Result: Arsenal 0-1 Everton
Competition: Premier League
Date: 23 April 2021
Venue: Emirates Stadium
Arsenal: Arsenal: Leno, Chambers, Holding, Mari, Xhaka, Ceballos, Partey, Saka, Smith Rowe, Pepe, Nketiah
Subs: Ryan, Bellerin, Cedric, Gabriel, Elneny, Odegaard, Willian, Nelson, Martinelli
A terrible mistake by Bernd Leno gifted Everton a 1-0 win against Arsenal at the Emirates on a night when Gunners supporters gathered in their thousands outside the ground to protest against the Kroenke ownership.
With his teammates dominating proceedings, the German fumbled Richarlison’s shot into his own net with 14 minutes remaining to put another dagger in Mikel Arteta’s hopes of qualifying for Europa via the Premier League.
In the absence of Alex Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Eddie Nketiah got the nod to start in attack. The England under-21 international had Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe and Nicolas Pepe in support meaning Gabriel Martinelli took up a place on the bench. Thomas Partey and Dani Ceballos anchored midfield allowing Granit Xhaka to continue his role at left-back. Bernd Leno was restored between the sticks having been rested against Fulham. Martin Odegaard, back from an ankle problem, was a welcome addition to the bench.
Thanks to a police helicopter buzzing overhead and chants filtering through from the anti-Kroenke protest outside the Emirates, there was a frisson of excitement in the air as the game kicked off. Within minutes, a cacophony of fireworks added to the atmosphere. It turned out to be the most exciting moment of a drab opening 45 minutes.
Both sides looked organised off the ball and tidy on it but a cutting edge was sorely missing. Calvert-Lewin, back from injury, added a physicality to the Everton frontline but Holding, Chambers and Pablo Mari did well to keep him quiet.
Half chances were the best either side could muster before the break. Saka tested Pickford with a low drive, Nketiah tried to cause mischief with a high press and Partey stole balls deep in the Toffees half but without an established goal threat, we did look a bit toothless. Much of Arsenal’s play involved trying to free Nicolas Pepe but Seamus Coleman wasn’t unduly hassled.
At the other end, a couple of Partey fouls, first on Richarlison and then on Rodriguez, set-up free-kicks in dangerous areas for the visitors. Sigurdsson clipped the bar with the first and the second, by Digne, was cleared with ease.
It was tight and tense but, ultimately, it wasn’t hard to see why both sides are currently labouring outside the European positions.
Everton sent a warning inside two minutes of the restart as Sigurdsson met a Coleman pullback only for Holding to produce a fine block to stop the net rippling.
Five minutes later, it looked as though the Gunners had won a penalty. Richarlison stuck out a lazy leg to fell Ceballos and VAR confirmed the contact. Except, in the build-up, the technology somehow still found a reason to deny us the spot-kick. Pepe’s shoulder was adjudged offside by a millimetre and the decision was reversed.
Arsenal continued to search for the opener. Holgate came close to putting past his own keeper when he deflected a Chambers cross into the side netting. Soon after, Pepe and Saka both played further dangerous crosses into the box but they escaped anyone in red.
Pepe’s presence continued to be a nuisance to Everton and the Ivorian drew a booking from Holgate who went straight through him. VAR even checked to see if it was worthy of a red. From the replay Chambers bounced a volley just wide after connecting with Saka’s set piece.
The pressure kept mounting. Ceballos tried his luck from range forcing Pickford to claw away for a corner. Partey followed suit but his effort, as they so often are, was wild and way off target. Clearly frustrated that his side couldn’t make their dominance pay, Arteta prepared Martinelli and Odegaard to come on. Pepe and Nketiah made way.
Everton had barely been in our half for 30 minutes but thanks to a ridiculous mistake by Bernd Leno they took the lead on 76 minutes. A ball over the top allowed Richarlison to chase into space, he skipped past Xhaka and crossed low into the six-yard box. The German was under no pressure whatsoever but somehow allowed the ball to squirm through his legs and into the goal. It was a disastrous piece of keeping. (1-0)
Arteta chucked Willian on as a last throw of the dice but the visitors sapped the tempo out of the game, sat deep, added Yerry Mina’s height to the backline and held firm through four minutes of stoppage time despite Martinelli testing Pickford with a late effort.
We probably didn’t deserve to lose tonight but a seventh home league defeat of the season underlines where we are as a side. Attention now turns to the Europa League. It would be good if we could deny Unai Emery the chance to heap further misery on us.