Everton started the Sean Dyche era at home against Premier League leaders Arsenal in a 4-5-1 formation with the back four unchanged, with from left to right Iwobi - Onana - Gueye - Doucoure - McNeil in midfield and Calvert-Lewin up top.
There was plenty of discipline on show from the Blues early on as Arsenal are feeling out the home side looking for gaps. Everton defended resolutely but also showed promise when attacking. A couple of sustained spells in possession ended in shots and they looked dangerous breaking at pace as well.
The more direct playing style was received well by the Goodison crowd and Everton could have counted themselves unlucky to not go into the break ahead after very good chances for Calvert-Lewin off an Onana run, and then immediately after Doucoure beat his man to get his head to a McNeil cross, but wasn’t able to get the definitive direction it needed.
Not that Arsenal didn’t have chances, a team doesn’t get to the top of the Premier League table at the halfway stage without being very good. However, there’s something about the Gunners coming to Goodison not ready for a scrap and getting knocked down when Everton play well as a unit.
At the half, the Blues had very little of the possession but the better of the chances for sure and would have been the unhappier of the two teams in the dressing room as far as goals were concerned.
The Blues started off the second half with a shooting chance for Gueye, but Calvert-Lewin had strayed offside in the build-up. After that point though it was pretty much all Arsenal as the visitors stepped up a gear and their quality told.
Dyche’s side held firm though as they defended solidly, and as was destined to happen, a goal made in Burnley did the trick for the Blues. Setpieces were a staple for the new manager at his former side, and for all the height and ability the Toffees have, it’s criminal how poor they’ve been in the attacking half from setpieces this season. However, Dyche’s instructions to only put in inswingers into the six-yard box immediately created chances and delivered the winner today too.
McNeil’s deep inswinger was met by Tarkowski who won the tussle with Odegaard to get into space, and his powerful header went straight into goal across a helpless Ramsdale to put the Blues up at the hour mark.
Arsenal haven’t remained behind for long whenever they have conceded this season, and for the next fifteen minutes put the Everton defence to the test with side to side movement. More chances ensued as expected as their possession slumped back into the 20s, but thanks to a certain amount of timewasting and gamesmanship at the end, were able to hold on to their lead and pick up their first league win since October.
The Dyche era is off to a very positive start. Even if the result had not gone Everton’s way today, they have showed enough through their effort today that they really should not be struggling at the bottom of the table.
What an immense performance from Man of the Match Amadou Onana. The youngest player in the Everton starting lineup put in an incredible shift today, he was everywhere, tackling everything, making runs, holding up the ball, spraying passes, everything. Such a joyful player to behold, and we should be really pleased to have him and that he chose to stay on and fight in January.
Dwight McNeil played what might have been his best game since joining Everton out on the left wing. Immense performance from the player today in both halves of the pitch. He was one of the last two in the Dyche’ beep test video we watched, and he showed it today.
An incredible resurgence from Abdoulaye Doucoure. This was more like the tireless, pops up everywhere performances we saw from him when he first joined the club. Shame he couldn’t bury his chance, but he is capable of scoring those and boy do Everton need those goals.
Neal Maupay didn’t do much with the ball after coming on, but it was what he did off the ball getting under Arsenal’s skin that contributed to the win today. He has previous history with the Gunners, they haven’t forgotten him and his needling of Zinchenko today will irk them even more.
Dyche said later that he took Calvert-Lewin as a precaution, must have felt something. That aside, he didn’t make a single other sub. There were quite a few Blues looking exhausted towards the end, their fitness will only improve from here.
A great start to the Sean Dyche era - if the Blues can play even a dozen games with this intensity we really shouldn’t be worried about relegation as the months go on.