Phil Neville is calling the defeat to Stoke a blessing in disguise because it will force the players to be honest about where they are and how much they need to improve.
He did also suggest that Mikel Arteta was Arsenalâ€™s most influential player this season so itâ€™s difficult to know what to take seriously. No doubt David Moyes would be happy to continue papering over the cracks if it meant picking up the points needed to keep the team clear of the battle to avoid relegation. There may be some reason to Nevilleâ€™s logic if the players do respond to dropping points against a team they were expected to beat.
The problem, as it has been for much of the season so far, was in the final third and as we all know if you donâ€™t score, youâ€™re going to find it mighty tough to win. This proved the crucial differentiator against Stoke. Without Saha and Drenthe in the side, Moyes is having to make do with the limited options he has left. 19-year old Velios lacks the experience and Stracqualursi hasnâ€™t yet adapted to the pace of the Premier League. Gueye is his only other real option and though talented heâ€™s still just a prospect. Velios is the only on of these three to have scored this season, which explains his promotion to the starting line-up. With Tim Cahill going through an unprecedented goal drought, he hasnâ€™t scored a league goal in nearly a year, the managerâ€™s options are near depleted.
So basically theyâ€™re screwed against Arsenal this weekend? Not necessarily. Moyes will present this game to his players as the perfect opportunity to prove their quality against one of the big teams. It also wonâ€™t have escaped his attention that the Gunners have failed to win in their last two home games and though the Carling cup loss was with a weakened team, the draw with Fulham wasnâ€™t. If Fulham can get a point there then so can Everton. The draw is a tasty 11/4, with 1-1 an even tastier 13/2.
With Saha out injured, Velios is likely to lead the line with either Fellaini or Cahill providing support. The young Greek is 10/1 to score first and he is Evertonâ€™s leading scorer so heâ€™s the best bet they have. Unless Thomas Vermaelen obliges with another own goal. The first goal to be an own-goal is 22/1 but itâ€™s a small stake novelty bet so donâ€™t go mad. Itâ€™s getting tougher to keep bashing out the â€˜Tim Cahill has to score sometimeâ€™ logic each week but he really does and he did score against Arsenal last season. Heâ€™s 10/1 to score first and 16/5 to score anytime of you fancy it. Set-pieces will need to be made the most of, in which case Jagielka will come in to the running at 14/1 to score anytime. Itâ€™s a long-shot but thatâ€™s still a shot.
An Everton win at 11/2 would be a massive boost and itâ€™s certainly a possibility but itâ€™s highly unlikely to be anything other than very tight. 1-0 at 16/1 would cover the cost of the peticure needed to sort the chewed nails that scoreline would be responsible for. With enough effort, a positive attitude and a little luck the whole of Everton could once again prove greater than the sum of their frugally acquired parts.