Everton eased some of the pressure on manager Rafa Benitez as it ground out a comeback 2-1 home win over Arsenal in the Premier League on Monday, with Demarai Gray netting a stunning stoppage-time winner after setting up the equaliser.
Brazilian forward Richarlison, who had two goals scrapped for marginal offsides after VAR checks, had levelled in the 79th minute after Gray hit the crossbar, cancelling out Martin Odegaard’s first-half opener for the visitors.
The outcome left Arsenal seventh on 23 points from 15 games, four points outside the top four, while Everton, which announced on Sunday that director of football Marcel Brands had left his position, climbed to 12th on 18 points.
Everton captain Seamus Coleman praised the home fans who lifted the Toffees in the face of adversity after it fell behind, having also singled out Gray’s fine performance.
Manchester United faces Aston Villa, Leicester hosts Watford in FA Cup third round
“We knew whatever goes on behind the scenes, the fans always come here to support us,” Coleman told Sky Sports. “They got behind us from minute one to minute 90 and got us over the line.
“I tell him (Gray) every day. Sometimes these players don’t realise how good they can be. He has bundles of ability. He needs to work hard every day as that is what the top players do. He has done that this week.”
Everton dominated the first half and created several half-chances before Richarlison headed in a 44th-minute free kick from Andros Townsend, only for his effort to be chalked off.
Norwegian Odegaard then scored on the stroke of halftime from Arsenal’s first purposeful move, steering the ball superbly past goalkeeper Jordan Pickford as he got on the end of Kieran Tierney’s cross from the left.
Richarlison thought he had equalised in the 57th minute when he drove the ball inside the near post from close range, but Everton was again denied by VAR leaving the Brazilian shaking his head in disbelief.
In-form Inter ready for final push in Madrid, says Inzaghi
But it was third time lucky for Richarlison as he beat Arsenal keeper Aaron Ramsdale with a looping header from a rebound after Gray’s long-range shot cannoned off the woodwork, setting up a frantic climax.
With a share of the spoils looming, Gray sent the home fans into raptures when he cut inside two players and beat Ramsdale with a thunderbolt from 25 metres which went in off the post, giving Everton its first league win in nine games.
After the match, Benitez heaped praise on his team for its resilience.
“The reaction of the team to the goals that were disallowed and conceding a goal at the end of the first half, we still scored goals and reacted,” the Spaniard told Sky Sports.
“Every player and fan is expecting that. Everybody is really pleased and hopefully it is the right step forward. Everything is against you but the character they showed today, with the fans behind, they can enjoy that.
“The fans are expecting commitment. You can talk about mistakes and we conceded because we made mistakes against a good team. In terms of commitment the players are there and the fans appreciate that.”
Ibrahimovic wants to stay at AC Milan for life, ‘scared to stop’ playing
Gray said his own spectacular winner was his best moment at Everton since he joined from Leicester City in July.
“It was a crazy moment, my best moment here so far,” he said. “As a group we have gone through this bad patch but we have stuck together. With the fans like that, behind us for the whole game, it’s more than deserved.”
Odegaard said Arsenal was disappointed to suffer a third successive league defeat after taking the lead at Goodison Park, albeit against the run of play.
“It’s a hard one to take. I think in general we were not at the level we needed to be at today,” said the Norwegian. “We have to do better when we have that lead. We stopped playing and gave them the game they wanted to play.
“When you’re leading 1-0 you get afraid to lose the win and in my opinion that’s what we did wrong today. You go for the second goal and that was the intention but we didn’t manage to do that on the pitch.”
Sampdoria president to resign after arrest, investigation into bankruptcy
Arteta ‘very disappointed’
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta was “very disappointed” with his side’s performance against Everton, which saw them slip to seventh in the Premier League.
“I’m very disappointed. I think in the first half, we were inconsistent with the ball … we didn’t have enough penetration or threat on the opponents’ goal,” Arteta said.
“One of the few times we did it, we scored a goal from Martin, and then in the second half we had to grab the game … but again, in moments we were sloppy.
“We gave too many balls away too easily and encouraged them against the movement that they had in the press.”
The Spaniard also criticised Arsenal’s errant finishing and called on his side to be more ruthless in front of the goal.
“The few times that we did break the press, we were open on goal, but we have to do it much more consistently,” Arteta added.
“We created four big, big chances, and when you don’t put them in the net away from home, it’s very complicated to win the game, especially if you concede in the way that we did, for example with the first goal.”
Arsenal next hosts Southampton on Dec. 11.