Everton’s sorry start to the season continued on Sunday afternoon as they laboured to a 1-0 defeat at the hands of title-chasing Arsenal.
Sean Dyche’s men came into this clash with superb omens. Not since the days of Ronald Koeman had the Toffees lost at Goodison to today’s opponents, and at one stage it looked as though history was repeating itself.
Gabriel Martinelli had a goal ruled out for offside by VAR in the first half, a moment that seemed to awaken the Goodison faithful.
Everton frustrated Mikel Arteta’s men and could have walked away with just their second point of the season. However, Leandro Trossard’s cushioned finish off the post in the second period ensured they sit in the relegation zone without a win to their name.
Dyche clearly set his team up to stifle the Gunners but they never looked like scoring, something that wasn’t helped by a lack of creativity in the wide areas. For that, Dwight McNeil deserves to be singled out.
How did McNeil play against Arsenal?
The former Burnley star was given his first start of the campaign on Sunday but it quickly became apparent throughout the clash why that was the case.
His lack of impact on the game was worrying, and even if Arsenal were expected to dominate, you’d want more from a player who was the club’s top scorer last term.
McNeil has a tendency to blow hot and cold and we saw evidence of that this weekend. Some nice touches were on show but beyond that the visitors were never troubled by his wide play.
It was perhaps a surprise to see Dyche wait until the 88th minute to give him the hook, as the £20m signing left the pitch having made just 20 touches and ten passes during the game, fewer than goalkeeper Jordan Pickford who had 49 touches and completed 18 passes.
Singling out his inability to create is where the worries really start to appear. McNeil didn’t play a single key pass and didn’t deliver a cross either, as per Sofascore. Everton had a focal point in Beto and then Dominic Calvert-Lewin to play into when he came on in the second period, but they were totally starved of service by their number seven.
It wasn’t much better on the opposite flank either, as Arnaut Danjuma registered just the one key pass in defeat.
The Liverpool Echo’s Chris Beesley perhaps put it best in his player ratings, explaining: “Last season’s top scorer made his first start this term but despite putting a real shift in off the ball, he found his ability to either create or take chances restricted.”
The 23-year-old’s lack of impact was exacerbated by his failure to complete his one and only dribble, and a failure to have a shot on goal. That’s not to mention his ability to compete in duels, of which he only won one out of seven.
All in all, this was a desperately poor display from someone who was handed their first start of the season. This was an opportunity for McNeil to prove he deserves to start more regularly, but on the evidence of today, that test wasn’t even close to being passed.