Most managers tend to bemoan the Premier League's hectic festive fixture list, but Everton manager Ronald Koeman would have been delighted that his side had another game scheduled just a few days after their 3-2 defeat by Watford last weekend.
Everton were dismal for long periods of their meeting with Walter Mazzarri’s men at Vicarage Road, with a one-goal winning margin belying the extent of the hosts’ superiority.
Koeman would therefore have been eyeing a midweek match as an opportunity for his team to get such a disappointing performance and result out of their system, although the fact that Arsenal were the team providing the opposition would have left many associated with the Merseyside club fearing the worst.
That feeling was exacerbated following a flat and feeble first 25 minutes, but Koeman’s charges found their feet thereafter and ultimately did enough to seal a potentially crucial 2-1 win and bring a run of five encounters without victory to an end.
It was a reminder of what this Everton outfit are capable of when they are firing on all cylinders, with the backdrop of a characteristically cacophonous Goodison Park crowd clearly doing them no harm either.
It has been a strange season so far for Everton, who took 13 points from the first 15 on offer and only seven from the next available 30. Defensive errors that looked to have been left behind in the Roberto Martinez era gradually began to creep back into their game following that positive start, while a lack of midfield creativity and reliance on Romelu Lukaku for goals proved damaging at the other end of the pitch.
Such a poor recent run of form even led to suggestions that Koeman was under pressure just months after taking the reins, although such stories were probably always without foundation. The appointment of the Dutchman was seen as a major coup by Everton back in June, with the takeover of billionaire Farhad Moshiri also playing a crucial part in restoring the feel-good factor to the blue half of the city of Liverpool.
There are indeed numerous reasons for optimism, but Everton supporters will have to remain patient as their side begins its long-term pursuit of a Uefa Champions League spot. Martinez was unable to oversee progress in that regard after an extremely promising debut campaign at the helm – the current Belgium boss finished fifth in 2012/13 but eleventh in both 2014/15 and 2015/16 – and Koeman should be afforded patience as he attempts to build a team based on his own ideas.
While splurging over £44 million (Dh201m) on Yannick Bolasie, Ashley Williams and Idrissa Gueye in the summer transfer window was seen as profligate by some, it also demonstrated that Everton are not yet in a position to tempt bigger names from abroad. Those may follow in time, but the current squad is not without talent and should be capable of a seventh-place finish this year, which is a realistic objective given the relative strength of the division’s top six sides.
There were certainly plenty of positives to take from the come-from-behind triumph over Arsenal on Tuesday night, when Everton played with the sort of energy, aggression and intensity that has been missing from their showings far too often in recent weeks.
It is vital that the momentum garnered from that success is not allowed to fritter away in the derby duel with Liverpool on Monday, when Everton should be seeking to play at a similar tempo and with comparable tenacity.
After all, victory in such a crunch clash would bring far more to Koeman and the club than just the customary three points.
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