Demarai Gray says a refreshed Everton will return for pre-season with “a lot of improving to do” following a 2021/22 relegation fight that went down to the wire.
Forward Gray, captured from Bayer Leverkusen last summer, delivered a similar ‘can-do-better’ verdict on his own Goodison Park career.
The 25-year-old contributed to one goal roughly every three starts in his debut campaign – he began 30 matches across the competitions, scoring six goals and assisting five – and insists there is scope for more consistent and prolific returns.
Everton secured their survival with one game to spare and three days after defeating Crystal Palace on a barmy Goodison night, a much-changed side lost the final-day fixture at Arsenal 5-1.
Gray conceded the performance in North London was below the mark. Equally, coming so soon after the adrenaline surge of Thursday’s big-dipper ride, the game wasn’t one Frank Lampard’s side will dwell on for long.
No, insists Gray, once bodies and minds are recharged, the sole focus will fall on taking positive steps in manager Lampard’s first full season at the helm.
“We were disappointed to lose how we did against Arsenal, but Thursday was a big night for the Club and we needed that result,” said Gray.
“The past month has been a lot mentally for us all and a lot for the Club.
“The most important thing was survival and we achieved that.
“We have a lot of improving to do, we are not just going to come back in and think we’ll automatically have a better season.
“There is work to be done, the manager has made that clear.
“It was not the best way to finish, but the lads worked really hard over the past month to stay in the league.
“We will have a break and come back fresh minded, ready to make sure we’re not in that position [fighting to avoid drop] again.”
Gray refused to attribute the weekend defeat to injuries and absences, after Everton missed on-song Richarlison – six goals from his past nine Premier League games – and afforded breaks to senior figures including goalkeeper Jordan Pickford and captain Seamus Coleman.
The spine of the team, meanwhile, was once more deprived of the influential pair of Yerry Mina and Fabian Delph, while midfielder Abdoulaye Doucoure was forced off during the opening half.
Everton stayed in the game for a period, Donny van de Beek – Doucoure’s replacement – tapping in to halve a 2-0 Arsenal lead on the stroke of half-time.
But the home team scored twice in the space of three minutes shortly before the hour to wrap up the points and added a fifth towards the end.
“A key goalscorer [Richarlison] not being there makes a difference,” said Gray.
“We have been unfortunate with injuries this season, but regardless of who is fit, we are better than we showed at Arsenal.
“There is no excuse for the result.
“We’d have liked to take something from the game and getting back to 2-1 was an opportunity, but we conceded from a set-piece and they ran away with it.
“But it is not one to worry about too much, we have to focus on the bigger picture.
“The result wasn’t what we wanted.
“But, overall, we can be happy, switch off from football for a bit and prepare for next season.”
Gray was unhesitant when asked about the prevailing emotion in Everton’s dressing room following a rocky campaign.
“Relief,” said Gray, adding that training 24 hours in advance of Arsenal was “the first session with not so much weight on everyone’s shoulders, so we could fully enjoy it.”
Gray, who signed a three-year contract, with the option for a fourth year, when he joined from Germany, added: “It has been hard for everyone involved… we are glad it’s over.
“We can breathe a bit and try to enjoy our summers and spending time with family.
“It has been difficult with the circumstances, but an okay season for me.
“I started well, but didn’t finish as well as I wanted, personally.
“There are a lot of positives for me to take, though, personal stats I’ve improved on massively, and I have to build on those for next season.”