Grit, fight and determination. Three key traits Everton Football Club have lacked in recent months, but nobody can doubt the players were filled with it in the game against Arsenal on Monday night. Finally, after being without three points since the Norwich home game in September, Everton got a vital win which sees them climb up to 12th in the table and will be a much-needed confidence boost for Rafa Benitez’s men.
Once again, it was a game that saw Everton have very little of the ball. This is something which has been evident for a while now but what we did without the ball was a huge improvement on recent weeks. The Everton team hunted in packs with more organised pressing. This led to Arsenal’s midfield being dispossessed eight times between them. Particularly, Thomas Partey was targeted as he has often shown this season that he can be very sloppy in possession. The Everton players pounced on him and dispossessed him four times, more than any other player on the pitch.
Despite the lack of possession (36%), Everton still managed more shots than Arsenal with an xG of 1.05 and two disallowed goals for Richarlison. It was a man of the match performance from the Brazilian who I will go into a little more detail on.
The Everton forward led the line with a proper centre forward’s performance against Arsenal. He caused Gabriel and Ben White all sorts of problems with his relentless pressing and clever movement inside the box. On occasion his movement was ever so slightly too soon and he managed to score two goals which were ruled out by the video assistant referee. He eventually got the goal he so richly deserved after being the first to react to a fantastic striker from Demarai Gray which cannoned off the bar.
Creativity wise, he managed four key passes in the game which wasn’t beaten by any other player. He also managed three completed dribbles which again was the best on the night. Defensively the Brazilian was everywhere as well, making three tackles and along with Anthony Gordon they had six between them which is credit to the side’s pressing in the game. They pressed as a group and higher up the pitch which caused Arsenal a lot of problems.
The introduction of Andre Gomes in the 65th minute was the key to getting the three points against Arsenal. Not only for his individual performance but having an extra body in there allowed himself and Abdoulaye Doucoure more freedom to press higher up the pitch and get into more advanced positions. In the short time on the pitch, he managed one dribble, one key pass and one tackle. His quick feet and technical ability allowed him to get the ball out of tricky situations and release our more attacking players.
Many have been crying out for a three-man midfield for months now and it’s extremely rare we get to witness it, but when Benitez has made the switch it often leads to a more positive performance for us. Twice this season now Andre Gomes has had a creative influence when joining a midfield three. Against Burnley at home he came on and completely changed the game and it was an identical story against Arsenal. I really hope to see more of the Portuguese midfielder in the second half of the season.
Personally, I got into some minor disagreements on Twitter regarding Anthony Gordon’s performance against the Gunners. On the ball, I thought it was one of his worst performances for Everton. Off the ball, he certainly deserves more credit than I gave him. Defensively, he managed three tackles and two interceptions. He’s managed more tackles this season than Ben Godfrey, Abdoulaye Doucoure and Yerry Mina despite the lack of games played. This is testament to his work rate without the ball, constantly harassing defenders and sticking a foot in wherever he can.
Off the ball work is something which will often be appreciated by the Goodison crowd more than a silky piece of skill as what the Everton faithful demand the most is work rate. As I mentioned, on the ball it wasn’t his best game, with just a 50% pass accuracy. If he can improve his ball retention, he’s going to be a fantastic talent. Some of you may have seen a video going round at the final whistle and seeing Anthony Gordon sprint onto the pitch from the bench after he’d been subbed was amazing. He’s one of us, a Toffee through and through.
This win came at a fantastic time. With planned fan protests, the departure of the Director of Football Marcel Brands, Lucas Digne being dropped, and with a very difficult run of games in the crowded December fixture list. You saw how much it meant to the fans and the players with many of them falling to their knees after giving everything until the final whistle. Demarai Gray taking his shirt off and running into the crowd. The passion, determination and fight was there for everyone to see. The return of some hefty Ben Godfrey tackles, Michael Keane not putting a foot wrong and players getting the crowd going when the ball went out of play.
This is everything we’ve been missing for some time now and credit to the Goodison crowd who got the Old Lady absolutely bouncing for periods of that game. A video went round of the players and fans at the final whistle and I couldn’t help but smile and be covered in goose bumps. It’s way, way too early to get excited again and this performance may only paper over some of the cracks, but we must take the positives from this into a winnable game away to Crystal Palace at the weekend.