Everton fans would have been forgiven for thinking that they had reached their nadir. The Toffees had not won in four games. The draws against Apollon Limassol and Brighton were dispiriting. The defeats to Burnley and Lyon were demoralising. But speculation linking David Moyes to his former managerial post at Goodison Park was depressing.
On the dawn of a crucial Premier League fixture against Arsenal, perhaps it was designed to instigate something of a response. It was in their last home game against the Gunners that Ronald Koeman managed to turn around a ship that was threatening to blow off-course. Everton had won one game in 11 before they came from behind to beat Arsenal 2-1 last December; they lost just two of 11 games thereafter.
The Toffees have spent £175million on ten first-team players in as many months since that victory, and yet they are running out of space into which they can take backwards steps under Koeman. A side bottom of their Europa League qualifying group have now dropped into the Premier League’s relegation zone.
The result on Sunday was damning, an Arsenal side who were bullied by Watford last week sauntering to a 5-2 victory from behind. But the performance from the hosts was laughable, featuring more misplaced passes than a drunk driving test instructor, and more chasing shadows than Derek Acorah at Halloween. As brilliant and free-flowing as Arsenal’s football was, Everton’s was lethargic, plodding and completely lacking direction or impetus.
Jordan Pickford had the most touches of any Everton player – Arsenal had as many shots (30). They completed 327 more passes than the hosts, who had less than a third of the possession. No Everton player had more than one shot, only Wayne Rooney created more than one chance, and no player completed more than 25 passes. A 5-2 scoreline was flattering, but not to Arsenal.
What is even funnier than Everton being completely overrun in midfield?
That everyone is bloody playing there. pic.twitter.com/7ZaP9hZYGT
— Football365 (@F365) October 22, 2017
Even when Koeman attempted to effect change, he failed. He brought off the horribly out of form Ashley Williams at the break, meaning he has made a half-time substitute in nine of 17 games this season. It does not make for a settled team.
If that points to a manager struggling to work out his own plan, consider that the Dutchman has used seven different formations and 24 different players this season. They have scored just 16 goals in 17 games, conceding 26. Both of their goals on Sunday can be attributed to individual mistakes made by the opposition, not through creativity. It is a recipe for failure.
“Until 1-2 we stayed in the game,” said Koeman post-match, perfectly playing the role of relegation-threatened manager. There is an argument to be had that the club’s start has been unforgiving, with their first nine games coming against five of last season’s top six. But these are the clubs residing above the glass ceiling that Everton are looking to smash, and the aggregate score in those fixtures is 15-3. They are further away than ever before from the elite.
For all the talk of Everton lacking pace up front, any coach would have identified that issue and used the players at his disposal differently. But four months into the season, Koeman has no system, no plan, no support from the fanbase and, potentially, no job rather soon. Moyes would be a step back into the past for Everton, but a long-term future under Koeman is difficult to envisage.