After 10 games with just one win, the team sliding into the bottom half of the Premier League and serious questions being asked by supporters of both manager and players, Goodison Park needed to witness a big performance and a result to match.
It took a little while to get going and it required the extra catalyst of conceding the first goal but by the end of 97 minutes’ play, the Grand Old Lady was reverberating with excitement as only she can after one of those famous nights under her lights.
If there was a sense that Evertonians were simply at the end of their tether and that the nonsense that has gone on for almost three months was going to end tonight, it was evident as the home faithful cajoled, roared and seemingly drove their side back from Alexis Sanchez’s 20th-minute strike with sheer will. As the players responded, the volume and fierceness of passion from the stands rose and everything came together in the 86th minute as Ashley Williams landed the decisive blow in a pulsating contest that almost had a vicious sting in the tale for Ronald Koeman’s men.
It was a turn of events that seemed a distant prospect on Saturday afternoon as the Blues slumped to a 3-2 defeat at Watford amid all the anger and recriminations that followed. Koeman appeared as lost at that point as his predecessor had at times on how to revitalise his team’s fortunes but a summit between players and manager, combined with a long-overdue tactical shift in attack had the desired effect in delivering a badly-needed victory.
Based on his declining fortunes at West Ham and his ineffective debut against Norwich in the League Cup, Enner Valencia had largely been written off as an ill-advised deadline-day panic signing. In his fleeting substitute appearances in recent weeks, however, he had shown flashes of the difference he could make if given half a chance. At the very least, he could provide a foil for Romelu Lukaku and create space in which the Belgian could operate.
The Ecuadorian wasn’t deployed as a second striker but in a wider role on the opposite flank to Aaron Lennon and he proceeded to run himself into the ground for the cause in a laudably committed 79-minute display. And his efforts were matched by James McCarthy, another player whose Goodison days appeared to be numbered, but who chased, harried, chopped and harassed Arsenal all evening long alongside the ever-imperious Idrissa Gueye.
Replacing the rested Gareth Barry, McCarthy provided the energy and legs that the veteran midfielder couldn’t have and he rewarded his manager’s faith in him.
So, too, did Ross Barkley who, despite making his 100th Premier League start, still occasionally looks raw and is prone to choosing the wrong option. But there was no question that he was gripped by the importance of the game, not only for Everton but for him personally after spending the previous two games on the bench.
Koeman was critical of his side’s efforts in the first 20 minutes but the first 15 minutes were, by the measure of recent games, encouraging, least after Barkley had invited needless danger in only the second minute with a sloppy pass that Sanchez couldn’t punish when he overhit a through-ball intended for Theo Walcott.
Everton had a couple of early moments where Lukaku got free on the right hand side of the box — the second time after excellent work by Valencia — but his attempts to cut the ball back into the centre were blocked behind. And when they didn’t have the ball, as they wouldn’t for a long spell from around the 10-minute mark, they remained compact and dared the Gunners to try and play their way through.
Unfortunately, the Blues got themselves into a mess of their own making when Valencia ran into trouble trying to dribble his way out from the back, Barkley was robbed off possession close to his own box, Williams missed Francis Coquelin with a wild lunge but connected with Gueye instead, and Jagielka upended the Arsenal midfielder right on the edge of the box.
Sanchez lined up a direct free kick which he fired low at Williams and the Welshman, unable to sort his feet out, could only put a big deflection on the shot that Maarten Stekelenburg, diving to his left, could only help into the net.
The remainder of the first half was characterised by Everton up building an increasing head of steam, first as a reaction to frustration from the stands to misplaced passes or unnecessarily backward movement and then as a response to passionate urgency from the fans every time they went forward.
Lennon, playing down the left in the position as his lively cameo at Vicarage Road on Saturday, had one determined and skilful run but was unfortunate to slice his effort into the Park End. The same player then stabbed a snapshot wide of the other side of goal after Barkley’s free kick had bobbled off Laurent Koscielny.
The reward for Everton’s greater commitment arrived a minute before the interval, however, when the two fullbacks combined to level the scores. Leighton Baines collected Gueye’s pass down the left, turned back and then swung a wicked cross to the six-yard box where Coleman arrived to guide the ball into the far corner with a neat glancing header.
Half-time provided an unwanted check to Everton’s momentum and the first 10 minutes of the second period were largely uneventful until Coquelin took advantage of a slip by Coleman and Sanchez cut the ball back from the byline but Mezut Özil, normally so deadly in such positions, cleared the bar with a sweeping left-foot shot.
Goodison’s fire was up a few minutes later, however, when Coquelin tripped Baines in full flight just outside the box and Mark Clattenburg bottled a decision to give a yellow card. Barkley hit the defensive wall with the resulting free kick but when he flashed a low shot past Petr Cech’s left-hand post on the hour mark, the belief started flooding back into Evertonian veins.
Lukaku, by turns effective in his hold-up play and pedestrian in his demeanour, sensed it and he turned on the afterburners in the 70th minute with a powerful surge past Gabriel Paulista down the left flank but the Brazilian made up the ground to deflect his attempted shot behind for a corner.
With Arsenal’s ever-present attacking danger — not to mention Everton nemesis Olivier Giroud who entered the fray in place of Theo Walcott with 20 minutes to go — and the Blues feeding off Goodison’s “12th man”, the game could have swung either way in the last quarter of hour as legs visibly tired.
A half-chance in the 72nd minute where Barkley’s hard, low cross spun off Koscielny’s legs but just wouldn’t fall for Lukaku in front goal and then another incident 13 minutes later where Cech pulled off a reflex save from Jagielka seemed to indicate that it wasn’t to be Everton’s day.
From the third corner in succession though Barkley finally found his range and Williams rose through a crowd of static yellow shirts to plant a downward header past the goalkeeper before wheeling away in manic celebration at what was a huge moment for player and team alike.
In keeping with what had been a frenetic match at times, stoppage time almost produced high drama at both ends. It saw Jagielka sent off for a second book able offence and Arsene Wenger might still be wondering how his side didn’t grab a point in the fourth minute of that added time against the Blues' 10 men.
Having accelerated past his man and into the Gunners’ area a couple of minutes prior, Barkley had had a great chance to drive a cross to two waiting Blue shirts who could have killed the game but he shot straight at Cech instead.
Then, with the big Arsenal ‘keeper joining his attack for a corner, his opposite number Stekelenburg pawed the ball off his head and away from immediate danger. The visitors kept the ball, however, after Everton substitute Dominic Calvert-Lewin had mis-kicked his attempted clearance, Alex Iwobi fed Sanchez and his flighted ball to the back post was clawed away again by the Dutch ‘keeper.
Monreal’s volley was blocked superbly by Ramiro Funes Mori, himself a late sub for McCarthy, and Iwobi’s first-time drive was cleared off the goal line by Baines before Calvert-Lewin cleared his lines after Sanchez had gone down in the box appealing for a penalty after his challenge with Mirallas.
That sent Lukaku away in a foot-race with Hector Bellerin that the Spaniard initially won but then allowed himself to be dispossessed but while Barkley collected the striker’s pass as Cech was still scampering back to his line from the other end of the field, his pass to Mirallas was poor and Koscielny was able to slide it off his toe.
30 seconds later, however, it was all over. Arsenal, sitting strong in second place in the table, 14 games unbeaten in the Premier League, and with pundits proclaiming Arsene Wenger had finally achieved the balance and depth in his squad to land England’s biggest crown again, had been beaten in a match that so many Evertonians had written off beforehand.
Time will tell if this proves to be a turning point for Koeman and Everton. Certainly, the result and spirited display that achieved it, don’t immediately erase the issues underlying the awful run results that preceded it, dating all the way back to the EFL Cup defeat to Norwich in September. The play was still too direct at times, with movement in midfield and up front still lacking at times but what this win did do is prove that there is still fight and determination in this team when it is dragged out of them by their manager and supporters alike. It must surely have made more of an Evertonian of Koeman who won't have experienced anything like that since arriving at the club.
It sets a benchmark of what's expected, however, and also sets Everton up perfectly for the Merseyside derby on Monday where another performance with the intensity and passion of this one will give Koeman and his men a great chance of putting one over the enemy from the across the Park. After that, they can worry about mustering the same spirit in less glamourous fixtures but one step at a time.
Matchday UpdatesEnner Valencia made his first Premier League start, two-and-a-half months after joining, while Phil Jagielka and Ross Barkley were recalled to the starting XI.
James McCarthy came in for Gareth Barry who can no longer play three games in the space of nine days, while Aaron Lennon replaced Gerard Deulofeu. Kevin Mirallas dropped back to the bench to accommodate Valencia while Dominic Calvert-Lewin is named among the subs again.
Everton made the slowest and most tentative start imaginable, backing off their illustrious guests, ceding position, playing the ball backwards rather than forwards, taking no risks, doing everything possible to prevent the home side from getting sight of goal.
They held out for barely 18 minutes, and the first real Arsenal attack which was ended early when Jagielka fouled Coquelin and earned a yellow card. The Sanchez free-kick spun off Williams in the wall and Stekelenburg could not readjust to get all of his hand in the way to prevent it ending up in the Gwladys Street net.
In an advanced position down the right, Barkley and Valencia contrived to play pass-the-parcel rather than risk a cross into the crowded Arsenal area, and ended up turning possession over cheaply with no end product.
Coleman got forward but could only hit a defender and earn another corner, this one better from Barkley, headed well over by Valencia. A moment of better possession around the Arsenal area was spoilt by a lousy reverse ball from McCarthy and any impetus was lost.
Barkley needlessly passed to an Arsenal player but Lennon picked up the ball and ran forward, much to the approval of the increasingly frustrated crowd, only to scoop his cross behind. The Blues were now trying their best but the play simply wasn't good enough to create even a half-chance.
Barkley tried to play in Valencia at the far post but the ball spun away off the slick Goodison turf. Lukaku got the ball to feet from McCarthy but lashed his shot early, high and wide. But at least the Blues were taking the game forward, into Arsenal's half...
Barkley launched in a free-kick that Arsenal fumbled, Lennon snatching at the bouncing ball, which flew wide. At the other end, it was ping-pong in the Everton area from an Arsenal corner, and Everton were attacking again, but McCarthy stupidly stamped on and ankle after he was not awarded a free-kick for a nothing previous tumble, a yellow card from pure fume. Then, a quality cross from Baines, Coleman up like a swan, and a lovely glancing header down into the bottom corner to draw level, a nice simple, clever skillful goal from the full-backs, showing perhaps they are good enough!
Everton struggled a little after the break, and were lucky when Coleman gave the ball away and Ozil seemed to have a simple job to convert a fine cut-back but he stroked it over. At the other end, a fine run through the middle was ended abruptly and illegally. Baines and Barkley played the dummy, Barkley hitting the jumping Arsenal wall when more guile was required.
Stekelenburg was out smartly to cut out danger and collided heavily with Baines. Robles was immediately summoned from the bench, but his damaged knee seemed to recover after application of the magic sponge.
From the restart, Barkley took a shot across Cech's goal and inches wide. The Blues were making something of a game of it, Valencia trying to pick out Lukaku, who had positioned himself well enough but a defender intervened. At the other end, some strong defending was needed as the tempo of the game increased, a clearance to Lukaku controlled with all the skill of an injured elephant. Pressure was building on the Blues, and finally Mirallas was called on for Lennon.
The Blues did a bit of attacking without threatening before the Arsenal pressure resumed, Williams tackling well, and Lukaku getting released and running in from the half-way line but his shot deflected into the side netting, good effort from the big man.
Barkley danced past his marker and fired in a fine low, cross, but Lukaku had his back to goal and could not find a blue shirt with his lay-off. An Arsenal mistake and Mirallas broke free, to Lukaku, but they were just not quick enough to make a real chance of it, yet the Force was now with the Blues who were making a real game of it.
Arsenal got behind the Blues but Iwobi could only fluff it into the side netting. Meanwhile, a stunning move by Koeman, a debut for U23 star Dominic Calvert-Lewin, 19 years old, given all of 10 minutes plus to get a taste of the bright lights... on in place of Valencia.
The home side were attacking but perhaps flagging in energy and somewhat bereft of fresh ideas, as crosses were too easily anticipated by the Gunners defence. But Gueye looked to run in the channel off a throw-in, only for the ball to go through lamely to Cecch. McCarthy was cut down by Koscielny, the free-kick curled in by Baines superbly, and headed behind by Calvert-Lewin off a defender. From the corner, Jagielka lashed a snapshot goalwards only for Cech to pull off a miraculous save.
Another corner for Everton, swung in superbly by Barkley and headed down smartly at the far post by Williams, the ball bouncing up past Cech into the Arsenal net, much to the collective delight of the raucous Blues.
A tremendous atmosphere now beneath the Goodison lights, Stekenburg tested, with a looped in ball, then Funes Mori on for McCarthy to hold the fort for 4 added minutes.
Barkley broke into the area and fired at Cech, winning a corner, taken short and then back all the way to Stekelenburg. But Arsenal got the ball and attacked, Coleman had to head behind, and a corner needed defending, then Jagielka holding Perez, earned a second yellow card and red in the last minute of added time.
From the free-kick, a fine punch by Stekelenburg, then another brave punch, followed by and TWO desperate last-ditch clearances off the Everton line, then Mirallas appearing to foul in the area but Clattenburg could see he got the ball, as it broke for the Blues with Cech stranded, having come up for the corner. Fast-forward to the other end and Barkley set to score, then Mirallas, waiting too long for the ball to come to him, but neither could finish what should have been a goal on a plate.A tremendous, frenetic finish, and it should really have been 3-1 after that madness, but it mattered not a jot, as the Blues notched up an excellent win over high-flying Arsenal (only their second defeat of the season... their first away from The Emirates in NINE MONTHS!), to maintain their unbeaten record this season at Goodison Park.
As Howard once said...
As with any funeral, I'd had a pretty difficult day. I was never particularly close to my cousin John who had recently passed away, aged only 49, but a funeral does make you reminisce about the past, and certainly makes you think about the future.
As with many funerals, things get a little better after the ceremony when you get to the reception and relax a little over a few drinks. It was great to catch up with a few of my Irish cousins who had made the trip over for the funeral, and other family I rarely see from various parts of England.
A friend also offered me an opportunity to join him in the corporate facilities of the Dixie Dean suite for the evening game and though with a bit of rearranging I could perhaps have made it, I decided against it. As amazing as it is in the lounge, getting together with family whom I seldom see was something I wasn't going to pass up. Instead Gaz picked me up from the Town Crier pub just near Chester station and took me onward to Goodison Park. I'd just spent a sombre though uplifting day with my family, now it was time to spend time with my Blue family. "Lets win it for John" I said to my Dad on the way out. Yes, like me and you, John was a Blue.
Once parked up and fed we congregated in The Brick for a couple of pre-match jars with nobody in particularly optimistic mood. Though our moods were lifted by the sight on our phones that Enner Valencia was to begin the game, and hence we might be looking to attack a bit more than of late, you got the feeling that the team put out was done so by a man who really isn't sure of his best team. Perhaps unlike everyone, I was made up to see Phil Jagielka restored to the heart of our defence after our defensive horror show at Vicarage Road last weekend. Arsenal, until now imperious, arrived with an incredible array of attacking talent, though a defence you had to feel we could get at, something we would really need to do well to get something from the game. The referee, alas, was Mark Clattenburg. Everton won the toss and attacked towards the Park End in the first half.
At the beginning of the game the Goodison crowd was surprisingly flat, though as we are now aware became very vociferous throughout the game. We began OK. For the first 10 minutes or so we were at least matching Arsenal though our North London guests were soon in control and didn't take long to force us into mistakes, not least from Ashley Williams who was all at sea. In fact they were all, all at sea on 20 minutes when Arsenal got ahead. Had it been another team I'd have been sniggering at the defensive incompetence but I'm afraid it was us. I think it was first Enner Valencia who instead of booting the ball clear inexplicably decided to try and run it out from pretty much the dead ball line and through our own penalty area. I can't quite recall exactly how it broke to Williams though he too failed to clear his lines and it took Phil Jagielka to take down I think Alexis Sanchez just outside the penalty area to halt the nonsense though we still wren't done. Sanchez took the free kick, it deflected off WIlliams and wrong-footed Maarten Stekelenburg to trickle into the goal. I'd have to see it again but though he was wrong-footed, I thought Stekelenburg may have kept it out. Regardless, we were a goal down with hands on head all round, and once again staring down the barrel.
It is with immense credit that Everton for the first time since I can't remember when, battled themselves back into the game. I forget the exact moment, but a couple of bruising tackles by James McCarthy and some generally good pressing intensity from Aaron Lennon in particular really got the crowd onside and the volume went up a couple of notches. Goodison became the bear pit I remember and boy did the players respond, and on the 44th minute the crowd were rewarded with another headed goal from Seamus Coleman - a wonderful glancing header it was too. I'm not sure how many headers Coleman has scored for us, though then again, I'm not sure how many goals Leighton Baines has assisted with his right foot either! It certainly made Goodison Park a happier place going into the break and we felt good value for our leveller at half time.
Our vigour continued to impress after the break and we continued to fight Arsenal. We seemed determined not to give them an easy ride and when I say we, I mean all of us. The players and the crowd. You felt like we were in this together. We got a let off - we were going to need at least one at some point, when Mesut Ozil cleared the crossbar when set up by Alexis Sanchez but otherwise you would say we had the better chances in the game. A magnificent surging run by Romalu Lukaku almost resulted in a goal and we were in and around their penalty area on plenty of occassions but the ball just wouldn't quite bounce for us. On other days we might have accepted it wasn't to be our day before we equalised but you felt we weren't going to be denied. From a corner kick Phil Jagielka managed to get an effort at goal but Petr Cech did well to keep it out. Another corner. The crowd were buzzing, Arsenal were quaking, you could feel it coming. As Howard Kendall once said - "the Gwladys Street will suck one in for you" and you felt that this sort of happened. A good deep corner from Ross Barkley and Ashley Williams headed in unmarked before wheeling off in ecstatic celebration. Goodison erupted. We've all missed that feeling.
With four minutes plus injury time still to play you knew it wouldn't be straightforward and that it certainly wasn't. Captain Phil Jagielka was sent off for a second bookable offence. You could argue that he perhaps should have been sent off earlier in the game for his first yellow card offence, but though I'd have to see it again, I really didn't feel this was worthy of a second yellow card. I don't think anyone would have complained had Clattenburg kept his cards in his pockets this time.
The drama was far from over. With Petr Cech up from his goal there were a few scary moments at the back and you expected to see the net bulge and the Arsenal players run away celebrating but we denied them with goal line clearances from substitute Ramiro Funes Mori and Leighton Baines. As we broke away the Arsenal players were remonstrating with the referee. We continued and with Petr Cech still stranded up-field Romalu Lukaku worked the ball to Ross Barkley in the penalty area who might have shot but instead squared it to Kevin Mirallas but the two of them both kind of got it wrong and Arsenal could break forward one final time. It was breathtaking stuff and it all finished when I think Xhaka fizzed the ball out of play when trying to cross the ball. Mark Clattenburg's final whistle was greeted by a proud roar from the Goodison faithful. What a game and what a night.
Now that's the rot stopped. Let's do it again next Monday and turn this season around.
R.I.P cousin John. Everton did you proud tonight.
Stekelenburg: I'd have to see it again but I thought he could have done better with the goal and some of his distribution in the first half was wayward. When the going got tough at the end however he was excellent and contributed towards keeping Arsenal out at the end, particularly after taking a nasty blow when he collided with I think Sanchez. 6
Baines: Had a good consistent game. His block at the end just as important as his rare right footed cross which lead to to the goal. 7
Williams: Was all over the place first half but improved after the break and scored a great headed winning goal. Without Phil Jagielka alongside him next week he'll have to be prepared to roll his sleeves up and fight. 6
Jagielka: After a pretty horrendous spell all round when Arsenal scored he galvanised the troops well and had a positive impact on the game. May be a huge miss next week but at least Everton have a bit of time to work on it I suppose. 7
Coleman: Not the best distribution but his effort and work rate could not be faulted. Got on the scoresheet too. 7
Gueye: A typically combative display from Idrissa Gueye. What we've come to expect really. 7
McCarthy: He really got amongst them and his first half tackling really set the tone for both the players and the fans. A great effort. My man of the match. 8
Lennon: Particularly in the first half he was very good, perhaps our best players at one point. He stretched them before fading in the second half. A good effort. 7
Valencia: A brainless moment in the first half aside which contributed towards the goal we conceded, he was good. His pace, energy and movement can hurt teams. We really need to be utilising this more. 7
Barkley: I thought Ross had an excellent game. I don't know if Ronald Koeman is challenging him to do it but he seems to have the confidence to spray the ball around a bit more. He is the only one we have who can really pass the ball and he has potential to hurt teams. his confidence in possession exemplified that today and he also claimed an assist. Another effort like that next week and I, for one, will be satisfied. 8
Lukaku: Though not everything went for him he showed good fighting spirit and battled hard, especially in the second half. Hopefully he's saving his goals for next Monday. 7
Mirallas (for Lennon): Was busy, even if without seeing a lot of the ball. 6
Calvert-Lewin (for Valencia): Didn't see much of the ball but great to see a youngster get a chance. 6
Funes Mori (for McCarthy): Put on to fill a few holes at the back and made a goal line clearance to keep them out at the end so you would have to say that was a job well done. He'll have to work overtime next Monday however and he'll be getting a lot of stick from them lot after his red card and heinous crime of badge showing at Anfield last season. I hope he's ready for it. 7
In a wretched run of form, Everton welcome second-place Arsenal to Goodison Park looking for some fortitude and inspiration to overcome the red-hot Gunners.
Serial under-performers in the Champions League, Arsene Wenger's team topped their group this year while at home, with Manchester City faltering badly, their 14-match unbeaten run in the Premier League that stretches back to the second game of the campaign makes them Chelsea's strongest competition in the chase for the title.
Ronald Koeman's Toffees, meanwhile, boast just one win in 11 games in all competitions and are approaching turmoil on a scale that rivals the chaos that engulfed the last months of Roberto Martinez's reign. The Dutchman is enduring his worst sequence of results since coming to England and, to most observers, doesn't appear as yet to have an immediate answer as to how he can rectify it.
In his first few weeks in the Goodison hotseat he appeared to have fulfilled his first remit by shoring up a leaky defence that couldn't stop conceding in the final few weeks under Martinez. In recent weeks, however, the Blues have been hammered 5-0 by Chelsea and they conceded three to Watford last Saturday, thereby digging themselves a hole they couldn't dig themselves out of despite another late push and a second goal for Romelu Lukaku.
The upshot is that the feeling pervading the Everton fanbase coming into this match is one of dread. Having witnessed how Koeman's side has toiled through much of the season thus far, it's hard to imagine how they can win this one. They have failed to put together anything that could be described as a full 90-minute performance so far this term and they're going to need to be on their game for the entire contest if they are to get anything against the Gunners.
To his credit, Martinez was responsible for one of the most memorable displays from an Everton side that the Grand Old Lady has witnessed over the past few years and it was accomplished thanks to a masterful tactical shift. That 3-0 win over Arsenal in 2014 lived long in the memory; a momentary glimmer that the Toffees were back and, perhaps, heading for the Champions League themselves.
Koeman arrived over the summer with a rich pedigree but apart from a couple of first-half savvy reshuffles when he identified that things weren't working, he has displayed a remarkably stubborn refusal to try anything new other than deploy the same system and rotate the same personnel.
Whether the visit of an Arsenal side that has scored 11 goals in their last three league games ands conceded just three is the kind of occasion where he will suddenly make a change in formation or approach remains to be seen but there is no doubt that Everton have, on the whole, looked better with two strikers on the field, albeit when they have been pouring forward chasing the game. Romelu Lukaku scored twice at Watford on Saturday and you find the best odds of him repeating the feat at bestbettingwebsites.org.uk
Koeman will almost certainly resist any pressure to field either of his two experienced youth players — his argument would be that this probably isn't the fixture to throw them into, even if all evidence so far shows that they aren't fazed by the big teams — but it's hard to know what, if any, changes he will ring from the side that started at Watford. He confirmed in his pre-match press conference that he has no new injury worries.
Wenger, meanwhile, will be forced into one change at least after Shkodran Mustafi damaged a hamstring and was ruled out for three weeks. The former Everton reserve defender has been in impressive form since signing for Arsenal from Valencia but for the Blues to really make the Gunners feel his absence, they are going to have to be a good deal more productive going forward than they have been for quite a while now.
This being the Premier League, anything is possible and if the Blues can find some resolve, some cohesion and give Goodison under the lights something to cheer, then you never know what might happen. Lord knows they need something and an unexpected win over Arsenal would be just the kind of lift the club could use.
Kick off: 7.45pm, 13 December, 2016
Mike Dean Mark Clattenburg
Last Time: Everton 0-2 Arsenal