Everton remembered how to win. A classic case of new manager bounce condemned Arsenal to only a second league defeat of the season while giving Sean Dyche the perfect start to life at Goodison Park. Ferocious, relentless and dangerous, Everton bought into Dyche’s methods on day one to bring light into the darkness of their latest relegation struggle.
The old Burnley connection punished the subdued Premier League leaders and halted their 14-game unbeaten league run. James Tarkowski headed home a Dwight McNeil corner to give their former manager from Turf Moor the foundation he needs to haul his new club towards safety.
Without a league win since October, Everton put in a prodigious shift to prevent Mikel Arteta’s visitors establishing an eight-point lead at the summit. Amadou Onana and Abdoulaye Doucouré, outstanding throughout, sunk to their knees on the final whistle out of pure relief and exhaustion. Dyche had questioned whether Everton knew how to win when orchestrating Burnley’s comeback victory over Frank Lampard’s team last season. Doubts that had resurfaced this season were banished at a racuous, relieved Goodison.
The transformation of Everton was evident immediately. Dyche had preached the merits of hard graft and organisation during his first five days on the training ground. The work, while crammed in, paid off in a tireless performance that contained, disrupted and troubled the leaders. Arsenal dominated possession but there was a distinct lack of quality or precision with it. Their title challenge needs an instant reaction against Brentford next week.
Dyche received a warm ovation before kick off and got what he asked for not only from his new players. The fans, having staged a peaceful protest against the board ahead of the game, parked their grievances against the club as requested and were fully behind the team’s efforts. The Everton board were again absent having been instructed to stay away by their security advisers. It was a wise decision. They have become too much of a distraction, as well as a liability, to the all-consuming task of remaining in the Premier League. A plane flew overhead in the early stages carrying a banner that read: “League’s worst run club”.
Dyche’s mission to improve the league’s worst performing team – with one win in 12 league games leaving Everton joint-bottom prior to kick-off and Frank Lampard out of a job – started with a shift to 4-1-4-1 and recalls for McNeil and Doucouré. Doucouré had been forced to train alone in the final days of Lampard’s reign after a dressing room row involving Idrissa Gana Gueye. He prospered from the clean slate, although should have edged Everton ahead with a header from McNeil’s cross during the hosts’ first sustained spell of pressure. A slip by Gabriel Magalhães left the midfielder unmarked inside the penalty area but he steered a tame header wide of Aaron Ramsdale’s goal.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin was inches away from converting when Onana sent the ball across the face of goal. Onana, the subject of inquiries from Arsenal and Chelsea during the January window but no official bids, flourished in Dyche’s system and disrupted the visitors’ midfield throughout.
It took half an hour for Arsenal to find a way through Everton’s resolute defence. Bukayo Saka held off Vitalii Mykolenko and found Eddie Nketiah lurking on the edge of the area. The striker sprinted past Tarkowski only to slice his finish high and wide. Saka was closer with a volley from Oleksandr Zinchenko’s deep cross that was cleared off the line by Conor Coady, while Martin Ødegaard blazed over from Nketiah’s pull-back early in the second half.
Substitute Leandro Trossard and Saka were also wasteful after the break but it was by no means a flowing, threatening display from the title contenders. Arsenal were careless in possession, subdued by Everton’s industry, and duly punished when two former Burnley players combined to give the relegation-threatened team a precious lead.
Dyche had clearly worked on set-pieces and Onana and Calvert-Lewin both went close from in-swinging deliveries in the first half. The breakthrough arrived on the hour when McNeil swept a right wing corner to the back post and Tarkowski held off the tame presence of Ødegaard to beat Ramsdale with a close-range header. Goodison erupted at the defender’s first Everton goal and spent the final half hour imploring their team to hold firm. Unlike under Lampard they obliged. Dyche had liftoff.