Ronald Koeman and Everton desperate for spark after awful start to season
Despite supporter discontent increasing and the pressure on manager Ronald Koeman cranking up with each additional setback, the lack of action from the Everton hierarchy points to a club with a reputation for sticking by their managers, although the consensus is that former manager Roberto Martinez survived for at least a few months too many.
Koeman is just the fifth full-time occupant of the Everton dugout in the past 20 years. Each of the three permanent managers before Koeman remained in charge for 100 or more Premier League games. The problem for Koeman, at 46 league games with the club, is that even reaching 50 league games looks improbable on current evidence.
Eight points from eight league games is the worst start in almost a decade and only Crystal Palace and Bournemouth have scored fewer goals to this point. Everton are sixteen matches into their season in all competitions and still searching for an identity. Eight half-time substitutions points to Koeman having to try to salvage matches as his initial starting XI and formation misfire.
Such grim statistics and the results accompanying them leave Everton desperate for a moment of inspiration to turn their season. Almost exactly 15 years since Wayne Rooney announced himself to the Premier League with a 90th minute winner against Arsenal, the home team need something of that ilk when the same opponents visit Goodison on Sunday.
Arsenal themselves enter the match with questions hanging over them, travelling to Goodison with three defeats and no wins in their four Premier League away games this season. Only Crystal Palace have conceded more goals away from home this calendar year. That vulnerability accompanying the visitors this weekend is something Watford captain Troy Deeney pinpointed in beating Arsenal 2-1 in their last match, effectively questioning their character.
Everton have won just two of their past 21 matches against Arsene Wenger's team, home and away, but those two wins arrived in the past four Goodison meetings, and the most recent of those wins came last season and showed the template Koeman needs to adopt on Sunday.
Begin on the front foot and hassle Arsenal in possession and there is no doubt the Goodison faithful will get behind the team. That corresponding meeting in December displayed the fighting spirit and determination mostly absent this season. When Ashley Williams rose at a corner to earn 10-man Everton a 2-1 win, the Toffees had gained a league-high 11 points from losing positions. There was a belief Everton could regroup and overcome the deficit when conceding first last season. Such hope has all but faded this term as opponents are scoring first with increasing regularity while the Everton response fails to materialise. Five successive matches and 10 of the past 11 games in all competitions have seen the opposing team open the scoring.
It seemed Williams attempted to spark a similar response with a needless melee in the 2-1 defeat to Lyon on Thursday. The pointlessness of it all and the subsequent loss of temper reflected badly on a player named captain for the night. Though it was a moment of madness from Williams, the fact it provoked a reaction and actually sparked some life in the Everton performance underlines the problems this team are facing.
It needed this bizarre flashpoint involving most of the players on both teams and a fan holding a child while flailing an arm toward the Lyon players to light a fire under the Everton team. The home crowd responded in kind. Until Lyon scored their decisive second thanks to a deft finish and individual errors, there was a fleeting glimpse of an Everton team perhaps capable of escaping their current malaise.
Amid all the hype present in preseason, there was talk of new signings adding much-needed leadership, but on the evidence of this season so far, the wait for the majority of this team and their manager to take full responsibility goes on. Williams had the right intentions but found the wrong idea in which to execute them.
When Lyon opened the scoring after a rash Mason Holgate tackle handed the visitors a penalty in the first five minutes, the subsequent retreat to the centre circle for the ensuing restart spoke volumes. There was barely a word spoken, merely a collection of players trudging back toward halfway with heads bowed and confidence further eroded. On the back of the melee and the Williams equaliser offering brief parity, when the second Lyon goal went in, some players at least attempted to provoke further response from their teammates.
UEFA charged Everton with "aggressions from supporters against players" in the aftermath of Thursday night. Channelled in a more appropriate manner, of course, supporters would probably like to see Everton players show aggression toward the opposition. This team is crying out for more leadership and belligerence.
Luke is ESPN FC's Everton blogger. Follow Luke on Twitter @lukeofarrell.