Promising start, with an abysmal finish
For the first 45 minutes Everton fans were treated to what was arguably the most entertaining match in the past few weeks. Wayne Rooney scored a goal reminiscent of his wonder strike against Arsenal 15 years ago, the team looked sharp and aggressive and Jordan Pickford was lights out in goal.
There was so much to like at the start of this match. Jonjoe Kenny finally got his first Premier League start and Everton were set up in a way that appeared ready to take advantage of an Arsenal squad that had been struggling away from home. It was a high-risk, high-reward lineup and was a refreshing change of pace from the teams Ronald Koeman has been trotting out as of late.
Unfortunately Arsenal showed up ready to play and took advantage of Everton on the break and in possession. Their quick, one-touch passing overwhelmed the besieged Everton defense and were putting shot after shot on target. Once Idrissa Gueye was sent off in the 68th minute the flood gates opened and Arsenal pummeled Everton into the ground.
It was a sad end to what was at times an exciting match, but completely in form with how Everton’s season has been going.
A fresh look in the midfield
Since Morgan Schneiderlin was sidelined with a knock following the Europa League match against Lyon, Koeman was forced to shake up his midfield. The team sheet indicated Gylfi Sigurdsson in attacking midfield with Nikola Vlasic and Gueye in holding midfield.
This is where the high-risk, high-reward lineup that was mentioned earlier comes into play. Gueye is not the traditional number six in the mold of Schneiderlin or Gareth Barry. His value lies in his ability to bounce around the pitch breaking up passes and tackling the opposition. His other two midfield partners obviously look to pass the ball forward, or in Vlasic’s case, make runs out of the midfield. This strategy left Everton without a midfielder to shield the back line should they be dispossessed.
While this strategy didn’t pan out against a team as skilled as Arsenal, it is a decent strategy moving forward. Everton have been in need of a more offensive minded player to link the defense up with the attackers and Sigurdsson and Vlasic did a solid job at that. Everton have been absolutely pedestrian in attack this season and this attacking minded line-up started to break them out of their shell a bit.
Make or break month coming up in November
It’s still very unlikely that Everton remain in the relegation zone for an extended period of time and the month of November is where they need to win back some much needed points.
Everton may not be able to defeat the top six teams, or more defensively sound squads like Burnley, but there is no reason that points should be dropped against the likes of Crystal Palace, Leicester City and West Ham United. These matches need to be the priority for Koeman as the Europa League knockout stage looks more like a dream than a reality. Winning all or most of these matches could quickly bring Everton up to mid-table and a position more fitting of the squad that is currently in place.
Unfortunately cup glory should not be the focus in the immediate future. Koeman and his players find themselves in a very precarious situation and must battle to put a buffer between them and the relegation zone. Surviving until the transfer window is key, where hopefully Everton can regroup, bring in some needed reinforcements and bring Seamus Coleman and Yannick Bolasie back into the fold.