Eyebrows would have been raised by the exclusion of Everton’s two young guns – Ross Barkley and Gerard Deulofeu – for the visit of the Gunners. Roberto Martinez preferred the prosaic Steven Naismith and the mercurial (well, mercurial and experienced) Kevin Mirallas, both of whom had played so well as second half substitutes last week at Craven Cottage. Around me, sages sucked on thoughtful tooths and said, “Got to keep it tight early on. No point going expansive and falling behind. Pragmatic choice – let’s not lose the game before we can win it”. Not for the first time, the Catalan in the brown shoes and the tight coat surprised us.
Even before Leon Osman was replaced by Ross Barkley, Everton were committed to an open, expansive game, identifying Arsenal’s continuing perverse absence of an effective holding midfield player as a weakness, and pouring forward. Ossie wasn’t far off with a Goal of the Month contender before, like King Harold, he took one in the eye that necessitated his leaving the field of battle. With so many players in form, the captain was not missed.
We’re told that football is a squad game these days – and it obviously is – but it’s also a selection game too. Kevin Mirallas had looked a little stale (only two weeks ago, I read a long time Blue suggesting that he was marking time before a post-World Cup move away from Goodison) but a couple of early substitutions and some starts on the bench appear to have focused his mind – the Belgian is back to his best. Steven Naismith, playing just off Big Rom in a position that clearly suits his penchant for linking play and arriving late in the box, was magnificent in the first half, an unlikely fans’ favourite. There’s something of a Paul Power (ask you Dad) about his maximising of output from a (comparatively) less expansive skillset in a squad not short glamorous options.
Roberto’s resource allocation decision brought one goal (Naismith) and two assists (Mirallas) – and three exceptionally important points, with another notch added to his tally of match changing decisions. The Toffees’ has as tempting a box of chocolates as any manager at Goodison since Howard Kendall’s class of ’87. It must be tempting to reach into that second layer to pull out the Strawberry (blond) Delight that is Gerard Deulofeu, but sometimes the Coconut Cream that is Steven Naismith is the better option. The Martinez magic is still working – every decision is just so sweet.