After being thumped 4-1 by Liverpool and director of football Marcel Brands leaving the club, Rafael Benitez’s team responded with a much-improved display that showed the character and resilience fans were looking for.
Demarai Gray’s superb injury-time strike earned Everton a first win in nine games to end a bruising week with a stunning comeback against Arsenal. Richarlison had brought Everton level with 11 minutes of normal time remaining after Martin Odegaard scored the game’s opener from Kieran Tierney’s cross in first-half stoppage time.
That the winner came after Richarlison had also had two goals ruled out for offside by the video assistant referee before getting the equaliser will only have added to the home fans’ delight.
The scenes at the final whistle were a complete turnaround from last Wednesday, when the mood turned ugly after a 4-1 defeat by their city rivals. The victory lifts Everton to 12th in the table, eight points above the relegation zone.
Gray proves cut-price talisman again
Few fans can have expected such a performance after recent showings – had Everton failed to win this would have been their worst run of form since 1994.
Instead it was reminiscent of the club’s early season form when they chalked up successive comeback wins at home and climbed to fourth.
And it was the perfect response to dozens of fans who left their seats after 27 minutes in protest about how the club is being run, with the timing a reference to the club’s 27-year wait for a trophy.
The result also vindicated Benitez’s insistence that the club would return to winning ways once injured players returned, even if Lucas Digne was left out as Yerry Mina returned to the side.
In keeping with their success earlier in the season, it was Gray who was Everton’s most dangerous player, but he was aided by Richarlison, who showed great perseverance to score at the third time of asking.
His header in a poor first half, moments before Odegaard scored for Arsenal, was clearly offside but the frustration for the Brazilian and the 35,000 Everton fans inside a raucous Goodison Park was palpable when a second goal was ruled out because his toe was inches beyond the Arsenal defensive line.
When his headed goal eventually came after Gray hit the bar, it changed the mood among a set of fans who have been angered by a familiar run of form under majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri, despite the British-Iranian spending close to £500m over the past six years.
But there was further delight to come when Gray found the top corner for his fifth goal of the season. Having arrived for only £1.7m in the summer, he is proving to be a cut-price talisman.
Arsenal show discipline but lack inspiration
Mikel Arteta’s return to a club where he spent five years as a player proved a fruitless one.
Having made four changes from the loss at Manchester United last Thursday, including the return of Bukayo Saka, Granit Xhaka, Tierney and Alexandre Lacazette up front in place of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, he was rewarded with a disciplined performance.
But a third defeat in four games, following an eight-game unbeaten run, will lead to further questions about his side, who were outfought and looked uninspired for large periods of the game.
There was a welcome return for Tierney, who in his first game since mid-October was instrumental in Arsenal taking the lead, while Saka was a threat down the right in place of Emile Smith Rowe.
There was little else to show for a first half in which the Gunners came up against a solid Everton defence, typified by some robust challenges by Ben Godfrey, who was also subject of a VAR check for a red card after his boot came into contact with Takehiro Tomiyasu.
After sitting on their lead in the second half, they were only stirred into life again after Everton’s goals.
Late chances fell to Odegaard, whose shot was blocked by the brilliant Godfrey, Eddie Nketiah, who hit the post, and Aubameyang, who skewed wide after Gray’s eventual winner.
The defeat means the Gunners remain seventh and missed out on a chance to go above Tottenham into fifth.
Source – BBC News