It's all right there in the subhead: we asked Royal Blue Mersey a bunch of questions, and they very graciously answered them. I anwered theirs too, and here's where you can find them. Thanks to Calvin Hobbes at RBM for doing this, and away we, as they say, go:
TSF: How is Roberto Martinez doing? Was the transition from Moyes to Martinez as smooth as Moyes' transition to United was not?
RBM: Martinez' first season was amazing, and his second was horrific. So far he's been on the more positive side, so we'll gladly assume that this is a 'up' year and that we're headed for a top six finish.
His transition was indeed as seamless as Moyes' wasn't. In his first season he had the Blues knocking the ball around the park while Liverpool were tearing up the table with their 'Death By Football' and Scouse tiki-taka was the new national dish. Since then that possession-obsession has led to Brendan Rodgers' demise and Martinez having to change his tactics as passing the ball around for the sake of it has gone out of fashion in favor of some more direct football.
TSF: A player on many an Arsenal fan's radar a while back was Romelu Lukaku. Same question: how's he doing? Has he settled well in the side?
RBM: Rom has definitely settled in quite well. The struggle has been keeping him involved and interested in the game. Often Everton have been reduced to chasing the ball in the middle of the park and it's easy to get Lukaku bored. In addition, we see him fare quite poorly when being physically manhandled by a big centerback. He hasn't quite developed his repertoire enough to adapt his game to the weakness of a defence. His first touch is also quite atrocious, which is why you never want him leading a counterattack! Other than that though he has been a beast when the he can run onto the ball, and when there are playable crosses coming at him at head-height.
TSF: I know it's almost November, but how was Everton's summer? Did any glaring needs go unaddressed, or would you consider it a successful window?
RBM: Last year's Europa League miasadventure taught us something that we knew very well since the Moyes days, that we simply did not have the quality in depth to play on multiple fronts. Every team has injuries over the course of the season, and Everton were forced to rely on the youth during critical junctures of the season and simply did not have enough in the tank. We added a few players like Tom Cleverley and Arsenal-tormentor Gerard Deulofeu, along with Aaron Lennon, Rodrigo Funes Mori and Leandro Rodriguez. However, the injury bug bit the side early this season and Leighton Baines is yet to play a single minute while Seamus Coleman has been limited. Kevin Mirallas has also been sorely missed.
TSF: Flipside: any glaring weaknesses in the squad that need to be addressed in January?
RBM: A number 10 not named Ross Barkley. Make no mistake, we're big fans of the lad, but he's not ready to carry the team on his own shoulders quite yet. As we mentioned above, Lukaku is not ready to bear the burden of the team's scoring load quite yet either, so a player like Andriy Yarmolenko would do the side wonders.
TSF: Everton are currently ninth, with 13 points. Is that about on par with expectations, or is that a bit of an underachievement a quarter of the way through the season?
RBM: Yes and no. The Premier League schedule makers did the Blues no favours this time around, with Everton playing last season's top eight in their first ten fixtures. The games get slightly easier for the Toffees after Saturday, and that is when we're hoping Martinez and the boys can take advantage and rack up a few points. This does appear to be a very open Premier League this time around, so if the team can rip off a sequence of wins, especially around the holiday season, there is no reason we can't be in contention for a Europa League spot at the end of the season.
TSF: Who has been Everton's best player this season?
RBM: Tough question this. I'm going to go with a tie between the two central defenders, which seems odd considering they've both made some ghastly mistakes and sometimes the defence looks all at sea, but individually they've both been very good. Youngster John Stones lived up to his big billing from the summer transfer window with some very calm and assured performances. He is very composed when on the ball and strides forward with purpose, there's a bright future ahead of him.
Veteran club captain Phil Jagielka has also played very well for large portions of the season so far. Very methodical in his own end, he leads by example and is not shy about throwing himself in front of any ball. It is quite a sight to see him charging forward leading counterattacks too.
TSF: Who has been the biggest surprise, either positively or negatively?
RBM: I'll give you one of each. Left back Brendan Galloway has been a very pleasant positive. When Baines went under the knife in the offseason, we knew that we would be shaky defensively, and would lose a lot of bite going forward. Youngster Galloway has been a very nice surprise so far though. He is still learning the game and has a long way to go, but has more than held his own in some games this season.
Midfield dynamo James McCarthy however has gone the other way. The Irishman with a Scottish name was stellar the last couple of seasons, chasing everything down, harrying opposition in the midfield and basically shutting down anyone that came within his postal code. This year though he's looked lost for long periods. It's almost as if he's not sure what his role is supposed to be and is running around trying to make up for it. Quite disappointing, and a big reason why Everton have dropped some points this season.
TSF: Fill in the blank: In order to beat Everton, Arsenal must (blank)
RBM: Watch the tape of Manchester United neutering Everton last weekend. Then watch the tape of the Gunners beating Everton 2-0 last season. And then have a good laugh over a couple of pints at whatever the nearest pub to Emirates is.
Seriously though, it's easy. Press Everton deep, preventing them from playing the ball out of defence comfortably. And then when they do turn the ball over, strike incisively, usually by going one-on-one with Tim Howard and rolling the ball in either direction you choose, as he will likely fall limply the other way. When you have built a big lead, then play the ball long down the touchline and then watch the four Everton defenders scramble in a Benny Hill-esque parody to cover one forward while any one of five other Arsenal players are left wide open.
TSF: Finally, a score prediction?
RBM: Arsenal beat United 3-0; United beat Everton 3-0; do Everton beat Arsenal 3-0 to complete the circle? Do Arsenal beat Everton 6-0 to maintain hierarchy?
Unfortunately, I think the second is the more likely score than the first. Everton are looking quite uninspired right now, the complete opposite of how Arsenal are playing. The Toffees will be desperately hoping that the Gunners will have imbibed a bit too much after beating Bayern and are off their step come Saturday. 3-1 to Arsenal I'd wager.
Thanks once again to Calvin and to Royal Blue Mersey for taking the time to chat with us.