Samuel Eto’o

The Good Life? Not anymore at Goodison Park

Life at Everton could not be much different from this time last year, with the sweet success of last season being replaced by tales of tribulation for the Toffees, which is leaving a more sour taste in the mouth.

Monday night’s 0-0 draw at home to West Bromwich Albion was their eighth match without a win in all competitions.

Kevin Mirallas taking a penalty, ahead of first choice spot-kick taker Leighton Baines, and then missing the said penalty has epitomised Everton’s season so far.

This last time last year, coincidentally after a draw against West Brom (this time 1-1 away), they were sat in sixth, with 42 points, just one point off the top four, while this campaign they are looking over their shoulder.

Only 23 points have been amassed, 19 less, and they are perched in 12th, four points adrift of the bottom three.

Such a situation was unthinkable in the summer, as a side that ended up in fifth by the season’s end, bolstered their squad with Muhamed Besic, who was a regular for Bosnia and Herzegovina at the World Cup, and two time Champions League winner Samuel Eto’o.

Eto’o is, in fact, subject to speculation away from Merseyside already with Sampdoria monitoring the 33-year-old.

Half of the players Everton had on loan during 2013/14 also joined, this time permanently: Gareth Barry on a free transfer, as well as Romelu Lukaku for a club record £28 million fee.

Christian Atsu also joined from Chelsea on a season-long loan but, at the time of writing, has only managed three league appearances in Everton’s shade of blue.

Lukaku is the most puzzling disappointment of the quintuplet considering his impressive Premier League goalscoring record that has seen 32 goals in 76 games, 15 of those coming in the 31 games he played for Roberto Martinez’s men last season in a loan spell.

Just six goals in 21 have been provided by the big Belgian since his permanent switch, most worryingly of all, that tally makes him the Toffees’ top goalscorer so far this season.

Wonderkid Ross Barkley has also struggled to regain his dazzling form from last season after suffering a knee injury one day before the season started in what has turned out to be a foreboding moment.

The aforementioned Barkley is not the only Everton casualty, however, with eight sidelined in total – the third highest in the Premier League.

First choice goalkeeper Tim Howard is sidelined (calf), Besic too with an ankle problem, along with Mirallas and James McCarthy with hamstring injuries.

Martinez must have thought he had left relegation worries behind when he departed Wigan for Everton in 2013 but unless results turn around soon, he will need to dust off his great escape handbook.

Manchester United 2-1 Everton

Manchester United overcame Everton 2-1 at Old Trafford to secure back to back home league wins for the first time since November 2013.

Louis Van Gaal’s marquee summer signings won the game for his side with Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao scoring either side of Steven Naismith’s header.

Di Maria opened the scoring with 27 minutes played, sweeping in from just inside the area, assisted by Juan Mata after Phil Jagielka could not efficiently clear a cross from the right.

Naismith lost his marker Rafael to head home Everton’s equalizer from Leighton Baines’ cross 11 minutes into the second half but Falcao’s first goal for Manchester United seven minutes later proved to be the winner.

The Colombian was on his toes to pounce on Di Maria’s low shot and beat Tim Howard who had little chance of keeping it out.

Angel of the North: Di Maria celebrates his goal.

Angel of the North: Di Maria celebrates his goal.

It could have been an entirely different story however as Baines had a penalty saved in first half stoppage time.

Tony Hibbert was brought down in the box by Luke Shaw but David De Gea saved the spot-kick which was too near the centre of the goal.

United were worthy of their win however, putting Everton on the back foot from the off. Howard having to deny a Falcao header just four minutes in.

They started the second half with the same velocity, Di Maria’s miscued shot was almost turned in by Falcao from close range but there was too much speed on it.

Everton did fashion chances of their own however. Jagielka had a header cleared off the line by Falcao from a corner before a late flurry of chances.

Substitute Leon Osman forced a superb save by De Gea in the closing stages before fellow second half sub Bryan Oviedo’s effort from the edge of box was somehow tipped over the bar by the Spaniard.

Manchester United: De Gea, Rafael, McNair, Rojo, Shaw (Blackett ’71), Blind, Valencia (Fellaini ’78), Di Maria, Mata, Falcao (Wilson ’73), Van Persie

Subs not used:  Lindegaard, Thorpe, Fletcher, Januzaj

Everton: Howard, Hibbert (Browning ’77), Jagielka, Stones, Baines, Barry, Besic, Pienaar (Oviedo ’64), McGeady (Osman ’77), Naismith, Lukaku

Subs not used: Joel, Gibson, Eto’o, Alcaraz

Man of the match: Angel Di Maria

Why Arsenal need to change their philosophy to progress

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Arsenal are well known for their patient passing play but eight, possibly nine barren seasons without a trophy needs changing. Fast. It could all improve if they ditch their modern tactics.

Following Wednesday’s 0-2 defeat to reigning European Champions Bayern Munich, the Gunners look all but out of this season’s competition which would see them fail to get past the last 16 for the fourth successive time. They haven’t got past the quarters in five years.

What was highlighted most on Wednesday was how Arsenal were completely played off the park at their own game, at home, with Bayern having an astonishing 79% possession statistic. This wasn’t helped of course by Wojciech Szczesny’s dismissal on 37 minutes which forced Arsene Wenger to replace Spanish play-maker Santi Cazorla but Arsenal looked second best even before that.

England’s best “Spanish Footballer” comes in the shape of Jack Wilshere but he was non-existent for the full 90 minutes while Mesut Ozil was his usual “passenger” self, looking uninterested for the whole game, even his crucial penalty was incredibly lazy. He missed.

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Ozil’s dip in form should have him looking over his shoulder.

This is not the first time Arsenal have been beaten by their own game, Barcelona did the same to them in 2011.

One of the most worrying aspects of the modern Arsenal is Wenger’s decreasing tactical knowledge. Following Szczesny’s sending off, the Frenchman brought off Cazorla while the consistently average Ozil was kept on. Even worse, when 0-1 down with 15 minutes to play, Arsenal’s main, possibly only, attacking threat Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was hauled off for the defensive minded Tomas Rosicky.

Holding onto a narrow loss at home is embarrassing enough, even when a man down. What’s more embarrassing however is when it doesn’t work, Thomas Muller made it 0-2 with two minutes remaining.

Should Wenger have kept “The Ox” and Cazorla on, Arsenal would have possibly created more chances with Cazorla’s passing followed by Oxlade-Chamberlain’s powerful jinking runs, but there was none of that, Arsenal stepped off Bayern and allowed them to pass them to death.

The argument that this would have left Arsenal more open defensively is a valid one, however Chelsea proved in 2012 that it can be done when they earned their hugely impressive 2-2 draw over Barcelona at the Nou Camp, and that was with ten men following John Terry’s clumsy challenge.

Wenger’s tactical failings also apply to his forward line. Promising striker Yaya Sanogo looked isolated for large periods of the Munich match however he won most, if not every header. This suggests that the France Under 21 International would benefit from a striking partner, something Arsenal don’t use. Sanogo could use his strength and heading ability to knock balls down to his partner, possibly Olivier Giroud or a new acquisition, and even grab the odd goal himself as he does get in the right areas but lacks the decisive finishing touch at this stage.

Where Chelsea’s formation, which is exactly the same as Arsenal’s, succeeds is that they have better goal scoring midfielders in the shape of Eden Hazard, Oscar, Willian, formerly Juan Mata and occasionally Ramires. These get on the score sheet enough times that the limited scoring ability of Fernando Torres, Samuel Eto’o and Demba Ba isn’t too much of a problem. Whereas Cazorla, Ozil, and Oxlade-Chamberlain have 10 league goals between them, Hazard boasts 12 on his own.

This season has been a lot better for Arsenal, the double is still realistically on the cards in theory. Where they struggle however is overcoming the big teams. Their league results against last season’s top four are a 6-3 away loss to Manchester City, a 0-0 draw at home to Chelsea, and an away loss and home draw against a below par Manchester United team. Not forgetting a 5-1 thumping away to Liverpool.

The Gunners have a tough end to March with Tottenham away followed by a trip to Chelsea before finishing at Manchester City at home. February’s fixture list has been cruel to Arsenal with that Liverpool loss and the home draw against Manchester United joining an FA Cup and Champions League tie. If they end March where they are now they will still be in the title race but given this season’s record against the top sides it looks doubtful.

The FA Cup is realistic after they eliminated Liverpool to reach the quarters but they meet Everton which is not an easy prospect. Arsenal will be boosted by Chelsea and Man United’s elimination but Man City are clear favourites to lift the trophy and carry on Arsenal’s long wait for silverware where it all looked so promising just few months ago.