The sooner we all put Wednesday behind us, the better, right? What better way than a resumption of league play. This Sunday sees 12th placed Everton come to London as Arsenal attempt to right the ship and solidify their grip on third place.
Royal Blue Mersey is SBN's Everton blog, and we sat down with Ryan Blank of that august journal to get his thoughts on Everton's season so far. I did the same thing over there, if you're interested. Even if you're not, I still did it, so.
TSF: Everton are currently 12th in the league, which feels a bit underachiever-ish. Is that feeling correct, and if so, what is the cause of the underachieving?
RBM: That is definitely the sentiment amongst supporters of the Blues. Going into the season we had high hopes after the (club record) signing of Romelu Lukaku and Tim Howard's unforgettable World Cup run coupled with the emergence of some top flight young players such as Ross Barkley and John Stones. Things haven't worked out the way we expected. Similar to Arsenal, injuries have taken a heavy toll on the squad. Key players such as Howard, Barkley and Kevin Mirallas have struggled with fitness and missed significant time. Other things that have indirectly led to disappointment are the lack of success they have experienced with loanees such as Christian Atsu or free transfers (Samuel Eto'o). These misses have challenged the depth of the club at times. The one saving grace so far this season has been the Toffee's success in Europe. With the way things sit right now, winning in Europe is the only way that they'll gain one of those coveted Champions League spots.
TSF: Is the Roberto Martinez honeymoon over, or is he still being given time to find his feet?
RBM: Yes, I'd say the honeymoon is over. He was a somewhat established Premier League coach when he took the control at Goodison so there should have been no shock at what he had gotten himself into. Of course last year's unexpected success thrust him into the limelight and game him a premature coronation as an exceptional manager. As mentioned, this has been a rough season and the fans have let the team know. With that said, Martinez needs time to establish himself at the club, build the squad the way he sees fit and add depth at key positions. He definitely deserves another season or two to prove himself but I don't see him sticking around long if Everton continue to remain in the lower half of the table. The club have spent a lot of money to be competitive and they should always be shooting for a spot in Europe.
TSF: How are all this summer's transfers working so far - particularly Romelu Lukaku, who was of interest to more than a few Arsenal fans over the summer, and Ross Barkley?
RBM: Romelu Lukaku is being ridden pretty hard by a lot of people. In my opinion, he has had an "okay" season. He's still only 21 and he's really being relied upon as the main man for the first time in his career. He has played a lot of matches, sometimes looking brilliant (both matches against Young Boys), other times looking off, even out of it (Leicester City last week). No regrets about bringing Big Rom in. He should continue to grow over the next couple of years but it would be nice to see him get some help up front.
Ross Barkley is still a key part of the squad. His issue this season has been injuries. When he's fit, he has struggled to find the form that he possessed last year. Again, luckily he's very young and has time to mature and grow.
TSF: Is Tim Howard's new nickname "Decline Phase", or is he just going through a rough spell right now?
RBM: That's a good question that has been hotly debated amongst Everton fans recently. He did not get off to a good campaign and he has not been incredibly impressive since he returned from the injury he picked up in December. It wasn't that long ago that he was on top of his game so you have to wonder what happened. Earlier in the year, I could see blaming the men in front of him - defense has been one of the most suspect aspects of the lineup. But over the past couple of weeks, it seems like he needs to regain his confidence. He has made a lot of costly mistakes that a veteran keeper should know to avoid. Despite these issues, Roberto Martinez is sticking by his man; hoping that the more he plays, the better he gets.
TSF: If you could improve one single thing about Everton's play this season, what would it be?
RBM: I would target the defense. There have been way too many mental errors this season and we have seen too many senseless goals conceded just because defenders were caught out of position and let men behind them. Way too many breakaways for my liking.
TSF: Final questions for you - any predictions and players to watch?
RBM: Despite playing in Thursday night's Euro Leauge match and possibly picking up a knock, I expect Romelu Lukaku to be leading the attack again. Whenever he's on the field, he's the player to watch. He scored a brace against Young Boys so he shouldn't be lacking for confidence. Olivier Giroud has had a rough time lately so maybe he'll break out and notch a goal as it's time for him to step up. I'm banking on the Toffees to step it up over the weekend but not enough to win. 2-2 is my predicted score.
Many thanks to Ryan and the RBM crew for taking the time to do this.