Joleon Lescott boldly named in Everton's starting line-up by David Moyes, who chose Jô over Saha to start in attack, the rest of the team picking itself.. A measured start by the Blues, who started to pass the ball with speed and confidence... until Hibbert's intervention!
But by 10 minutes in, Arsenal were penning Everton back into their own half, after a nothing foul by Cahill on Song saw some silly play-acting that riled the Goodison fans. But Everton responded to push Arsenal back, with confident work on either wing, including better contributions from Osman. Too many offside decisions against Jô and Fellaini though spoilt Everton's penetration.
By mid-half, both defences were effectively nullifying the attackers until some poor defending allowed Arsenal and Denilson far too much space for him to score a superb curling strike into the top corner to silence the Goodison crowd with the opening goal. Hopefully it would be the catalyst for Everton to up their game and go at Arsenal with more determination, which was distinctly lacking in a poorly executed free-kick preceding the goal, totally wasted by Everton.
A better spell of attack saw Everton almost score form a second corner, Fellaini's low header being cleared off the line with Almunia well beaten. But Arsenal's covering in defence was mostly comfortable containing Everton's limited attacking prowess, with the dreaded hoofball creeping back in as a substitute for properly constructed attacking moves.
Arsenal went down the other end on 37 mins and demonstrated with consummate simplicity how it should be done from a deep free-kick, Van Persie hanging up the ball for Dutch newboy Vermaelen to run around a static Everton defence and bury a cruel second goal with ease. Woeful, woeful defending.
Baines did well to cross but no less than THREE Everton attackers could only waft and flap at the ball as it went temptingly right across the Arsenal goal area. Meanwhile, Gallas hammered home the message from another Arsenal set-piece, rising totally unmarked to head home. Utterly pathetic!
Given that defending is supposedly Job One for Moyes, the failure to deal with two simple goals scored from deep free-kicks is simply criminal... and raises serious questions about the the wisdom of picking Lescott, if it is indeed his ongoing transfer saga that has fomented such an obvious lack of coordination in Everton's normally rock-solid defence.
Lescott was first out of the tunnel for the second half, which saw no changes from the beleaguered Everton manger. Everton tried hard in the first few minutes but Arsenal scampered merrily up the other end on the break where Van Persie set up Fabregas to slot the ball home easily through Howard's legs. 0-4. Shocking.
Subs on the hour: Saha for Osman; Rodwell for Jô; Gosling for Hibbert. Nothing for 10 mins... then Fellaini got free, exchanged the ball with Pienaar and fired fiercely... straight at Almunia. Arsenal, peeved, went scampering up the other end again and Fabregas hammered home for the fifth goal. Unbelievable.
Goodison began to empty with 20 mins to go... and there was little more of note, Eduardo happily smashing in a rebound off the post with two minutes to go. 0-6 but the Blues were past caring at that point. 3 added minutes of pain... in which Saha slotted in a consolation goal after Pienaar's close-range effort was blocked.
And utterly shambolic start to the season.
Two-and-a-half months after the last one ended, a new season is already upon us and as far as Everton's squad is concerned, the previous campaign need not have ended. Without a single new addition to a squad that was thinned further by the departure of three senior members over the summer, the Blues go into a season opener against "Sky Four" opposition as handicapped as they were against Chelsea in the Cup Final in May.
None of Mikel Arteta, Yakubu and Phil Jagielka will start the season as they continue their recoveries from respective ligament ruptures; there are additional injury concerns over Jô, who suffered a minor ankle injury last week in the friendly against Malaga, and Steven Pienaar, who has a knee complaint. Then there's the question over Joleon Lescott's frame of mind as he deals with his manager's rejection of a transfer request earlier this week.
Hardly a confidence-inspiring way to kick off a new campaign but Moyes's charges have shown some resilience in the past and the manager does at least have something approaching a strong XI to field, unlike a year ago when the 2008-09 campaign got off to whimper with a home defeat to Blackburn Rovers.
Indeed, if Pienaar passes a late fitness test on the injury he picked up on international duty, Moyes could field the same team that started at Wembley against Chelsea... though, again, that would hardly inspire confidence as they were mostly awful that day and could have no complaints about losing to a superior team.
The silver lining with this weekend's opponents, though, is Arsenal's own injury problems and the fact that they haven't strengthened significantly either this summer. Arsene Wenger, having sold Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure to City, will likely be also be without all of Djourou, Fabianski, Nasri , Rosicky, and Walcott.
Thomas Vermaelen is expected to make his debut in defence alongside William Gallas while Evertonian minds will likely be preoccupied with the match-winning abilities of Andrey Arshavin and Robin van Persie, the latter of course scoring the last-ditch equaliser in this fixture earlier in the year.
With no new additions and an indifferent pre-season campaign, there should be little new to find out about the Blues this weekend apart from gauging whether they have grown any from their experiences last season and just how annoying that huge white "V" is in the middle of their chests.
They'll be short on flair, long on endeavour, reliant on the long ball to Cahill and Fellaini, and hopeful more than confident of victory over a side they rarely beat.
The Lescott factor is really the only unknown and Moyes will need him to be focused and on form if his team are to keep the Gunners at bay.
More than anything, a surprise victory would do wonders to dispel the gloom and air of resignation that hangs over Goodison Park going into the new campaign — it is the opening day after all. Moyes's Everton is a side that thrives on confidence and their chances of any success will again depend on it unless some unexpected rabbits are pulled out of Bill Kenwright's manure pile before the transfer window closes at the end of the month.
There can't have been many who were under the illusion that Everton were ready for the new season but even the most pessimistic Blue would have been hard-pressed to predict that the Blues would equal an unwanted record home defeat and concede six goals to an Arsenal side hardly brimming with confidence themselves.
After a typically — not to mention predictably — frustrating and unproductive summer, what the Club as a whole needed was a solid start to the campaign, something to enable Everton to tread water while David Moyes does his usual last-minute shopping. Instead, Evertonians were served up an opening-day humiliation and trudged away from Goodison Park having witnessed as horrific a display as any in recent memory.
Most concerning, of course, was the manner in which a normally reliable defence just collapsed, conceding two awful goals from set-pieces, another two on the counter-attack and the less said about the last the better. By the time Eduardo had slotted in from close range in the dying minutes, too many players in Blue shirts had just given up and were standing around as he wrapped up the scoring for the Gunners and condemned Everton to their worst ever Premier League defeat.
There were few signs of the carnage to come in the opening quarter of the match, though. Everton, with Jô starting up front as the lone striker, had started purposefully enough but without causing Arsene Wenger's side any real problems; likewise Arsenal were tentative and content to feel out their opponents.
Nicholas Bendtner had the first effort on goal after an Everton triangle passing pattern had broken down in midfield but the Dane was thankfully well wide of the target from distance. Robin van Persie then had a shot the turn deflected behind by Joleon Lescott before planting a long-range free kick into the hands of Tim Howard.
Most eyes were on Lescott in the early going, of course, and after taking the field to a mixture of boos and cheers, it became clear that the majority of fans were doing their best to support him in the hope that he would stay with the Club. It seemed to work as he seemed unphased in the early going.
There were 26 minutes on the clock, though, when the wheels started to come off Everton's wagon. Bendtner smartly out-foxed Leighton Baines on the Arsenal right before slipping the ball inside for Cesc Fabregas. The Spaniard in turn squared it to Denílson and he swept the ball into the top corner past the despairing dive of Howard. It was a beautiful strike but questions might be asked of the Everton defence which failed to close down the ball.
Arsenal's incisive breakthrough had been in stark contrast to the home side's familiar failings going forward down their own right flank a minute earlier. Leon Osman had criminally wasted a wonderful opening on the counter attack by dithering over the final ball and was easily dispossessed.
Osman did win a corner off Gael Clichy nine minutes before the half-time break, though, and although the first was wasted by Baines, a second consecutive kick from that side was much more accurate and Fellaini was unlucky to see his glancing header hacked off the line by Denílson. How different the story might have been had that gone in...
Instead, a minute later, Arsenal earned a soft free kick that Fabregas swung to the back post and debutant Peter Vermaelen, totally unmarked, powered a header past Howard to make it 2-0.
Four minutes after that, another needless free kick conceded on the other side of the field was lofted into the Everton area and this time it was William Gallas who profited from a complete absence of attention from the home defence and he headed home the third.
Half time and the match was over barring an unthinkable miracle. Everton, with just one effort on target in the first 45 minutes barely looked capable of scoring one let alone three and their performance was crying out for drastic changes at the break. Jô, in particular, had been utterly ineffective, but when the team re-emerged for the second half, it was as-you-were for the Blues.
If Everton had any chance of pulling off the surprise of the year, it evaporated three minutes after the restart. The Blues were sliced open on the counter-attack and Van Persie laid the ball off invitingly for Fabregas who slotted it under Howard to signal the transition from heavy defeat to embarrassment on home turf.
Moyes's said were toothless going forward and even when set-piece opportunities arrived, time and time again the ball was delivered straight to Almunia's grateful gloves.
The manager made his last attempt to stem the tide and restore some respectibility just before the hour with a triple change that saw Jô, Osman and Hibbert withdrawn and Saha, Rodwell and Gosling thrown on their stead. and Neville moved to right back.
It prompted a brief spark of life from the Blues and Fellaini powered a decent goalbound effort that Almunia stopped and Rodwell blazed over from 20 yards but 20 minutes from the end Arsenal heaped more misery on their hosts with another effortless and unchallenged breakaway. Fabregas had all the time and space he needed to bring the ball forward and advance into a one-on-one situation with Howard and fire it past him into the far corner to make it 5-0.
By this stage, Saha and Pienaar seemed to be the only players in Blue capable of making anything of a horrendous situation and the Frenchman twice flashed shots narrowly wide from just outside the area, showing more purpose and goal threat in 20 minutes than Jô had demonstrated in almost an hour.
Everton were merely going through the motions with time ticking down but Arsenal weren't done. Andrey Arshavin was arguably the player most capable of ripping the Blues to shreds but he'd had a relatively quiet afternoon until he capitalised on more space in the penalty area and got a shot off looking to tuck it inside the far post. His effort was deflected by Lescott, bounced off the face of the post and with a host of Blue shirts just standing there watching, Eduardo picked up the rebound and turned it into the empty net. It was his first appearance and first goal since a horrific leg break 18 months ago.
Everton did finally muster something by way of an incisive attack in stoppage time when a nice passing move involving Gosling and Cahill ended with the teenager sliding a perfect ball through to meet Pienaar's run. His first-time shot was blocked by Almunia but fell to Saha and he rolled the ball into the empty net to give those fans who'd remained to the bitter end something to cheer at least.
Defeat to the Gunners was not the surprise. After all, the deficiencies of Moyes's team were laid bare in the FA Cup Final against Chelsea and, of course, nothing has changed since, not even the manager's team selection. They're one-dimensional, one-paced, overly dependent on the defence and are woefully lacking in width.
There simply can be no place in a team with Champions League aspirations for such obviously limited players as Tony Hibbert and Leon Osman. While Marouane Fellaini's contribution to the Blues' 5th-place finish last season was unquestionable, it's still not clear which is his best position and where on the field he can be consistently effective. Certainly, playing Tim Cahill in central midfield to accommodate the Belgian behind a lone striker does not work — Cahill's best position is the one currently filled by Fellaini and they don't work well enough in the same team.
The players should shoulder a lot of the blame for today's calamity and just how much Lescott's head and heart was in it is impossible to know, except to acknowledge that he was as culpable as anyone in the defence.
Moyes will no doubt also be on the receiving end of a fair amount of knee-jerk abuse on these pages following this result and he's certainly not immune from criticism. There are weaknesses in his team that have existed for years now, not just one season and he's just about had enough time and money to rectify them.
He has yet to buy an effective winger and appears to have no real inclination to acquire one, the right back spot has been aching for change for longer than can beileved, likewise central midfield where Mikel Arteta is the only player who could be considered genuinely worthy of the ambitions Moyes has of gaining entry to the promised land of the Champions League.
But Moyes's get-out-of-jail-free card is what he has achieved at Everton on such a modest budget. Without him, I genuinely don't believe we'd have finished in the top six in four of the last five seasons. No, the buck stops with Bill Kenwright and the Board of Directors — a whole other kettle of fish, one far more complicated than it appears on the surface — and ultimately it all comes down to a chronic lack of funds.
That's a topic for an article all it's own, though. For now, Moyes must come through on two counts: firstly, to land the players he has promised before the transfer deadline, and, secondly, to rediscover his powers of motivation to quickly restore confidence and stability to his team.
Based on this performance, this is a side ripe for further humiliation in Europe and that simply can't be allowed to happen. What is ostensibly the same team as the one that finished fifth and made the Cup Final has already shown what it's capable of. Can Moyes get them back on a even keel before it's too late?
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|2009-10 Reports Index|
|When Skies Are Grey||Report|
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|4 the Game||Report|
|Hibbert (59' Gosling)|
|Osman (58' Saha)|
|Jo (58' Rodwell)|
|Subs not used|
|Fábregas (73' Ramsey)|
|Bendtner (63' Eboue)|
|Van Persie (73' Eduardo)|
|Subs not used|
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|Saturday 15 August 2009|
|Sunday 16 August 2009|
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|After 16 Aug 2009|