By Phil Medlicott, PA
Everton boss Rafael Benitez spoke of it being a “perfect” night after his side’s winless run came to an end in dramatic fashion with a 2-1 come-from-behind victory over Arsenal at Goodison Park.
After Martin Odegaard’s volley in first-half stoppage time put the visitors ahead, Richarlison – having had two efforts ruled out for offside via VAR checks either side of the opener – drew things level with a 79th-minute header, on the follow up after Demarai Gray hit the bar.
Gray then secured the Toffees’ first win in nine Premier League outings by sending a fine strike in off the post in the second minute of time added on at the end.
Benitez said in his post-match press conference: “I think we saw character in the first games (of the season) and today it was even better, in terms of two goals disallowed and the reaction of the team, the fans behind the team, everybody delighted at the end because of the great goal Demarai scored, and three points after that bad run.
“So I think everything was, you can say, perfect, no? In terms of the players, the fans, the performance and the final score.”
The game ended with the crowd in delirium, having earlier seen a small number of Everton fans leaving their seats in a protest over the running of the club. The demonstration happened in the 27th minute, with it being 27 years, come 2022, since they last won a trophy.
Benitez said: “I think since I came here, from day one the fans have been really good.
“The frustration of the fans in some games, it’s because obviously they want to see the team winning. But nobody can complain about the commitment, the desire, the effort of the players.
“We can complain about decisions in the final third or mistakes, but not about the commitment. Today I think the fans could appreciate that from the first minute.
“So I think they stick with the team, and today is another proof we are together, we are stronger, and that is what we have to do until the end of the season.”
The win came a day on from Marcel Brands leaving his role as Everton’s director of football, and the club saying Benitez would continue to receive owner Farhad Moshiri and the board’s “full support”, in the aftermath of last Wednesday’s painful 4-1 derby loss to Liverpool.
Asked about Brands’ departure, Benitez said: “I think we have to think about the future now and then try to go all together in the right direction.
— Everton (@Everton) December 7, 2021
“Sometimes you have an idea, could be right, could be wrong. But the reality was the club was not progressing at the pace that maybe everybody was expecting. Now it’s just really important to be positive about the future and be sure that all the people working really hard like we have in the club are going in the same direction.”
Benitez, whose side moved up from 16th to 12th in the table, also revealed Yerry Mina had been forced off in the first half due to a calf problem.
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta told Sky Sports after the game: “In the first half we were very inconsistent with the ball. I didn’t like it. No penetration. One of the few times we did it we scored. Second half we tried to do more of those things, created four big chances but conceded a very sloppy goal when you need to manage the game.”
Arteta, whose team remain seventh after a third defeat in four matches, added: “What I want is more from my team. Today you have the game under control even though you’re not playing your best and you have to find a way to win it. The way we conceded the goal and losing this match is not something good.
“It could have been very different but we haven’t managed to do it. When the opponent is there for the taking you have to do it and we haven’t. It wasn’t good enough.”