Were it not for the Stake.com logo on the front of the shirts, you would have been forgiven for thinking that last night's game was just the continuation of the debacle at the Emirates to close out last season.
Frank Lampard had the Toffees lined up in a 5-4-1/3-4-3, and as we saw multiple times in the campaign that just ended eight weeks ago, Everton were simply overrun in the middle as the Gunners passed the ball with ease, attacking down the wings with impunity, and when they scored it was awful defending again at fault, including a set piece debacle too.
Everton started off with Pickford; Nkounkou-Godfrey-Mina-Holgate-Patterson; Dele-Davies-Doucoure-Gray; Calvert-Lewin, and the early going was much like last season against a team that had polished passing last season and are already playing their third game of the pre-season.
Arsenal moved the ball with ease and if Lampard was looking for his boys to get some ball-chasing practice, they certainly got that. Abdoulaye Doucoure and Yerry Mina certainly got into the wars early on as scuffles broke out.
Jordan Pickford had an excellent early save on the lively Gabriel Jesus who somehow always finds a way to score against the Blues, and the Brazilian broke the deadlock just over half an hour in. The England goalie failed to gather a corner, colliding with Ben Godfrey in the process and the ball fell to Jesus who roofed it gladly. A couple of minutes later his run at the Everton defence had everyone scrambling and his angled pass to the far corner beat both Godfrey and Mason Holgate as Bukayo Saka got to it just before Pickford to tuck in the second.
The second half of the game saw a whole changed XI for the Blues, with Crellin, Iwobi, Welch, Keane, Tarkowski, Mykolenko, Warrington, Gbamin, Iwobi, Mills, Gordon and Rondon coming on. The Blues looked better even as Mikel Arteta kept his starting lineup on the pitch, but never really threatened the Gunners goal. The second drinks break saw a raft of changes for the London side and that pretty much ended the game as a contest, with the final score 2-0 against Everton.
Not as bleak, not as bright
As worrying as it was watching the performance last night, there is a consolation that there is still some time to make changes. The transfer window is still open, and this is Lampard’s first full summer of his tenure here. It is easier to think positively that the coaching staff is going to effect some changes.
I still wouldn’t expect sunshine and rainbows come the beginning of the new season though. Without significant additions to the squad, this is still the same team that limped to the finish last season, minus Richarlison. An infusion of new talent is desperately needed or else we are going to continue to watch dour, defensive football for the near future at Everton.
Should we still be playing like this with no new additions when we host Dynamo Kyiv at Goodison at the end of the pre-season, then it will be time to fret.
Number six desperately needed
Nothing new here. We knew last season we needed a quality #6 to shield the defence and control the middle, and we still know it. The Blues struggled to maintain possession without that dominant midfielder, and that was still very visible yesterday. Youngster Lewis Warrington showed a willingness to do that yesterday, his development will be worth watching keenly. Everton have been linked with a couple of defensive midfielders recently, this should only have solidified Kevin Thelwell’s resolve to sign one.
Lampard said as much after the game -
“I would like to be a bit more flexible because at the minute we have to probably play a back three because of the personnel on this trip - a lot of centre halves and in midfield we don’t really have natural holding midfielders to perhaps play three in midfield like Arsenal did tonight. So there are things that are a work in progress at the minute. My job is to focus on those parts - where can we bring in players to improve but also in training, where can we drill?”
Against Arsenal the Blues looked better in the second half, with James Tarkowski marshaling the defence, youngster Stanley Mills out at right wingback and Reece Welch tucked next to the veteran in the backline. The former Burnley defender’s impact was very visible and it will be expected he starts every game from here on out.
Lampard again -
“I was pleased particularly in the second half. When you’re playing a really strong Arsenal team and you give young players a chance and I think James Tarkowski gave us calm at the back.”
“[I thought he was] great. He was sticking up for his teammate [at the end]. His voice has been very evident from the first training session. He talks to people around him, he’s calm. He’s everything I wanted and more. I think he’s going to be a really important player for us.”
It’s such a love-hate relationship with Everton isn’t it? You love it when they’re playing, but then you hate it when they’re playing. Then they’re gone for eight weeks, you hate it when they’re not playing, and you love it when they’re back playing.
We might be in for some trouble this season. Everton’s inability to get into bidding wars this summer due to the shackles placed by reckless previous spending might mean we might end up nabbing second- or even third-choice replacements, with the resultant drop in quality as well.
Two positions in particular must need to be addressed by players of Premier League starting calibre - a wide forward and a defensive midfielder. Both are of critical importance to this Everton side that is still a work in progress. Failure to bring in reliable options for both spots could doom us to another long-drawn out relegation battle again.