The first half at Goodison Park was desperately low on quality but Martin Odegaard opened the scoring on the stroke of half-time as he buried Kieran Tierney’s cross on the volley.
It came three minutes after Richarlison saw a header disallowed by VAR for a tight offside, while Everton defender Ben Godfrey was fortunate to not have seen red for catching Takehiro Tomiyasu’s face with his studs earlier in the half.
Richarlison was denied for a second time in an even closer offside decision, but the Brazilian levelled at the third attempt as he guided a header past Aaron Ramsdale after Gray had struck the bar. Gray then smashed in a dramatic winner in stoppage time, before Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang spurned a golden chance to equalise with the last kick of the match.
Here are five things we learned:
Everton rewarded for their perseverance with important win
When it rains at Goodison, it often pours, but Everton showed impressive resilience to ensure that they come away with a stunning and potential pivotal victory. Gray’s spectacular goal ensured their winless run in the Premier League did not extend to nine matches, and in the end it didn’t deserve to.
This was a spirited performance - led by Richarlison and finished by the lively Gray - and there were signs throughout the match that the home fans were prepared to get behind their beleaguered team and under-fire manager Rafa Benitez. Gray’s winner was just reward for their support.
A planned protest in the 27th minute passed by with only a handful of fans joining in the walkout and the majority backing their side. Their patience was tested when the Toffees saw two goals disallowed for tight offsides - with Richarlison’s second denied effort being one of the most perplexing VAR decisions in the Premier League this year.
It was believed that this season VAR would offer more of an advantage to the attacker in such situations, and we have seen that at times throughout the campaign, but Richarlison being denied after appearing to be level with Gabriel felt like we had gone back to some of the frustrations of the past couple of seasons.
To compound matters, Richarlison’s first disallowed goal was followed by Odegaard’s opener moments later, while the second would have given Everton a huge lift ahead of the closing stages.
It was all set to turn into another miserable night for Everton and Benitez - and the turnaround they produced was remarkable in the wider context.
Arsenal pay for lacking attacking spark
The first period of this Monday night encounter was one of the worst halves of Premier League football you are likely to see this season and Arsenal were extremely flattered by the 1-0 scoreline they held going into the break.
In the end, a 2-1 Everton win was a deserved result for the hosts against the Gunners, who desperately looked off the pace on Merseyside. Odegaard’s sublime technique to finish Tierney’s cross was the only moment of attacking quality produced by Mikel Arteta’s side on a night was raises questions following an encouraging few weeks.
With Emile Smith Rowe out of the side due to injury, Odegaard took up much of the attacking responsibility. Bukayo Saka tried the best he could but he was on the receiving end of some physical treatment from the Everton defenders and must have come off the pitch battered and bruised.
Big questions have to be asked of why Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who was dropped for Alexandre Lacazette, was not called upon until the 85th minute as Arsenal looked for a winner. The Arsenal captain is out of form but it was clear that something was missing in their play - and it was curious that Eddie Nketiah was summoned before he was.
Arsenal’s golden chance to win the match late on fell to Nketiah late on but the 22-year-old could only strike the post with a back-post header from the point-blank range.
Gray’s spectacular strike punished them, before Aubameyang dragged wide with the final kick of the game to perhaps show why he had been left out in the first place.
Arsenal changes backfire
Arsenal made four changes for the trip to Everton - and only one of them worked. Gabriel Martinelli, Granit Xhaka and Alexandre Lacazette had little impact here, and Arteta’s side were short of rhythm as they fell to back-to-back defeats.
The only positive of the evening was Kieran Tierney, who made an immediate impact with a number of storming runs from left back and produced an excellent clipped cross to set up Odegaard’s volley. The Scotland international had missed the last six games, and not all them through injury after Nuno Tavares had been given a run in the team. Tavares had impressed in some of his offerings but there can be little doubt that Tierney is a more reliable presence in Arsenal’s defence, while still providing considerable threat at the other end.
Tierney was replaced by Tavares after the hour-mark, when Arsenal were still one goal up, but those other changes in Arteta’s team struggled to make similar contributions. Lacazette was quiet, tending to drop into deeper positions, and Arsenal missed a leading presence in their attack as a result. Martinelli will see this as an opportunity missed after being handed a start in the absence of Emile Smith Rowe.
Xhaka was a surprise return given that he was expected to be out until the new year - and this was another evening that will do little to convince his doubters.
Godfrey lucky to escape red in Tomiyasu incident
One of the few moments to spark Goodison Park during the first half was a crunching, and perfectly fair, tackle from Godfrey on Tomiyasu but the Everton defender was incredibly fortunate to escape a red card in a later incident with the Japan international.
There had been a couple of clashes between Godfrey and Tomiyasu on the near touchline and when the Arsenal defender went down trying to keep the ball in play, the 23-year-old fell on top of him, with his studs catching Tomiyasu’s cheek.
The impact left a mark on the Arsenal’s player face and the incident was checked by VAR but there was no further action. This seemed to surprise the majority of those watching, but Godfrey was perhaps helped that there was little evidence of any clear intent.
Speaking on Sky Sports, Gary Neville said that as a former player, he could tell that Godfrey “100%” meant to catch Tomiyasu - an opinion that seemed to be shared on social media.
But, as it could be seen by the second Richarlison offside, this was an evening in which the decisions of the officials did not match up with public consensus.
Partey receives another low mark
Speaking ahead of his side’s trip to Goodison, Thomas Partey admitted that his Arsenal career had only been a “four out of 10” so far - and tonight’s performance will have done little to lift his critical self-assessment.
The former Atletico Madrid midfielder was referencing his performance in the 3-2 defeat away to Manchester United last week, in which he was particularly wasteful in possession on a number of occasions.
A wild shot from the outside of the box that sailed well high and wide early in the match, when his teammates were in better positions, seemed to be a continuation of that form.
Partey continued to struggle when Arsenal needed to keep the ball while under pressure from Everton in the second half and apart from one defensive intervention on Andre Gomes, the Ghanaian failed to live up to the test.
It may seem unfair to single him out, but after acknowledging that he needed to respond to his own criticism, Partey failed to do that.
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