Everton were left counting the cost of some slack defending at one end and missed chances at the other as they fell to familiar defeat at Arsenal.
The Blues haven't won on the Gunners' home turf since 1996 but they put themselves in a great position to end that sorry sequence when Dominic Calvert-Lewin scored with less than a minute on the clock.
It proved to be too much soon, however, and just the catalyst that Mikel Arteta's improving side needed to turn the game on its head to lead 2-1 heading towards half-time.
Just as they did at Watford earlier this month, however, the Blues levelled things up at 2-2 with a goal in first-half stoppage time but they succumbed to a quick strike within 60 seconds of the start of the second half that eventually proved to be crucial as Calvert-Lewin couldn't convert with a couple of gilt-edged chances.
Carlo Ancelotti made a number of changes to the side that had started against Crystal Palace, one of them enforced by injury to Lucas Digne that saw Leighton Baines come in as skipper while Seamus Coleman dropped back to the bench to accommodate Djibril Sidibé's return to the starting XI.
Mason Holgate also returned to partner Yerry Mina, Alex Iwobi replaced Bernard and Fabian Delph was drafted back in following his one-game ban as Theo Walcott was sidelined by the knee injury he picked up in the last game.
Arsenal didn't even get a chance to see how Ancelotti had setup up his somewhat unorthodox team selection before the visitors took the leas. Danny Ceballos fouled Richarlison in dangerous area with just 17 seconds on the clock and when David Luiz could only head the resulting free-kick into the air, Calvert-Lewin pounced on it opportunistically with an acrobatic backwards finish off the outside of his boot.
Arsenal responded in predictable fashion and Shkodran Mustafoi headed a corner over the bar before Arteta's team started to pick holes in Everton's defence. Nicolas Pepe was picked out in space wide on the right but his attempt to curl a shot around Jordan Pickford was weak and easily saved.
An injury to Sead Kolašinac midway through the first half proved to be a blessing in disguise for the Gunners, however. The Bosnian international was replaced by Bukayo Saka and the teenager wasted little time in serving up the equaliser for Eddie Nketiah. The former whipped a cross in from the left and the forward steered a side-foot finish past Pickford to make it 1-1 with 26 minutes gone.
Six minutes later, Arsenal were in front. Increasingly targeting Djibril Sidibé's positional weakness down their left, the hosts profited down that route with Luiz threaded a ball between the French fullback and Yerry Mina that put Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang into the clear where he calmly slotted past Pickford.
Richarlison's wayward header a minute before the end of the regulation first 45 minutes appeared to be Everton's last chance to reclaiming parity heading into the break but when Sidibé's charging run forced a late corner, the Blues plundered an equaliser of their own.
Mina caused havoc in the Arsenal box with a backwards header that dropped in front of Bernd Leno and Richarlison managed to get a toe on it ahead of the goalkeeper to prod the loose ball over the line.
That platform was ruined, however, when Aubameyang scored again at the start of the second period. A cross from the left this time found the Gabonese striker unmarked in the box and he headed home from around six yards out to make it 3-2.
Everton would have their chances as they tried to stretch the game and capitalise on any fatigue creeping into Arsenal's game following their trip to Olympiakos in the Europa League on Thursday and twice Richarlison almost found Calvert-Lewin with a rolled centre from the left having sprinted onto passes down the left channel.
On both occasions, the Englishman was an inch away from converting and he was foiled twice more by Leno, the first when he shot rather tamely at the German rather than lay it square to Sigurdsson and the second when the ball dropped at his feet just a few yards away from the goal line but the keeper did well to make a point-blank stop.
And Arsenal had Leno to thank for making an excellent stop with his foot to deny Richarlison with 12 minutes to go and then racing out of his area to clear the ball away from the Brazilian after André Gomes, making a sublime return from his long injury lay-off as a second-half substitute, had searched him out with a brilliant forward pass.
Arsenal were having less of things their way going in the opposite direction but when Pickford dropped a clanger and played Sigurdsson into trouble, the keeper was almost punished but Nketiah slammed his shot off crossbar.
Calvert-Lewin had one more chance for Everton in injury time after Sidibé had won another corner but when the ball came back out to Bernard, the striker could only nod his cross inches wide of the far post.
Afterwards, Ancelotti was encouraged by Everton's attacking endeavours but lamented his team's sloppy defending, admitting that you can't expect to concede three goals and come away with any points.
In terms of the Blues' European aspirations, it was a damaging defeat as it drops them out of the top half of the table again with three more difficult assignments to come in a row against the so-called “big six”.
Carlo Ancelotti had set Everton a very clear target for their late Sunday afternoon visit to The Emirates Stadium. But despite a wonderful start with a goal inside the first minute, naive defending and a slew of poorly executed chances doomed Everton to yet another defeat at the new home of The Gunners.
Lucas Digne played no part due to a muscle strain and Walcott was also out injured. Djibril Sidibe came into the starting line-up, along with Yerry Mina, Leighton Baines, Fabian Delph and Alex Iwobi, but Andre Gomes was only on the bench.
Sigurdsson kicked off proceedings with Everton wearing their black & purple kit, and winning an early free-kick that came off Luiz's shoulder and was stabbed in by Calvert-Lewin with a wonderful acrobatic finish, almost catching David Luiz in the head. Great start!
Everton continued to press the home side, after that early shock, showing determination to make things hard for The Gunners on their own turf and deny them any easy space. But Belerin did finally get sight of goal, lashing ell over
Aubameyang did very well to get behind the Everton line by Sidibe did even better to block his cross behind, Calvert-Lewin heading the corner away powerfully but it came back for another corner, this one taken short. Arsenal pressure mounted until Aubameyang fouled Sidibe.
Everton sprung a fine counter through Richarlison but Iwobi's shot just evaded the far top corner, really a poor miss after creating a fantastic opportunity to really throw the cat among the pigeons. Calvert-Lewin did brilliantly to push off Mustafi and win a corner off a long ball, Baines's corner cleared.
Arsenal got another corner, this off Baines, headed well over by Mustafi. Sidibe left Kolasinac clutching his head after it hit the ground following an aerial challenge with Sidibe, a lengthy stoppage ensuing. Kolasinac could not continue, Saka replacing him.
Everton slowly built a methodical attack until Delph drove it out of play. There followed some scrappy midfield play, Arsenal then taking their time to build but Pickford alert when needed. But a mistake by Holgate allowed Aubameyang to attack, Delph forcing him to fire over.
At the other end, Iwobi saw another opportunity to prove himself to the Gunners, but fired over again, allowing Arsenal to structure their attack, Pepe's shot patted down by Pickford. But then Nketiah fired home very well after a very good cross from Saka to level the score, a goal out of almost nothing that bamboozled the Everton backline completely.
And a lot of Arsenal pressure followed, but Iwobi set Richarlison off, yet Arsenal were back quickly, Belerin preventing any real danger. Schneiderlin was booked for grappling NKetiah... stupid.
Another lovely ball from Luiz timed to slice through the backline with Sidibe turning far too slow and an easy finish for Aubameyang turned the game around with Everton looking far too naive.
Baines swung in a nice free-kick but it was well defended by the home side, although Richarlison won it back and tried but failed to dribble his way goalwards. Baines was periodically feeling his hamstring, a worrying sign as Everton struggled to really worry the Arsenal goal.
Sidibe tackled Nketiah very bravely, getting the ball as the man went down — no penalty. Everton then attacked but Iwobi bizarrely the most advanced and least suited to profit from Sigurdsson's weak cross. Calvert-Lewin was fouled, Baines's decent free-kick headed strongly over by Richarlison as 5 minutes of added time were announced.
A couple of tasty challenges, Richarlison flattened, then jumping up and flying in under a red mist, after Calvert-Lewin had clipped his man, and seeing yellow — very lucky he did not make contact.
In the dying seconds of added time, a corner won by Sidibe was somehow forced over the line by Richarlison after being glanced on at the near post but then cleared out to the 18-yard line. He went in fairly high on Leno after a dreadful mishit into the ground by Schneiderlin(?) was headed on to him by Mina and his determination saw the ball rebound off his outstretched leg and dribble over the line. 2-2!!!
Arsenal scored on their first attack after Baines was beaten for the cross and Sidibe failed to stop a very intelligent downward header by Aubameyang that easily beat Pickford.
Arsenal were now in control, winning a corner and then attacking with pace, Ozil a yard offside, but they kept pushing Everton back. Schneiderlin gave away a free-kick wide left, but Everton broke momentarily until Rich was stopped in his tracks by Ceballos who then similarly took out Calvert-Lewin.
Ancelotti decided on a double change, as Everton attacked briefly, Sidibe's cross easy pickings for Leno. Richarlison did well to overlap Mustafi and slide in a tasty ball for Calvert-Lewin, just too far ahead of his outstretched leg, three bodies left prone as Gomes replaced Schneiderlin and Bernard on for Iwobi.
Bernard got the ball to Calvert-Lewin who jinked inside but fired too close to Leno. Everton were somewhat rejuvenated, though, Richarlison attacking well down the left but his crosses intercepted, and Bernard too easily dispossessed on the 18-yard line.
A sharp Arsenal break saw an attacker stray offside. Calvert-Lewin likewise when Everton broke down the left.
A great cross from Bernard was headed by Richarlison down to Calvert-Lewin catching his thigh and Leno was out quickly to deny him a clean shot at goal from close range.
Arsenal threatened, Ceballos curling one just beyond the angle, and he was then subbed off. Sidibe then did well to get ahead of Aubameyang and deny him. At the other end, Richarlison pounced on a blocked shot but could not force it past Leno. With Everton stretched, they were always vulnerable to counters and had to be very patient as the time ticked away on yet another defeat at The Emirates.
Richarlison did really well to get a fine ball across to Calvert-Lewin who simply did not do enough to glance the ball in beyond Leno, a glorious chance gone begging. Kean replaced Delph in one final desperate bid to turn it around.
Everton shaped another decent attack down the left again but the final ball was just too much for Mise Kean to do anything with it. Sigurdsson then wasted a shot with a horribly overhit crossfield pass.
Pickford and Sig tried to be as stupid as they possibly could, contriving to set up for a curling shot that bounced back off the bar. Kean had the ball easily taken off his toe by Aubameyang. Leno was then out very well to deny Richarlison off a fantastic Gomes? pass that the Brazilian never seemed convinced he could reach.
With 5 minutes of added time, the tempo of the game was still lively, but Everton simply not sharp enough for Arteta's more professionally drilled side who had been unfazed by giving up that early goal.
A corner taken quickly, crossed in by Bernard perfectly for Calvert-Lewin but a poorly directed header went the wrong side of the post. Another really good chance created with a cross to Calvert-Lewin, who got up really high but again totally unable to direct the ball as it bounced off his head. Kean then saw a chance but from too far out, drove it well wide. And that was pretty much it. No win at the Emirates for Everton yet again.
Scorers: Nketiah (27'), Aubameyang (33', 46'); Calvert-Lewin (1'), Richarlison (45+5')
Arsenal (4-3-3): Leno; Bellerin, Mustafi, Luiz, Kolasinac (18' Saka); Xhaka, Ceballos (76' Torreira), Ozil (82' Guendouzi); Pepe, Nketiah, Aubameyang.
Subs not Used: Martinez, Sokratis, Lacazette, Nelson.
Everton (4-4-2): Pickford; Sidibe, Holgate, Mina, Baines; Sigurdsson [Y:73'], Delph (82' Kean), Schneiderlin [Y:31] (59' Gomes [Y:90+4']), Iwobi (60' Bernard); Richarlison [Y:45+2'], Calvert-Lewin.
Subs not Used: Stekelenburg, Keane, Coleman, Davies.
Referee: Stuart Attwell
VAR: Craig Pawson
If you dared to dream a little over the winter break and viewed this run of four games against the so-called “big six” as being pregnant with possibility rather than a daunting sequence that could remove European qualification as a likely option for the season, then this result at Arsenal will have come as a bit of a gut punch.
It’s that much more painful when you consider Everton got off to the best possible start with a goal inside the first 60 seconds… but then perhaps it was almost inevitably going to be a case of scoring too soon, particularly given the defensive vulnerabilities that continue to plague this side. It takes a certain kind of team to score that early away from home and keep the boot on the opposition’s neck and Carlo Ancelotti doesn’t have the personnel yet.
Even so, despite the fact that they conceded three times, the Blues should count themselves as hugely unfortunate not to have taken something back to Merseyside by way of points. They certainly had the opportunities in the second half but a combination of bad luck, oh-so-close misses from Dominic Calvert-Lewin and the form of Bernd Leno ensured that it was Mikel Arteta and not Ancelotti taking the plaudits in the battle of the new bosses.
Calvert-Lewin held his hands up afterwards in a message on social media, accepting that he probably should have converted one of the chances that fell his way after half-time. The striker twice almost got a crucial touch to square passes from Richarlison across the face of goal but they were tricky opportunities, particularly the first under heavy pressure from David Luiz. His best chance to double his tally would be Everton’s last, a stoppage-time header that he rose well to meet off Bernard’s cross following a corner but could only nod inches past the far post.
They were the kind of moments that will perpetuate the conversation over whether he is prolific enough but take nothing away from the predatory instincts that saw him hand Everton the lead after Richarlison was fouled just 17 seconds into the contest. Luiz headed the ball awkwardly into the air in his own box and Calvert-Lewin threw a boot at it with a kind of bicycle kick motion and flicked it home with the outside of his boot.
It was the beginning of what was a strong and purposeful start from Ancelotti’s side that featured a number of changes from two weeks ago, one that almost saw Alex Iwobi find the net on his return to The Emirates with an ambitious effort from the angle that whistled past the angle of crossbar and post. But, almost inevitably, Arsenal soon found their feet and began testing Everton’s weakness down the right flank where there was little protection when the press in midfield wasn’t there and Djibril Sidibé’s positional lapses are a known issue.
Initially, the Gunners found more joy from their right where Hector Bellerin drove high into the stands, Shkodran Mustafi planted a set-piece header over the bar, Eddie Nketiah also shot too high and Nicolas Pepe curled a tame effort into Jordan Pickford’s arms. It was the change forced upon Arteta, however, where he had to withdraw Sead Kolasinac and replace him with Bukaro Saka after 18 minutes that felt a little ominous and which paved the way for the equaliser.
The exciting young full-back whipped a 27th-minute ball in from near the touchline that fell right between Yerry Mina and Mason Holgate where Nketiah simply guided a side-foot finish past Pickford.
Six minutes later, the game had been turned on its head and the travelling Evertonians who haven’t seen a Blues victory on Arsenal’s home turf for 24 years found themselves back in familiar territory. This time, Sidibé showed too much space inside for Luiz to pick a pass behind him that released Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang into space behind the defence and he just had to pick his spot and bend the ball around Pickford to make it 2-1.
Everton are proving to be nothing if not resolute under Ancelotti, though, and after Richarlison had miscued with a header from a free-kick in the 44th minute, the Brazilian popped up in a poacher’s role to grab an equaliser for the visitors in first-half stoppage time. Sidibé, who had underlined the conundrum over his selection with a lung-busting run down the right flank, won a corner that was only cleared as far as Gylfi Sigurdsson outside the box, his bobbling shot was knocked on by Mina and Richarlison got a touch on it to prod it over the line.
With memories of what happened at Watford fresh in the mind where the Toffees had clawed their way back to parity on the stroke of half-time and set themselves up for the second half, Ancelotti no doubt wanted to use the interval to settle his men down and prepare them to go again. He would find himself dealing with another set-back less than a minute into the second period, however, with his charges switching off as Nicolas Pepe was afforded time and space to clip the ball across from the Arsenal right and find Aubameyang unmarked in the middle to head home.
This was no capitulation like days of old, though, and after Calvert-Lewin had just failed to make contact of the first of those passes from Richarlison following a trademark burst down the left on the counter-attack, André Gomes made his welcome comeback from a four-month lay-off and, bolstered by Bernard’s introduction in place of Iwobi, immediately transformed the midfield.
From that point on, apart from one late gaffe by Pickford that almost gifted Nketiah a game-killing second goal but the forward slammed his shot off the crossbar, if there was to be another goal it was going to come from Everton because they had all the chances.
Unfortunately, the Blues didn’t get the goal their efforts deserved. Calvert-Lewin fired a shot straight at Leno in the 64th minute and the disappointing Sigurdsson lashed a wild shot well off target shortly afterwards but the former must have thought he’d levelled things up with 18 minutes to go when the ball dropped at his feet just a few yards from the goal line.
The enterprising Bernard had connected with Richarlison with a cross from the right and Leno parried it straight to Calvert-Lewin but the keeper did well to leap forward and stop the striker’s shot with an outstretched hand from point-blank range. And the German came to Arsenal’s rescue again when Richarlison shot under his body from inside the six-yard box but the keeper made a save with his trailing foot.
As the game entered the closing stages and Arteta had thrown Mattéo Guendouzi on to shore up his midfield, Arsenal became more emboldened and started to press Everton back at every opportunity. Nevertheless, they fashioned that one chance in injury time but Calvert-Lewin couldn’t steer his header home.
As Ancelotti will know all too well, you don’t get to Europe if you can’t defend and his post-match comments were more forthright than they have been up to this point when it came to criticism of his side’s propensity to ship goals. He described the Blues’ defending as “terrible” and indicated that that was where the focus will be in training this week as he prepares for the visit of Manchester United next weekend.
He will have been hugely encouraged by Gomes’s 30-minute cameo which was a shining light in an otherwise uninspiring central midfield where Sigurdsson again failed to impress, Fabian Delph was workmanlike but unspectacular and Morgan Schneiderlin was adequate and, perhaps, unfortunate to be the one t make way for Gomes.
The Portuguese was robust with and without the ball, clearing one potential psychological hurdle from his ankle fracture, and demonstrated just how key he will be to Ancelotti’s strategy of playing on the front foot with vertical passing through the lines with what was some wonderful passing at times.
In that sense, while the result was disappointing and it offered a reality check on those dreams of cracking the top five, there was plenty to be encouraged about in terms of next season, by which time Marcel Brands will hopefully have been able to strengthen the squad with more players of Gomes’s calibre. If he can do that then this side can be a forced to be reckoned with.