I don't want this article to turn into a scapegoating, so let me start by saying that Tim Howard is a very good shot-stopper on his day and has on many occasions saved Everton (and the USA) with fine performances. This was particularly highlighted by his display for the USA in the World Cup, which provoked superlatives from all commentators and even the attention of President Obama! It is fair to say that Tim Howard will save Everton points in certain games this season when he is on form. But, and it is a very big 'BUT', his current form and arguably the consistent flaw throughout his career of being unable to command his box, is losing Everton points and killing Everton's chances of progression.
This is no surprise to us given the outpouring of views on Tim's goalkeeping across these pages. More concerning is that this is no secret to our opposition who use this as a measured way of attacking our defense. Arsenal knew full well yesterday that the edge of our 6-yard box was an area of no-man's land. With technically gifted midfielders like Cazorla and Ozil able to place balls right on that line, we became very exposed. This in my view was why Olivier Giroud was played by Arsene Wenger.
The view of some before kick-off was that his inclusion over Walcott was in some way an underestimation of Everton as he seemed happy to rest his first team players. I think this was purely tactical as Giroud, with form for this against Everton defenses in recent seasons, was able to be a threat in those pockets of the box that Howard is unable to dominate. Both goals last night could have been snuffed out had we a goalkeeper confident to protect his box and clear out all in his path – ball and attacker.
Most dangerous, however, is that our manager doesn't seem to notice, or refuses to notice. The pedestal upon which Mr Martinez has put Tim Howard seems to have made him undroppable! The transfer policy for this position has resulted in there not being a credible alternative for many a season now. This may seem slightly harsh on Joel Robles, who actually had a very good run in the squad last season when Howard was injured, but the truth is he remains relatively untried and unproven at the top level. In the summer, there was a major U-turn over whether a new goalkeeper was on the shopping list. The resultant lack of competition leaves Howard untested and able to rest on his laurels.
Unforgivable, if true, are the rumours that our training does not include any focus on set-pieces, particularly corners. This blunts our attacking, which, with the likes of Lukaku, Funes Mori, Stones, Jagielka etc all with history of scoring with their head, removes the shine from one of our attacking options. This was evident yesterday when, on more than one occasion in the second half, we played a short corner and lost the ball rather than getting the ball in the box for a legitimate contest and direct effort at goal.
The impact is far worse at the other end of the pitch though; it is one of the weakest areas of our defending, which is criminal given the calibre of our central defenders. Our box is a shambles when corners are hooked in. I honestly cannot tell if we are playing zonal or man-marking and no-one seems to want to attack the lofted ball. Least of all likely to do this is Tim Howard, an absolute farce given he can use his hands.
The 6-yard box which should be owned by the goalkeeper is a free-for-all and poaching strikers will find the gaps, much to the disappointment of the Blues faithful. Players with no right to be winning an aerial battle, such as Danny Ings, have exposed us in recent matches which is embarrassing and frustrating in equal measure. Staying on his line should not be an option for Howard; there is little chance he will be able to react quick enough to any headers. The goalkeeper has to claim the ball and command his box.
So we are consistently conceding goals through defensive frailties linked to the lack of a strong goalkeeping presence. My internal conflict is, Who is most to blame here: Tim Howard, or Mr Martinez? Watching last night, I flitted between rage at the inept way Howard tries to defend our goal, and disbelief that Martinez allows the same weaknesses to be exposed.
My current view is that the buck really does need to stop with the manager and issues like this need to be addressed on the training ground. If something isn't working then it needs to be drilled over and over again at Finch Farm. If there is no improvement then an alternative needs to be sought. We cannot keep conceding one or two goals before half-time and trying to fight back. It looks gutsy and will sometimes yield results but slow starts to games and a dodgy goalkeeper will be the death of our tilt at the top places this season.
As I mentioned in a previous post, we have now hit a critical point in the season. Our difficult first 10 matches are over and we have a reasonably creditable 13 points; decent given the context of the Premier League table this season. This leaves us only 9 points off Arsenal in top spot (or at worst 11 off City if they win their derby) with a run of games until the New Year against opposition Everton should be superior to (or, at the very least, aspire to be). This is a great opportunity to make a serious push towards the top of the league given all teams at the top are dropping points and the disappearance of Chelsea.
There are no easy games, but the points over the next 2 months are there for the taking. The only way we will get there is if we tighten up at the back, reclaim our 6-yard box, and put the onus onto our attackers to deliver us winning goals rather than asking them to dig us out of holes we have dug for ourselves.