Everton became the first side to concede one hundred losses to another side as the league leading Arsenal took all three points with a display of patience and clinical finishing interspersed with some fine, flowing football that the Blues couldn’t match once the first goal had been conceded.
When Arsenal visited Goodison just a few short weeks ago, they were top and Everton were next to bottom, and the Blues turned the tables on the league leaders – could lightning strike twice again as the reverse fixture saw the Blues, now in 18th place, wander down the M6 and M1 to the Emirates looking for a league double over the Gunners.
Former Blue Mikel Arteta is now leading the North London outfit in pursuit of the Premier League title and having suffered that shock loss at Goodison, he was calling on a greater effort from his players on Wednesday evening. “It’s a case of doing things better than we did when we played them a few weeks ago and earning the right to win the game. Hopefully tomorrow we will play much better than we did that day,” he said before adding, “It’s like with any opponent. We showed the players what they do, what they are about, what we expect to do to try to beat them and nothing different. With Sean, it’s quite clear what he’s done and where the success they’ve had is coming from. Tomorrow we’ll prepare the game in an appropriate and similar way to the away match.”
Offering further insight into his preparation, he added, “We have to look at certain matches, what they do and try to get the right tactics to beat them – and as well the same mentality and expectation of what we demand in the game. We can’t control how the opponents are feeling or how they prepare for the games. What we have to do is tomorrow in front of our crowd go full tilt, go to win the game, play well and compete really well against this team.”
With Mohamed Elneny and Gabriel Jesus unavailable, the only other doubt the Spaniard had was over Thomas Partey and eventually settled on his starting line-up thus: Ramsdale, White, Saliba, Gabriel, Zinchenko, Odegaard (c), Jorginho, Xhaka, Sake, Trossard and Martinelli.
Last Saturday’s home loss to Aston Villa blunted the Everton revival under Sean Dyche and the lack of goals from the Blues this season is the over riding concern for the new manager, a subject he addressed in his pre-match media gathering saying, “It’s simple when we talk about [finding more goals] but, it’s not easy to deliver. The mentality of the players has been good. We’ve got to ask questions, create different ways of affecting games and that’s what we’re looking to do but, while we’re doing that, not lose sight of the fact that the defensive shape has to still be good.”
He added, “The Premier League is unforgiving at both ends of the pitch and we’ve shown good signs of the side being tighter and more structured in its defending. Now it’s about how you can open the door when you’re attacking and, certainly, I think if you take the goals out of the game on Saturday and looking at winning two of the past three coming into it, I think we maybe even delivered a more powerful performance.”
Away from Goodison in recent years, not just this season, the Blues form has been less than impressive and Dyche noted, “We have to go into these games with a belief in what we do and it’s mainly the consistency – the consistency of performance home and away. It’s well known that apart from the pandemic season that most clubs have a stronger home form. There are all kinds of scientific reasons – higher testosterone in players from playing in front of the home crowd and all kinds of different things. At the end of the day, you can still have good away records by structuring the team and by suggesting the team maybe have to work in different ways, but most of all the mentality is important.”
He closed saying, “You want players to go away from home with a strong jaw and a strong mentality to how it’s going to test you. That’s something we’ve got to build here.”
With Dominic Calvert-Lewin still not available, and James Garner, Nathan Patterson and Andros Townsend still not ready to push for first team selection, Dyche made one change in naming this starting eleven to face the league leaders: Jordan Pickford, Seamus Coleman (c), Michael Keane, James Tarkowski, Vitalii Mykolenko, Alex Iwobi, Abdoulaye Doucoure, Idrissa Gana Gueye, Amadou Onana, Dwight McNeil, and Neil Maupay.
Michael Oliver was the duly appointed referee for this crucial game for both clubs.
Everton, in an all blue strip, kicked off and inside seconds Onana was caught in the face by the flailing arm of Gabriel but, was okay to continue. Arsenal won the first corner on four minutes as Saka stumbled and the ball ricocheted behind off Mykolenko, the set piece seeing a shot from Jorginho go high and wide. When Everton got forward, Maupay, found by Iwobi, forced a save out of Ramsdale with a powerful shot.
Onana dispossessed Jorginho and the Blues broke through Doucoure who fed Mcneil with his cross slightly behind Maupay who couldn’t get an effort away. Arsenal countered at pace but fell foul of the offside flag. Trossard won a second Arsenal corner off Seamus Coleman that the Blues cleared easily and the opening ten minutes had flown by.
The travelling Blues fans in a full house at the Emirates were making themselves heard in a lively atmosphere as some excellent work by McNeil denied Saka and saw him work the ball clear and set the Blues going forward again in a move that broke down on the edge of the Gunners area. Through the quarter hour mark, Everton were competing effectively, closing down and looking to break forward whenever they had the chance to whilst remaining mindful of the pace in the Arsenal side.
Doucoure with a good tackle on Trossard after he’d been found by Xhaka blunted another Gunners raid as the home side slowly began to dominate the possession in looking to break down a Blues side who looked in determined fashion to deny them.
Xhaka raced back to concede a corner after Iwobi had intercepted a ball from Zinchenko and looked to play a one-two with Maupay, Arsenal defending the corner and breaking quickly but, great work from Alex Iwobi against his former club denied Martinelli a chance to cross and win a goal kick. Onana appeared to be caught by an elbow from Xhaka and referee Oliver halted play so the Belgian midfielder could receive some treatment.
Approaching the half hour mark and another half chance fell the Blues way as Gana Gueye broke up an Arsenal attack and sent Doucoure away on the left with Maupay and Iwobi in support, the ball into the area seeing Xhaka do enough to win a goal kick off Maupay. The next Arsenal counter saw Keane defend well a cross from Xhaka as the Blues defence stood firm under increasing pressure. Saka with a poor challenge on Mykolenko escaped a yellow card before Onana again went down claiming an elbow from Gabriel as the Blues countered, the home crowd and Gabriel not happy with the big Belgian who reacted in kind back to them.
More good work defensively from Michael Keane blunted another Arsenal move before a quick attack started by Xhaka saw Pickford quick off his line to get to a ball from Trossard before Martinelli. Mykolenko up in support got away from Saka to cross low into the box where Saliba cleared hastily, the Blues keeping some good possession with McNeil and Mykolenko pushing forward and forcing Arsenal back.
On 40 minutes though, the deadlock was broken as a ball from Zinchenko pierced the rearguard and found Saka, who’d come inside to escape the attention of Mykolenko, and he smashed a shot into the roof of the net at the near post. It was a fine finish but, tough on the Blues who to this point had been defending and competing manfully.
Four added minutes were signalled and it got worse for the Blues as Gana Gueye delayed a pass back to Pickford and Sake nipped in to steal the ball and play in Martinelli and he slid a low shot past Jordan only for the ‘goal’ to be initially ruled out for offside before VAR inevitably worked in the Gunners favour.
The leaders led two-nil at the break and it was harsh on the Blues, left with a mountain to climb in the second half.
Half Time: 2-0
Thomas Partey for Jorginho and Mason Holgate for Idrissa Gana Gueye were the respective half time changes by Mikel Arteta and Sean Dyche.
Mykolenko defended well to deny Saka who then fouled the Ukrainian by the corner flag and a minute later, Saka again brought Mykolenko down and protested his innocence despite conceding the free kick. Tarkowski saw the games first yellow card for bringing down Odegaard, and Holgate went in strongly on Xhaka as the Blues looked to rattle the home side in a stop-start opening to the second half.
Maupay sliced a horrible effort miles high and wide after gathering a loose header by Gabriel. A cross from White picked out Trossard who went for a volley and didn’t make anything like a good enough contact. Arsenal seemed happy to pass the ball around trying to draw the Blues forward and to create space behind.
Everton made two further changes on the hour mark as Ben Godfrey and Demarai Gray replaced Seamus Coleman and Neal Maupay respectively.
Ramsdale parried a good shot from Dwight McNeil after he’d gone on a positive surge forward as Everton tried to get forward in search of a goal to give them heart. Keane conceded a corner in denying a cross from Martinelli reaching Saka or Xhaka haring into the penalty area – the set piece failing to produce. Ben Godfrey blighted his return to the side with a yellow card for a foul on Trossard. Martinelli saw a shot deflected behind for another Arsenal corner that Tarkowski headed clear and we hit the 70-minute mark with the Blues still trying to find a way forward to pressure the home goal.
And any lingering doubt over the result was blown away as a flowing move by the home side saw Trossard get away from Godfrey and his cross into the area was finished comfortable by Odegaard.
Arsenal withdrew Trossard and Xhaka for Nketiah and Vieira for the restart, as the worry now was whether Arsenal would do further damage to the Blues worrying goal difference. Odegaard found Martinelli again behind Godfrey, his cross thankfully belted clear by Doucoure. Arsenal were now playing keep-ball, passing the ball around as their fans roared ‘Ole’ in full-on mickey taking mode.
Everton were in danger of being torn asunder and it took a fine save from Pickford to deny Nketiah who’d been found by Partey. Abdoulaye Doucoure was replaced by Tom Davies in 78 minutes.
It became 4-0 on 80 minutes as Nketiah escaped Onana and crossed to the near post where Martinelli clipped it past Pickford.
The unoriginal home fans gleefully chanted, ‘You’re going down’ as they relished their sides dominance before some pinball in the Blues area nearly saw them go nap before Smith-Rowe – on for Saka – saw his effort go over the bar. Into the final five minutes of the ninety and many of the travelling Blues fans sadly made their way towards the exits, understandably tired of seeing another disappointing outcome away from Goodison.
Two minutes additional time were announced and Ramsdale protected his clean sheet with a double save to deny first Demarai Gray and then Tom Davies… and the final whistle ended the Blues agony.
On the evidence of this game, Arsenal would likely become worthy champions while Everton are very, very definitely in another relegation fight and dare I suggest, we look less capable than this time last year when at least we had Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin who could find the opposition net.