Everton Club Focus – Toffees lose to Arsenal with more telling tests to come

Everton fell to a 1-0 defeat by Arsenal on Saturday, Robin van Persie’s sensational volley sinking David Moyes’ side in a match in which they were competitive if not ever appearing likely to win. But the Toffees’ Premier League season will not be defined by results at venues such as the Emirates Stadium, rather the upcoming home double-header with newly-promoted Norwich City and Swansea City.

Moyes’ thinking when he withdrew Louis Saha just after the hour mark in favour of Sylvain Distin – either believing the height of Marouane Fellaini would cause Arsenal greater problems, believing it was worth saving the frail Saha another half hour’s effort or attempting to hold what he had – is unclear, particularly since 12 minutes later, six minutes after van Persie scored, two more genuine attackers were introduced – if Moyes solely wanted to preserve Saha he could have introduced one of Magaye Gaye or Conor McAleny, who eventually came on anyway, or Apostolos Vellios, who went unused. That would suggest the substitution of Saha was either tactical, intended to frustrate the Gunners further. In any case but the first, it failed.

Saving Saha’s delicate legs for the more important – because it is more likely to generate points – meeting with Norwich may have been at the front of Moyes’ mind. The visit of the Canaries next weekend is not a guaranteed victory but it is a fixture Everton should expect to win and be bitterly disappointed if they do not. Wrapping Saha in cotton wool is vital to that end. Vellios showed against Stoke City that he is not ready to lead the line on his own, and since Moyes shows no inclination to play two strikers, the only real option to start solo against Norwich is the Frenchman, fitness provided. Taking at the very least four points from the next two fixtures will decide whether Everton enter the New Year aiming for European qualification or aiming to avoid a relegation battle.

Everton currently sit four points off the relegation zone and 10 points from sixth-placed Liverpool. Three points from Paul Lambert’s outfit would push Everton ahead of Norwich on goal difference. With everyone from Aston Villa in ninth (19 points, the same as Norwich) down to Wolverhampton Wanderers in 17th separated by only four points a win or two can catapult any side from one extreme to the other – from battling at the bottom to fighting it out much nearer the top. The concertina effect could then play into Everton’s hands with two eminently winnable games next on the agenda. Or it could work the other way, and push Everton further down the table if they crumble under the expectation of playing a pair of Premier League newcomers at home in close succession.

With something to prove to their home support after defeat to Stoke last time out, there is added motivation to put Norwich to the sword next Saturday, and use that momentum to do likewise to Swansea. But in what has already been a tumultuous season, it promises to be a tense couple of days that could yet go either way.

See what the expert tipsters at OLBG are tipping on Everton v Norwich

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