Goodison at its finest as Williams seals vital victory.
Everton 2 – 1 Arsenal
Brief Summary… Effort, tenacity and endeavour were rewarded as a late header from Ashley Williams earned Everton a much-needed three points against title-chasing Arsenal and boost morale ahead of next Monday’s derby.
With the Grand Old Lady looking resplendent in her new cladding, player murals, illuminated name and Christmas decorations, a wet and drab Tuesday saw the ‘owld girl’ hitch up her underskirts, roll up her sleeves and gird the loins of the near sell-out crowd to snarl like only Goodison can.
Ronald Koeman rang the changes after Saturdays abject capitulation at Watford restoring Phil Jagielka to the heart of the back four, Ross Barkley to the midfield and pushing loanee Enner Valencia into an advanced position from the outset. The 4-5-1 that has looked so laboured looked like being ditched for a more popular 4-4-2.
The starting eleven lined up: Stekelenburg, Baines, Williams, Jagielka, Coleman, Gueye, Barkley, McCarthy, Lennon, Valencia and Lukaku.
Arsene Wenger set his high-flying Gunners up: Cech, Monreal, Koscielny, Gabriel, Bellerin, Coquelin, Ozil, Xhaka, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott and Sanchez.
The ever-popular Mark Clattenburg and his assistants took to the field wearing what I thought was a rather effeminate lilac that my missus assured me was more fuchsia pink.
A bright, energetic start by both sides saw Everton win an early corner that came to nothing before Ozil spooned a good chance over the bar into the Gwladys Street stand.
A nice break from Valencia saw him hurdle a challenge from Xhaka to win the Blues second corner which again came to nothing, but he’d showed in the early stages that he had pace to worry the Gunners back line.
The visitors began to settle with the pace of Sanchez a constant threat and he lured Everton into some kamikaze defending that ended with Williams almost launching Gana Gueye and Jags yellow carded for upending Sanchez. Stekelenburg lined up his wall, but when the Sanchez free kick pierced the wall, he failed to hold it and it squirmed away to cross the line on 18 minutes… one nil to the Arsenal.
Goodison momentarily groaned, but with Koeman barking orders and pushing McCarthy further forward to get his tackling in higher up the field, the response to falling behind was good albeit with little cutting edge.
A good combination down the right between Valencia and Coleman earned another corner that saw Valencia clear the crossbar with his header at the near post. Arsenal has eased up a bit and Everton were beginning to take advantage, and Goodison was starting to snarl.
Barkley was hungry for the ball and whilst a couple of passes went astray, he didn’t let his head drop and was always looking to be involved. Gueye was covering every inch of the pitch, McCarthy was biting into tackles and there was passion in the play, and the crowd, ahead of a decent move that ended with Lennon firing high and wide.
Goodison was getting louder and Ross was unlucky with a chip over the top for Valencia that was just too long; McCarthy broke up an Arsenal break-out to feed Lukaku who fired over and Monreal was fortunate when a miscued clearance fell to Lennon and his one-time shot squirted narrowly wide.
McCarthy was booked for a retaliatory challenge on Coquelin after the pair had clashed seconds earlier and then Everton put together the equalising move. Gana Gueye beat his man in midfield to spread the ball wide left for Baines who instead of heading for the byeline, cut back inside to float a delicious cross into the box where Gabriel went walkabout from his defensive duties and Seamus Coleman was in the perfect place to rise and plant his header into the bottom corner with Cech rooted.
A thoroughly deserved equaliser as the Blues had shown a real intention to fight back, and as tempers flared a little between McCarthy and Ozil right on the half-time whistle with Williams and Coleman in the thick of things too, the scene was set for an enthralling second half.
Half Time: 1-1
Neither manager made changes for the second stanza that didn’t begin with quite the same intensity as the first half had ended. Arsenal again looked to settle the better with Sanchez instrumental in just about everything, and Walcott absolutely anonymous. Sanchez it was who carved out a 53rd minute chance that Ozil again lifted over the crossbar when at the very least he should have tested Stekelenburg.
Gabriel was fortunate not to see yellow after he unceremoniously brought down Baines as he marauded with genuine purpose through the middle , but the free kick from Ross hit the wall and the visitors breathed easy.
Stekelenburg was hurt in a collision with Baines as they combined to foil Ozil. From the restart, a long ball forward from Jags was superbly laid off his chest by Lukaku into the path of the on-rushing Barkley and his powerful drive flashed narrowly wide with Cech scrambling.
Everton were now looking the more threatening, as Ozil, and the Ox faded and Walcott continued to draw wages for doing nothing at all.
Changes came with 68 minutes on the clock as Mirallas replaced the tiring Aaron Lennon and two minutes later, Arsenal sent Giroud and Iwobi on for Walcott and the Ox respectively – Wenger signalling an intent to try and win the game in the final twenty minutes.
Everton were still looking more likely and Ronal Koeman made his statement of intent sending on Dominic Calvert-Lewin on 79 minutes with Enner Valencia getting a standing ovation for his whole-hearted effort.
Gana Gueye tried to dribble his way through the Arsenal defence; Koscielny was booked for bringing down McCarthy and Cech was called upon to make a smart reaction save to deny Jags on a short range effort in the box to give Everton another corner
And the Blues deservedly went in front. Ross swung over the 85th minute corner from the Bullens Road side and Ashley Williams found space and climbed to plant his firm downward header way beyond the reach of Cech – cue scenes and an deafening crescendo of noise as the Welsh skipper set off on his victory run to the home bench as the home crowd celebrated.
Arsene Wenger sent on Perez for Coquelin, RoKo responded by replacing McCarthy with Funes Mori and with the derby referee Mike Dean signalling four extra minutes, nails began to be bitten.
It really was helter-skelter stuff with Cech racing forward as Arsenal forced a corner and launched the ball forwards, Everton breaking out and somehow failing to score with Cech stranded and then Leighton Baines clearing off the line to seal a terrific come-from-behind victory and send the home crowd home exultant. The only sour note of the evening was a disappointing second yellow for Jags in the final seconds, but his pull on an Arsenal shirt left Mark Clattenburg with little alternative than to see the skipper suspended from next Mondays’ derby.
Final Score: 2-1.
This was much more like it from Everton. Every player and indeed the manager on the sideline was up for it. The team and the crowd did not let the early setback get to them, they raised their spirits, we raised our voices and the fight that has seemed to be lacking of late came through and prevailed.
Every player played their part, and I will be amazed in Gana Gueye does not win another MotM poll, but I’d like to suggest James McCarthy did his cause a power of good tonight. Ronald Koeman pushed him further forward so that his destructive tackling could take place higher up the field. This produced more ball for Lukaku and thus made him work harder. James still errs on the side of caution when playing further back, pushed forward his play and his aggression in the tackle definitely got to Arsenal.
Last off the pitch Ashley Williams seemed to be revelling/wallowing/basking in the knowledge his goal has secured a massive three points and helped restore some measure of pride and confidence.
Now then Blues, show that same kind of passion, effort, commitment and intensity next Monday and the Grand Old Lady will once again show why it’s one of the most revered football grounds in the country.