LIVERPOOL, England — Three thoughts from Everton’s 2-1 win over Arsenal at Goodison Park in Premier League action.
1. Arsenal miss their chance to go top
History often repeats itself at Arsenal, but not this week. The Gunners had gone to the summit of the division on Saturday, before losing their Premier League lead on Sunday. For the second time in a week, they had a chance to overhaul Chelsea, if only temporarily. This time it was spurned.
They lost not only the game, but an unbeaten away record that stretched back to March’s trip to Barcelona. And while Arsene Wenger had taken solace from Arsenal’s habit of coming from behind to win games, the opposite applied this time. Their lead was wiped out by Seamus Coleman and they conceded a winner to Ashley Williams.
Arsenal failed to build on the lead Alexis Sanchez gave them. The Chilean was alone among their attacking starters in performing near his potential and Mesut Ozil had an off day. Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were both replaced. Collectively, their finishing was too wayward. They fashioned too few chances.
And while they had withstood some pressure from Everton, Ronald Koeman’s side came on strong in the final 15 minutes of each half. On both occasions, a defender was afforded too much room to head past Petr Cech. Everton had showed character to come from behind and held on with 10 men after Phil Jagielka collected a second booking, which will rule him out of Monday’s Merseyside derby against Liverpool, in added time. Leighton Baines preserved the points with a goal-line clearance to deny Alex Iwobi.
In the process, Everton extricated themselves from a wretched run of 11 games that yielded a solitary win and completed a Merseyside double, Arsenal’s only other league loss coming to Liverpool on the opening weekend. The Gunners had gone unbeaten in 14 subsequent matches, taking 34 points from a possible 42. Now they could be six adrift of Chelsea after Wednesday’s games.
2. Everton defenders deliver goals at either end
It is only a few weeks ago since Everton had the second-best defensive record in the Premier League. Now, goals seem a constant for their defenders. That is usually a negative, though not always. For the third consecutive game at Goodison Park, an Everton full-back equalised. And this time, a centre-back delivered the winner.
Coleman appeared unmarked six yards from goal to head in Baines’ centre to convert his team’s first, Everton’s full-backs combining to greater attacking intent than at any previous stage of Ronald Koeman’s reign. It says something about others’ struggles that the Toffees’ right-back is now their second-highest scorer.
He was required to cancel out a goal that completed an unfortunate two minutes for Williams. As Jagielka ploughed into Francis Coquelin, conceding a free kick and collecting a caution, his central-defensive partner upended Idrissa Gueye who, having been on the end of a shocking tackle from Marcos Rojo in the last game at Goodison, must wonder what he has done to offend opponents and colleagues alike. Had the victim not been a teammate, Williams might have seen red.
When Sanchez took the subsequent free kick, the Welshman lingered off the end of the wall. The Chilean’s shot clipped his right leg, allowing it to squirm under Maarten Stekelenburg. Once a target for Arsenal, Williams did them a service without ever signing for them.
But then Arsenal were left to rue their inability to lure Williams from Swansea in previous summers. Moments after Jagielka had drawn a fine save from Petr Cech, he headed in Ross Barkley’s corner. It was a redemptive moment to complete a fine comeback.
3. Sanchez strikes again to join Costa at the top
Arsenal can console themselves that at least they top one table. Sanchez’s 12th goal of the Premier League campaign meant he drew level with Diego Costa in the scorers’ chart. It’s a fine achievement for a player who, though prolific from the flanks for years, was not really perceived as a striker a few months ago.
There was fortune in the way of a deflected goal, but Sanchez was a deserving scorer nonetheless. He was the brightest player on the pitch, quicker and more elusive than everyone else, the antithesis of a target man with his reluctance to stand still for more than a moment. He has the capacity to materialise across the forward line, enabling him to create chances that Walcott and Ozil squandered with crosses.
He is scorer and provider alike, a man made more potent by his reinvention. There is a reluctance in some quarters to afford Wenger credit for his rethink. Some believe he stumbled on a solution in attack after failing to sign Jamie Vardy. Others have found fault with him for not considering using Sanchez as the furthest man forward before.
In reality, Wenger not only thought of it before, but tried it. This was not Sanchez’s first start as a striker at Goodison Park. He led the line away at Everton in just his fourth Gunners game in 2014. He only lasted 45 minutes before substitute and eventual scorer Olivier Giroud was summoned. The Premier League looked a culture shock for Sanchez that evening; he seemed to lack the physicality to operate as a centre-forward.
Hence his successful switch back to the wing. Two years later, acclimatised to both Arsenal and the division and brimming with confidence, he has proved a more convincing striker. Giroud is Arsenal’s Plan B now, and he came off the bench for the final 20 minutes, but the Frenchman was unable to extend a fine scoring record against Everton.
Richard Jolly covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @RichJolly.