Everton’s return to fine form continued apace by backing up victories over Leicester City and Chelsea with a deserved win over Arsenal. Three successive triumphs, in which they have combined flair with desire, have taken the Merseyside into second place.
Meanwhile for Arsenal this was another frustrating evening. They remain with one win from their last nine Premier League games and Mikel Arteta vented his fury all game on the touchline. At a ground they usually prosper, they continued to disappoint.
Story of the game
The shock team news was that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was not included in the Arsenal match-day squad, now expanded to 20, due to a tight calf and so Eddie Nketiah led the visitors’ attack with Willian and Nicolas Pepe alongside. There was also no place in the starting lineup for Alex Lacazette.
Everton were without injured midfielder Allan and so Tom Davies came into centre field. Despite Seamus Coleman being available after a period on the sidelines Carlo Ancelotti chose to stick with the same back four that kept Leicester City at bay in midweek. Jordan Pickford, however, was rotated back into the starting XI as expected in place of Robin Olsen.
In keeping with recent form the home side were the more dictatorial and confident in the early play. Ancelotti’s side were able to pass confidently with little pressure coming from Arsenal’s deep block - not the first time that a club from north London have come to Merseyside this week and sat in. The visitors were overly passive and after 15 minutes allowed Michael Keane to nonchalantly wander upfield and fire a shot that was always rising but only just cleared Bernd Leno’s crossbar.
There was therefore little surprise when Everton took the lead midway through the first half. Alex Iwobi, who had already demonstrated an eagerness to test the left side of Arsenal’s defence, delivered an inviting cross from the right. Dominic Calvert-Lewin ran to the front post and got his head on the ball but the deflection of Rob Holding took it past Leno.
As if the cock of the roost needed to remind anyone that Ancelotti’s side are back in fine form and Arteta’s are seriously lacking in confidence, one back-heeled flick by Richarlison sent the ball through the legs of Ainsley Maitland-Niles and was greeted by cheers from the sprinkling of supporters in the stadium.
However, just after half an hour Arsenal were allowed an undeserved way into the game. Davies lacked awareness when he swiped to clear the ball but caught the onrushing Maitland-Niles in the area. Pepe converted the penalty past Pickford.
Possibly feeling hard done by, Everton returned the game to type. It was on the stroke of half time that they gave the scoreline a truer resemblance of reality. It started with Calvert-Lewin cutting inside and curling an effort with his weaker left foot that was destined for the top corner had it not been for Leno’s tip over. From the following corner, Yerry Mina got the better of seven visiting defenders and attacked Gylfi Sigurdsson’s delivery into the net.
Apart from the penalty all that Arsenal could muster in the opening period was a wayward shot from Pepe which the Frenchman should have done better with. It was therefore more or less impossible for the visitors to be as tepid and withdrawn after the break. There was more thrust from Arteta’s side and when Pickford flapped at a corner David Luiz could only find the post with with a shot into the turf.
Still, they were ever so frustrating. Down the left Kieran Tierney’s build-up play often fizzled out when it was moved inside. Arteta presented an infuriated figure - he would have been desperate to get on the pitch himself and offer some nouse to his unimaginative side. He did, however, send on Gabriel Martinelli for his first appearance since early March in an attempt to add creativity in attack.
It was Everton though who came closer to expanding their lead when Sigurdsson sent a pearler of a delivery into the Arsenal area and Keane, who has developed a penchant for goals this season, came agonisingly close to connecting with his head. Iwobi also saw a deflected effort travel past the post.
That was Iwobi’s final piece of the action as he made way for the returning Coleman. Arsenal tried a late push but their clear goalscoring chances were few and far between. Martinelli misguided a header from point blank range and after Pickford denied Bukayo Saka’s goal-bound effort the referee called time on another disappointing evening for Arsenal.