Sometimes it Doesn't Matter How You Win

In the Premier League era, this fixture has ranked up there among the most miserable on Everton’s calendar. So forgive Evertonians for revelling in a first win at Arsenal since 1996, one that provides another platform from which to resume the push for Europe

Lyndon Lloyd 23/04/2021 27comments  |  Jump to last

In the Premier League era, this fixture has ranked up there among the most miserable on Everton’s calendar. They suffered their worst defeat since Sky invented football in 1992 on the Gunners’ home turf, that horrible 7-0 humiliation at Highbury 16 years ago, and Blues sides have been on the end of some depressingly heavy score lines in this part of North London down the years.

Even when they have travelled south and been fancied to finally end a hoodoo that extended well beyond the opening of the Emirates Stadium, they have either let themselves down, caught Arsenal on a good day, or been cursed by ill-fortune. Such as that very late deflected strike that once prevented a brilliant Steven Pienaar goal being a deserving match-winner, for instance.

So forgive Evertonians for revelling in a first win at Arsenal since 1996, a time when Andrei Kanchelskis was in his pomp for the Toffees, even if it came on the back of another of those tortuous “maximum efficiency” performances — desperately short on attacking output with seemingly no satisfactory explanation for it.

Carlo Ancelotti was able to welcome Dominic Calvert-Lewin back to a starting line-up that also included captain Seamus Coleman, another returnee in André Gomes and, once again, featured a fit James Rodriguez. With Yerry Mina perhaps not deemed 100% ready to start again after missing the Spurs game with an adductor problem and Michael Keane out with a reported hamstring injury, the pre-match concerns seemed to centre around the relatively inexperienced and untried partnership of Ben Godfrey and Mason Holgate at the back.

As it turned out, the duo performed very well together — Godfrey was immense again — and, combined with Jordan Pickford’s alertness in second-half stoppage time, Everton’s defensive solidity was a big reason why they came away with all three points. But it’s hard to overlook how close this came to being a second successive goalless bore draw away from home or, again, explain why over the past three months this team has really only been able to find its attacking rhythm when playing against Tottenham.

In terms of results, of course, it doesn’t matter… until it does — against West Ham, Newcastle, Fulham, Burnley, Palace, for example. As the Toffees’ champions-level away form continues (they’ve won 10 times away from home for the first time since the 1980s), it’s those desperately poor home displays that will have cost them if they fall short of European qualification this season and particularly if they miss out on the top four.

Amazingly, despite dropping those 14 points at Goodison Park since the turn of the year, the door to the Champions League remains ajar for Ancelotti’s side. Depending on how results go this weekend, they could end it sitting just four points off the top four with a game in hand but it’s going to be an excruciating run-in if the Italian’s charges are going to continue to rely on a single shot on target in 90 minutes.

That one accurate effort came from the boot of Richarlison with just shy of half an hour gone and was saved by Bernd Leno, the two protagonists in the freakish incident that would decide the game 45 minutes later. The Brazilian had turned inside his man impressively after latching onto Allan’s superb pass and unloaded one of his familiarly quick shots but the German reacted well to turn it aside with one hand.

Leno had needed to be alert a few minutes earlier when a whipped cross by Lucas Digne took a heavy deflection towards goal off Rob Holding but his goal wasn’t threatened for the rest of the first half until Gylfi Sigurdsson stepped up to take a direct free-kick after Richarlison had been tripped by Thomas Partey not far outside the area.

The Icelandic skipper is still searching for his first competitive free-kick goal for the Blues but he came as close as he ever has with his 38th-minute effort that smacked off the top of the crossbar.

For their part Arsenal, shorn of their two best strikers in the form of the injured Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette as well as first-choice left-back Kieran Tierney, were game enough but fairly toothless against an Everton team that was willing to press and stay mostly compact.

Bakayo Saka had one low shot from a decent opportunity that he fired too close to Jordan Pickford but, on the whole, it was a fairly uneventful first half, one played out against the backdrop of hundreds of Gunners fans chanting and protesting outside the ground and the persistent drone of a police helicopter flying overhead.

Having kept things tight without really stretching themselves, the promise that the second half held from the Toffees’ perspective appeared to be signalled by their first real attack after half-time, a move that echoed Sigurdsson’s superb second goal against Spurs last Friday. Coleman got behind the fullback down the right and crossed for Sigurdsson but this time his attempted side-foot finish was deflected behind.

As it turned out, it would be the best move they would fashion all game and they wouldn’t muster a chance worthy of the name until Richarlison’s directness forced in the winning goal. Allan was doing some fine work in central midfield where Tom Davies had surprisingly been dropped for Gomes but the Portuguese looked lead-footed and offered little. His replacement after 65 minutes, Fabian Delph, was even worse, looking every inch a player who hasn’t kicked a ball in anger since early December.

Most glaring was the performance of James who had easily his worst display since joining the club. The Colombian generally played far too deep, was caught in possession on a number of occasions and had very little impact going forward. Frankly, it was almost as if someone from the Arsenal staff had put something in his energy drink, it was that uncharacteristic of a performance. Even gods have their bad days.

That contributed to long spells before the goal where Everton just couldn’t move the ball forward. They didn’t seem to have the legs in midfield, no one was showing for passes and it genuinely looked like they didn’t see the urgency in a situation that, had they not won, would have left them with an even bigger mountain to climb in terms of European qualification.

In the meantime, Arsenal were growing in confidence and were looking the more likely to win the game, even after they had an incredibly soft penalty award reversed because of a hair’s-breadth offside ruling by Video Assistant Referee, David Coote. Jon Moss had somehow seen fit to point to the spot after Dani Ceballos had gone down theatrically after Richarlison had nicked his shin but Nicolas Pépé’s sleeve was deemed to have been ahead of the last defender in the build-up.

Later, Emile Smith Rowe's drilled cross/shot from the right almost ricocheted in off Holgate but flashed into the side-netting, Callum Chambers bounced a half-volley over the crossbar following an Arsenal set-piece and Ceballos warmed Pickford's hands with a driven effort from 20 yards that the keeper pushed away to safety.

The deciding goal was perhaps fitting for such a lacklustre contest. Richarlison deserved credit for turning makeshift full-back Granit Xhaka and then driving to the byline before attempting to fire the ball across goal for Calvert-Lewin. It went through Leno's gloves and in off the goalkeeper’s heel and skidded into the goal, leaving him crestfallen at what proved to be a crucial error.

The goal survived a check by VAR and that was Ancelotti's cue to shut up shop as he withdrew James and Richarlison in the closing stages in favour of Tom Davies and Yerry Mina.

Arsenal would get one last chance to claim a point in injury time for the second week running but Gabriel Martinelli was foiled by a great one-handed stop by Pickford. It’s not the first time the England keeper has preserved a victory with an important late save and he did really well to get a hand down to the shot and keep it out. The Blues’ resilient defensive stand did the rest.

The entertainment under Ancelotti will hopefully return once things get further back to normal with full crowds, new signings and a better paced fixture list. For now, the results are all important; the manner of victory less so than getting the win and keeping those European places within touching distance.

The concerns remain, however, around how little leeway Everton are giving themselves in matches with so few chances and what continues to be, the Spurs game apart, a curious lethargy and lack of drive on the players’ part as a collective.

Psychologically, as the club’s first win at Arsenal in a quarter of a century, this was a huge win. It was also hugely significant in the context of the race for Europe, and if the team can actually approach these final six games as if they were cup finals, then they could yet ensure their place in Continental competition for next season. With that game in hand and a “six-pointer” against West Ham still to come, it’s very much in our hands.

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Reader Comments (27)

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Paul Kernot
1 Posted 24/04/2021 at 19:49:40
The one very big plus in all of this is Pickfords form & attitude since he was given time to cool his heels, being replaced by Olsen for a while. Since coming back, he's been world class.
Kieran Kinsella
2 Posted 24/04/2021 at 19:52:36

It's a good point. Virginia's performance probably gave him some food for thought too. He seems a lot calmer all of a sudden too. Long may it continue

Stan Schofield
3 Posted 24/04/2021 at 21:44:21
The only issue I have is with the title. If it's a goal for us, it NEVER matters how they go in! Apart from goals from stylish buildup play giving added aesthetic pleasure!
Barry Hesketh
4 Posted 24/04/2021 at 21:51:27
Sorry, Lyndon but if Everton treats the last six games akin to Cup Finals we're doomed! How many finals have we lost throughout our history? 2009, 1989, 1986, 1985, 1984(MC), 1977(MC), 1968, and five more before the war I think.

Jack Convery
5 Posted 24/04/2021 at 22:17:09
It makes a nice change for someone else to be the fall guys at the end of a game. Usually its us more often than not. 3 points is 3 points after all.

On another note when a team is on the up its only natural you'll meet another on the way down. Which is what happened on Friday.

On to Villa and a Ross own goal would do it for me !!

Lyndon Lloyd
6 Posted 24/04/2021 at 22:50:29
Stan (3), you're absolutely right and I've changed it accordingly. I think, subconsciously, I was trying to convey that sometimes it doesn't matter how you win which, in this case, sums it up
Martin Mason
7 Posted 25/04/2021 at 08:17:11
Good report, Lyndon and, as always, back to reality after the post-match bluster clears. It was an exceptional win on Friday which at least gives us the chance to qualify for Europe and set us up well for next season when, with normality restored and a couple of astute signings, we'll be even better placed to do well.

Can we do it? I doubt it personally because of our inconsistency at home but, if we can just keep picking up points, even one at a time, then it's possible especially, if we can get Doucouré back for a few games. Everybody is struggling, especially at home.

Thomas Richards
8 Posted 25/04/2021 at 08:20:18
Precisely Lyndon.

Another very good article from you.
Calm, measured and appreciated

Tony Abrahams
9 Posted 25/04/2021 at 08:26:53
The only focus the Everton squad should have now is the colours Claret & blue. Beat Villa and then West Ham, and if we can manage to do this, then let's see where we are after this.
Tony Everan
10 Posted 25/04/2021 at 08:47:22
When Alex Ferguson was at Man Utd he has more than his fair share of scrappy wins, Steve Bruce scoring a header in the 97th minute to get the 3 points and many other dirty scrappy wins. They were interspersed with some performances that were truly excellent, and will get remembered by the fans. For instance if we get 5 very scrappy wins, then turn it on big time against a possibly weakened Man City and win 2 or 3 nil, who will ever remember the scrappy wins on the road to fourth place ahead of the RS and Chelsea. No one.

I know that scenario is extremely unlikely, but it highlights that more often than not that scrappy wins are common place, even more so, amongst good sides. In fact it could be argued that these grinding wins are what makes them a good side and are the mortar in the structure of success.

Derek Thomas
11 Posted 25/04/2021 at 08:52:19
Tony A. @ 9; you very nearly said...'one game at a time' there, which IMO, is the only way to do it. Beat what's infront of you, worry about next week later on.

Lyndon's right, sometimes it doesn't matter how you win. But it always matters how you lose. If you give up and roll over or you give it your very best - these can be very different losses, obviously you get just the same - nowt. One can show its a lost cause...pull it down and start again - don't reinforce failure, the other can say you're on the right track.

Ian Burns
12 Posted 25/04/2021 at 10:06:25
Great article Lyndon - I know one or two on TW might not agree with you!

For me if six goalies kick our winner into the back of their own net for six miserable, boring wins then bring it on.

Danny O’Neill
13 Posted 25/04/2021 at 10:11:38
Right now at this stage of the season, it matters not how we win. It's the business end of the season and we are still fixing this squad.

The point about Villa and West Ham is one I've made for weeks.

All games are important, but the Villa games and West Ham alone could provide 9 points against those in the mix with us. Takes us to 61 points.

Then there are also interesting games against Wolves and City on the last day, both of which points are there to take (City being in holiday mode as Champions by then).

Brent Stephens
14 Posted 25/04/2021 at 11:52:09
Context is (almost) everything. As Lyndon says "Psychologically, as the club's first win at Arsenal in a quarter of a century, this was a huge win. It was also hugely significant in the context of the race for Europe".

I might have missed something but why was Delph preferred over Tom as sub? Bizarre.

Brian Harrison
15 Posted 25/04/2021 at 12:09:21
Well if we do nothing else this season at least we have removed the stigmas of when did we last win at Anfield, when did we last win at Arsenal and also Spurs. Seems rarely strange in a season with still games to play we have recorded 10 away wins, I guess it must have been the year we last won the league when we last did that. Most seasons with that away form and our normal home form we would be challenging City for the title.

Still much to fix come the summer for Carlo and Marcel, but at least we will start the new season with renewed optimism.

Danny O’Neill
16 Posted 25/04/2021 at 13:02:15
I believe Tom didn't have his socks ready Brent.

Delph had some socks, so got the nod.

Jerome Shields
17 Posted 25/04/2021 at 18:41:19
After the Crystal Palace game, Ancelotti did say that most of his players lacked the technical ability for open play.

With the games left, this meant that the team had to be set up in defensive mode so as to at least achieve a 0-0 draw and a point, particularly at home. By achieving draws, it would be possible to progress table-wise, as other competing teams lost. . . Big Sam like.

The next objective was to counter-attack to nick a goal and 3 points. This was further developed by coaching players to play percentage football.

In the previous two games, defensive errors cost Everton points. It could be the case that Keane was carrying an injury. Replaced by Godfrey, this stopped the errors, though the pace and wingback support for the forwards was lost. Allan is a great help to James, deterring the latter from being targeted and marked in the second half.

A looking to the sky James substitution was delayed so that Everton could absorb Arsenal pressure to set up the counter-attack which was noticed by the commentator's sidekick on Hesgoal. The counter-attack resulted in Richarlison putting a percentage ball across the goal which, combined with Calvert-Lewin's percentage role attacking the near post, resulted in a goal.

This is the tactical type team that Ancelotti will put out in the remaining games. The Everton result this weekend has the bonus of other teams faltering to Everton's advantage in obtaining a European place. All part of Ancelotti's poker game plan. At least Ancelotti didn't bring in players like Tosun and Walcott to nick a goal at great expense, like Big Sam. Maybe that was the idea behind King, but Ancelotti just needs him to see out games.

Delph obviously did no work at Finch Farm other than on his socks, which showed.

"Sometimes, it doesn't matter how you win. "

Martin Mason
18 Posted 25/04/2021 at 19:44:04
Jerome, my point exactly.
Jerome Shields
19 Posted 25/04/2021 at 22:14:51
Yes Martin. Originally my post referred to your last paragraph and Daniels post but somehow the post did not go through this morning. I then reposted later.
Lyndon Lloyd
20 Posted 25/04/2021 at 22:21:59
Brent, the Delph sub was, unfortunately, another example of Ancelotti's deference to experience. There is no scenario for me where Davies a) hasn't earned the right to come on there instead and b) isn't the better option anyway.

The Delph signing made sense at the time but it's been a complete disaster and I don't see the point in rehabilitating him back into the side.

Brent Stephens
21 Posted 25/04/2021 at 22:33:06
Lyndon #20 Thanks, Lyndon. I haven't been a great fan of Tom over the last season or so but I've posted after several games of late that he's really developed well. So Delph instead of Tom was bizarre.

Danny #16 "I believe Tom didn't have his socks ready Brent.
Delph had some socks, so got the nod."

Danny, the commentator also noted that Delph's socks had the blue and the white sections in the wrong places (blue at the top instead of the bottom?). We need a wardrobe director.

Chris Williams
22 Posted 25/04/2021 at 22:44:19

Apart from a miskick and wrong socks, Delph pretty much did as requested when he came on.

I'm betting that he's influential behind the scenes. Who was it recently called him ‘the teacher' in an interview?

Bearing in mind he's not been seen for months, it's a big call to bring him on before Davies who has been playing well, and Ancelotti isn't the sort of manager to take a reckless gamble, as far as I can see. So perhaps he trusts him?

I suspect we may see a bit more of him in coming weeks, provided he can keep fit of course!

Danny O’Neill
23 Posted 25/04/2021 at 22:45:23
Definitely Brent and I apologise for my bad attempt at humour! I will refrain in future.

I agree on the Delph debate. Absolutely no reason he should be on the pitch ahead of Davies.

All I can think is the manager was confident and is saving Tom for what is ahead of us. Possibly a compliment to Davies.

Brent Stephens
24 Posted 25/04/2021 at 22:56:16
Nothing wrong with your humour, Danny! Just me, being obtuse!
Jerome Shields
25 Posted 25/04/2021 at 23:55:55
I don't think Delph even thought about passing the ball foward once during his appearance. He therefore did not lose the ball once. Maybe his purpose was to slow the game down.

Delph's signing was just a addition to deadwood with a injury record to match, How he managed to get a better contract than his Man City contract does stick out like a sore thumb under Brands tenure. Delph even when playing has always looked like a linkman to nowhere.

John Raftery
26 Posted 26/04/2021 at 09:02:58
We have not seen more than a handful of what I would term complete performances from our team this season. Arguably the wins at Spurs, Leicester, Wolves, Leeds and Liverpool saw the team play with an efficient counterattacking style balancing the needs of the attack and the defence.
When we are forced to open up play, we leave ourselves vulnerable to teams with the runners to motor past our slow midfield thus exposing a back line which collectively lacks the pace and probably the confidence to sit higher up the pitch.

At no point in the season have we looked capable of hammering any team 4-0. Even in the first two home games against West Brom and Brighton, there were substantial periods when we could not control the play, hence conceding two goals per match against teams destined to struggle near the foot of the table.

Given our performances and results over recent weeks I expect us to win two, draw two and lose two of our remaining matches. That will take us to sixty points which will represent decent progress from the forty nine points we reached last season. Anything more than that will be a bonus.

David Gee
27 Posted 27/04/2021 at 10:13:11
One aspect not really mentioned in the game is the Richo 'tackle on Dani Ceballos that eventually was not a penalty...due to offside, not due to the fact that Ceballos dived and went down like he had had his leg hacked off? Why is no one talking about that. is it because he does not play for Everton and is not named Oumar Niasse - he should be banned for that, in the same way, that Niasse was - undeservingly but let's hope for some consistency oh, whom am I kidding

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