Everton manager Rafael Benitez was able to bask in the relief of securing the club’s first victory in nine attempts after they came from behind in dramatic fashion to defeat Arsenal. Not since the mid 1990s had the Merseyside club been on a run as dismal as this and given the growing frustrations and signs of dysfunction within the club, it was a valuable win.
After Martin Odegaard’s volley in first-half stoppage time put the visitors ahead with their first meaningful attack of the match, Richarlison — having had two goals ruled out for offside via VAR checks either side of Arsenal’s opener — equalised at the third time of asking with a 79th-minute header.
The 2-1 triumph was secured deep in second-half stoppage time when Demarai Gray struck a stunning shot from 20-yards out which found the back of the net via the inside of the goalpost. The dramatic finale had Goodison Park in full voice, cherishing a much-needed lift in mood.
“I think we saw character in the first games [of the season] and today it was even better, in terms of two goals disallowed and the reaction of the team, the fans behind the team, everybody delighted at the end because of the great goal Demarai scored, and three points after that bad run,” Benitez said.
“So I think everything was, you can say, perfect, no? In terms of the players, the fans, the performance and the final score.”
The evening could have descended into something far worse had the home supporters followed through with a suggested mass walk-out on the 27th minute — it will be 27 years next summer that Everton last won a trophy. Instead the majority of the crowd remained at the side of their team and their support was rewarded. Even the frustrations of two disallowed goals didn’t see Everton fold, although Ben Godfrey could count himself lucky to remain on the pitch after two heavy challenges.
“I think since I came here, from day one the fans have been really good,” Benitez added. “The frustration of the fans in some games, it’s because obviously they want to see the team winning. But nobody can complain about the commitment, the desire, the effort of the players.
“We can complain about decisions in the final third or mistakes, but not about the commitment. Today I think the fans could appreciate that from the first minute. So I think they stick with the team, and today is another proof we are together, we are stronger, and that is what we have to do until the end of the season.”
This win doesn’t repair all of the damage at a club that saw its director of football leave on Sunday after a period of disgruntlement aimed specifically at the board. However, winning in such fashion did go some way in reconnecting the supporters with the players.
On Marcel Brands’s departure, Benitez said: “I think we have to think about the future now and then try to go all together in the right direction. Sometimes you have an idea, could be right, could be wrong. But the reality was the club was not progressing at the pace that maybe everybody was expecting.
“Now it’s just really important to be positive about the future and be sure that all the people working really hard like we have in the club are going in the same direction.”
'I want more from my team'
Benitez’s mood struck a contrast with how Mikel Arteta felt. Arsenal have won only two of their last eight away league games this season, scoring only six goals, and with three defeats in four matches their recent momentum has been well and truly stifled. The Arsenal manager will have been most frustrated with how his players failed to build on Odegaard’s 45th-minute goal.
The visitors lacked penetration and were sloppy at the wrong times. “In the first half we were very inconsistent with the ball. I didn’t like it,” Arteta, who’s team could have leapt to within a point of the top four with a win, reflected glumly.
“[There was] no penetration. One of the few times we did it we scored. Second half we tried to do more of those things, created four big chances but conceded a very sloppy goal when you need to manage the game.
“What I want is more from my team. Today you have the game under control even though you’re not playing your best and you have to find a way to win it. The way we conceded the goal and losing this match is not something good.
“It could have been very different but we haven’t managed to do it. When the opponent is there for the taking you have to do it and we haven’t. It wasn’t good enough.”