LIVERPOOL (AFP) – Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta lambasted his side’s performance after Everton struck twice in the final 11 minutes to end an eight-game winless run with a 2-1 victory over the Gunners.
Arteta’s men have passed up a huge opportunity to move into the Premier League’s top four after blowing the lead at Manchester United and Goodison Park over the past five days.
Another night of frustration looked in store for the Toffees as Richarlison had two goals marginally ruled out by VAR for offside either side of Martin Odegaard’s opener for the Gunners.
But Richarlison was not to be denied a third time when he headed home before Demarai Gray smashed home a thunderous strike in stoppage time for a deserved win.
“I didn’t like (the first half performance),” said Arteta. “There was no penetration, no threat, totally the contrary of what we are trying to do. It wasn’t good enough.
“What I want is more from my team. Today we had the game under control and we have to find a way to win.
“In the Premier League when the game is there you have to kill it. When you have big chances you have to put them in the net.”
A late turnaround turned the focus of attention from one Spanish manager onto another as three defeats in four games have left Arsenal still four points adrift of the top four in seventh.
It was the Everton fans who turned up with a planned supporter protest for the 27th minute to mark 27 years without silverware.
But that did not result in a mass walkout and the home crowd played their part in a stirring fightback.
“It’s very clear when the fans and the players stick together we are stronger,” said Everton boss Rafael Benitez. “Hopefully it is the right step forward.”
Benitez was not a popular appointment as the club’s manager in June due to his history as a former manager of local rivals Liverpool.
A 4-1 defeat by the Reds in their last outing increased calls for Benitez to be sacked, but his position at the club was strengthened over the weekend as it was sporting director Marcel Brands who departed.
Everton got the break they needed midway through a tepid first half when Ben Godfrey’s stamp onto the face of Takehiro Tomiyasu went unpunished by VAR.
Richarlison brought the game to life when his header found the far corner from Andros Townsend’s free-kick, but had just strayed offside.
Moments later, Arsenal had a half-time lead rather than a deficit as Kieran Tierney’s cross perfectly picked out Odegaard to steer into the bottom corner.
There was no sense of Everton’s players giving up on their manager after the break as they came flying out the traps and thought they had levelled when Richarlison smashed home at the near post from Abdoulaye Doucoure’s pass.
However, again he was denied by VAR for the finest of margins.
It was third time lucky for the Brazilian 11 minutes from time as he sent a looping header over Aaron Ramsdale after Gray’s shot rattled the Arsenal crossbar.
Arteta had dropped Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from his starting line-up and did not even introduce the club captain with his first change to his forward line as Eddie Nketiah replaced Gabriel Martinelli.
That decision came back to haunt the former Everton midfielder as Nketiah headed onto the post with the goal gaping six minutes from time.
Two minutes into stoppage time, Gray produced the moment of quality that could turn his side’s season as he charged towards goal and unleashed an unstoppable drive in off the post to spark wild scenes of celebration.
“Everybody was suffering and the reaction of everyone is the belief and hope we can do well,” added Benitez.
There was still time for Aubameyang to salvage a point, but his wayward finish with just Jordan Pickford to beat with the last kick of the game showed why Arteta felt he could not trust the Gabon international from the start.