Arsenal issues pale in comparison to Everton as axe swings for Koeman
Misery loves company and Goodison Park will play host to some group therapy on Sunday as troubled Arsenal visit traumatised Everton.
The Gunners need to get back on track, having suffered their third defeat of a still young season on Saturday, losing 2-1 in the final minutes against Watford; Everton did at least avoid defeat last weekend, but their performance in a 1-1 draw against Brighton was so anaemic that they took no pleasure in their point.
For Arsenal, the fear is that they are now losing touch with the top four, drifting somnambulistically into the hinterlands beyond. For Everton, it's far more serious than that: they had ambitions of the top four and instead they find themselves two points off the relegation zone.
At least Arsenal can take strength from an encouraging 1-0 win over Red Star in Belgrade and their fringe players seem to be enjoying the distraction of the Europa League. The same cannot be said of Everton. On a dramatic night at Goodison Park, they lost 2-1 to Lyon and surely incurred the wrath of UEFA for the scuffles that marred the evening. The sight of an Everton fan, wading into a mass brawl of players, a small child in one hand, the other balled into a fist, could be the defining image of the end of Ronald Koeman's reign.
And it does feel like the end now. The reward for over £150 million of spending in the summer has been a run of two wins in 12, and one of those was against Sunderland in the League Cup.
Should he still be in a job after this weekend's game, Koeman will then have to travel to Chelsea in the League Cup and then to Leicester in the league. The season is still fresh, the games played column is still in single figures -- there is still time to turn this around. But there are so few bright spots.
Everton are slow and shapeless. There is no discernible plan. They have been deployed in multiple shapes, in multiple combinations of personnel. Nothing seems to work. And the rumour mill is turning. Reports of unhappy players at Finch Farm have begun to emerge. The ice is cracking underneath Koeman's feet.
To make matters worse for him, Leicester's decision to part company with Craig Shakespeare gives the Foxes the head start in the hunt for a new manager. If the powers that be at Everton have begun assembling a shortlist (and it would remiss of them not to have done so), they will have to sit and watch as one of their potential targets is lured to the King Power Stadium. That sort of pressure has hurried the falling axe before.
Arsene Wenger doesn't have to put up with pressure like that. He seems to exist on a different plane to other managers, overseen by a board of directors who have never given any indication that they're even aware of the concept of sacking.
Perhaps that's why Arsenal never seem to suffer the same sort of collapse that Everton are experiencing: where each problem cultivates a new problem. The Gunners have their crisis, everyone points and laughs, and then they regroup. Last season, when all looked lost, they went on a run of eight wins in 10 games and very nearly recaptured fourth spot, compensating their supporters with a well won FA Cup too.
Wenger has stared into the void so many times now that it holds no fear for him. He responded to that hideous 4-0 defeat at Anfield calmly, in public at least, and his team took breath and rewarded him with a string of clean sheets. But then came Watford, that heart-breaking late goal and the cutting words of Troy Deeney, the latest in a long line of observers to remark upon Arsenal's lack of fight.
But responses don't come much more telling than Thursday night. In front of a ferocious Red Star Belgrade following, a selection of fringe players like Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere and, conclusively, Olivier Giroud, stood up to be counted. They would not be bullied and they could not be beaten. And if they play with that spirit on Sunday, the result at Watford is likely to be written off as an aberration.
How Everton need a response like that. How they need to get the supporters back onside. Goodison Park can be ferocious as well, and it will be if Everton go at Arsenal from the first whistle.
But if Arsenal score first, expect the ferocity to be directed exclusively at the dug-out. Arsenal may be troubled and underperforming, but compared to Everton right now they look like Real Madrid.
Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.