An outstanding team performance from Everton saw them record their third straight win over London opposition with Captain Phil Jagielka rolling back the years with an impeccable centre back showing, and the game winning goal.
But this Everton showing was so, so much more about the team than any one individual as they took the game to Arsenal allowing the visitors only rare glimpses of the ball. So many excellent performances were probably crowned by Bernard, but the list of Man of the Match candidates is a long one.
For the third game in a row, the opposition hailed from the capital and with convincing wins over Chelsea and especially West Ham, Everton went into this clash with the Gunners in both good form and heart.
With Yerry Mina still injured, Marco Silva was fully expected to stick with the starting eleven that demolished the Hammers against an Arsenal side desperate to finish in the top four to qualify for next season’s a Champions League.
A lot of attention this past week has surrounded the off-field activities of goalie Jordan Pickford and in his press briefing, Silva was quick to state his displeasure over the incident. “I am not happy with what happened. Football players have duties and obligations, it is a matter for us to remind him and everything we must done we have done. It is my expectation it won’t happen again.”
Handing in his team sheet, Silva was forced into a very late change with Phil Jagielka replacing Michael Keane, the full line-up reading: Pickford, Coleman, Jagielka (c), Zouma, Digne, Gana Gueye, Gomes, Richarlison, Sigurdsson, Bernard and Calvert-Lewin.
For the visitors, manager Unai Emery was without the suspended Torreira and had fitness concerns over Xhaka and Koscielny, but was expected to have Aaron Ramsey available after a slight groin strain.
Still chasing the top four, Arsenals’ away form has been their Achilles heel of late with just one victory away from the Emirates in their last eight outings, away at Huddersfield.
Emery admitted this run of form is a concern when he noted, “For us it’s a big challenge, we want to achieve the same good performances as when we play at the Emirates. We have confidence now, but we know it’s very difficult. Sunday against Everton is important, we know other clubs will take a lot of points.”
He duly named his starting line-up: Leno, Mustafi, Papastathopoulos, Monreal, Maitland-Niles, Elneny, Guendouzi, Kolasinac, Ozil (c), Mkhitaryan and Lacazette.
Our referee for this mid-afternoon kick-off was Kevin Friend.
An early scare for the Blues as Lacazette got away but his shot was off target and went for a corner off Zouma that was successfully cleared. Arsenal saw Guendouzi rightly booked in the fifth minute for a knee-high challenge on Lucas Digne that saw the French fullback need treatment.
A fine, flowing move started by Zouma and involving Gana Gueye, Sigurdsson, Digne and Bernard saw a throw-in near the corner flag won, and when Digne launched it into the Arsenal six-yard area, it fell nicely for Phil Jagielka to mark his return with a tenth minute goal.
The Blues were moving well and looking to spread the ball wide and a raking cross field ball from Digne found Richarlison on the right. He was closed down, but battled hard to win the ball back and find Gomes for a 25-yard shot that flew wide.
A poor backpass from Monreal saw DCL chase down Leno and earn a good round of appreciative applause for his effort. More good interplay between Bernard and Gomes saw the Portuguese gain the visitors penalty area only for Papastathopoulos to go down and a dubious free kick awarded to the visitors.
On 24 minutes, a great tackle by Bernard saw the ball fall nicely for Sigurdsson who immediately looked to release DCL only for Papastathopoulos to haul him down and become the second yellow card recipient.
A long clearance from Pickford saw a towering leap by DCL and his header on found Richarlison, but his cross from the right was just too high for DCL to get on the end of.
Another flowing Blues move, this time down the left saw Guendouzi clear with a diving header before a rare Arsenal attack saw Pickford easily claim a cross from Maitland-Niles.
Bernard again got the Blues moving, finding Gomes to feed Sigurdsson for a shot that was strait at Leno. A quickly taken free kick following a foul by Monreal on Richarlison saw the Brazilians cross cleared at the expense of a corner, but the Blues couldn’t make anything of it.
A one goal lead at the break, but Everton went to the dressing room with a standing ovation for a first half they had thoroughly dominated.
Half Time: 1-0
Arsenal made two changes for the second half, Ramsey and Aubameyang replacing Elneny and Kolasinac respectively.
Everton successfully defended an early corner from the left, but a subsequent cross from the right by Aubameyang saw Pickford punch under pressure from Lacazette and Ramsey skew the loose ball high and wide.
Andre Gomes was booked in the 49th minute for a foul on Ramsey and when Ozil took a second Arsenal corner, he got on the end of it but again shot wide of the target. It had been a decent start to the second half by the Gunners and Everton needed to stay alert.
A chance at the Gwladys Street end saw Bernard away from Maitland-Niles but Leno blocked his short range effort.
Everton weathered the early Arsenal pressure and were soon back on the front foot themselves, Coleman releasing Richarlison whose cross was cleared to Gomes to find Coleman and his cross was half cleared for Sigurdsson see his shot clear the bar.
Gomes and Richarlison combined for DCL to find Sigurdsson for another shot deflected for a corner which Digne took and that saw DCL win the header but straight at Leno. Mkhitaryan cutting in off the left wing fired a shot across goal to give the Blues a reminder that they only held a one goal advantage.
More good play from the Blues saw another flowing multi-player attack end with Sigurdsson. With 15 minutes remaining, Arsenal made their final change with Iwobi replacing the largely ineffective Ozil.
Everton were purring and another quality move involving Bernsrd, Gana Gueye, Gomes, Digne and Sigurdsson ended with Richarlison firing just wide.
Theo Walcott replaced Richarlison on 78 minutes ahead of Mustafi seeing yellow for scything down DCL. Ademola Lookman came on for Bernard on 87 minutes with Tom Davies replacing Gylfi Sigurdsson as five added minutes were signalled.
There was no way back for Arsenal though as the Blues kept going forward and saw out time to earn a thoroughly deserved ovation from yet another full house.
Full Time: 1-0
Without a shadow of a doubt, the best game Goodison has seen in the last couple of seasons, this Everton performance was nothing short of outstanding.