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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Everton's Koeman loses control of narrative after defeat to five-star Arsenal

Galactico Gunners give manager Wenger perfect birthday gift, while Dutch counterpart seems resigned to uncertain future

Everton manager Ronald Koeman is under severe pressure following a disappointing start to the season. Reuters/Lee Smith
Everton manager Ronald Koeman is under severe pressure following a disappointing start to the season. Reuters/Lee Smith

There were boos when the popular Dominic Calvert-Lewin was replaced and more at the final whistle.

They probably would have been louder had Goodison Park not already been half-empty. A lone shout of “Taxi for Koeman” had preceded it.

When Everton lost to Lyon, one fan, and father’s, impotent rage manifested itself in a punch at the visiting goalkeeper Anthony Lopes. When they suffered a third successive home defeat, it met more with acceptance. The dissent was more polite. The scoreline was spectacular, the setback expected.

“The final result is really poor,” the beleaguered Ronald Koeman conceded. “I work a long time in football. I don’t think it is too late. I still believe I can change the whole situation but everybody knows how it works in football.”

Because Everton are unravelling at a remarkable rate.

They spent £144 million (Dh697.6m) in the summer and now reside in the relegation zone. They were eviscerated by the Galatico Gunners, with Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Alexandre Lacazette starting together for the first time and all scoring, but undone as much by their own failings, in selection and signings, tactics and defending.

Arsenal enjoyed what Arsene Wenger felt was their most complete performance of the season but if Koeman’s ejection seems to grow ever nearer, Ozil glimpsed redemption.

Eight days earlier, he spurned a golden chance at Watford and Arsenal duly went on to lose. Ten months ago at Goodison Park, he was at fault for Ashley Williams’s winner, the first of 10 defeats in 16 away league games.

He delivered a cathartic goal, a glancing header from Sanchez’s chipped cross, and assist, teeing up Lacazette, each his first of the campaign.

“He was superb: agile, quick, intelligent and always at the service of the team,” Wenger said. “He is an exceptional player.”

If Ozil owed the manager, his performance represented a 68th birthday present.

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Ronald Koeman, left, is under pressure to keep his job, while Arsene Wenger had a happy birthday. Phil Noble / Reuters
Ronald Koeman, left, is under pressure to keep his job, while Arsene Wenger had a happy birthday. Phil Noble / Reuters

Wenger brought the entertainment himself, finally unleashing his superstar front three and savouring the return of their combined haul of three goals and two assists. Aaron Ramsey, another attack-minded presence, scored Arsenal’s fourth from substitute Jack Wilshere’s pass, Sanchez their fifth as he found the far corner.

“He was on fire,” Wenger added.

If only for a day, Wenger’s great gamble that Ozil and Sanchez would continue to perform while running down their contracts paid off. Koeman’s decisions did not.

He glimpsed vindication when Wayne Rooney put Everton ahead. Yet, in a season-long search for a solution, he alighted on a midfield diamond in front of a back three. It amounted to an invitation to attack.

Not that Arsenal particularly required one. The choice of ‘The Masterplan’ as the half-time music rather reinforced the sense that Koeman lacks one.

“We had to change something to stop them,” Koeman conceded.

The introduction of Tom Davies at the break appeared an admission that Everton were undermanned in midfield. It came at a consequence: Idrissa Gueye, the only specialist central midfielder, had to do the tackling of two men and collected two cautions, for fouls on Sanchez and Granit Xhaka.

“It was impossible [when it was] 10 against 11,” Koeman said.

It is a moot point if Jordan Pickford, the goalkeeper facing a bombardment of shots, or Gueye, lining up against a phalanx of Arsenal attacking midfielders, was the most overworked man at Goodison.

Pickford embarked on a damage-limitation exercise as Arsenal had their most shots by half time in six years and only scored once. He denied Lacazette, Ramsey, Hector Bellerin and Sanchez. When Xhaka, who later hit the bar, shot, he parried but Nacho Monreal levelled from the rebound.

Before then, as Koeman said: “We had a good start.”

Thursday marked the 15th anniversary of Rooney’s first Premier League goal. It came against Arsenal and he revisited his past in spectacular style. A 12th against his favourite opponents was whipped into the far corner from 20 yards after Gueye had dispossessed Xhaka.

Rooney is making a valiant effort to keep Koeman employed. So is Oumar Niasse, who scored an irrelevant consolation goal.

“I believe in the commitment of the players,” Koeman said, attributing their problems to a lack of confidence. But, as he accepted, he does not control the narrative anymore. “Write what you like to write,” Koeman concluded.

The obituaries are being penned.