28 February 2015

Open letter to Everton: we were pullin' for ya, honest, we were...

Let's give credit where credit's due. Over the last few seasons, you Toffees have given us at Arsenal all we could handle and then some, getting a win, four draws, and just one loss in our last six clashes. In last season's run-in, you pushed us to the brink before succumbing to the pressure, losing three of your last five while we won five from five. Under Martínez, you may have fallen short of his promise of Champions League qualification, but it wasn't for lack of effort or ingenuity. Yours was one of the stand-out stories of last season. What happened, though? Where did all of that verve and tactical nous go to? As it currently stands, staving off relegation while fighting for Europa League glory, such as it is, looks like a meagre return on last season's promise. Still, we know full-well how much of a threat you Toffees pose, even though it's more latent than lethal of late.

What happened, then? Did Martínez get too cautious? Were Everton, Lukaku, and others overperforming? I have to admit that I worry—sincerely—about Everton and Lukaku. As a Yank, I'm thrilled to finally see an American goalkeeper thrive at a proper club. Friedel and Keller had their moments, but let's face it—minding the nets for a city's second- or third-best club ain't much to boast about. It's been a genuine privilege, therefore, to see how much Howard has benefitted from playing for Liverpool's best club. Just between you and me, I have to admit that I was hoping that he'd get the Golden Glove over Szczęsny and Čech. Mum's the word, right?

Where did it all go wrong at your end? It seemed that the run-in did you in, whether it was our FA Cup win or the points you dropped in the closing weeks of the season. Maybe the pressure was too much to bear? After finally drawing level us after matchday 33 (beating Sunderland 0-1), you faded, losing at home 2-3 to Crystal Palace, losing away 2-0 to a similarly fading Southampton, and succumbing at home to a driven and determined Man City. All of this came after thrashing us 3-0, and the nine points dropped in the interim made all of the difference and then some as you finished seven points off our pace. Still, you finished above Tottenham and Man U, so it wasn't a total wash. As I've already hinted, I respect, maybe even like, Everton, especially since (because?) Moyes left. Last season, your squad showed verve and elan for most of the season, and there's little shame in fading down the stretch against bigger, better-financed clubs.

With only a dozen matches to play and a Europa League cup now tantalizingly within reach—a round of 16 clash with Dynamo Kiev looms in the round of 16—can we at Arsenal afford to look past this weekend? I think not. For various reasons, your squad has underperformed, but it's still one that can deliver the kind of performance that elevated you to the ranks of preseason favorites. Given how slip-shod other outfits such as Tottenham, Man U, and Liverpool were in the early going, I regret that you couldn't seize the initiative—but I'll stop short of suggesting that Sunday offers you a chance to make good on the early-season optimism that might have seen you defeat us at Goodison Park back in August.

I wish you all nothing but the best in the Europa League, but I'm sure it comes as no surprise when I say that we at our end have to make the most of Sunday's clash. I just hope we have the mettle to do just that. See you on Sunday...