Everton analysis - Rafa Benitez finds new weapon as fan shout to Bill Kenwright overheard

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The real Goodison

Goodison Park was back in full flow on Monday night.

It’s been a hugely frustrating time for Everton fans in recent weeks and months, having to wait so long to see their side finally win a match once more.

Nothing typifies that more than a number of supporters opting to take part in a protest in the 27th minute of the game, calling on Farhad Moshiri to make changes to the club’s board and management process.

The majority shareholder was unfortunately not in attendance and there was nothing like the angry scenes in the Main Stand which greeted the Blues hierarchy when they went back inside.

However, there was still one particular supporter who shouted “Time to go Kenwright” at Everton’s chairman when he left his seat.

One result does not change the overarching frustration and disappointment, but even those who left their seats to take part in the protest will have been delighted to see the side get all three points.

The protest wasn’t about the players, everyone wanted to see them win this match.

Those who stayed seemed to make a stand. Huge chants greeted the 27th minute as those in their seats roared on the side as best they could.

And Goodison, with a few empty seats dotted around it must be said, rose up the occasion that Seamus Coleman called for in his pre-match programme notes.

They read: “We need you now. Things aren’t going the way we want them and, believe me, I fully understand your frustration and disappointment, but an intimidating Goodison Park can be the difference especially under the floodlights.”

That’s exactly what the stadium was in the second half particularly.

Rafa Benitez had made a point recently that you couldn’t question the attitude or commitment of his players and that was on full display here.

Whether it was the crowd getting them going, or their respective performances having the same effect the other way, it all created a whirlpool of noise that Arsenal couldn’t deal with.

A few questionable refereeing decisions (and we’ll get onto those later) only added fuel to the raging fire, and Everton’s players responded in kind.

Suddenly there was energy all over the pitch for the Blues. They were full of that heart and desire that their manager didn’t think they could be questioned over.

The quality was not always there for the hosts, but that never-say-die attitude that Evertonians love so much was there for all to see.

The noise inside the stadium was electric once more. Every tackle, every 50/50, every bit of hard work was being roared on by a crowd that were desperate for victory.

Finally, they got their wishes right at the death.

This was the real Goodison back in full force. Even with a protest that took place in the first half, absolutely everyone of a royal blue persuasion joined together to get right behind the players.

The ground was back to its raucous, aggressive best.

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Midfield game-changer could be dangerous weapon

Ironically, to solve his issue in midfield, Benitez eventually settled on what Carlo Ancelotti decided was his best option at the beginning of last season.

While Everton were playing better against a below-par Arsenal for the first 66 minutes of the match than they had against a high-flying Liverpool, similar issues were still present.

Abdoulaye Doucoure pressed forward, with Allan wanting to follow on, often leaving large spaces in the centre of the pitch for the visitors to capitalise on.

Martin Odegaard in particular took advantage of this, dropping off into dangerous areas to try and pull the strings for his side – ultimately bagging the opening goal of the match in the first half.

However, things changed in the second half with one important decision from Benitez.

Many might have expected Fabian Delph to be the man called upon from the bench when the manager switched his system to a 4-3-3, but that wasn’t the case.

Instead it was Andre Gomes, returning from injury, who was entrusted with trying to get his side back into this game in whatever way he could.

That left Everton’s midfield looking identical to what Ancelotti set it up as at the beginning of last term. Doucoure and Gomes were allowed to roam, with Allan sitting in front of the defence.

Admittedly there were a few teething issues, especially with the Portuguese star understandably getting back to grips with the game after so long on the sidelines.

But it’s no exaggeration to say his introduction, and the change in system, really spun this match on its head.

Gomes was creative, energetic and strong in the challenge when he got back in the swing of things – getting involved in crucial ways in the passages of play for both goals.

He was direct and always looking to progress the Blues forwards, which was exactly what the supporters wanted to see at that important stage of the game.

Allan looked much more comfortable back in a sitting role by himself, proving combative in a number of tackles and looking much better in possession.

One particular run towards the end of the match showed off a side to the Brazilian Evertonians haven’t seen in some time, turning away expertly from one challenge showing great strength before driving into the box to get a cross away.

Meanwhile, Doucoure was given much more freedom to press further up the pitch without the worry of leaving too many gaps in behind.

Everyone on the pitch for the Blues raised their game to secure all three points here, but that switch in midfield was the key difference this time.

Ancelotti would have been happy to see it, no doubt.

VAR-cical

Well, it has to be talked about, right?

Richarlison could have had a hat-trick on another night after scoring two excellent goals which were ruled out for offside.

The first, from a free-kick brilliantly floated in by Townsend, was pretty fair enough – even if it was a tight call. You could say the Brazilian could have held his run a little better, but the finish off his head was absolutely beautiful none the less.

Many could say the same for the second, in all fairness. The forward didn’t need to be on the last shoulder as much as he was before being played in by Doucoure.

Why did he leave it so close? Only he will know really.

But, then came the long and arduous wait. We were led to believe that this would be a thing of the past.

Zooming in to inexplicable levels on an arbitrary freeze-frame of a match, with 40,000 confused supporters inside the ground having realistically no idea what was happening.

Eventually, Richarlison’s toenail was offside. If he’d worn a boot that was one size smaller, he might have got away with it.

Those fine margins are so often what decides a game, and thankfully on this occasion the decisions only served to rally Everton and their crowd even more to secure an eventual victory.

But when will these confusing VAR delays ever end? Will they eventually stop?

You have to hope so because, once again, it’s those fans inside the stadium that are really losing out.

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Big test is coming

It’s tough to really explain how crucial a win this was for Everton.

On the back of their worst run of fixtures in years, with a tough set of matches still on the horizon – it was getting difficult to see where the next victory might come from.

This three points doesn’t solve all of the club’s issues of course, far from it in fact.

But this does just change the complexion of the next few games somewhat, and instils that little sliver of confidence that things can go right again.

Crystal Palace is a tough place to travel and, with a depleted and demoralised squad, Everton in their poor form could easily have come out of that game with another disappointing result.

But, just how powerful can that confidence be?

Again, this is something that Benitez has highlighted multiple times recently. Bringing players back from injury would improve performances, and that added confidence could push his side onto better things.

Now is the real acid test to see if that will be the case.

Palace now becomes yet another important game, with the Blues sitting in 12th place in the Premier League table after their win over Arsenal.

In fact, they’re only five points off the Gunners now. They’re seven points away from the European places.

It’s far too soon to be looking ahead to any of that, though. One win doesn’t mean that everything is all rosy again at Goodison Park.

But, as Benitez has been claiming recently, this has to be the catalyst for real change. This has to be the start of Everton’s turnaround.

Celebrate this victory by all means, but it’s straight back to exact same hard work, commitment, energy and desire next time out – without the Goodison crowd behind you.

That’s the real test.

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