On first glance it would look like a bridge too far for Everton as they headed down to the capital to face Arsenal. The Gunners are ranked second in goals scored per match (2.2 goals) compared to Everton who are ranked dead last (0.7 goals). Arsenal have a goal difference of +29 with Everton at -15. Shall I go on.
However, The last five matches have seen Everton winning 3 and Arsenal winning 2. The last match was Sean Dyche’s first match in charge at the start of the month with James Tarkowski scoring to deliver the much needed victory.
Coming into this game, Arsenal had two very tight matches against Leicester and Aston Villa which stopped a four game slide where they only picked up one point out of 16. Everton were alternating with losses and wins since Dyche took over. The pattern said that this game should be a win.
Sean Dyche pre-match comments:
“We have shown good signs through the way the team is trying to create and the energy, the desire and the numbers getting into the box. It has to lead to something.
The players are very diligent and I am a big believer that, as long as you are doing the right things, that will pay you back. We have to keep believing, continuing trying to do the right things and then have the quality and clinical finish on top of that.”
Everton striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin was again unavailable because of a thigh issue. The game was too soon for James Garner and Nathan Patterson, while Andros Townsend is still sidelined by a long-term knee injury.
Everton made only one change from the loss to Villa. Conor Coady with former Sean Dyche protégé Michael Keane taking his place. The last time Michael Keane started a Premier League game was on the final day of last season at the Emirates, with Arsenal thrashing Everton 5-1.
Gabriel Jesus and Mohamed Elneny remained sidelined with knee injuries.
⚪️— Arsenal (@Arsenal) March 1, 2023
We're unchanged from Leicester City
COME ON YOU GUNNERS! pic.twitter.com/NeYnYJMaHN
Mikel Arteta named an unchanged XI for the 12th time in the Premier League this season. Thomas Partey, who made his comeback against Leicester City from a muscle problem was deemed ready for a spot on the bench.
Michael Oliver was the referee of note as his whistle blew to get the game under way in front of 60,000 fans a the Emirates. Withing 15 seconds Gabriel had an arm across the face and Amadou Onana was on the ground. The fight for the midfield was on!
The start was chippy with no one really able to get control. Everton were showing the high press like they did at Goodison but the first break for Arsenal resulted from a lovely move to break the press. Saka on the corner started a nifty set piece that ended with Jorginho chipping over the bar.
Maupay had the first shot that was easily handled by Aaron Ramsdale. Everton kept control of the ball and Doucoure then broke away and put the ball out wide for McNeil who wasted the chance.
Trossard attempted to use his pace down the left side but Coleman was up to the task. Everton broke away again with no end product but the start had signs of promise for the Blues. Their tight defensive shape was also looking good and leaving little room for the Gunners to exploit.
Martinelli was again on the ball but found no joy against the Everton captain. Arsenal had 60% of the ball at this point but had no shots on target compared to Everton’s 2 shots on target. Dyche was on the line directing traffic and providing the positive support that was required. Would the plan create the frustration that would give Everton the upper hand.
A wayward pass by Zinchenko gave the ball to Iwobi who passed into Maupay for the one two but it was then cleared for a corner. McNeil’s corner left Everton open as Arsenal broke but great work by Iwobi snuffed out the chance.
Onana was down again with another challenge, this time from Granit Xhaka. Mikel Arteta used the break to talk to his players. Trossard then fell to the ground figuring that he would get a foul but the assistant referee ignored the plea. Arsenal was starting to get more control of the ball with their possession up to 67%.
Gueye then put Doucoure wide who then put the ball into Maupay who could not get anything on the shot. Another sojourn forward by Arsenal saw Trossard get out wide by Tarkowski was covering. The 30 minute mark arrived and there was nothing between the teams. Arsenal had only one shot and it had been more than 25 minutes before. Onana was down again and this time it was ignored by Michael Oliver. The Emirates crowd was not impressed.
The left side was Arsenal’s avenue of choice and a Trossard pass was just overhit which gave Pickford a chance to touch the ball. Everton then had a period of possession but there was no one in the box to capitalize on the control outside the box.
The first shot on net by Arsenal was into the back of the net after Martin Ødegaard put Bukayo Saka into the clear and his fabulous finish gave Pickford no chance. In the brief moment before the pass, Keane and Tarkowski had switched sides and this little switch left the gap open.
Everton pressed forward but it was Arsenal who were in behind the Everton defence when Saka nicked the ball from Idrissa Gueye and gave the ball to Martinell who slipped the ball past Pickford. Two goals in 4 minutes and Everton were strapped to the rack with the ghost of last year’s 5-1 drumming in their heads. Thankfully, the half time whistle was blown.
Interestingly, the mistake by Idrissa Gueye must have been noticed by Dyche as Mason Holgate was brought in to take his place. A repeat of his positive role at Manchester United under Duncan Ferguson. Thomas Partey was brought on by Mikel Arteta to replace Jorginho. Would the changes make a difference? The next goal would be the telling factor.
Arsenal started on the front foot and the battle between Saka and Mykolenko was front and centre. Two incidents had them tangled together with both pleading their innocence. James Tarkowski was in Michael Oliver’s book after a late tackle on Ødegaard. Arsenal were growing in confidence and Everton were dropping deeper.
Arsenal’s fans were in full voice as the possession stats climbed again and reached the 70% mark. Maupay and Coleman were replaced by Gray and Godfrey in order to potentially turn the tide. The switch was immediately followed by Everton’s first shot from Dwight McNeil whose shot was nicely saved by Ramsdale. Godfrey must have been told to push forward down the right and the high press was back.
The game started to get chippy and the recently arrived Ben Godfrey was given a yellow card for a cynical tackle on Trossard. A lovely move by Arsenal with Xhaka, Trossard and the finish by Martin Ødegaard put the game out of reach for anyone. The game was done and dusted after the second goal. Trossard was then taken off along with Xhaka to be replaced by Vieira and Nketiah. An ideal scenario for Arteta to allow his star players to rest for the important games coming up.
Damage limitation was needed by Everton as Arsenal’s confidence was off the chart. Arsenal were toying with Everton as the Ole’s rang around the Emirates. Godfrey did get the ball out wide, but his cross was blocked and the Gunners headed back the other way. Martinelli was at it again and couldn’t get enough on the shot before Everton cleared. Pickford was then called into action again when Nketiah forced a great save.
Doucoure was out and Tom Davies was brought on but the one way traffic continued. Martinelli then got his second after Zinchenko put in Nketiah who then laid the ball on a plate for the final touch. Everton’s players were unwilling to challenge a ball, get close or do anything to show any fightback. Zinchenko and Saka were withdrawn, only to be replaced by Tierney and Smith-Rowe.
The ending couldn’t come too soon as 2 minutes of additional time was announced. Tom Davies had the final chance and just could not get the ball over the line. Nothing was going right for them at the top end of the pitch. The game ended with Arsenal possessing the ball for 73% of the match and Everton staying in the relegation zone.
Neal Maupay continued to lead the line and his work rate was very high but there was nothing to show for any of it. In the first half before Arsenal scored he had 4 touches, 2 touches in the box and only 1 shot on target that was a flicked back heel that caused no problems for Ramsdale. His wayward shot in the second half was nowhere near the target and was his final contribution before he left the field to a chorus of boos from the travelling Evertonians. Maupay’s numbers for the season don’t make for great reading and there has to be some room for Ellis Simms to get a chance.
There have been lots of discussions regarding the lack of goals and how the inability to score could be the cause of Everton’s drop into the Championship. Bournemouth and Southampton both have a worse goals against rate than Everton but there will be three teams going down. The soft second goal was the kill shot and Dyche would have been livid at the giveaway at such a critical moment in the match. This lack of concentration is as critical as the lack of goals when you are playing Sean Dyche’s brand of football.
With one win in 26 away at Arsenal there was little chance for hope but that doesn’t change the fact that it was another 3 points lost. The payback by Arsenal for the loss at Goodison was obvious. This one was a team at their peak against a team in deep trouble. However, the important moments as this season moves forward will be the games against the teams around the relegation zone. The next two against Nottingham Forest and then Brentford need a proper response.