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.
A striker to provide support and back-up for Lukaku is the most pertinent of requirements and if a deal for Eto’o doesn’t materialise, then you suspect Martinez will look to bring a player in from overseas on loan. But that can’t be the only move the club makes; another defensive player and maybe even another attacking midfielder should be looked at.
Admittedly, the injury to Ross Barkley didn’t help what were already staggered pre-season preparations for the Toffees, and for many, a start of this nature was subsequently anticipated. But after narrowly missing out on a place in the top-four last season, Everton’s lack of fitness and defensive generosity have already seen four points slip at this early stage. Points that could ultimately be crucial come the season’s end.
The Toffees’ undeniable dominance against Arsenal points towards a team that is moving in the right direction and a group will be right in the mix for a European place again this season. The team has already showcased fluidity and incisiveness in the final third, and as players begin to rediscover full fitness, the attacking side of Everton’s play will only improve. The same applies to the defensive side the team too.
But after already shooting themselves in the foot a couple of times in the infancy of what be an unfamiliarly draining campaign, Martinez must bolster his squad astutely in the latter stages of the window if the Toffees are going to put together another run that could see them muster a Champions League charge once again.