Saturday saw Everton at their very best and very worst, all in a mental 90 minutes.
The best – the Blues ripping into a more fancied opponent with some inventive attacking play and scoring some great goals. The worst – a monumental balls-up, the likes of which only Everton seem to be capable of.
Let’s start with the positives, and for 75 minutes or so Everton were fantastic. Martinez started as much as he could with the team that battered Arsenal last year – Coleman and Mirallas came into the side as expected, with Lukaku again deployed from the right. Amazingly, Arsene Wenger and his team seemed to have learnt nothing from that game. The first half was almost a carbon copy of last year, with Arsenal playing ineffective, sideways football and Everton simply picking them off.
The only downside to the first half was an early injury to Steven Pienaar, who was clattered in a tough (but fair) aerial challenge by Callum Chambers. He was replaced by Leon Osman, but it didn’t seem to disrupt Everton’s momentum too much. They survived an early scare when Seamus Coleman’s poor clearance was put wide by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and then completely took over.
The first goal came on 19 minutes. A clever free kick move saw the ball worked to Gareth Barry, and his pinpoint cross was met by Coleman, rushing in, to head into the roof of the net. Arsenal barely responded, with the likes of Özil, Sanchez and particularly Jack Wilshere barely having any impact at all. Everton kept flooding forward on the break and some better finishing or decision making – particularly from Kevin Mirallas, who was lively but frustrating all day – could have seen the second come earlier than it did.
As it was, it arrived just before half time. An awful pass from Özil was intercepted by Jagielka, who pushed the ball out towards Lukaku. He outmuscled Mertesacker and rampaged down the right wing, leaving Chambers in his wake. A pinpoint pass found Naismith, who finished comfortably. Replays showed the Scot was slightly offside, but there were no complaints from the Goodison crowd, as the Blues went into half time two goals to the good.
To give Wenger his due, he changed things quickly at half time with Giroud on for the ineffective Sanchez. Arsenal as a result had a brief flurry just after the break, and were certainly better set up, but after that the game settled down into a scruffy scrap with very few chances. From Everton’s point of view, again the final pass let us down – a couple of Baines forays down the left led to pull backs just beyond onrushing attackers. Arsenal’s midfield had no answer to the energy and organisation of McCarthy and Barry, and they barely made any chances – Tim Howard made one good save from Giroud, but it seemed for all the world that Everton were seeing the game out. Arsenal were getting frustrated – Wilshere, who was utterly hopeless throughout, could have gone for a terrible tackle on Barry – but as the clock ticked into the last fifteen minutes, the game turned right on its head.
Wenger again made some clever changes, with slack-jawed Jack and Oxlade-Chamberlain getting the hook and Cazorla and Campbell coming on. Unfortunately, Everton are short of the same like-for-like quality in certain positions. Lukaku, who had a good game and kept possession well, was goosed after 70 minutes, and Roberto Martinez later revealed he had been struggling with a toe injury all week. We don’t have another striker in his mould, and without the threat in behind, Arsenal pushed on, and Everton cracked.
First, on 83 minutes, Carzorla got the ball out wide, the Everton right side backed off too far, and Osman failed to track Aaron Ramsay’s run. Then, in the last minute, an overhit pass luckily found Monreal, Coleman didn’t shut him down, and the full-back whipped in a cross. Jagielka got under the ball, Distin got horribly the wrong side and Giroud nodded in. Again, replays showed that he had a handful of Distin’s shirt, but you deserve all you get from rank bad marking like that. Fucking hell, Everton.
The real worry from the last 15 minutes was how fitness levels dropped off – Everton looked out on their feet and failed to do simple things well, like holding onto the ball, getting it wide and keeping Arsenal in their own half. It’s obviously been a tricky job for Martinez balancing giving the players rest with getting them ready for the season, but the difference was alarming. We’ve got Europe to come though, and there is no point blowing out early and being knackered as the season wears on. The manager knows what he’s doing, and hopefully the likes of Lukaku and Mirallas will repay his faith when they have a few more miles in the legs.
What was abundantly clear again, however, was the need for another striker. There is no replacement for Lukaku at the moment – as much faith as there may be in Arouna Kone, he’s had a year out of the game and won’t be match fit for some time. Another big, quick forward to keep Arsenal going backwards in those last 15 minutes would have made all the difference – the replacements we did have, Aiden McGeady (who will want to forget his cameo very quickly indeed) and Christian Atsu, are completely different players to what was needed. You’ve got to believe Martinez knows this, though.
Let’s not get carried away – we were playing one of the apparent title favourites, and, for 75 minutes, they didn’t lay a glove on Everton. Get up to speed, cut out the stupid mistakes and we won’t be too far away at all.
Everton: Howard, Coleman, Jagielka, Distin, Baines, McCarthy, Barry, Mirallas, Naismith, Pienaar, Lukaku.
Subs: Robles, Stones, Alcaraz, Besic, Osman (Pienaar 10), Atsu (Mirallas 85), McGeady (Lukaku 76).
Goals – Coleman 19, Naismith 45
MOM – Naismith, just from McCarthy.