You may be getting tired of hearing about the "poor first half, improved second half" narrative from me, but unfortunately, Everton has made it the story of yet another Premier League match.
This week, they spotted Arsenal a two-goal lead before truly getting into the match, and as was the case against Manchester United last week, it was too much to overcome.
Before the match, there was cause for some hope that things might be different though, as Roberto Martinez opted to play Aaron Lennon in the left of midfield, starting two wingers for one of the first times this season.
Instead of providing a new look to the attack, Lennon's inclusion in an otherwise unchanged lineup just provided another point of confusion in an attack that tripped out of the gate. Ultimately, the apparent lack of a cohesive plan to attack or simply control the match against the Gunners doomed Everton to another poor start. Multiple factors contributed to this.
First, the Toffees seemed to have no idea how to incorporate Lennon into the attack. In nearly every other match this season, either Steven Naismith or Arouna Kone has lined up as the left midfielder, which obviously presents different pros and cons.
In the past two weeks, I've called for Everton to work the ball to the opposite winger, Gerard Deulofeu, as early as possible, allowing Romelu Lukaku and Naismith/Kone to work their way into the middle to get onto the end of crosses from the young Spaniard.
Ideally, that looks like this:
Somewhat inexplicably, the Toffees finally forced the ball down the right as frequently as possible this week, but without the benefit of having an additional striker to work the ball in to.
The result was two-fold. First, Deulofeu's crossing results were poor, in part because he had no one to cross the ball to and in part because he was closed down quickly by an Arsenal defense that promptly learned Everton was only attacking through him.
He completed only one cross, which came as a part of a short corner routine. This map, courtesy of FourFourTwo.com, seems to indicate that four of his crosses were blocked as soon as Deulofeu struck them, though during the match I certainly felt like it was happening even more frequently.
Anddddd there it is— Adam Braun (@abraun_15) October 24, 2015
On the opposite side, Lennon was completely isolated for the entirety of the first half, just as Deulofeu had been on in the first halves of the West Brom, Liverpool, and Manchester United matches.
He received only eight passes the entire first half, of which only three were forward passes down his left wing. Deulofeu's passes received clearly show that Everton had the ball to move forward at times in the first half, but the ball just didn't ever go to Lennon.
In this match, there was just no reason for Everton's attack to be so one-sided. Deulofeu's match-up against Arsenal's left-back Nacho Monreal may have appeared more enticing than Lennon's match-up against Hector Bellerin, but Arsenal was clearly prepared to deal with any potential problems coming from that wing.
After 20 minutes, it should have been clear that the Toffees needed to diversify the attack.
Second, and even more basic, Everton appeared to be constantly caught in two minds about whether Martinez wanted the side to strike on the counter or build slowly in possession.
In defense, this was clear in the disconnect between the team's front six and back four. Everton's striker, attacking midfielders, and defensive midfielders seemed content to sit deep and attempt to absorb pressure, which wasn't necessarily a bad tactic against an extraordinary Arsenal side.
But, Everton's defenders were often looking to play a relatively high line, resulting in mistakes in between the midfield and defensive lines. This was one factor at play on Arsenal's first goal.
The play starts with center-back Laurent Koscielny carrying the ball 15 yards into the attacking half under no pressure.
He plays the ball over to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Brendan Galloway steps up to apply some pressure to the Englishman, making the defender the first player in the entire sequence to apply significant pressure to an Arsenal player.
Galloway's pressure creates a huge hole in the Everton back line, which Lennon must now cover. He steps out to pick up Mesut Ozil on the left side, but he is alone in a 2-on-1.
Because Galloway is still returning to his position after trying to play a higher line, Lennon cannot apply any significant pressure to Ozil, as the English winger must respect the overlapping run. As a result, Ozil has plenty of time and space to play the ball into Olivier Giroud, who heads it home.
Whether this failure to be on the same page ought to be blamed on Roberto Martinez, back-line leader and team captain Phil Jagielka, or goalkeeper Tim Howard is unclear, but it was a clear issue for the Toffees.
On the ball, Everton's players seemed to be unsure whether to pass the ball out of the back or try to play quickly on the counter. Given the amount of pressure the Toffees were absorbing and the chances the team has created on the counter this season, playing in that manner seemed like a reasonable choice. But, Everton created only one real counter-attacking chance in the entire first half, which they scored on.
It is difficult to give visual examples of something that was consistently not happening, but there are two ways I can try to exemplify this.
First, consider the passing tendencies of Seamus Coleman and Brendan Galloway (courtesy of EvertonFC.com), who are two of the players who Everton had to rely on to spring quick, effective counter attacks.
The majority of the passes made by the full-backs in the defensive half were back to either the center-backs or goalkeeper. This meant slower, more deliberate attacks, rather than quick counter-attacking football.
Second, consider Everton's long-passing success in the first half.
The Toffees only completed two passes that could have sprung counters in the entire first half.
Of course, if Everton wanted to play a more possession-based style, that would have been fine as well, but it would have required more pressure from the Everton attackers and midfielders. Instead, they simply conceded possession more often than not, leaving the counter as the only feasible attacking option.
In the second half, the Toffees committed more fully to the counter and subsequently created more chances. They were certainly aided by the fact that a tired Arsenal side allowed the match to get stretched as well.
But, once again, the late progress was not enough against a side with legitimate title aspirations. Of course, it must be said that the Toffees created enough chances in the second half to earn a point. Ultimately though, they did not take those chances and came away with no points.
With the toughest portion of the schedule now over, Everton sits at a crossroad. Over the next two months, the best clubs the Toffees will play are West Ham, Leicester, and Crystal Palace, so there will most certainly be points available for the taking.
To take as many points as possible from this easier stretch of matches though, Martinez and his side must make clear what kind of team they are in each match. The Toffees are significantly less reliant on a possession-based style of football than last year, which is a positive. Flexibility will serve Everton well over the long Premier League season.
But, without a clear understanding of what must be done to succeed each week, that flexibility can turn into confusion, as we've seen over the past month.
Can Martinez help to turn that around? Are there other tactical issues the club has to work through? Feel free to have your say in the comments below.