Gray's late heroics cap night of high drama

Monday, 6 December, 2021 0comments  |  Jump to last
Everton 2 - 1 Arsenal

Demarai Gray was the hero with a dramatic injury-time winner as Everton dug deep to overcome Arsenal amid jubilant scenes at Goodison

Demarai Gray produced a moment of brilliance in second-half stoppage time as Everton battled their way back from a goal down to earn a stunning and cathartic victory over Arsenal amid a bear-pit atmosphere at Goodison Park.

The £1.7m summer signing had already paved the way for Richarlison to finally get a hugely deserved goal in the 80th minute to make it 1-1 and when substitute André Gomes danced through the middle and played Gray in, he took two touches outside the Gunners' penalty area before smashing the ball in off the far post to send the home crowd into delirium.

The scenes of jubilation and the release of pent-up anxiety over what was heading towards a ninth successive match without a win were a far cry from the sense of desperation in the 57th minute when Richarlison's second goal of the evening had been chalked off for by a marginal offside ruling by the Video Assistant Referee, Stuart Attwell.

At that stage, apart from another VAR ruling that might, on another night and with another official, have resulted in an early red card for Ben Godfrey, everything seemed to be going against the Toffees but, driven on a thunderous home crowd, Rafael Benitez's men got their equaliser and then won it in dramatic fashion in time added on.

With Salomon Rondon ruled out with a hamstring injury, Benitez had to make the anticipated adjustments up front where Gray and Andros Townsend rotated in out of playing a support role for Richarlison but the surprise absentee in the starting XI was Lucas Digne who was left out of the squad entirely even though he wasn't injured.

That meant Godfrey moving over to left-back as Yerry Mina made his much-anticipated return at centre-half following a number of matches out with a hamstring problem.

Unfortunately, the Colombian lasted just half an hour before he was forced off with an apparent calf strain and was replaced by Mason Holgate who went on to have a fine game in his stead.

Up to that point, Arsenal, who had travelled to Merseyside in good form and had designs on moving back into the top five, had played the more impressive passing football without really threatening Jordan Pickford's goal. Instead, it was Abdoulaye Doucouré who came closest to scoring in regulation time in the first half after Gray had intercepted a poor pass out from the back by Gabriel. The Frenchman was found in the box by Richarlison but could only drag his shot wide while the industrious Anthony Gordon had a shot blocked shortly afterwards.

Gray then flashed a dangerous ball across the face of Aaron Ramsdale's goal just as the clock was about to tick into the 27th minute marker when an online campaign to protest owner Farhad Moshiri and the Board of Directors had called for fans to leave their seats. A smattering of disillusioned Blues did but, watching on from the Directors Box, Bill Kenwright and Denise Barrett-Baxendale would have been relieved that the spectacle was not more dramatic.

The game came alive, though, just before the interval. Richarlison was fouled outside the box in the 44th minute and he thought he had put the Blues ahead with a typically excellent header off Townsend's free-kick. Sadly for him, the VAR adjudged him to have been fractionally behind the last man has he leaned forward to make his run to meet the ball.

And two minutes later as the half ticked through a couple of minutes of stoppage time, Everton were undone at the back as Kieran Tierney got beyond Seamus Coleman to centre for the untracked Martin Ødegaard to side-foot home from close range.

Everton were undaunted, however, and they had the ball in the net for a second time shortly before an hour's play had elapsed. Allan and played the ball to Doucouré who in turn picked out Richarlison to drill it past Ramsdale and wheel away in vindication but once again VAR returned an even more agonisingly hairline verdict.

With Goodison burning with a sense of being hard done-by, though, and Benitez playing his trump card in Gomes off the bench, Everton dug deep and turned the match on its head in thrilling fashion.

The Portuguese's 79th-minute shot rebounded off a defender to Gray just outside the box and he attempted a delicious curling shot with his instep that cannoned back off the face of the crossbar to the waiting Richarlison who looped it deftly over the stranded goalkeeper to finally get his goal.

Yet Mikel Arteta's own sub, Eddie Nketiah, came within inches of killing those celebrations dead just four minutes later at the other end. Bakayo Saka's cross from the right found the striker bearing down on the back post but his effort came back off the post and ricocheted behind off him to the huge relief of the home side.

And it took two excellent defensive blocks from first Godfrey and then Coleman in the closing stages to deny Ødegaard a winner before Gray took the game by the scruff of the neck and fired home an Exocet from 25 yards to complete a stirring comeback.

There was still time as Everton kept coming forward for substitute Alex Iwobi to put one over his old club with a third but Ramsdale foiled him brilliantly with a one-handed save. It was just as well, then, that when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was served up a gilt-edged chance in the final minute of injury time, the Gunners' top scorer scuffed his shot harmlessly across goal before referee Mike Dean finally blew the full-time whistle.

The hard-fought win is Everton's first since late September and arrests a slide of six defeats in seven games to lift the club up to 12th place in the table ahead of back-to-back away games in the Capital against Crystal Palace and Chelsea.

 


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