Despite Frank Lampard hinting that he was willing to make changes for his side’s final game of the season, there was one notable absence.
The Everton manager gave chances to some players who had been on the sidelines for some periods of time. Jarrad Branthwaite, Tom Davies and Dele started with numerous young talents on the bench.
Loan signing Donny van de Beek also received what would probably have been his last bow as an Everton player, being brought on as a substitute to score his team’s only goal of the game. But his temporary arrival partner in the January transfer window was nowhere to be seen.
Anwar El Ghazi will quietly leave Merseyside having barely made an impact during his time at the club. In fact, his omission from Arsenal was closer to the norm than you might think.
The last time the winger was in a Premier League squad was in a 2-0 loss to Liverpool at Anfield in April. That was the only game in Everton’s last nine league games in which Aston Villa’s loan man was involved in the 20-man squad.
His two appearances for the Blues add up to less than 20 minutes of pitch time, when added time at each of Leeds United and Man City’s matches in February is added to the equation. For both, he was introduced as a late substitute, without enough time to make a real impact on the game.
So what went wrong for El Ghazi? Arguably, it would take less effort for him to make a list of the things that went well for him.
Looking for more playing time after falling by the wayside at Aston Villa, the 27-year-old was intrinsically linked with Lucas Digne leaving in the opposite direction. Everton have always insisted the two deals weren’t linked, but the fact that they were both completed on the same day certainly didn’t help matters.
His arrival came alongside the usual media interview with the club, but not with his new manager, which was certainly a bit strange. Rafael Benítez would later address the transfer admitting: “If there is a player on loan, with quality, who wants to come, who wants to prove his worth, then perhaps it will be a win-win situation. That was the idea.
“I was talking to the player to make sure that he wanted to come, and he has the desire to do well for us, and it was quite positive. In the end, I hope he can improve our team.”
Of course, what didn’t help El Ghazi one bit either was that he only had about three days to work with the coach who hired him before he was fired. Benítez left the Blues after a dismal loss to Norwich City in mid-January, leaving the club in a big turnaround and at one of its lowest points in recent history, not necessarily in terms of league position, but in the general sentiment among the fan base.
That became unwieldy for even the longest-serving players on the team, never mind someone who was just trying to find his place at a new club. He was getting into a position where Everton were highly talented despite injuries across the team, with Anthony Gordon, Demarai Grey, Andros Townsend and Richarlison all vying for places at the time.
His position as a loan signing in the team could even have affected Lampard’s transfer plans at the end of winter. He only had the opportunity to pursue one loan rather than two, knowing the club had strengthened a position that, frankly, did not appear to be an immediate priority.
All of this put El Ghazi a bit on the defensive, but he was determined to try and prove himself. In February, he told Elf (Eleven) magazine: “I know what it takes to be successful and I enjoy the challenge. We have a good team and I want to do my part to get the club to where it belongs in the table.”
Unfortunately, it became too complicated for him to force his way into the plans. Dele’s arrival on the day of the transfer deadline, clearly someone Lampard was desperate to work with, meant that even appearances off the bench were more limited than he might have expected.
Everton had a similar situation with Joshua King during the 2020/21 season, with many touting his arrival as a solid option for the team. However, he struggled to find his way into Carlo Ancelotti’s plans and ended up frustrated when he left.
The same could well be said of El Ghazi. It’s hard to know what guarantees he might have received about the amount of playing time from him when he joined, because there were so many changes at the club in the space of the three weeks that immediately followed.
When Everton were at some of their lowest points, the winger was unable to make the impact necessary to try and turn things around. Whether it’s due to a lack of opportunities or a lack of quality, it’s likely that we’ll never get the answer.
It is just one of the many questions that will hang over this transfer in the coming years. The 27-year-old will likely become something of an answer to a quiz in the future, one that many will have a hard time remembering.
Because the last few months have really turned El Ghazi into a forgotten man. He certainly became the complete opposite of the “win-win” situation that Benítez had alluded to in January.
He’s not going to walk away with any feelings of animosity from the Everton fanbase or anything bad in that regard, because they just didn’t get a chance to connect and engage with him.
In a long list of confusing transfers from the Blues in recent years, this has to go straight to the top of the heap. And, let’s be honest, that’s saying something.