The plan was to protest against six years of mismanagement under Farhad Moshiri but Everton, and Demarai Gray in particular, had other ideas. Goodison Park was tumultuous alright, and with the long-awaited release of victory after Gray’s stunning stoppage time strike gave Rafael Benítez’s team their first win in night games.
Arsenal led through Martin Ødegaard and survived two VAR decisions to disallow Richarlison goals for offside. But Everton would not be denied. Richarlison levelled with 10 minutes remaining before Gray, seizing on André Gomes’s pass out to the left, beat two Arsenal defenders before sending an unstoppable finish in off Aaron Ramsdale’s left-hand post.
Emotions are always dictated by events on the pitch and Everton managed to subdue a planned 27th-minute protest with a more intense and committed display than they produced in the Merseyside derby. Andros Townsend charged down Arsenal goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale straight from the kick off while Ben Godfrey brought the home crowd to their feet by winning a 50-50 with Takehiro Tomiyasu ferociously yet cleanly. Godfrey started at left back in place of the France international Lucas Digne, who was not injured but omitted from the squad entirely, and survived a VAR review for a possible red card offence when catching the prone Japan international in the face with his studs. A fortunate reprieve, especially for Tomiyasu, who was able to continue following treatment.
Various Everton supporters’ groups had called for a mass walk-out in the 27th minute to mark what will be 27 years without a trophy at the end of this season, the longest drought in the club’s history, and to register their dismay at the “governance and management” of the club during Moshiri’s six years in charge. Contrary to expectations, the majority shareholder was nowhere to be seen and at the scheduled time of the protest Everton were attacking from a corner.
Gray flashed a cross along the face of goal but no teammate was on hand to convert at the back post. Some fans did leave their seats in the 27th minute, others booed, and the majority got to their feet to urge their team on. A banner reading: ‘Time is up Bill’ was unfurled opposite the Everton chairman Bill Kenwright. More problematic for Benítez was another injury to Yerry Mina which forced the influential defender off only 31 minutes into his comeback from a two-month lay-off.
Greater intensity from Everton did not transfer into a greater threat in front of goal, although they were the more purposeful team for the opening 20 minutes with Arsenal struggling to find rhythm or composure on the ball. Gray fired over following a fine run inside and Abdoulaye Doucouré sent a shot wide on the turn, but the home side had barely tested Ramsdale before Richarlison steered a header from Townsend’s free-kick inside his right hand post. The relief among the Everton players was palpable as they celebrated with the Brazil international but deflation set in when VAR disallowed the goal for a fractional offside against the goalscorer.
From 1-0 up on the cusp of half-time, Everton found themselves trailing 1-0 to the Arsenal by the time the whistle came.
The threat from the visitors increased marginally as the first half progressed and Kieran Tierney crafted the breakthrough with a superb delivery from the left. Alexandre Lacazette, leading the line in place of the dropped Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, released the Scotland defender beyond Séamus Coleman and his cross landed perfectly behind Everton’s back-line for the unmarked Martin Ødegaard to beat Jordan Pickford with a controlled volley into the bottom corner. Richarlison beat his fists into the ground at the sudden shift in fortune. His despair, and Everton’s incredulity, would intensify.
Richarlison convincingly beat Ramsdale for a second time early in the second half, when found in space on the right of the Arsenal penalty area by Doucouré. The Everton striker swept a blistering finish inside Ramsdale’s near post and, along with everyone else on the pitch, was ready for the restart when the dreaded hand of VAR interfered once again. After a lengthy review the goal was disallowed for another forensically tight offside call against Richarlison. The Brazilian was left with his head in his hands while Goodison was in uproar when the incident was replayed on the giant screens inside the stadium.
Everton, to their credit, responded impressively to the latest setback with the returning Gomes injecting much-needed creativity into midfield. Gomes was involved in the equaliser, turning Richarlison’s pass on to Gray who cut inside and curled a dipping shot over Ramsdale. Misfortune appeared to intervene again when Gray’s effort struck the crossbar but Richarlison reacted brilliantly to send a looping header over the Arsenal keeper and in. VAR did not make it a hat-trick.
Mikel Arteta introduced Eddie Nketiah ahead of Aubameyang and the substitute should have won the game late on when Bukayo Saka floated a cross to the back post. Unmarked, Nketiah headed against the post from close range as luck finally shone on the hosts. Gray would take full advantage.