Arsenal 3 Everton 2
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s 18th and 19th goals of the season were enough to seal victory for Arsenal in a dramatic, high-wire victory over a determined Everton at the Emirates.
Captain Aubameyang’s brace in the 32nd minute and just after the interval helped give the Gunners three points in an intriguing clash, which saw the visitors slip away wondering how they did not, at least, withdraw a point from north London.
Everton had taken a shock early lead through the impressive Dominic Calvert-Lewin, before Eddie Nketiah turned in an equaliser. Richarlison, such a busy figure for the Toffees, netted on the stroke of half time.
But an Aubameyang header signalled Arsenal making further inroads towards the kind of spirit and discipline Mikel Arteta is driving for since taking over as manager in December.
Nevertheless, the Gunners lived dangerously at times, especially in the dying moments, but at least they discovered both Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin were as profligate as they were clinical. Arteta has work to do on the defensive side of things because on other afternoons they won’t endure the same kind of late fortune, for all this admirable, improved resilience.
With Arsenal in the slipstream of their impressive Europa League win over Olympiakos in Athens on Thursday, Arteta opted to bench Alexandre Lacazette with Nketiah having another chance to impress. This was, of course, an encounter filled with intrigue by casting a mere glance in the respective technical areas: Arteta, former Everton skipper and managerial prodigy, versus Ancelotti, the wise, garlanded owl, embarking on a new challenge in the Premier League.
Everton, with the majority of the fans still taking their seats, took a shock lead. Gylfi Sigurdsson clipped over an inviting free kick midway inside the Arsenal half and with David Luiz making a complete mess of an attempted headed clearance, Calvert-Lewin demonstrated some impressive acrobatic instincts to direct the ball into the net on the volley. It was a seventh goal for the highly-regarded Toffees’ forward since Ancelotti took over.
Everton, from a breezy breakaway, almost doubled their lead in the eighth minute and while ex-Gunner Alex Iwobi did well to threaten from a fine Richarlison assist, his shot just flew a few inches over the bar.
Stuttering Arsenal were further out of luck, when Sead Kolasinac was forced to go off in 17 minutes at a time when the Merseysiders – who began the game two points ahead of their opponents in ninth place - were certainly looking the more composed side. The Bosnian defender, included at the expense of Bukayo Sako by Arteta, appeared to clash with Djibril Sidibe to suffer a suspected dislocated shoulder. So there was a touch of irony that Saka was, in effect, able to feature for the most part, after all.
Finally, a more sublime movement from Arsenal, which paid off in the 27the minute. Saka, proving to be a reliable presence on the left these days, swung in a dangerous cross and, for the first time, Everton had switched off defensively, allowing Nketiah to guide the ball into the corner of the net in eye-catching fashion.
And just six minutes later, with the Blues still coming to terms with Arsenal’s new verve, Aubameyang punished them.
Atoning for his early error, Luiz started the move when Everton failed to close him down inside his own half. The Brazilian’s low, defence-splitting pass found the Arsenal captain escaping the attention of Yerry Mina, before despatching a cool finish from 12 yards - a precise right foot shot beyond exposed Everton keeper Jordan Pickford.
Ancleotti was presumably preparing his interval team talk before witnessing a lifeline on the stroke of half time when Leno made a poor effort to deny Richarlison on the goal line. Making a nuisance of himself, the Everton star had courted controversy moments earlier with a late challenge on Dani Caballos which resulted in a booking when, under other stricter circumstances, could have been a red card.
The break didn’t impede all this Sunday afternoon drama – and particularly Everton’s rearguard inattention - when Aubameyang nodded home his second and Arsenal’s third in the 46th minute. Nicolas Pepe picked up a pass from Mesut Ozil on the right and his delightful left-footed cross found the Gabon forward eluding static Sidibe on the penalty spot to head down into the corner of the net.
Everton’s reaction? Internittent but interesting. Sigurdsson blazed a shot slightly over the bar - but the Toffees’ final ball let them down on a few occasions. Meanwhile, Calvert-Lewin looked surprised not to be ruled offside when, from Richarlison’s header at close quarters, Leno made an instinctive stop to deny him.
Ceballos curled an enticing shot over from 20 yards when set up by Ozil but, sensing dwindling midfield energy, Arteta sent on Lucas Torreira for the Spaniard with 15 minutes to go. The Gunners however, were living rather dangerously at times, Calvert-Lewis an energetic, threatening figure alongside Richarlison. Ozil, who had been creative, was sacrificed for Matteo Guendouzi, while Everton continued to ask a few questions.
Nketiah, though, almost made it four in the 86th minute but his shot came of the bar with Arsenal desperately trying to make matter safe. They did – just about by the climax of an highly absorbing game.
Arsenal: Leno, Bellerin, Ceballos (Torreira 76), Ozil (Guendouzi 82), Aubameyang, Pepe, Mustafi, Luiz, Nketiah, Kolasinac (Saka 18), Xhaka