Everton produced a performance of gripping intensity to maintain their unbeaten home record under Ronald Koeman and secure a vital 2-1 win over Arsenal. A match that began with nervousness, fearful passing and an individual catastrophe from Ashley Williams ended with a tenacious Everton, a boisterous Goodison and, redemptively, a Williams winner.

Everton gather to celebrate Ashley William's 87th-minute winner in a crucial Goodison clash with Arsenal.

Koeman’s side still cannot claim to have put in a full 90-minute display but this was certainly their best effort. Disillusioned supporters were re-energised with appreciation as the Blues worked their socks off. Led by James McCarthy and Idrissa Gueye who patrolled aggressively in the centre, Everton showed determination and a much greater willingness to compete. And yet it started in dire fashion.

I don’t know if your centre-back has ever taken an unnecessary touch under pressure, lost possession, studded a teammate’s knee, saw his fellow centre-back booked trying to cover, then deflected the easily saveable free-kick into his own goal, but take it from me, it’s as rubbish as it sounds. With the worst defending I’ve ever seen, Ashley Williams handed Arsenal and Alexis Sanchez the lead.

Desperation proved the catalytic force for Everton. The Blues harried, tackled hard and forced Petr Cech to kick long. One vengeful McCarthy hack on Francis Coquelin lifted the crowd, and though Everton’s shot quality was poor, a goal felt entirely possible. Indeed it was. Leighton Baines has been deprived of crossing opportunities with Kevin Mirallas and Yannick Bolasie ahead but with space to run into and time to cut on to his right foot, his fantastic delivery allowed Seamus Coleman to glance just before the break.

Seamus Coleman celebrates his second goal in three games at Goodison - the vital equaliser in the 2-1 win over Arsenal

The second half followed a similar pattern. Arsenal set up in Everton’s half, regained the ball quickly, and looked easily capable of creating chances but Mesut Ozil – quiet throughout – blazed the best one over. Again, Everton seized control as Gueye and McCarthy’s combativeness forced them forward. With Lukaku winning more headers than usual, Ross Barkley was able to push up. One rasping left-foot effort that sailed just wide hinted at his growing confidence.

And then came one of the moments of the night on 79 minutes. Enner Valencia, derided by Evertonians since his arrival and barely used by Koeman, had earned a start with cameo graft. Here he converted that to a full display of willingness and was duly applauded as Koeman – addressing one of his own shortcomings – replaced him with youngster Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

The Goodison of old

Koeman settled for a point against Spurs, and desperately gambled for one against Swansea and Man Utd, but here he went for it. Immediately, McCarthy surged and forced Laurent Koscielny to bring him down. The Frenchman could have outpaced McCarthy and no doubt regretted his decision when Calvert-Lewin headed behind only for Mark Clattenburg to award the corner. Everton thought they had won it when Phil Jagielka half-volleyed well but Cech’s fine save denied fans’ delirium. Or rather delayed it as comically negligent marking from Ozil then allowed Williams to fully redeem himself and head the winner into the corner.

Ashley Williams makes amends after his earlier blunder to secure Everton's victory over Arsenal at Goodison Park.

The remaining action could fill a short film on how ridiculously bad Premier League footballers can be. Firstly, Barkley shot instead of assisting Kevin Mirallas for the clincher before Jagielka received a second booking for a trip on Lucas Perez. The last few seconds will live long in the memory. A minute of football in which there were three huge chances, two incredible blocks, a blatant penalty overlooked, a last-ditch slide tackle and both keepers in the same net. Pinball comedy football.

Everton hung on to create – on the back of one win in 11 – vital momentum heading into next Monday’s Merseyside derby. This was a huge night for Koeman. Not only did he get the win he desperately needed to begin to assuage his doubters, he got a real sense of the benefit the Goodison crowd can be, and what kind of football it takes to stir it. There’s a natural fit between Koeman’s aggressive style and Everton tradition; they overlapped perfectly on Tuesday.

It was, in many ways, a return to the competitive intensity of the bear pit David Moyes cultivated at Goodison. The weak first 20 minutes aside, Everton fought for every ball, used their physicality to unsettle, and were the dominant team from set pieces. The flimsy, boring football of Roberto Martinez’s later days turned the Goodison atmosphere against Everton, but for the first time in years, grit and determination made it an asset once again.

Quietly, Koeman is re-establishing Everton’s home advantage. Four wins and four draws leave Everton unbeaten in the league at Goodison with three of the top six resisted so far. But the ultimate test is mere days away. If Everton can replicate Tuesday’s heroics when Liverpool venture across Stanley Park, the Koeman era will have precisely the shot in the arm it needs.
By Chris Smith
Follow me on Twitter@cdsmith789 

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