Everton face another huge test on the road as they head south to take on Premier League leaders Arsenal at the Emirates on Wednesday.
The Toffees slipped back into the relegation zone after a rotten weekend that saw both defeat to Aston Villa and results elsewhere go against them.
I don’t think the performance against Villa was that bad, but a chronic lack of cutting edge in front of goal cost them once more, meaning they were always liable for the sucker punch at the other end.
It has been said before but bears repeating: the failure to land a striker in either summer or winter transfer windows borders on a dereliction of duty by the club’s board and it could have disastrous consequences.
I’m not sure Sean Dyche can do much more with his current squad. They have looked much more organised defensively and are now creating more chances at the other end of the pitch than they did under Frank Lampard. But all those improvements are worth nothing if there is no one good enough to put the ball in the net.
Dyche has been here before of course, his Burnley sides were hardly prolific but made the most of what they had. The wins over Arsenal and Leeds are the template. If Everton can nudge themselves ahead in games then I’m confident they are good enough to hold onto victory.
That remains a worryingly big if at the moment though.
Arsenal’s shock defeat at Goodison Park a few weeks ago looked to have sparked a mid-season collapse, but Mikel Arteta’s side look to have rediscovered their groove as they hunt a first title since 2004.
That loss against the Toffees formed part of a run of four games without a win in all competitions as the Gunners lost their position at the top of the table they had held pretty much all season.
However, gutsy away wins at Aston Villa and Leicester have helped the north London side return to the summit and now return to their home ground where they have dropped just five points all season.
The rest of the stats don’t make for happy reading for Toffees fans either. Everton have won just one of their last 26 visits to Arsenal and have not beaten a team starting the day top of the table since 1986. They are also without a win on the road since beating Southampton in October and have only scored one away goal in seven matches since – that rocket from Demarai Gray in December.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin is once again unavailable as Sean Dyche confirms he has no new injury concerns.
James Garner is set to play another match for the U21s this week as he continues his comeback from a back issue. James Patterson is targeting a return early next month after a minor setback in his recovery from a knee problem.
Andros Townsend remains a few weeks away from a return.
Everton 1-0 Arsenal, 4 February 2023
It is less than a month since the last meeting between the sides when James Tarkowski’s header gave Sean Dyche a winning start as Everton boss.
What they said
Everton boss Sean Dyche: “The mentality of the players has been good. We’ve got to ask questions, create different ways of affecting games and that’s what we’re looking to do but, while we’re doing that, not lose sight of the fact that the defensive shape has to still be good.
“The Premier League is unforgiving at both ends of the pitch and we’ve shown good signs of the side being tighter and more structured in its defending.
“Now it’s [about] how you can open the door when you’re attacking and, certainly, I think if you take the goals out of the game on Saturday and looking at winning two of the past three coming into it, I think we maybe even delivered a more powerful performance.
“That’s how the big, clinical moments count. That’s how important they are to change a performance and people’s view of it, because Saturday was a good performance all-round but we didn’t score the goals and we let two soft ones in. We’ve got to change that, obviously.”
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta: “It’s a case of doing things better than we did when we played them a few weeks ago and earning the right to win the game. Hopefully tomorrow we will play much better than we did that day.
“It’s like with any opponent. We showed [the players] what they do, what they are about, what we expect to do to try to beat them and nothing different.
“With Sean, it’s quite clear what he’s done and where the success they’ve had is coming from. Tomorrow we’ll prepare the game in an appropriate and similar way [to the away match].”
The odds are stacked against Everton given their woeful away record but their win over the same opposition just a few weeks ago should give them confidence. That said, anything they take from the game should be considered a bonus.