steven Naismith has been living off that Chelsea game more than West Ham fans live off the ’66 World Cup so he needs to go. Kone the Camel Whisperer could do a job there, but with Lennon most likely taking the right flank Bellerin needs to be punished every time he’s out of position. Deulofeu knows him well and can offset his pace, and it’s time Mirallas stops just looking moody on the bench and makes a difference. Lukaku up top ahead of Barkley. That one’s easy.
Jurgen Klopp. No reason. Just I’ve been told every single article written until Christmas has to shoehorn him in somehow.
We’ve got a dire record here, and there’s no hiding from the fact this will be tough. But we’ve overcome greater obstacles. And there’s nothing to lose if you go in expecting the worst, so we may as well have a go at rattling these. Who knows where it could lead? One minute you’re struggling away to Oxford United and the next you’re toasting victory in Rotterdam. Football’s funny like that.
Come on then Everton. Do it for the man who made Nil Satis Nisi Optimum more than a slogan.