The only Premier League club not to make a signing in the transfer window may have done some excellent business in January after all. This was the Sean Dyche effect, an auspicious introduction for the new manager, a wonderful start to his rescue mission. Perhaps Everton are not doomed after all. Perhaps Arsenal, after amassing 50 points in the first half of the season, will not cruise to the title.
Because, after eight defeats in nine games, Everton got a first victory since October. After their longest run of losses at Goodison Park since the 1950s, they beat the league leaders. After the protests against the board came the backing for the team. Appointed on Monday, Dyche had his first win on Saturday. Even by Everton’s standards, it has been a remarkable week.
They looked a team transformed. Only Newcastle had stopped Arsenal scoring in the Premier League this season. Only Manchester United had defeated them in the top flight. Everton did both as Arsenal extended the wrong sort of 100 per cent record, They have visited Goodison Park three times under the former Everton midfielder Mikel Arteta and lost all. They proved unable to overcome Everton’s intensity, their defiance and their set-piece menace. Dyche’s debut was much Everton’s best day since they stayed up in dramatic fashion against Crystal Palace in May. After their flirtation with Marcelo Bielsa, Everton may have taken the wrong path to get the right man.
One-nil can feel the classic Dyche scoreline and this was a classic Dyche win, built on the values he treasures, forged in the sweat of relentless running. He had put his players through the bleep test on his first day of training and they put in another huge effort.
Dyche had talked of trying to remodel Everton in his own image. This was a fine start. There was the conspicuous commitment of a team who bristled with their manager’s sense of purpose. A week offered early evidence of his ability to organise and galvanise. Bielsa had proposed taking charge of the Under-21s at the start of his reign; Dyche made an immediate impact with the senior side. They looked a Dyche side, albeit without his trademark formation.
Their labour was rewarded with a goal made at Dyche’s Burnley. One of his former charges, Dwight McNeil, curled in a corner and another, James Tarkowski, headed it in. If there had been a pragmatic element to Dyche’s blueprint, focusing on crossing and corners, it was justified.
Tarkowski provided his usual array of blocks but if he was goalscorer, his centre-back sidekick Conor Coady was goal-saver. He cleared Bukayo Saka’s volley off the line a couple of minutes before half-time; in a game when Arsenal threatened too rarely, they had nonetheless almost led in a first half when Everton had Dyche’s version of dominance: less than 30 percent of possession but the majority of the opportunities, and an expected goals score of 1.43, even before their actual goal.
There was a renewed sense of positivity; on the field, anyway. Dyche had been greeted by a warm ovation. In contrast, the board were absent again, a plane flown over Goodison Park to call for chairman Bill Kenwright to go branding them “the league’s worst-run club”. And then they set about beating what, thus far this season, has been its best team, giving Arsenal their worst afternoon of the campaign.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin produced his outstanding performance since May, lacking only a goal to reflect his threat. McNeil delivered his finest display for Everton, capped with an assist. Each looked reinvigorated. Abdoulaye Doucoure was recalled, a man who fell out of favour under Frank Lampard given a first league start since August.
Dyche’s hands were tied by Everton’s deadline-day failings. His fondness for 4-4-2 is famous but, short of strikers, he jettisoned his favourite shape, playing an uncharacteristic 4-5-1. Yet if it gave them a compact, narrow block of nine players when they did not have the ball, it was far from a purely defensive gameplan.
Calvert-Lewin’s chances have been rarities this season. Under Dyche, a marauding figure had five in the first half alone. Aaron Ramsdale blocked at his feet and saved a half-volley from an awkward angle. Amid a flurry of corners, he headed over the bar. The sliding striker applied the faintest of touches to Amadou Onana’s inviting centre, but not enough to turn it in. He met Seamus Coleman’s cross with a glancing header, but past the post. Meanwhile, Doucoure headed just wide from McNeil’s cross.
And Arsenal were long muted. Eddie Nketiah rifled a first-half shot over. Just before Tarkowski struck, Martin Odegaard skied a shot after a mazy run by Nketiah. As Arsenal sought an equaliser, Jordan Pickford repelled an effort from Leandro Trossard. But Arsenal were so ineffectual and Everton’s defence so formidable that Pickford was not required to excel.
Just before Tarkowski got the first goal of Dyche’s reign, Arteta had turned to his bench and given Jorginho his bow. There was a debut to savour here, but it was Dyche’s first appearance in the home dugout.