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Liverpool Echo
Liverpool Echo
Chris Beesley

What Amadou Onana did at full-time after Everton beat Arsenal as Jordan Pickford taunts backfire

Everton got off to a dream start under new manager Sean Dyche as they secured a deserved 1-0 victory over Premier League leaders Arsenal.

James Tarkwoski was the match-winner as his second-half header secured the Blues their first three points since October 22.

But here are some moments you might have missed from a turbo-charged Goodison Park.

ANALYSIS: Sean Dyche unlocks 'complete' midfielder as £20m outcast finds new role

VERDICT: Everton find new figureheard to send Goodison soaring back to its fiercest best

True Blue Amadou

Everton cashed in on their former home-grown hero Anthony Gordon in the January transfer window, with the winger from Kirkdale, who had been at the club since he was 11, handing in a transfer request to force through his £45m move to Newcastle United.

Another 21-year-old who had only been with the Blues since last summer was also the subject of reported transfer interest with none other than Saturday’s opponents Arsenal and London rivals Chelsea both linked with his services a mere half a season after the midfielder first arrived at Goodison Park.

Unlike Gordon, Senegal-born Belgium international Amadou Onana hasn’t grown up in the city, surrounded by Evertonians, but he already seems to have forged a closer bond with them than his former team-mate who has swapped his native Liverpool for the even more intense ‘goldfish bowl’ of Tyneside. Throughout the campaign, Onana has attempted to feed off the energy of Blues fans, cajoling them with a series of animated gestures but after what was surely his most-impressive display in an Everton shirt to date – against the best team in the division right now – he despatched a special message.

Following the final whistle, Onana pointed to the ground by the Park End and proclaimed: “I’m staying here” and it was a sentiment he repeated when caught on camera going down the tunnel when the announced: “I ain’t f****** going nowhere”.

Obviously with the transfer window now shut, that would always be the case now until the summer, but the challenge now for the Blues is to ensure they’re still playing Premier League football next season so talents like Onana can remain.

While in the real world, the £33.5m fee they paid for him always looked like being an investment, the hope as a business has to be that if he has to be sold at some point in the future it’s for absolute top dollar because he’s developed into a world-class talent, gracing Everton’s new stadium at Bramley-Moore Dock, a venue he’s already visited and been blown away by – this correspondent can vouch for that having been stood next to him at the time – not dispensed with after just a single season in a relegation fire sale while he’s still a work in progress.

Still England’s number one

Talking of players that Everton should be looking to hold on to, Jordan Pickford very much falls into that category, but while Onana’s contract lasts until 2027, the Blues goalkeeper’s present deal expires in less than 18 months. While it’s probably fair to say that the club’s fortunes haven’t quite panned out how Pickford would have hoped when he first joined them from Sunderland for £25m in 2017 when they were competing in Europe, by all accounts he still genuinely enjoys being an Everton player.

Ahead of Everton’s first fixture back after the World Cup break, former manager Frank Lampard insisted that new deals for Pickford, Gordon and Alex Iwobi were all “close”. Some six weeks later, there has been no announcements and Gordon of course has left the club!

Like Onana, the Blues would surely struggle to hold on to an international like Pickford if they’re not playing Premier League football next season, but regardless of what division they’re in, if he doesn’t sign a new contract then the summer window represents a last chance to get significant money for him. This fixture saw Pickford go head-to-head to one of the pretenders to his throne, Aaron Ramsdale, but while his Three Lions understudy is riding high playing for a successful club side, as much as the Arsenal fans at Goodison sung 'England’s number one' in support of their own man, they know in their hearts it’s not true.

When Pickford has had days off for the national team, both Ramsdale, who endured a nightmare in a friendly against Hungary last year, and Nick Pope have fluffed their lines, whereas the Everton man remains one of Gareth Southgate’s most-trusted lieutenants having now excelled in two World Cup tournaments and a run to the European Championship finals. Being with the Blues has never held him back for playing for his country with all 50 of his caps coming while at Goodison Park to ensure he holds the Everton record for England appearances at the club.

Gordon Banks never won the League Championship at club level, with either Leicester City or Stoke City, but nobody ever disputed his status as the best Englishman between the sticks ,and Everton’s recent struggles should not fool anyone into doubting that Pickford – who saved well from Leandro Trossard late on – shouldn’t be the first name on Southgate’s team sheet. The home fans at Goodison would have the last laugh though as they responded to the taunts by telling Ramsdale, 'you’re just a s*** Jordan Pickford'.

McNeil turning a corner

Having provided the assist for what proved to be James Tarkowski’s winning goal with a well-placed cross from a corner kick – more of those please – Dwight McNeil was isolated from his team-mates as he turned to the Gwladys Street and celebrated away from the crowded penalty area. The winger wasn’t on his own for long though as after receiving a hug from a ball boy, Iwobi and Dominic Calvert-Lewin also came over.

Hopefully the arrival of his former Burnley manager Dyche can now prove a turning point for McNeil in terms of his Everton career with an increased focus on delivering balls into the box from wide positions, be they set-pieces or open play. As an attacking midfielder, expected to produce in the final third, much was made of the Rochdale-born wide man’s single goal and assist from his last season at Turf Moor that ended with relegation for the Clarets prior to his £20m transfer to the Blues.

McNeil quickly exorcised those demons though with a brace on his debut, coming off the bench in a pre-season friendly against Dynamo Kyiv at Goodison Park. Although that evening, in which Evertonian Paul Stratton came on to ‘score’ a penalty in front of the Gwladys Street in recognition for his work delivering supplies to Ukrainian refugees was only broadcast by the BBC on Michael McIntyre’s Big Show on Saturday night after the game against Arsenal, in the fast-changing sphere of Premier League football, the footage already looks rather dated.

Blues fan Paul asks manager Lampard to hold his shirt down as he removes his tracksuit top to enter the field, he replaces Dele Alli – now on loan at Besiktas – as a ‘substitute’ and after finding the back of the net, Salomon Rondon (subsequently released by the club and having joined Argentinian club River Plate) is among the players to congratulate him. That gap will no doubt feel like a relatively long period of time for McNeil, too, but now is the chance for him to start showing exactly what he’s capable of.


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