Everton’s outstanding form continued after a hard-fought 2-1 win against Arsenal at Goodison Park.
Carlo Ancelotti made two changes from the team that took all three points from Leicester on Wednesday night, bringing Jordan Pickford back in between the sticks and Tom Davies into midfield ahead of the injured Allan.
Both teams made cautious starts to the game, with Everton reluctant to press on in the absence of some of their key players and Arsenal nervous due to poor form. But after a positive interchange between Richarlison and Davies, The Toffees found the opener.
Alex Iwobi, who had a quiet game against his former side, dinked a dangerous ball into the box which glanced off the head of the ever-dangerous Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Bouncing off Arsenal captain Rob Holding, the ball found its way past Bernd Leno and into the Gunners net, giving Mikel Arteta a nightmare start to his return to the ground where he enjoyed six superb years as a player.
Everton’s inability to build upon this goal will have frustrated their manager. Gradually, Arsenal worked their way back into the game, with their left edge of Bukayo Saka and Kieran Tierney causing the hosts some problems. But, as was to be the case for the majority of the match, Arsenal lacked any creativity or final product to compliment the great periods of possession they enjoyed.
They were, however, to find a way back into the match after a untimely challenge from Tom Davies on fullback Ainsley Maitland-Niles in the penalty area. It was a clear foul from Davies and gave Arsenal the perfect opportunity to respond just before halftime. The quiet Nicholas Pépé stood up and took the chance, burying the penalty into the left hand corner of Jordan Pickford’s net.
Could this be the moment to resurrect Arsenal’s season?
It wasn’t to be the moment to resurrect their first half, never mind their whole campaign. As stoppage time loomed, an excellent corner by Gylfi Sigurdsson was nodded home by Yerry Mina to restore The Blues’ lead going into the break. Whilst Arsenal’s marking must be questioned, the goal provides another example of just how effective Everton are from set-piece situations and that with service, The Toffees certainly have the height and physicality to make it count.
Tepid but, crucially, organised, Everton went in at half-time ahead.
Half time: Everton 2-1 Arsenal
For the vast majority of the second half, Everton were content with Arsenal dominating possession. Inspired by how effective Tottenham’s counter attacking approach had been in the North London Derby, Ancelotti’s side sat back for the majority of the game, inviting Arsenal to create and attack.
The visitors’ inability to do so was, quite frankly, embarrassing. With the array of talent on display, especially from the bench, you would have thought Arsenal would have mustered up more than a David Luiz effort that hit the crossbar (a chance shaped by a Pickford error) and a Saka shot that the former saved well from. But, much to the concern of Arteta and Arsenal fans alike, the men in white were timid at best.
Some credit must be given to Everton’s back four for this. Once again, Mina and Michael Keane produced outstanding performances, blocking any potential entry into the penalty area with relative ease. In addition, Mason Holgate was terrific, keeping the left hand-side much quieter in the second half and offering an effective outlet for Iwobi when required.
But the biggest praise must be awarded to Ben Godfrey. It was yet another top-class display from the former Norwich City defender. It appears the 22 year old has it all: strength, speed, stamina and, most importantly, a fantastic understanding of how and when to defend.
This last point can be said about all of the starting eleven tonight and the majority of players under Ancelotti’s stewardship. His biggest achievement so far as Everton manager is making this team much more intelligent than his predecessors. Both in attack and defence, the Toffees are much more considered, meaning the inevitable butterflies of ‘Everton in the last ten minutes’ are far less prominent than they have been in the past.
Did Everton play well tonight? Not particularly, no. But is maximum points from games against Chelsea, Leicester and Arsenal with no Allan, Digne or James Rodríguez something to shout about?
Get your coat on and get moving. Because Carlo’s men don’t know the meaning of losing about the moment.
Full time: Everton 2-1 Arsenal