It beggars belief, really, when you think of the vast sums Everton spent on new players over the summer and the optimism that was coursing through Evertonian veins just three months ago but the club is once again embroiled in crisis, with the man in the hotseat very much living on borrowed time.
In the relegation zone for the first time in 12 years and with a poorer goal difference than eventually-doomed Sunderland had at this stage of last season underscores the trouble that the Ronald Koeman regime is in.
Last term, this fixture marked a turning point, at least in Everton’s home form, the debacle in the FA Cup Third Round against Leicester aside. It paved the way for the 4-0 demolition of Manchester City, as a cock-sure Blues side romped through Pep Guardiola’s team with abandon, and six more wins at Goodison Park after that before Champions-elect Chelsea broke the sequence.
The only turning point this season’s visit of Arsenal to L4 might spark, however, is an abrupt one in Koeman’s employment status… although there’s no guarantee that the Everton Board will be so decisive. Farhad Moshiri was seen to mouth “oh, no” as the fifth goal went in while Bill Kenwright visibly shared the pain of every Evertonian watching — many of them sick and tired of conceding hatfuls of goals to Wenger teams — but whether they are moved to actually do anything about the managerial situation remains to be seen. It’s hard to see a way back for Koeman — he looks bereft of answers.
Koeman could yet get a pass at Stamford Bridge, one of those games, no doubt, that Moshiri wouldn’t be surprised to lose, but the trip to Leicester next weekend has an ominous look to it where the Dutchman is concerned.
This was a game that exposed Everton’s technical limitations, its defensive frailties and toothlessness while underscoring that energy and tenacity alone is not enough against sides like Arsenal when they can slice through disorganised defences like a whipsaw. The Gunners weren’t at their best but when they reached their potential, the porous Toffees couldn’t live with them.
In some respects, there’s a measure of sympathy to be had for Koeman here, albeit it not enough to mask the mess over which he currently presides. He asked for “aggression” from his players and mostly got it in the opening half hour as the forward line harried the Arsenal defence and the likes of Idrissa Gueye were making full-blooded challenges like the one that set Wayne Rooney up for the opening goal.
Getting a boot to the ball before Hector Bellerin, the Senegalese midfielder prodded it towards Rooney and drawing on the self-belief and execution with which he announced himself to the world as a raw teenager 15 years ago almost to the day, he swept it past Petr Cech from 20 yards.
But it was over-exuberance from Gueye — in the absence of Morgan Schneiderlin, he was charged with protecting the back four — that got him into hot water with referee Craig Pawson 11 minutes before half time and which ultimately cost him his place on the pitch half an hour later when he picked up a second yellow card for one late sliding tackle too many.
Despite grabbing the relatively early goal that might have provided the foundation from which they could prey on the low morale of an Arsenal side that came into the game without an away win all season, there wasn’t much more in terms of offensive production from Everton.
Jordan Pickford had made himself the leading candidate for the Blues’ man of the match before 10 minutes had elapsed by tipping a second-minute shot from Alexis Sanchez wide, diverting Alexandre Lacazette’s shot behind to safety and making an excellent close-range save to deny the French striker after Aaron Ramsey had picked him out with an accurate centre from the Gunners’ right flank.
And with Everton seemingly abandoning the high press and dropping off Arsenal as they advanced out of their own half, Pickford had to push away Sanchez’s free kick and then deny Ramsey from the rebound.
Arsenal’s increasing pressure told five minutes before the break. A slight deflection off Gylfi Sigurdsson from Granit Xhaka’s goal-ward drive wrong-footed Pickford who could only parry the ball into the path of Nacho Monreal and he smashed the rebound home. Deflation inside Goodison and plenty wondering if the Blues had it in them to re-establish a lead against a Gunners team that looked very much up for it and was slicing through them at will at times.
Pickford was on hand again to come quickly off his line to block from Sanchez as things threatened to get worse for Everton but Koeman made it into half time with the scores level.
Having started the game with a three-man central defence, Koeman elected to change things up by withdrawing Ashley Williams — the Welsh skipper’s yellow card after a quarter of an hour was perhaps a consideration — and introducing Tom Davies.
The switch had the effect of increasing the load on Gueye in defensive midfield, although it’s one he probably would have made with just eight minutes gone in the second half when Arsenal took the lead… assuming of course the lack of that third centre half wasn’t in itself attributable to the Gunners’ second.
Nikola Vlasic, who had shown some wonderful moments of individual skill at times, ended up running down a blind alley in front of the visitors’ back four and Arsenal broke quickly. The ball was worked to Sanchez who delayed until he spotted Mezut Ozil’s unchecked run and one chipped cross later, the German had guided a header past Pickford to make it 2-1.
Two minutes later, Laurent Koscielny was allowed to saunter down the right flank past Sigurdsson and cross for Ramsey but the Welsh international made a mess of his shot when he could have finished Everton off there and then.
As it was, it was only a matter of time. Koeman would lament after the match that Gueye’s dismissal had made an already difficult task for his team impossible but much of the fight had already gone out of them by that point.
Furthermore, Arsenal with their tails up were just too good. While the massed Evertonians were forced to see angled ball after angled ball float out of play on the right touchline, the result of the manager’s directive to go more direct, Wenger’s men passed with speed and precision, moving through the gears with an efficiency that Blues fans can only dream of.
With 16 minutes left, Arsenal extended their lead when they carved their hosts open once more after Vlasic had uncharacteristically given it away in their half. Only the hapless Michael Keane was in the middle of defence as Ozil surged down the right flank and crossed to Lacazette who couldn’t miss from the centre of the goal.
After Rooney and Calvert-Lewin had been withdrawn in favour of Ademola Lookman and Oumar Niasse, Davies bounced a long-range effort at Cech that represented Everton’s first shot on target since their goal in the 12th minute.
But a wide-open Sanchez missed a great chance to make it 4-1 with a diving header and Xhaka smacked a shot off the crossbar before substitute Jack Wilshere split the defence to pick out Ramsey and this time he didn’t miss.
There was farce still to come as Cech was caught trying to dribble away from Niasse and the striker robbed him to knock the ball into the empty net but Sanchez was still able to exert his will on the game with a final act in the final minute of stoppage time.
Driving his way past a rank of Blue shirts, he eventually engineered space for a shot that he whipped across Pickford and into the far corner to complete the misery among those Evertonians who had remained behind to the bitter end.
But for Pickford, the one new recruit who could be declared even at this early stage a success, this could have been much, much worse. And, even accounting for the final quarter of the contest played with 10 men, it was bad enough.
The flawed transfer strategy that saw Everton exit the transfer window with an unbalanced squad, woefully deficient in some areas and over-weight in others, is clearly a significant factor behind the current slump but the lack of consistency and clarity in Koeman’s methods, team selections and tactics – and the resultant collapse in confidence among the players – are compounding the problem to a degree that is unsustainable.
There is a shortage of imagination and what comes across as a lack of passion and desire from the manager and when the buck ultimately stops at that one role, there is usually only one course of action to take. Preferably before it’s far too late...
Ronald Koeman's quest to find a morale-boosting win lay in ruins after the visit of Arsenal saw them bang in five goals despite a fantastic opener from Wayne Rooney.
After a dreadful start with Pickford forced to make two incredible saves, Everton took the lead in fantastic and nostalgic style with Wayne Rooney bringing the ball under control from a superb Gueye tackle that won the ball and firing in brilliantly from distance to beat Petr Cech.
Arsenal continued to look threatening going forward, with Williams getting booked early on and Gana following him into Pawson's book before the break.
The pressure on Everton's defense finally told when Pickford spilled a shot and Monreal followed up to score.
Arsenal had played some scintillating football while Everton had showed some fight and determination, with both Gana and Williams putting in gritty tackles in an entertaining first half.
Williams did not reappear after the break, Davies replacing him as Everton reverted to a back four. Sigurdsson got a chance to curl in a free-kick but Keane got too much on it and headed over.
The lively stuff continued into the second half, Arsenal pressing the Blues back but good work by Calvert-Lewin and then later by Vlasic, was not followed by clear chances and Everton paid the price when they were sliced open again, a cross swung in by Sanchez and headed home easily by Özil.
Ramsey was left all alone but could only fire over when it looked easier to score as the Blues struggled to contain the visitors. Another Sigurdsson free-kick was this time floated too deep and came to nothing.
Gana lunged in stupidly on Xhaka and saw his second yellow and a red card, putting Everton down to 10 men and surely ending this as another ultimately disappointing contest.
A shocking giveaway by Vlasic saw Arsenal counter and Lacazette score with ease. Rooney and Calvert-Lewin departed in exchange for Lookman and Niasse, a strange and desperate attempt by Koeman to give the kids a chance to rescue the game?
Sanchez seemed certain to score a fourth but he headed Bellerin's cross inches wide. Then Xhaka lashed a shot onto the cross-bar as Everton reeled. Arsenal were now having a laff, dancing around the Everton defence at will. Ramsey was the next to benefit, making it four.In a tragicomic moment, Niasse nicked a backpass off Cech's toes to score a simple second and meaningless goal that was hardly cheered by the rapidly emptying Goodison Park, before Sanchez smashed home a fifth.
A third home defeat in a row would and Everton into the bottom three put further unwelcome pressure on Ronald Koeman's beleagured and disnmtegrating tenure as manager.
Everton (3-5-2): Pickford; Keane, Jagielka, Williams [Y:31'] (46' Davies); Kenny, Gueye [Y:34'; YR:69'], Sigurdsson, Vlasic, Baines; Rooney (75' Lookman), Calvert-Lewin (75' Niasse).
Subs not Used: Robles, Mirallas, Martina, Klaassen.
Arsenal (3-4-3): Cech; Koscielny [Y:86'], Mertesacker, Monreal; Bellerín, Ramsey, Xhaka, Kolasinac; Özil (82' Coquelin), Sánchez, Lacazette (77' Wilshere).
Subs not Used: Macey, Giroud, Walcott, Holding, Iwobi.
Referee: Craig Pawson
Ronald Koeman's quest to find a morale-boosting win continues with the visit of Arsenal this Sunday.
Everton have won just twice in two months in all competitions, a timespan that includes 12 matches and it has left the manager in what you would think would be a very tenuous position, with an even more daunting task awaiting him at Stamford Bridge in the League Cup on Wednesday.
Last season, this fixture proved to be a turning point for Everton under Koeman, at least in terms of their home form — while Goodison Park would become a fortress for a few months after Ashley Williams headed home the winner over the Gunners in December, the Blues have won twice on their travels since.
In what was a foretelling of the current crisis, the Dutchman had been struggling through his first few months at the helm to mould his team into a cohesive, winning unit. Everton's form had fallen away following an unexpectedly impressive start to the 2016-17 campaign but from a particularly demoralising 3-2 defeat at Watford came a pivot in the form of a 2-1 triumph over Arsenal.
Koeman will be hoping for a repeat this weekend, although it is going to take many more victories before the majority of Evertonians will be convinced he is still the right man for the job. A lot of damage to his credibility has been done in recent weeks and privately he might wish for easier opposition than Arsenal — although as he has pointed out, Arsene Wenger's charges haven't been anything to shout about away from the Emirates.
“If you look back to last season,” he said, “we had some great games against really big teams in the Premier League and why not against Arsenal?
“Because Arsenal are not unbeatable, they're not the strongest team away from home this season.
“We know we need to improve, we need to play better but I think if we bring the fight on the pitch and the aggression in a good way then we have a good chance to win the game.”
Koeman will welcome back some of the players he rested, for better or for worse, against Lyon on Thursday evening but he may have to do without Morgan Schneiderlin who came off with a heavy knock that now seems to have looked worse than it was on the night.
The Frenchman will be assessed before Koeman makes his decision but the manager confirmed that all three of Phil Jagielka, Wayne Rooney and Leighton Baines will return. James McCarthy has a chance of being included in the squad after coming through 45 minutes' worth of action for the Under-23s last Tuesday.
Gylfi Sigurdsson, a substitute in the Europa League match, is also expected to be restored to the starting XI, although how Koeman might go about arranging his team this time.
Williams's feisty performance and goal against Lyon drew praise from the boss while Michael Keane, who had a rough night overall, was singled out as one of the players making too many mistakes in Koeman's eyes and it would not be a surprise to see him taken out of the firing line for a bit.
Up front, Dominic Calvert-Lewin might get the nod again over Oumar Niasse who was disappointing against Burnley and failed to set the world alight at Brighton while Kevin Mirallas may have to make do with the bench again despite being one of the brighter spots in the defeat to Lyon before he came off.
Arsenal, who have not been without their critics or pressure from supporters themselves this season, will welcome Alexis Sanchez back but Danny Welbeck, Calum Chambers and Francis Coquelin are doubtful. Aaron Ramsey and Laurent Koscielny will undergo late fitness assessments.
Despite being winless on the road so far, Arsenal always represent tough opposition so it goes without saying that they will pose a stern challenge for Everton. Given the way the Blues have been playing, a win seems like wishful thinking but Koeman will hope he can harness some of that fight he saw against Lyon and get a dose of luck, the lack of which he has been lamenting after every poor result lately.
Kick-off: 1.30pm, Sunday 22 October, 2017
Referee: Craig Pawson
Last Time Everton 2-1 Arsenal
Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Martina, Jagielka, Williams, Baines, Gueye, Davies, Vlasic, Sigurdsson, Rooney, Calvert-Lewin