In the run up to a home game against an ‘in form’ Arsenal Everton decide to put on arguably their worst display of the season against Watford. The performance and result sent most supporters into free fall. Some blamed the manager, some the players, some Martinez, some the set up of the club but mostly a combination of all of these factors and more. The only thing that could be agreed on was that there was something seriously wrong.
How could the team be even worse this season than last season? Listening to Ronnie Goodlass recently, one of his comments really hit home. He was listing the players he thought weren’t good enough for the squad… and had to stop his list at 12, before presumably he went mad! I tried as well and found it easier to list the players to keep, a much shorter list as it happened. (my pessimistic list was four, and three of them were questionable)
The usual dependables such as Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman suffering lost form; The hot and cold blowers such as Deulofeu and Mirallas just blowing cold; the seniors, Jagielka and Barry are now ageing; and the new signings, Bolasie (hot & cold & injured), Stekelenburg (not good enough), Williams (lost confidence) are at best unpredictable. I did not count the younger fringe players in this list.
Then, out of nowhere it seemed, Arsenal turned up face to face with a team that was up for the fight. That fight combined with the notorious Arsenal soft under belly made for one of the best premier league games of the season. The half time fracas added to the atmosphere as previously out of form players decided that they would display nearer to what they are capable of. Welcome back notably James Mcarthy, Ross Barkley, Leighton Baines, Seamus Coleman and Ashley Williams. One good high intensity performance however doesn’t paper over the cracks, unless of course this turns out to be the start of a long winning run.
We need reinforcements and many are looking desperately towards January for signings yet history shows that the January window is more for tweaking and desperation than anything else. I expect very few deals to be done which means we will be stuck pretty much with the current squad until the summer at least. This leaves the bulk of the responsibility firmly at the doorstep of Ronald Koeman’s managerial and motivational skills.
The best part of ten games now has seen Ronald Koeman fiddling around with the same players, like your first attempt at a Rubiks cube only this time failing miserably to get just one decent side! Mason Holgate and Tom Davies seemingly ignored in the main despite the chaotic first team displays shown week after week. The addition of Dominic Calvert-Lewin in the later stages on Tuesday night was a massive show of faith by a manager believed to mistrust youth and when he came on he played well. Maybe youth does have a say in a Koeman future after all.
The thing that surprised me most about Tuesday was that Koeman had declared the players “lack the physicality and mental toughness” to do battle with premier league hard men. I thought “why did he go and say that?” and then they go and play like they did?
Moving forward, the concern is that against the high tempo teams we won’t be able to do as we did this week. There won’t be a better opportunity to prove that theory wrong however, than in the next game on Monday night. I believe that much of the doom and gloom over the recent weeks has more to do with expectations, which have vastly increased since Farhad Moshiri took 49.9% of the club in February. That, together with a manager coming in who had steered his previous team to 7th and 6th in successive seasons despite losing many of their best players, the chance of that elusive new ground and the better than usual start means the normal ‘honeymoon period’ seems to have passed unusually quickly.
Can RK do it? It seems that the positivity towards Koeman dissipated quite quickly, some fans even calling for a change. Those of us old enough remember the Mike Walker year remember the inevitable slide towards relegation and the seemingly hopeless situation he left us in. Beating Arsenal was great this week but the 1997/98 near relegation season we won a Derby and three successive games (including a decent Chelsea team) around the new year period only to sail perilously close to the trap door. This is a different Everton however, and I believe with the backing of the club he will succeed where Martinez failed. I also think, given the nature of many of our fans (particularly myself) that should next Monday night go wrong, it will all start again.