It is Arsenal who not only sit top of the Premier League, but are also the team who are the most careful on the ball. 6965 passes have been completed from 8166 in their 15 games so far and playing at home, they have averaged 54% possession, second only to Liverpool and Southampton.
When Everton visited the Emirates on Sunday afternoon however, the Toffees won the possession battle by 55% to 45% and completed over 100 more passes (434 to 317), winning that battle by 84% to 78%. If that is not enough, they also won out on shots (12 to 11).
It is illustrative of the lack of inhibitions that Everton travelled down to north London with. As Roberto Martinez significantly pointed out after he saw his side win 0-1 at Old Trafford the perceived “mental block” is evaporating. “It was more than a football game for us – it was about trying to get over the mental block that we have had for many, many years. Someone told me it was 20-odd years since we won at Old Trafford”, he said after guiding his team to a famous victory.
His predecessor David Moyes had failed to win on a visit to one of the league’s top four clubs (Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea) in his eleven years with the club, Martinez managed it at the first time of asking.
Speaking before that game, Moyes told of how his remit for taking Everton to Old Trafford was to “just get out alive” and it is notable, in comparison to Martinez’s start, how quickly the alarm bells are beginning to sound over his approach to life at Manchester United after succeeding Sir Alex Ferguson.
Martinez meanwhile sits 6 points clear of the Red Devils having lost just one of his first 15 games in charge of the club whilst only Arsenal have conceded less than their total of 14. Moyes, who saw United fall to their second home defeat in a week to Newcastle on Saturday, spoke of a “transitional period”, yet Martinez’s own alterations at Everton have been immediate and extraordinarily seamless.
“Everton are the best side we have faced this season in the Premier League” said Gunners’ captain Mikel Arteta after he had seen Mesut Ozil’s goal cancelled out by Gerard Deulofeu’s electric strike. It was the Spaniard’s second league goal on his loan spell from Barcelona which is starting to look like an outstanding coup from Martinez.
The 19 year old is seen by staff at the Nou Camp as a regular alongside Neymar and Lionel Messi within the next couple of years and it is not hard to envisage why; the speed, the confidence, the grace of touch and stylish guile, he has been loaned to Merseyside to gain substance to go with his burgeoning raw talent and who better to learn under than Martinez?
“I’m sure Gerard’s decision to come to England had something to do with the examples set by Fàbregas and Gerard Piqué,” the Everton manager said. “They got an education in the British game and went back better players. They (Barcelona) thought he would benefit not just from a different football experience but a different lifestyle away from the pitch and that really helped us.”
The stipulations of the deal means it is financially beneficial for Everton to play him and by possessing the quality that saw him orchestrate the 4-0 win over Stoke, or produce the venomous shot that spun past Wojciech Szczsney, he is playing a huge role in producing results for Everton on the pitch too.
Deulofeu is one of 3 loanees at Everton who are contributing to the superb form. The other two, Gareth Barry and Romelu Lukaku, were part of a hugely productive transfer deadline day for Martinez which marked another occasion he favourably encountered the manager he has succeeded.
As Moyes culminated a shambolic summer of transfer inactivity into the £27 million panic-acquisition of Marouane Fellaini, Martinez calmly reinvested the over-inflated fee back into his squad with the £13 million signing of James McCarthy, who he coached at Wigan, as well as picking up the vast experience of Barry and the potency of Lukaku.
The Belgian striker has 8 goals already but was subdued by Arsenal on Sunday, though Barry and McCarthy were excellent, disrupting Aaron Ramsey enough to force his pass completion rate to 77%, his lowest of the season so far, and limited the normally productive Ozil to just one chance created. Ross Barkley, rampaging into the gaps between Arsenal’s midfield and defence and whom Martinez said reminded him of Paul Gascoigne and Michael Ballack, created three.
It is the perfect blend; the experience and maturity of Barry reigning in McCarthy’s dynamic, yet disciplined enthusiasm with Barkley, a gifted finder of space who reads the game like somebody far in advance of 20 years, operating behind the brute strength of Lukaku.
The wide men, Deulofeu and Kevin Mirallas, are both energetic, direct, quick and able to play on both sides, comfortable in either taking a man on the outside or cutting inside to get shots away. It all adds for a fluent system but the most striking aspect has been the provision of width in the way the full-backs have been encouraged forwards.
Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman have attempted 123 crosses between them in their 12 games together whilst Bryan Oviedo, stepping in as with Baines sidelined to injury, has been a revelation with 2 goals, 2 assists and 5 chances created in 3 appearances. The most striking thing about Everton’s late winner at Old Trafford on Wednesday was that it was a full-back who emerged into the box to finish the move off, something that seldom occurred under the relative caution of Moyes.
After breaking into the Everton first team in 2011, it seems preposterous that Moyes limited Barkley to just 9 appearances last year as this season he has already surpassed that tally by 3. In Martinez’s front 6 against Arsenal, only Kevin Mirallas was a Moyes regular but despite the rapid change in personnel, the Spanish coach has found a cohesive formula in frightening haste.
Some of those left behind by Moyes, Steven Pienaar and Leon Osman, have played their part, the latter is the second most accurate passer at the club with an 88% completion rate from 11 games played, but they have been utilised effectively as Martinez, a master of draining the most he can out of limited resources, has made effective use of a now multi-dimensional squad.
It is now not unrealistic to believe Everton, especially if Martinez can once more find his eye for a bargain in January, have enough to remain in the genuine hunt for a Champions League qualification spot. Dare to dream.
Dreaming, however, is something well and truly on the Everton agenda now after Martinez has quickly gone about releasing his charges from the mental shackles that had restrained them under Moyes’s stewardship. They went to Arsenal with fearless self-belief and nearly got the same result they did at Old Trafford just a few days before, playing with an authority and assertiveness that has been missing for so long.
“Martinez will take Everton to places they can only dream about” said Dave Whelan, his former chairman at Wigan, and it is beginning to look like that prophecy is fast becoming true.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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