Everton 1 Chelsea 0
Everton have remembered how to win. The Sean Dyche era started in victorious fashion as two Burnley old boys combined to lift the mood around Goodison Park and inflict only a second league defeat of the season on leaders Arsenal. Mikel Arteta’s title contenders were easily subdued by a classic case of new manager bounce.
James Tarkowski headed home a Dwight McNeil corner to give their former Burnley manager the perfect start in his attempt to preserve Everton’s Premier League status. Without a league win since October, Everton put in a prodigious shift to stifle an Arsenal team unbeaten in 14 league games and end their own sorry run of results.
Amadou Onana and Abdoulaye Doucouré, superb throughout, sunk to their knees on the final whistle out of pure relief and exhaustion. Dyche had questioned whether Everton still knew how to win during Burnley’s victory over Frank Lampard’s team last season. Those doubts have been banished on day one.
The transformation in Everton was immediately apparent. Dyche had preached the merits of hard graft and organisation throughout his first five days on the training ground. The work, while crammed in, paid off in a relentless performance that made life uncomfortable for the league leaders and could have brought the much-needed boost to morale of an interval lead.
Arsenal dominated possession early on and created clear openings for Eddie Nketiah and Bukayo Saka, who had a goalbound volley cleared off the line by Conor Coady, but faced a severe test of their composure and ability to break down a deep, resolute opponent.
Dyche received a warm ovation inside Goodison before kick off and got what he asked for not only from his new players. The fans, having staged a peaceful protest against the board before the game, parked their grievances against the club as requested and were fully behind the team’s tireless efforts.
The Everton board were again absent having been instructed to stay away by their own security advisors. It was a wise decision. They have become too much of a distraction, as well as a liability, to the all-consuming task of remaining in the league.
A plane flew overhead in the early stages carrying a banner that read: “League’s worst run club”. Dyche’s mission to improve the league’s worst performing team – with one win in 12 league games leaving Everton joint-bottom and Frank Lampard out of a job – started with a shift to 4-1-4-1 and recalls for his former winger McNeil and Doucouré. Doucouré had been forced to train alone in the final days of Lampard’s reign following a dressing room row involving Idrissa Gana Gueye. He prospered from the clean slate, although should have edged Everton ahead with a header from McNeil’s cross during the hosts’ first sustained spell of pressure. A slip by Gabriel Magalhães left the midfielder unmarked inside the penalty area but he steered a tame header wide of Aaron Ramsdale’s goal.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin was inches away from converting an Onana cross along the face of the Arsenal goal. Onana, the subject of enquiries from Arsenal and Chelsea during the January window but no official bids, was another who flourished in Dyche’s system and disrupted the visitors’ midfield throughout.
It took half an hour for Arsenal to find a way through Everton’s disciplined defence. Saka held off Vitalii Mykolenko and found Nketiah lurking on the edge of the area. The striker sprinted past Tarkowski with ease only to slice his finish high and wide from a tight angle. Saka was closer with the volley from Oleksandr Zinchenko’s deep cross that beat Pickford but not Coady, while Martin Ødegaard blazed over from Nketiah’s pull-back early in the second half.
Substitute Leandro Trossard and Saka were also wasteful after the break but it was by no means an impressive, threatening display from the title contenders. Arsenal were careless in possession, subdued by Everton’s industry, and duly punished when the old Burnley connection combined to give the relegation-threatened team a precious lead.
[ Dyche wants to reignite the fire that burned in the great Everton teams of the 1980s ]
Dyche had clearly worked on set-pieces during his early days at the helm and Onana and Calvert-Lewin both went close from in-swinging deliveries in the first half. The breakthrough arrived on the hour when McNeil swept a right wing corner to the back post and Tarkowski held off the tame presence of Ødegaard to beat Ramsdale with a close range header. Goodison erupted at the powerful defender’s first Everton goal and spent the final half hour imploring their team to hold firm. Unlike under Lampard they obliged. Dyche has lift off..