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If Rafael Benitez were to write a book on how to lift the mood of an entire club in one night, it would go something like this. A late comeback victory, secured in the most thrilling of circumstances with the most thrilling of goals, brought Goodison Park back to life after weeks of gloom on the blue half of Merseyside.
Demarai Gray’s winner, lashed home from the edge of the box in stoppage time, felt in the moment like the sort of goal that can transform a season. Everton were once again struggling under the weight of their own despair, trailing at half-time and devoid of any luck with the officials, yet they were suddenly reborn with one swing of their winger’s boot.
How Everton needed this. How Benitez needed it, too, after weeks of dismal football had prompted many supporters to question his position already. It was a goal that felt like the footballing equivalent of lift-off, like the start of something new on a night which, in an alternate reality, could have brought an end to this chapter of Benitez’s managerial career.
“Fans, players, all together, we are stronger,” Benitez said. “It is important for everyone to have the belief that, performing like we did today, we can win against any team. It is just about showing this character in every game.”
Such is life in the Premier League, where the baton of “crisis club” is passed around so easily, that all of Everton’s recent misery appeared to have been dumped on Arsenal at the end. Mikel Arteta’s side could not complain about this result, given the limp nature of their performance. From the first minute there was a troubling lack of urgency, creativity or conviction from the visitors, whose late-autumn promise is fading as the days grow darker.
“No penetration, no threat,” said Arteta of his side’s first-half showing, which came in the absence of the dropped Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. “We kept giving the ball away. Sloppy passes, sloppy touches. Not good enough.”
An ugly truth for Arsenal is that this scoreline could have been far worse if it were not for a pair of marginal offside calls which fell, just about, in their favour. Richarlison was twice denied by the video assistant referees, who spotted the tiniest of infractions, and the Brazilian was fully deserving of his legitimate goal when it finally arrived.
At that point, Arsenal were ahead and in control. Martin Odegaard’s fine volley had given them the lead before the break, but they failed to build on it. Instead of pushing for more, they lost their structure. Once Everton had scored their first, it always felt like they would be the more likely to find a second.
That is not to say anyone in Goodison Park was expecting it to arrive like it did, Gray’s strike smashing in off the post after he had surged downfield. Why were Arsenal so open? Where was their midfield? Thomas Partey had been reunited with Granit Xhaka but he struggled again, and his form is becoming a significant concern.
For Everton, the delirious joy of the final whistle contrasted sharply with angst and anger that had emanated from every home seat in the first half. The departure of director of football, Marcel Brands, the hundreds of millions wasted on ineffective signings, the dreadful run of results: it all combined to make some of their supporters so upset that they had called for a walkout in the first half here.
When the 27th minute arrived (chosen because next May marks the 27th anniversary of Everton’s last trophy), though, the mass departure was instead more of a minor trickle towards the stands. If anything, there was the opposite response from the Goodison crowd as the ground rose as one to cheer their team.
It had helped that one of Everton’s brightest moments of the first half came just a few seconds earlier, when Gray drove a fizzing delivery across the face of Aaron Ramsdale’s goal. Aside from that, though, there was little attacking quality from either side in the first half, until Odegaard converted Kieran Tierney’s cross.
Everton had already had one goal disallowed by then, with Richarlison’s header chalked off, and they had another after the break. The lines on the Var decision were so marginal that it was surely the definition of “level”, but “level” no longer seems to exist as a concept in the modern game.
In these moments it must have seemed to Benitez, who chose not to explain the absence of left-back Lucas Digne, as if all his luck had truly run out, especially as his forwards continued to struggle to create opportunities. But Richarlison kept the fight going and eventually, at long last, had his reward. Gray’s curling strike bounced off Ramsdale’s crossbar, and the striker was there to loop home his header on the rebound.
Arsenal had their chances to retake the lead, with Eddie Nketiah striking the post from close range. But it was fast becoming Everton’s night, Gray charged forward into the space before unleashing his moment of genuine, and perhaps campaign-altering, brilliance, before Aubameyang missed his chance to earn Arsenal a point in the dying moments.
"Very inconsistent with the ball. No penetration, no threat. The opposite of everything we are trying to do. But we did have four chances late on. We kept pressing high but we lost a few important duels. We were sloppy.
"Godfrey? The VAR decision is made, I am sure they looked at it."
"Very clear that when we all stick together we are stronger. VAR was quite against us but our reaction was brilliant. We have been close in a lot of games, today it could have been that everything was against us but we showed character. The players are giving everything and they are really strong mentally. The fans expect commitment from the players and they are getting that. They want to see the team getting better and we will do it. It might take time but we will do it. We didn't deserve to be losing in the first half and there were a lot of decisions against us. We have to prepare now for the future, the short term in January, then long term. The club has changed managers in the past but they want to do something long-term now. It is not about what I prefer. I have worked for years with a director of football."
He won't discuss Lucas Digne, so whatever has happened there we don't know.
FULL TIME: Everton 2 Arsenal 1
Very enjoyable slice of melodrama in the second half, a pearler of a winner from Gray. Justice was probably done, given that they had two goals chalked off for offside. On the other hand, Godfrey should have been off in the first half.
90+ mins: Everton 2 Arsenal 1
Arsenal have a chance to pinch a point with the last kick of the game. A hard diagonal low ball from the left, an Arsenal man in the centre dummies it an Aubameyang has a free hit from 15 yards. He puts it wide. And that proves to be the last kick of the match.
90+ mins: Everton 2 Arsenal 1
Odegaard with the ball in, but Everton break. Richarlison holds it up, occupies the defence, waits for the support. A man arrives on his left, a man on his right. He selects the latter. It's Iwobi. He shoots, good save from Ramsdale.
90+ mins: Everton 2 Arsenal 1
Can Arsenal get back into it? Not immediately - it is Everton who have the ball. Richarlison buys a foul off Partey.
GOOOOOOOOAAAAAL!!!!!! Everton 2 Arsenal 1 (Gray 90+)
Demarai Gray!!!!What a hit! What a goal. Gray, wearing the 11, cuts in from the left flank and lets it rip with his right foot. It crashes into the top far corner and that is an absolute peach.
90+ mins: Everton 1 Arsenal 1
Odegaard is through! Or he thinks he is. He delays just a fraction too long and Coleman is able to get back and throw himself in the way of the shot. Six minutes will be added.
86 mins: Everton 1 Arsenal 1
Iwobi comes on, Gordon the man who makes his way. For Arsenal, Laca off and Aubam is on. Exciting last quarter to this match.
84 mins: Everton 1 Arsenal 1
Cross from the right. Nketiah! Only has to nod it in from five yards, but he has somehow managed to hit the post. Oh that was bread and butter stuff for the Arsenal poacher.
82 mins: Everton 1 Arsenal 1
Nketiah plays it to Odegaard, he has a shot. Blocked. Arsenal want that looked at for handball. No.
81 mins: Everton 1 Arsenal 1
Now Everton believe! They roar their team on (the ones that haven't left obviously). They get a cross in from the left, corner. That's cleared. It is all Everton - can Arsenal land a sucker punch on the break though?
GOAL! Everton 1 Arsenal 1 (Richarlison 79)
Gray hits the bar with a lovely right footed strike, and there's that man Richarlison reacting the fastest, heading the ball over the helpless keeper. VAR isn't taking that one.
75 mins: Everton 0 Arsenal 1
Gordon has clattered Tavares. "Dangerous challenge, that," says Alan Smith.
Little football, plenty of bad feeling, fouling and drama in the last few minutes. In the last 75 minutes, if I am being honest.
70 mins: Everton 0 Arsenal 1
Doucoure now getting very angry with Gabriel, whom he thinks is faking an injury. Arsenal are trying to break the game up as much as they can.
69 mins: Everton 0 Arsenal 1
Crowd are getting very cross. There is a delay of game. Martinelli is on the floor getting a bit of treatment, doesn't exactly look life-threatening. Nketiah replaces him, nevertheless.
66 mins: Everton 0 Arsenal 1
Doucoure wins a corner and revs up the fans. Gray takes the corner but... Gordon is offside.
Tavares replaces Tierney, Gomes on for Townsend.
64 mins: Everton 0 Arsenal 1
Xhaka into the book for rugby-tackling an opponent. Townsend wastes a handily placed freekick. Anthony Gordon was Xhaka's vic.
62 mins: Everton 0 Arsenal 1
This game is starting to simmer. Now some bad feeling between the two sides as a result of a quickly taken freekick.
60 mins: Everton 0 Arsenal 1
Martinelli put through, he rounds the keeper, but can't cut the ball back from the narrow angle.
58 mins: Everton 0 Arsenal 1
Nice bit of football from Everton this. Slipped through and crisply finished by Richarlison from the inside right channel. Lovely stu-- but what is this? It's VAR VAR VAR! Oh no! He is offside. I mean, like his toe is offside. A really, really close call. Goal is overturned. Everton's players and fans are doing their crunch.
56 mins: Everton 0 Arsenal 1
Richarlison is putting in a shift. He's pressuring Gabriel.
At the other end, a good run from Tierney and a cross. Whither the Arsenal centre forward?
54 mins: Everton 0 Arsenal 1
This Godfrey looks a bit of a one. Seeing that foul on Saka again, that was on the studdsy side. Still, if he played for your team, you'd celebrate the commitment wouldn't you?
52 mins: Everton 0 Arsenal 1
Odegaard plays the freekick in, Gabriel gets up to head but that is dealt with well enough.
50 mins: Everton 0 Arsenal 1
Godfrey has gone in the book. He's given wee Saka another whack.
48 mins: Everton 0 Arsenal 1
Everton with a garryowen into the Arsenal area, Ramsdale is under it. Richarlison looms, lurks and threatens. The Arsenal goalie tips it over, and they deal with the corner. A good old fashioned up and under that was. 1890s style.
46 mins: Everton 0 Arsenal 1
Holgate tries to nod it back, puts Keane under pressure. Pickford out to tidy.
Ugly half of football by Arsenal saved by one move of quality. Build-up play too laboured, not enough risk, Lacazette’s feet impossible to find. Shades of that game at Goodison two years ago, but a good opportunity to kick on having got away with it.
— Daniel Zeqiri (@ZeqiriDan) December 6, 2021
Second half coming up
An offside, a foot to the face, a late goal, a downpour, a protest, bit of everything really in the first half. Let us see what the second brings.
Neville on the Godfrey foul
"You are talking to two of the masters of following through on the face and trying to make it look accidental. We think he means it.He is there, he has followed through over the top. After it, he realises what he has done. As a professional, definitely 100% he means that. You know it. I can see why it is not a red because VAR can't prove it, it's not a clear and obvious error."
Carragher: "Yeah, he is a very lucky boy."
Half time: Everton 0 Arsenal 1
Richarlison pulls his shirt over his head, he looks like he's ready to blow. The Arsenal fans sing happily, one-nil to the... well you know where that's going.
GOAL! Everton 0 Arsenal 1 (Odegaard 45+)
Oh no. Poor old Everton. They thought they were ahead, and now they are behind. To a nice goal, probably the best moment of the match. Tierney powers down the left, crosses and there is young mister Odegaard to tuck the ball away with a cr ispvolley.
43 mins: Everton 0 Arsenal 0
Everton have the ball in the net. it was a lovely whipped ball in, excellent leaping, guiding header from Richarlison. Oh no! It is offside. Ooh the energy slumps from the Everton crowd like a punctured balloon. No goal.
42 mins: Everton 0 Arsenal 0
Dear old Andros stands over it.
41 mins: Everton 0 Arsenal 0
Everton have a handily located freekick.
38 mins: Everton 0 Arsenal 0
Another corner. Pickford comes to punch but is blocked. Freekick.
37 mins: Everton 0 Arsenal 0
Arsenal have a corner. Cleared behind.
29 mins: Everton 0 Arsenal 0
And now Yerry Mina, who is only just back from injury, is going off. Holgate on.
All happening in the last few minutes here. Bar anything much in the football stakes.
28 mins: Everton 0 Arsenal 0
Never mind that. VAR are looking at a challenge from Ben Godfrey - his foot made contact with the chin of Tomiyasu when his opponent was on the ground. It looks very much like a deliberate stamp from where I'm sitting but the officials think otherwise.
— Rick O'Shea (@RickOShea54321) December 6, 2021
27 mins: Everton 0 Arsenal 0
Well, here they go. A few fans are indeed walking out. The rest are singing really loudly.
26 mins: Everton 0 Arsenal 0
Neither side has had a shot on target yet. I wonder if the protesting fans might be weighing up if it'll be wetter outside than in the stadium....
They've got a corner. Mina is the nearest to turning that in.
23 mins: Everton 0 Arsenal 0
Arsenal flapping around at the back, Gabriel gives the ball away. They get away with it because the shot is rubbs. Richarlison found Doucoure but he scuffed and dragged the shot a mile wide.
20 mins: Everton 0 Arsenal 0
Everton certainly up for the fight. Tierney's had a sore one. Not least Godfrey, he's certainly putting it about. And Saka is the next one to get a taste of the old dogs o' war. Godfrey clatters him.
15 mins: Everton 0 Arsenal 0
Arsenal moving it around, playing some nice enough stuff but it's a quiet affair so far. Neither of the two goalies, both England contenders, have had a lot to do.
13 mins: Everton 0 Arsenal 0
Gray (good Everton name, innit) drives forward and fizzes a shot not far wide.
11 mins: Everton 0 Arsenal 0
The heavens have OPENED ! Properly tipping it down.
7 mins: Everton 0 Arsenal 0
Godfrey with a thunderous tackle! That gets the crowd a-roaring.
6 mins: Everton 0 Arsenal 0
Applause for that poor little boy, Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, who was killed.
4 mins: Everton 0 Arsenal 0
A powerful run down the flank from Godfrey, gets into the box but sadly slips over. Oh dear. Hope it is not one of those days...
3 mins: Everton 0 Arsenal 0
Everton need a good start, and they are having plenty of the ball early on at least.
1 mins: Everton 0 Arsenal 0
Mike Dean calls proceedings to order. Everton are the first to show, the splendid Richarlison with a strong early run.
Arteta on Xhaka's speedy return
"Credit to the medical team, and Granit for pushing. His leadership and commitment, his understanding of the game are important. Some changes because we have got a lot of games coming up.
"Lacazette is more of a wing play player. He gives us something different."
Everton's 27 minute walk out
is supposed to reflect the fact that they have not won a trophy for 27 years. See?
He's a keeper
This man back in a former stomping ground
"When I worked with Rafa he was like this: he is a manager who has conflict where he goes. It stimulates him, gets him going. And the other thing he wants is control."
Here is Rafa's pre-match
"I am sure the second part of the league will be better. I knew that there was some conversations about the DoF leaving but I was focusing on the game.
"My message to players, fans and staff is to stick together. That is how you achieve success. I come from the city and I want to do well, so I understand."
welcome back Xhaka, and drop Aubameyang.
Monday Night Football
Carragher: "Everton are a joke. In the Moshiri era (since 2015) they have brought in 58 players. He hasn't got a clue what he is doing, hence 8 managers, players coming in left right and centre. Yes he has got the money but he has no expertise." Evening!
Everton: Pickford, Coleman, Mina, Keane, Godfrey, Gordon, Doucoure, Allan, Gray, Townsend, Richarlison. Subs: Kenny, Holgate, Delph, Begovic, Iwobi, Tosun, Andre Gomes, Gbamin, Branthwaite.
Arsenal: Ramsdale, Tomiyasu, White, Gabriel, Tierney, Partey, Xhaka, Martinelli, Odegaard, Saka, Lacazette. Subs: Aubameyang, Holding, Cedric, Pepe, Tavares, Sambi Lokonga, Elneny, Nketiah, Okonkwo.
Referee: Mike Dean (Wirral)
Everton vs Arsenal
Good evening, and welcome to our live blog of Monday night football, on which Everton welcome Arsenal to Goodison Park. Are we calling it the Mikel Arteta derby? Why not, eh? Talking of managers, it does not sound too good for dear old Rafa Benitez.
Rafa Benitez was given the "full support" of Everton's board. Uh-oh. They have not won in their last eight League games and are five points above the relegation spaces in 16th. Championship football looks more likely than European football at time of writing, and there has already been one casualty.
Director of Football Marcel Brands "has left his post". They gave him three and half years in which he spent the lion's share of 300 million quid. So... mixed results. Mixed.
"This decision has taken some time and some consideration and was one of the most difficult I have faced in my career," Brands said.
"The board and I agreed that there is a clear difference in the vision and direction for this beautiful club and, with that in mind, the decision was taken," he said.
Brands said he is "convinced that there is enough quality to improve the current situation quickly."
Well, I guess we will see about that. They can see how they get on against Arsenal in the 8pm kick off this evening. We will have the team news at 7pm. As I mentioned, Everton are in a pickle in 16th. Arsenal in seventh.
One other thing: there have been rumours of a special guest on Sky Sports' Monday Night Football, one of the most exciting young talents in world football. Erling Haaland.
— Jamie Carragher (@Carra23) December 6, 2021