Having been the dominant force in both of their opening Premier League games, Everton should have six points from six at this early stage of the season.
For overwhelming periods of their matches against Leicester City and Arsenal, Roberto Martinez’s side have resembled a vibrant, enterprising outfit. But for small yet catastrophically costly spells—especially late on in both games—Everton has looked undercooked and unsure.
While there have been facets aplenty in each performance to be positive about, the lackadaisical streak that’s accompanied the Toffees’ showings has emerged as an early concern. And it’s a worry that ultimately points towards an indisputable need for reinforcements late in the transfer window.
Against Leicester, Everton was very good for long periods, but defensive lapses and misfortune conspired against the club and they drew 2-2. A tough opening game admittedly, but it was a case of two points dropped.
Against Arsenal, for 75 minutes, the Toffees produced a “perfect performance” in the words of their boss. But clearly lacking fitness the team was unable to sustain the same levels of intensity that allowed them to take a 2-0 lead, and Arsenal was afforded the time and space to mount a comeback. Another two points slipped away.
Of course, questions need to be asked about the team’s pre-season preparations, which were far from ideal. Indeed, the fact that Everton has played two behind-closed-doors friendlies against Sheffield Wednesday and Fleetwood Town in recent weeks is a firm indicator that some players need game time.
The Toffees bought well this summer by snapping up Romelu Lukaku and Gareth Barry, while Christian Atsu’s signing on loan replaces the direct, pacey void left by Gerard Deulofeu. But with Muhamed Besic the only other signing that’s first-team ready, in terms of pure numbers the squad is only one player better off.
For a group that will have to cope with the added demands of European football this season, not to mention competing for a top-four spot with squads that have spent stratospheric amounts on their playing staff, that’s simply not enough. And if the same few players are put through the ringer time and time again throughout the campaign Everton already witnessed first-hand how teams in the Premier League can capitalize against tired bodies.
Martinez will always look to give young players a chance, and figures like Tyas Browning, Luke Garbutt and even 17-year-old Ryan Ledson could make sparing appearances in the first-team this season. But as the Toffees toiled late on against a team that summoned the class of Olivier Giroud, Santi Cazorla and Joel Campbell from the bench, the need for players that are ready to make an impact in the immediacy is obvious.
Of course, a significant portion of Everton’s transfer budget has been spent on acquiring Lukaku in a record deal, so the funds to make another marquee purchase might not be there. But just as he did last summer, Martinez must utilize other markets, most notably free transfers—the Toffees have been linked with a move for veteran forward Samuel Eto’o—and loan deals.