If there is such a thing as new manager bounce, it was personified in this game as next to bottom Everton outworked, outfought and overcame the league leaders. And it was perhaps poetic irony that the winner came from the head of James Tarkowski with his maiden goal for the Blues.
The defeat at West Ham dropped the Blues to 19th in the Premier League table and brought about the inevitable early exit of Frank Lampard. A chaotic Monday saw him dismissed by the club with the news being leaked to media sources ahead of the official confirmation appearing on the clubs official website some four hours later.
Eventually, the club got around to confirming that Sean Dyche had been appointed as the manager tasked with endeavouring to secure Premier League survival – for the second year on the bounce – and the January transfer window expired with the addition of precisely nobody and the departure of Anthony Gordon to Newcastle for a potential £45 million if add-on clauses are met.
Speaking eloquently at his first media gathering, the former Burnley boss said, “We want the fans to play their part. It is choppy waters, but we want the fans to reconnect with that. I’ve got to earn my spurs and I’m willing to put the hard yards in to earn their respect.”
He continued adding, “Wins are those marvellous things in football that seem to solve things, but you have to earn that. You might get a lucky 1-0 win now and again but you don’t want to build on luck. For me, it’s about the heartbeat of the team and club. Reminding them of the players they are. You don’t get to be an Everton player without laying some markers down in your career as individuals and as a team. I think there is technical prowess here.”
And he asked for the chance for his team and himself to turn things around saying, “We have to unify. We have to. Even the most disgruntled Evertonians at the moment, if they give us a chance to stick by the team. The energy changes very quickly when players feel that intensity and support. Just give us a window to breathe, support and play a part in that.”
Reflecting upon the squad of players he has inherited, he commented, “We’re not worried. It is what it is. We are where we are. Managing the situation is always what I’ve believed in. I know the situation. The window’s shut. This is who we are, and these are the players we have, and I explained that to the players. But equally, I showed them their past, and there are some unbelievable stories here, trust me, about how they’ve got to this level of football, and about their lives. That’s a powerful thing, so adding that into a group, and adding that connectivity; that’s as powerful as anything and as powerful as one player.”
Desperate for three points and a performance to give the Goodison faithful something to relish after a poor start to the New Year, he named his first starting eleven: Pickford (c), Coleman (c), Godfrey, Coady, Tarkowski, Mykolenko, Gana Gueye, Onana, Doucoure, McNeil, Iwobi and Calvert-Lewin.
Under former Blues midfielder Mikel Arteta, Arsenal are in rampant form, heading the league table by five points and having a game in hand over the chasing pack, their visit to a troubled club looked like being a mere formality for another three points on the road.
The Gunners showed their intent on remaining top of the tree with the surprise signing of midfielder Jorginho from rivals Chelsea and Arteta noted, “we needed a player in that position, and he’s a player I’ve always admired. He’s a great character and someone who’s going to bring leadership, he’s going to help the team a lot.”
On the injury and player availability front, Arteta advised, “we’ll make a decision on Thomas (Partey) later today, it’s not a major issue but, was enough to get him out of the game at Manchester City. Emile Smith Rowe definitely will not feature on Saturday.”
Aiming to maintain their significant advantage in the title race and damage his former clubs survival chances, the best little Spaniard we used to know duly named his starting line-up thus: Ramsdale, White, Saliba, Gabriel, Zinchenko, Partey, Xhaka, Odegaard (c), Salam Martinelli and Nketiah.
The pleasure of refereeing this crucial fixture was entrusted to David Coote.
Sean Dyche received a tremendous reception upon his introduction to another sold out Goodison Park in fully supportive mood and voice and as expected, none of the Board of Directors in attendance.
A loose ball in midfield saw Onana find Iwobi to feed Dominic Calvert-Lewin in the left channel but, he was forced wide and prevented from getting an effort on goal. Coleman won his first two encounters against the speedy Martinelli and in the exchanges, Everton were pressing Arsenal well and getting some good early tackles in.
A good counter by the Blues, led by .McNeil saw him gain the edge of the box, his shot partially blocked and Ramsdale down quickly to deny Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Pickford with two easy saves from Zinchenko and Partey stymied two Arsenal attacks before Shaka went down on 15 minutes claiming he’d been caught in the face by Gana Gueye.
A cross from Iwobi was put behind for the first Everton corner of the game that McNeil and the visitors hurriedly conceded a second from the right, and a third back to the left as Goodison raised its voice again. Arsenal cleared but we’re back pedalling again to concede a fourth corner in as many minutes, that saw Dominic Calvert-Lewin rise at the near post but put his header wide of the target.
Gabriel nearly tore the shirt from Dominic Calvert-Lewin with no infringement given – welcome to Everton Sean Dyche, we get nowt from these referees – as the manager yelled his disgust. A poor clearance by Ramsdale after holding a shot from Dominic Calvert-Lewin saw Onana attempt to lob the Arsenal keeper who got back in time.
Everton had certainly responded to the managers demand for hard work and effort, and the fans responded too with plenty of vocal encouragement. Daka appeared to manhandle his way around Mykolenko to feed Nketiah who blazed a shot over, the Blues players rightly remonstrating the referee.
A great burst down the left by Onana saw him cross low into the six yard area where Dominic Calvert-Lewin was inches away from opening the scoring with Ramsdale beaten. Another cross from the right, this time by McNeil, saw Doucoure fail to hit the target with a free header. A deep cross from the left by Zinchenko was met by Aka on the volley, Conor Coady well placed on the line to ensure the shot was cleared to safety.
Into the final five minutes of the half and Martinelli went down like a sack of spuds but, where was the contact that referee Coote deemed he saw, with the visitors waiting the free kick he gifted them. Three added minutes were announced during which Nketiah caught Pickford before Iwobi found Coleman on the overlap and his cross saw Dominic Calvert-Lewin rise but, send his beyond both Ramsdale and the far post.
An encouraging first 45 minutes under Sean Dyche with commitment, hard work and togetherness all on show in abundance.
Half Time: 0-0
Neither manager made any changes for the start of the second half, and Everton went straight back into their hard work from the first half pressing Arsenal back and leading to a shot from Gana Gueye that Ramsdale parried. A flowing move by the visitors came to an end as three Everton defenders got back to block a shot, the desire in them clearly evident. Good work by McNeil released Dominic Calvert-Lewin and he found Iwobi who couldn’t reciprocate with his cross and Arsenal cleared.
The visitors won their first corner in the 54th minute and Onana and Tarkowski blocked shots from Saka and Odegaard to get the ball away. An Everton move broke down and set Arsenal off an a quick counter that saw Nketiah find Odegaard and his wild effort cleared the crossbar by some distance.
A double change by Arsenal on 59 minutes saw Trossard and Jorginho replace Partey and Martinelli before Everton won a corner that saw MvpcNeul find the head of James Tarkowski and Goodison exploded as his first goal for the club opened the scoring on the hour mark.
Neal Maupay immediately replaced Dominic Calvert-Lewin as the goal celebrations continued.
Mykolenko was booked for impeding Saka, taking one for the team and from the free kick, Arsenal won a corner off Seamus Coleman, that was defended. Coady with a great tackle on Odegaard after an errant pass from Iwobi denied the Arsenal captain a shot. Amadou Onana was booked for a foul on White that saw him clutching his face and the Gwladys Street roared his name in response to the yellow card.
Arsenal won another corner on their left and Onana rose to head it well clear and out for a throw-in. Into the final twenty minutes and with Arsenal trying to get forward, Everton we’re digging in and competing for every ball. With Maupay flattened, play continued and McNeil, having his best game for the Blues, won another corner that caused panic in the Arsenal area before an offside flag halted play.
Another excellent tackle on Odegaard launched another Blues raid with Iwobi seeing a shot blocked out for a throw-in and Arsenal replaced Odegaard with Vieira, who’s first involvement saw him draw a decent save from Jordan Pickford. A shake cross from the right reached Saka and he blazed over from ten yards.
Goodison again bellowed at the referee after McNeil was clearly impeded by Saka only for the referee to wave play on. Tarkowski winning a ball in midfield sent McNeil forward again to win another corner that somehow saw Arsenal awarded a free kick. Ironic cheers rang out as a foul on Tarkowski saw the Blues given a free kick and we passed the 85-minute mark with Pickford yellow carded for time-wasting with the ball in the air.
Arsenal won a right wing corner that Tarkowski headed clear with captain Seamus hoiking past halfway and Zinchenko tried his luck from 40 yards without troubling Pickford… and Goodison oiled its throat for the final six minutes of added-on time.
Arsenal won another corner on the right, Saka finding Zinchenko and another shot sailed high into the Park End. Zinchenko and Maupay clashed off the ball and both side converged with both the original combatants eventually shown the yellow card. And when the referee finally blew for time, Goodison again exploded in celebration of an outstanding team effort and performance against the league leaders.