New Everton manager Sean Dyche got off to a dream start as a much-improved side deservedly edged past Premier League leaders Arsenal at rowdy Goodison Park.
Dyche was appointed boss last Monday following the departure of Frank Lampard, who was sacked with Everton in the relegation zone.
But the hosts secured their first victory in 11 games in all competitions thanks to a link between two men who played for Dyche at Burnley.
Centre-half James Tarkowski rose at the far post to bring home a corner header from Dwight McNeil to spark the kind of happy scenes that have rarely been seen at Goodison this season.
Everton had also benefited from the better chances in the opening period, but striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin was unable to convert Amadou Onana’s excellent low cross and also headed wide.
Arsenal were beaten for long stretches and failed to find any rhythm, although the signing of Leandro Trossard in January forced Jordan Pickford to a hard late stop.
The Gunners have failed to find the leveler and will see their lead at the top reduced to two points if champions Manchester City beat Tottenham on Sunday.
Everton show much-needed fight and courage
Thousands of people marched down Goodison Road before kick-off, protesting against the Everton board and its management of the club.
But what a transformation there has been on the pitch in just five days under the experienced Dyche.
The former Burnley boss has already set out to change the mindset of a team that has been abject this season.
Writing in his matchday program notes, Dyche asked for ‘hard work’ and a display of ‘pride’ to wear the Everton shirt – and he got both.
Settling into a 4-5-1 formation, Everton threw themselves into tackles and gave top-flight Arsenal no breathing room – with Vitalii Mykolenko’s late challenge to captain Martin Odegaard in the second minute setting the tone.
The home side’s fierce and pressing tackles were epitomized by Belgian international midfielder Onana, who netted more tackles – four – than any other player on the pitch, with each challenge met with a roar from the home fans.
Calvert-Lewin could have done better with his chances but couldn’t find the frame, while Abdoulaye Doucoure – reinstated in the squad after a falling out with Lampard led to him being omitted – sent a header honest aside.
It didn’t cost them much, however, as Tarkowski nodded at the back post on the hour mark before heading off to celebrate a goal that ended a four-game losing streak at home with a decisive victory.
It was only their fourth league win in 21 games this season, taking them one point out of the relegation zone, but they could move back into the bottom three depending on further results this weekend.
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