After December's victory at Old Trafford and draw at the Emirates Stadium, praise was coming through every channel for Roberto Martinez.
Martinez had no fear, we said (emphasis on we, because I did it too). He was a welcome change from David Moyes, who came into matches on the road against the big clubs affording his opposition too much respect. Martinez came out looking to possess and attack, while Moyes would have certainly come out with 10 behind the ball, hoping for a clean sheet and perhaps a lucky counter-attack goal.
Three months have passed since Gerard Deulofeu's late equalizer earned Everton a point against Arsenal. Since then, the Toffees have traveled to top 6 opposition four times. They have lost all four matches, having given up 10 goals and only having scored 1.
Two of those matches were awful, put simply. The 4-0 loss at Anfield was without a doubt the low point of the season, and Martinez's decision-making was front and center in the aftermath. He forced attacking players who were not ready to play into the lineup, and his game plan did not call for extra defensive help for the patch-work backline forced into action on that day.
This weekend's Arsenal match did not hit the lows of the Liverpool match, but it was still a painful experience for Evertonians.
In two of those matches, at Tottenham and at Chelsea, Martinez's philosophy of coming out with the mindset of possession worked with at least some success. One defensive lapse (and some poor officiating) cost them against Tottenham, and Chelsea stole 3 points at the death after a solid effort for 92 and a half minutes.
Still, at the end of the day, football is a results business, and Everton dropped 9 of 9 points and is out of the FA Cup.
The rest of Everton's top 6 encounters this season have been a mixed bag; a victory over Chelsea at Goodison, a loss at Manchester City, and home draws against Tottenham and Liverpool.
So has Martinez, and his highly praised aggressive approaches to matches against top clubs really paid off? To get an accurate picture, we have to look at what David Moyes was able to do in similar matches last season.
The team's results last season in matches against the top 5 (plus Liverpool, who finished 7th) were as follows:
Manchester United: 1-0 win at home, 2-0 loss away
Manchester City: 2-0 win at home, 1-1 draw away
Chelsea: 2-1 loss at home, 2-1 loss away
Arsenal: 1-1 draw at home, 0-0 draw away
Tottenham: 2-1 win at home, 2-2 draw away
Liverpool: 2-2 draw at home, 0-0 draw away
Perhaps the first thing that jumps out is the number of away draws in this bunch of games, 4 in total. This seems to confirm the fact that Moyes showed the big clubs a lot of respect when traveling to them. Still, he pulled 4 points out of those 6 away matches last year, which is exactly what Martinez has gotten from the same 6 matches this season.
At home, Moyes' Everton had, at the very least, an acceptable showing against this clubs, taking 11 points from a possible 18. Thus far, Everton have taken 5 out of 9 possible points from these matches this season, with United, City, and Arsenal still left to play at home.
So what conclusion can we draw from this? Perhaps this is just another way of confirming what Sean wrote about earlier this week; money talks, and if you're not one of the teams with money, you're always going to be chasing those that have it.
There's something to be said for the positive attitude Martinez has brought to the club and the mindset the players go into these big matches with, but the reality is that 9 times out of 10, that isn't going to be enough. Of course, if the Toffees beat United, City, and Arsenal at home in the coming months, perhaps I will be forced to change my stance on this a little bit, but unless that comes to fruition (we can hope, right?), the results speak for themselves.
What do you think? Is there a better way to approach matches against the big clubs for Everton, or are the Toffees doomed to hover just below them until they can secure investment? Have your say below.