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Everton’s defensive openness against Arsenal was alarming

Football, as the cliché goes, is a funny old game. In the opening 10 minutes of their clash with Arsenal at Goodison Park on Sunday afternoon, Everton were carved open three or four times by the visitors’ snappy interplay. Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Alex Lacazette and co. repeatedly took advantage of the gaping holes left to them in the middle of the park, as Ronald Koeman’s decision to select just a single natural central midfielder looked even more puzzling than it had prior to kick-off.

And then Everton took the lead. It was the most against-the-run-of-play goal scored all weekend in the Premier League, Wayne Rooney curling a shot beyond Petr Cech and into the top corner of the net after an excellent tackle on Granit Xhaka from Idrissa Gueye – the Toffees’ only natural central midfielder.

That could have been a lifeline for the under-fire Koeman, but Everton still could not stem the flow of Arsenal’s attacks. The Gunners were back on level terms through Nacho Monreal just before the interval, before Ozil’s header edged them ahead shortly after the restart; it was no less than they deserved, although their attacking efforts were aided by Everton’s remarkable openness without the ball, which did not change even after the introduction of Tom Davies at half-time.

By the time the final whistle was blown, after further goals from Lacazette, Aaron Ramsey and Sanchez – as well as a consolation from substitute Oumar Niasse – had made it 5-2 to Arsenal, Wenger’s men had landed 30 shots on their opponents’ goal. Fourteen of those found the target, a record for Arsenal in an away league game since Opta began recording such data in the 2003/04 campaign, while 21 were taken from inside the penalty area. Expected goals models varied from around 3.3 to 3.9.

Arsenal, of course, deserve plenty of credit for their incisive passing and clever movement, but such statistics are damning from an Everton perspective. Fielding Nikola Vlasic, a tricky wide man, alongside Gueye in the engine room was always likely to be a recipe for disaster, yet the ease with which Arsenal sliced open the Toffees’ defence time and time again was alarming.

“Yes, I think I can [turn it around] but now is not the moment and everybody is so disappointed,” Koeman told reporters in his post-match press conference. “It is how you look to the situation. If you start to think negatively, then maybe there is no solution. I am not like that. All the rumours in the newspapers are normal.”

“The team is underperforming, it is in a difficult situation mentally and confidence are struggling. That is what we need to change. I still believe I can change the whole situation but everybody knows how it works in football. That is all I answer about this situation.”

It is unclear whether the Dutchman retains the faith of the club’s hierarchy, but the nature of Sunday’s showing undoubtedly did his long-term job prospects significantly more harm than good.


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