When Everton last welcomed Arsenal, all the talk was about their defence – or specifically Joleon Lescott, whose appearance in last year's 6-1 opening-day capitulation confirmed in David Moyes' mind that it was time to accept the centre-back's wish to join Manchester City.
Everton's defence recovered from Lescott's departure and as they prepare to host the Londoners again today, Moyes' main concern is now at the other end of the pitch: his strikers have managed just two goals between them and a recurring failure to turn draws into wins has left them in the bottom half.
On Friday, Moyes pointed to a wider trend of "tight games" and "tactical battles" but is frustrated by his side's tendency to overplay in front of goal that has made them resemble an Arsenal-lite at times.
Last Wednesday against Bolton, they only rescued a point through a spectacular injury-time strike that brought substitute Jermaine Beckford his first Premier League goal. It was a step in the right direction from Beckford, a summer arrival on a free transfer from Leeds, but he will likely start on the bench again this afternoon as he continues his adjustment to the step up from League One.
"He has the ability to get in behind and finish. I don't want to alter an awful lot, what he needs is time to see if he can settle," said Moyes, who believes the 26-year-old "needs to be a little cleverer in his play". Moyes admitted, with Yakubu's slow start to the season and Louis Saha's struggles, that he has used Beckford more than he expected to.
The striker's past suggests he will need patience. The Londoner took time to establish himself at Leeds, requiring a confidence-raising loan spell at Scunthorpe United in 2006-07, before firing more than 80 goals in his final three seasons, including his FA Cup winner at Manchester United in January. "What you have to remember is it was not long ago he was playing non-League football," said Leeds old boy Eddie Gray. "He took a bit of time to settle in at Leeds but once he did the goals flowed.
"He is a goalscorer and it is a matter of having the confidence to go out and show he can do it at the higher level."
Even at Wealdstone, where Beckford played until 2005 while working fitting car windscreens for the RAC, he developed slowly, as manager Gordon Bartlett recalls. "We sent him out on loan a couple of times and it took him a bit longer than first anticipated," said Bartlett, who nurtured Beckford's talent after his rejection by Chelsea as a schoolboy. "Jermaine didn't put as much into his football as he should have done because he had the ability to be a professional footballer earlier."
Bartlett even included in Beckford's second Wealdstone contract "a financial reward to get to training" – an extra £10 a week. "We always believed in his ability, it was down to maturity," he added. "He became a father, got a full-time job and that season was when he really blossomed."
What was never in doubt was Beckford's ability. "I watch him on telly and I see exactly the same player as when he played for us. He would be very quiet and suddenly he would do something totally out of the ordinary like scoring the winner or conjuring up something out of nothing," Bartlett said.
"He will score goals. The rest of his game has obviously improved. I am sure David Moyes and the staff will work hard to improve his game, but stick him in front of goal and there's not many who can teach him too much. He is very calm in that situation."
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