In his attempts to crack the glass ceiling that has existed between Everton and the Champions League places for the past 10 seasons, Roberto Martinez has been at pains to stress that clubs like his that don't have the capacity to spend their way to success can bridge the gap in other ways – through coaching, tactics, psychology and by simply finding ways to win.
That was the case in instances like his first win as boss over Chelsea, when he ended a 44-year wait for the Blues to do the double over Manchester United, and the 3-0 demolition of Arsenal at Goodison Park to briefly set the cat among the pigeons in the chase for fourth place in the Premier League.
The jury remains out, however, as to whether his philosophy holds up to scrutiny over the course of a season and certainly Everton's experience last term, where their top-four charge was critically undermined by failings late on against inferior opposition like Crystal Palace and Southampton, was Exhibit A in that respect.
If breaking into the top four is to be a reality this time around with largely the same squad as last season, then the manager is going to need not only a repeat of those kinds of results against the monied elite, but also an advantage born of those other intangibles he cites. On the evidence thus far, he is already behind the curve.
Martinez rightly took the plaudits for his strategic masterstroke over Arsene Wenger last April, on a day when the gulf in resources between the two clubs was bridged almost effortlessly by a stunning performance from an Everton side that was firmly in a groove that would yield seven successive League victories. In the wake now of successive 2-2 draws that represent four points dropped from winning positions, and a visible lack of fitness among most of the players, the manager must shoulder a good deal of the blame, particularly for an unbalanced pre-season programme that is now seriously being called into question.
Things looked very different at 6:15pm this evening; indeed, Everton were sitting in a position pleasingly reminiscent of the last time they met Arsenal in this fixture. 2-0 up without really having to move out of second gear and with the opposition having failed to even register a shot on target, the scene was set for a repeat drubbing of the Gunners. Another goal would have sealed it but, as fatigue appeared to set in, the intensity to go for the jugular never materialised and Wenger was able to plot a way back into the match.
Martinez's line-up was, as expected, arguably the strongest one at his disposal. Kevin Mirallas and Seamus Coleman both started – the latter making his 100th Premier League start – and Romelu Lukaku led the line for the first time at Goodison as a fully-fledged Everton player, albeit with the suspected help of a cortizone shot in an injured toe that, rumour had it on Thursday, might have kept him out altogether.
Just as was the case last time, though, Everton were forced into an early change, this time with Steven Pienaar forced off after just eight minutes with an injury. He had been clattered in the back by Calum Chambers in only the first minute but seemed to be hobbling on a strapped knee before signalling to the bench that he couldn't continue.
He was replaced by Leon Osman and Everton weren't duly affected as the two teams felt each other out in the early stages. Coleman almost made an awful mistake when he sent an ill-advised clearance straight to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain but the England midfielder side-footed wide of goal; Tim Howard's goal was otherwise largely untroubled in the first half.
Instead, it was the Blues who eased into the lead after 19 minutes when Leighton Baines found Gareth Barry in space 10 yards outside the opposition penalty area with a superb pass and the midfielder floated a perfect ball over the top of the defence to the back post. Coleman had tracked it precisely and planted a header into the top corner via Wojciech Szczesny's gloves to give Everton the lead.
1-0 should have been 2-0 three minutes later when Mirallas chested Steven Naismith's header forward into an ocean of space behind Chambers but he couldn't make proper contact with just the 'keeper in front of him and poked it agonisingly wide. It was one of a number of examples that betrayed the Belgian's general rustiness and he would plant a direct free kick into the side netting 11 minutes before the break after being flattened by Matieu Flamini.
Still, thanks to a textbook counter-attack, the Blues would eventually double their lead on the stroke of half time, albeit somewhat fortuitously. Lukaku came out of a challenge in his own half with Per Mertesaker with the ball and romped down the touchline, hurdling Chambers' attempted tackle in the process before coming inside. A wonderfully disguised throughball slipped Naismith in and the Scot, marginally offside, tucked his shot between Szczesny's legs.
If the lesson of last week's late lapse against Leicester had been heeded, it didn't show in Everton's second-half display, however... although it appeared as though sheer fatigue was as much to blame for the fact that Martinez's side eased up after half-time, inviting more and more danger as Wenger tinkered with his team.
Olivier Giroud, a half-time substitute, sounded an immediate warning bell with his first involvement when he volleyed Oxlade-Chamberlain's cross narrowly over the bar from the angle but Arsenal were being comfortably contained until the last quarter of the contest when Giroud dragged a low shot just wide and then forced a first save from Tim Howard.
At the other end, Baines had made a rare burst to the byline but his cut-back was behind Mirallas in a rare moment of danger from the Blues, while Jack Wilshere was taunted into picking up a booking by a delightful interchange of flicks between Coleman, James McCarthy and Barry. Despite not carrying much threat on the attack themselves, the Blues remained largely comfortable until Lukaku limped off with 15 minutes left, to be replaced by Aiden McGeady and, perhaps crucially, the team lost most of its shape.
Then, seven minutes from time, came what felt like the annoyingly inevitable. Santi Cazorla, another of Wenger's second-half changes, was given too much space to engineer a low cross from the left as Coleman and McCarthy backed off and Aaron Ramsey stole in between Osman and Baines to slide the ball home from a couple of yards out.
Martinez responded not with an attempt to shore things up but with a like-for-like attacking change that saw Christian Atsu come on for Mirallas; but the pendulum had already swung in the direction of the visitors. The Blues needed to keep the ball and see the game out but seemed unable to do so, leading to one more decisive attack for the Gunners down the right flank in the 90th minute. Ramsey over-cooked the cross but Monreal retrieved it, swung it back into the danger area where Giroud easily out-muscled the lead-footed Sylvain Distin to power a header into the goal. It was a sickening conclusion to what had looked like a routine victory.
Granted, the empty feeling at having tossed away two points from a fixture in which we used to routinely struggle highlights our progress but this was still a massively disappointing result in view of the optimism of the build-up and what should have been an unassailable half-time position. If fitness and not a failure on the part of the players to simply go for the jugular is to blame, the inquest into the haphazard nature of Everton's pre-season preparations (during which players came back from the World Cup at differing states of readiness and the team never really seemed to be ready in any of their friendly matches) is now underway.
The squad's fitness will come over time – hopefully not so late that irreparable damage has been done to the Blues' prospects of mounting a top-four challenge – but concerns over some of the manager's substitution decisions, the sloppy way in which all four of the goals against so far were conceded, and the worrying lack of striking options off the bench will linger in the minds of supporters after two draws that feel like defeats.
Martinez may posit that money is not the answer to everything but, with Europa League and League Cup campaigns looming next month, fitness concerns over Pienaar and the ability of Darron Gibson and Arouna Kone to play a significant part in the season unknown, squad depth is going to be a major issue for Everton this season. If the loan market does not bear any more fruit, addressing that will take money. We will find out how much desire there is to expand the squad by the closure of the transfer window...
Seamus Coleman, making his 100th Premier League appearance, and Kevin Mirallas both started after coming on as substitutes last weekend at Leicester City, with John Stones and Aiden McGeady dropping to the bench for this 5:30pm kick-off in front of the Sky Sports cameras.
Roberto Martinez spurned the opportunity to blood either of his new acquisitions, in Mohamed Besic and Christian Atsu, but Romelu Lukau makes his first start at Goodison Park since becoming Everton's record £28M signing.
Everton won an early corner but it was swung outward by Baines to little effect after Pienaar went down. Good possession and forward pressure in Arsenal's half conveyed the right early message but moves did not penetrate effectively, as Everton's defence dealt well with Arsenal's first attack, playing the ball out with confidence from the back.
Pienaar went down again with a groin strain, Leon Osman replaced him after just 9 minutes, and the Blues took a little while to readjust, allowing Arsenal to push back a little, Coleman with a horrible giveaway straight to Oxlade-Chamberlain, who thankfully sidefooted wide. Coleman made another error on the touchline as the Blues sought to establish some attacking rhythm. McCarthy getting nailed by Sanchez and, from the free-kick, Coleman made tremendous amends, a great ball from Barry to the full-back running in behind the Arsenal back line for a fabulous close-range header Szczesny could only push further into the roof of the Park end net!
Mirallas was getting in some great advanced positions down the channels but lacked the guile or skill to beat his man, although almost scored on one venture forward. Everton had done well to contain the Arsenal backlash and steadily increase the control on the game through the half-hour mark.
Baines was called for a late tackle, a foul yes, but probably not worthy of the yellow card Kevin Friend flashed for what was surely only his first offence. Arsenal applied some pressure, ending with Oxlade-Chamberlain again lashing wide. A promising break stalled with McCarthy, and Everton resorted to keep-ball in their own half in order to draw out the visitors in an impressive period of sustained possession that ended with Mirallas getting taken out by Chambers. Clumsy, but no yellow card, and a nice set-piece for Everton, Mirallas almost scoring on the angle, drawing a great leap from Szczesny.
Mertesacker went in a little hard on Naismith and earned himself a yellow card. A great move started from the back then tore Arsenal apart just before the break, Lukaku rolling Mertesacker, scampering forward, beating another advancing defender and playing in Naismith (marginally offside) but the goal stood! Excellent stuff from Everton.
Giroud replaced Alexis Sanchez for Arsenal after the break, as they kicked off with hopefully an unassailable deficit facing them thanks to some great attacking play by Everton in the first half. But Giroud was given a golden chance, firing from a difficult angle just over Howard and the bar... Too close for comfort.
Debuchy reacted to a fair challenge by Naismith, trying to catch him with a little kick and wagging his finger, only to get an earful of Scotch Brogue from the goalscorer. Everton won a corner played short and worked in for what might have been a handball... but wasn't.
Some neat flicked triangles by Everton bamboozled the Arsenal players with Wilshere frustrated lunging in heavily on Barry to the shock of Goodison Park, and well worth a red, but Friend only booked him. Chambers was next in the book, bodychecking Naismith.
Everton backed off a little despite having the mental advantage, allowing Arsenal to run at them a little too much, and win their first corner after the hour mark, but it came to nothing, Barry almost pulling off a tremendous forward pass to Lukaku.
Everton started to concede too much space to the increasingly marauding Arsenal attack, and looking more and more nervous with each new attack, relieved momentarily in a good breakout that collapsed on an overly ambitious backheel from Lukaku, and the ball was instantly up the other end, Giroud with an excellent chance that Howard saved brilliantly.
A classic epitome of a stretched game, Baines the next to pull a tremendous cutback off the Arsenal byeline but neither Osman nor Naismith could profit. End to end stuff... not good for those of a nervous temperament, as Lukaku gave way to McGeady... an add substitution instead of Atsu? For Arsenal, Campbell replaced Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Naismith immediately played McGeady in and got a peach in return that he leathered a little too enthusiastically yards over the Gwladys Street goal. Naismith than fouled by Flamini who earned Arsenal's fourth yellow. A surge of pace from McGeady and Coleman down the Everton right almost came off as Everton benefited from the Irishman's fresher legs.
Into the final 10 minutes and Everton still needing to be alert, while looking for the opportunity to break with sharp counter-attacking moves that belied the form shown in lacklustre pre-season displays which had given many Evertonians serious heartburn. Arsenal had a fresh lease of life, and kept attacking, asking questions of Martinez and Everton, as the all-too predictable goal came for the Gunners.
The manager's belated response was to swap out Mirallas for Atsu, but it made little difference as the yellow peril surged forward again, and another winning position looked highly vulnerable with 5 mins left on the clock.
And sure enough, final minute and another gifted goal. Absolutely maddening stuff second half from both the Everton players and the Everton manager, who again have thrown away two precious Premier League points from an excellent winning position.
In comfortably breaking Everton's Premier League points record in his first year in charge, Roberto Martinez set the bar very high in a number ways for this season, not least with some big performances and handsome results. The stunning 3-0 demolition of Arsenal last April, with the tactical masterstroke that underpinned it and the sheer collective desire of players and fans alike to deliver a statement to the Blues' closest rivals for a top-four spot at the time, was one such game and the same fixture as arrived very quickly in 2014-15.
In terms of timing, it's unlikely neither team will be thrilled to be facing the other in only the second match of the campaign but Arsenal, having already played the Community Shield and a Champions League qualifier on top of their opening day fixture against Crystal Palace, might feel the better prepared.
Everton, though still reeling perhaps from the loss of Ross Barkley, may feel they will have benefited from the opportunity to focus on the training ground at Finch Farm rather than travel to Turkey to grind out a 0-0 draw with Besiktas like Arsene Wenger's men. And they, too, will have to make an adjustment due to injury after Mikel Arteta sprained an ankle in that match, although there is plenty of depth there to cushion the blow.
The Gunners won their opening Premier League match against Crystal Palace but despite all the glittering talent in their ranks, including new signing Alexis Sanchez, they looked less than convincing and needed an injury-time winner from Aaron Ramsey to grab the three points. That bodes well for the Blues who will know they stand an excellent chance of chalking up their first win of the season if they can tighten up at the back.
Two sloppily-conceded goals at Leicester denied Everton three points they largely deserved at Leicester but a home game in a late-afternoon kick-off in front of a full house should provide the extra shot in the arm needed for the players to raise their game and push through any of the second-half fatigue that was evident at King Power Stadium last weekend.
Though Barkley was a key component in a shwashbuckling Everton performance in April's victory over Arsenal, he was not included in the starting XI by his manager that day but was introduced after just 10 minutes following an injury to Leon Osman. Martinez will have to do without him completely this time around as he mulls his team selection and strategy against foes who will be wary of the three-man forward line he deployed against them to such devastating effect last time.
Rumours that Romelu Lukaku is a doubt through an unspecified injury have not been corroborated so the assumption is that he will start and all eyes will be on what sort of role he is asked to play given how effective he was raiding in from the flank in the Blues' win in April. Given that the Belgian can be unstoppable on his day, Martinez could have the audiacity to line up his forward line the same way and have the same effect but Lukaku's lack of match sharpness might still be an issue.
Also expected to start, despite Martinez's coyness in his pre-match press conference on Thursday morning, is Seamus Coleman who showed that he has recovered from a minor hamstring problem by coming on as a late substitute against Leicester last week. His pace, energy and defensive prowess were sorely missed against the Foxes, underlining just how important he is to the way Everton currently play.
He will likely replace John Stones in the back four, while Kevin Mirallas, another substitute who saw action last weekend, is a good bet to start in place of Aiden McGeady on the right with Steven Naismith continuing in the forward line. Both Mirallas and Coleman got further tune-up minutes in a behind-closed-doors friendly against Fleetwood earlier in the week which should increase their readiness for their first starts of the new campaign. The Blues could be otherwise unchanged.
As it was a few months ago, a win over an Arsenal side which has been strengthened over the summer, would be a massive result and would extend Everton's unbeaten run against the Gunners – a team against which they still have a poor record since 1992 – to five matches.
Unlike last time, Wenger will have the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Mezut Ozil available, two keys to his midfield, and while Theo Walcott remains sidelined with injury, the talented Sanchez is, potentially, a superior option on the right flank, albeit one still feeling his way into the Premier League.
Again, that means the onus will be on Everton keeping things watertight at the back and starting with a high tempo going forward. They had Arsenal on the ropes by half-time in April before finishing them off with a knockout blow in the second half and you get the feeling a similarly intense first hour is going to be required this time if they are to repeat the feat.
|Premier League Scores|
|Premier League Table|
|2014-15 Reports Index|
|Pienaar (Osman '9)|
|Mirallas (Atsu 84')|
|Lukaku (McGeady 75')|
|Subs not used|
|Wilshere (Cazorla 74')|
|Oxlade-Chamberlain (Campbell 74')|
|Sanchez (Giroud 46')|
|Subs not used|
|Premier League Scores|
|C Palace||1-3||West Ham|
|Hull City||1-1||Stoke City|
|8||West Ham United||3|
|12||West Bromwich Albion||2|