Goodison Park erupted not in protest but joy. The plan was to walk out in the 27th minute to mark 27 years without a trophy come the end of the season and years of mismanagement under Farhad Moshiri. Some heeded the call, though most rose to their feet and roared their team on. Everton repaid the backing in stunning style.
A ninth game without a win beckoned for Rafael Benítez’s team, Everton’s longest winless run since the dark days of Mike Walker in 1994, when Demarai Gray collected André Gomes’ pass wide on the left in the 92nd minute. That Everton were still pushing for victory over Arsenal at that stage was impressive enough.
A team low on confidence and engulfed in crisis, with the director of football Marcel Brands departing on Sunday, had seen two Richarlison goals disallowed by VAR, Yerry Mina hobble off with a calf injury on his long-awaited comeback and Martin Ødegaard give Arsenal the lead from a rare attack. They did not fold. Richarlison finally earned his reward ten minutes from time before Gray seized centre stage. The only player Benítez spent money on in the summer, all £1.7m of it, cut inside Takehiro Tomiyasu, then Ben White and beat Aaron Ramsdale with an unstoppable shot from distance that flew in off the far post. Goodison was in uproar for all the right reasons.
“Today is proof that, if we are together, we are stronger,” the Everton manager said. “The frustration of the fans is because they want to see their team winning but you cannot complain about the effort, the desire and the commitment of these players.”
As for Brands’ exit, Benítez said: “We have to think about the future and try to go in the right direction. Sometimes you have an idea, it could be right, it could be wrong, but the reality is the club was not progressing at the pace everybody was expecting.”
As Benítez absorbed a rare victory, Mikel Arteta ruminated on an Arsenal display that lacked invention and penetration and resulted in a third successive away defeat. His team had chances for a second goal through the substitutes Eddie Nketiah and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang but the former headed against a post from close range and the latter miscued badly wide with the final kick of the game. In truth, Arsenal went home with what they deserved.
Arteta said: “In the first half we were very inconsistent with the ball. We didn’t concede anything apart from the set-piece but I didn’t like it. No penetration, no threat, totally the contrary to what we try to do. We conceded a very sloppy goal, the first one, when you have to manage the game. It’s not enough to win a game.”
Emotions are always dictated by events on the pitch and Everton subdued the planned protest with a more intense and spirited display than they produced in the Merseyside derby. Ben Godfrey brought the home crowd to their feet by winning a 50-50 with Tomiyasu ferociously yet cleanly. Godfrey started at left back in place of the France international Lucas Digne, who was not injured but omitted from the squad entirely, and survived a VAR review for a possible red card offence when catching the prone Japan international in the face with his studs. A fortunate reprieve, especially for Tomiyasu, who was able to continue following treatment.
Greater intensity from Everton did not transfer into a greater threat in front of goal initially, although they were the more purposeful team for the opening 20 minutes with Arsenal struggling to find composure on the ball. The home side had barely tested Ramsdale before Richarlison diverted a header from Andros Townsend’s free-kick inside his right hand post. The relief among the Everton players was palpable as they celebrated with the Brazil international but deflation set in when VAR disallowed the goal for a fractional offside against the goalscorer.
From 1-0 up on the cusp of half-time, Everton found themselves 1-0 down when the whistle came. Kieran Tierney crafted the breakthrough with a superb delivery from the left. Alexandre Lacazette, leading the line in place of the dropped Aubameyang, released the Scotland defender beyond Séamus Coleman and his cross landed perfectly behind Everton’s back-line for Ødegaard to beat Jordan Pickford with a controlled volley into the bottom corner. Richarlison beat his fists into the ground at the sudden shift in fortune. His despair, and Everton’s incredulity, would intensify.
Richarlison convincingly beat Ramsdale for a second time when found in space on the right of the Arsenal penalty area by Abdoulaye Doucouré. After a lengthy review the goal was disallowed for another forensically tight offside call against the scorer.
Everton, to their immense credit, responded impressively with the returning Gomes injecting much-needed creativity into midfield. Gomes was involved in the equaliser, turning Richarlison’s pass on to Gray who cut inside and curled a dipping shot over Ramsdale.
Misfortune appeared to intervene again when Gray’s effort struck the crossbar but Richarlison reacted brilliantly to steer a looping header over the Arsenal keeper and in. VAR did not make it a hat-trick. The final word belonged to Gray.