The top-four race took another twist after Everton pulled off an upset against Arsenal, beating the Gunners 1-0 on Merseyside.
The Toffees took the lead with just 10 minutes on the clock after Phil Jagielka capitalised on a scramble inside the Arsenal box, tapping in from just yards out.
Arsenal made a double substitution at the break looking to fight their way back into the match, but Everton stood firm and secured all three points.
And so, after a hard-fought contest at Goodison Park, what did we learn?
1. Emery urgently needs to sort out away form
If Arsenal are to have any hope of trying to bring down the likes of Man City next season then Emery will need to remedy the club’s atrocious defensive record away from home: the Gunners are yet to keep a clean sheet on the road.
Not only should that statistic massively sound the crisis klaxon, but it is a damning indictment on Arsenal’s defensive capabilities, as they are the only the club in the entire Premier League yet to keep an away clean sheet – with Fulham even keeping one, and Huddersfield keeping two.
Arsenal managed one shot in the first-half vs. Everton (including blocks); the lowest total by an away side in the opening 45 minutes of a Premier League game this season.
The Gunners misfiring. pic.twitter.com/P7Aky3ygyI
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 7, 2019
On evidence of this afternoon’s performance it can be easy to see why Arsenal have struggled to stop goals shipping in; Shkodran Mustafi was often wayward while Sokratis came out second best on more than one occasion against Dominic Calvert-Lewin – the Greece international was also lulled into receiving a booking and will now miss Arsenal’s next two matches against Watford and Crystal Palace, adding a further defensive dilemma for his manager.
Emery has overseen just five wins across the 16 matches his side have contested away from the Emirates, conceding the 15th most goals in the process, more than Cardiff, Southampton and Crystal Palace respectively. With an intense run-in fast approaching, Emery will need to find a solution if he is to secure a top-four finish in his maiden campaign.
2. From misfortune to milestone
There would have been much concern from the Everton faithful following news of Michael Keane’s sudden withdrawal from the matchday squad, but his replacement, Jagielka, alleviated those apprehensions just 10 minutes into the match.
Keane was initially announced in the starting XI, but Silva was hit by a bombshell during the warm-up after the England international felt symptoms of illness and was forced to withdraw, giving Jagielka a first home start of the season.
In fact, it was just his third start of the campaign, and fourth overall, but he duly seized the opportunity, breaking the deadlock after a long Lucas Digne throw-in caused confusion in the Arsenal box, before the ball found his feet just yards out.
Jagielka tapped in, scoring his first league goal since April 2017, which also made him the oldest player to score in the Premier League this season at 36 years and 233 days.
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3. Inside winger set-up a failure for Arsenal
With some questionable decision making regarding personnel for Emery – notably the inclusion of Mohamed Elneny ahead of Aaron Ramsey – there was also a system reshuffle that completely backfired for the Spaniard, and that was his decision to deploy two inside forwards.
Mesut Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan – two majestic and breathtaking players on their day – failed to really test the Everton defence in their wide roles, as Arsenal produced an insipid first-half performance, and a dispiriting second.
The latter suffered a metatarsal fracture in December and only returned to full fitness the past few weeks, while the former has endured a somewhat tumultuous season, with Emery overlooking his talisman for large parts of the season; and so, the lack of cohesion and understanding was certainly clear this afternoon.
Arsenal will need to invest in an out-and-out winger this summer transfer window, with Alex Iwobi the club’s only traditional wide man. The north Londoners have been linked with Bournemouth ace Ryan Fraser, who enters the final year of his contract this summer, and given the lack of depth in that area, it may prove an astute move should a transfer come to fruition.
4. Silva continues resurgence
Everton have enjoyed a sensational run since losing 1-0 to Watford at the start of February – excluding, of course, the Newcastle collapse – with five clean sheets from six matches and 13 points accumulated in that time. As a result, it appears that Marco Silva has finally found a winning formula on Merseyside.
The Portuguese has been heavily questioned throughout the campaign, with many Everton fans sceptical about his capacity to take the club to the highly-coveted ‘next level’.
However, since suffering defeat to the Hornets, Everton have transformed their fortunes, looking like the top-six side they so desperately crave to be. Had the Toffees begun the campaign in this fashion there is every reason to suggest they would be firmly in the race for a top-four finish.
Instead, Everton have veered between brilliant and bloodless, producing great results and performances one week, but failing to follow up a week later. In that respect is has been something of a Jekyll and Hyde season, but there is nothing two-faced about their current form; and Silva looks to have finally transmitted his philosophy through to his players, who had failed to assimilate his ideas up until now.
5. Everton have their very own Firmino
When we think of selfless strikers the one player that really springs to mind is Roberto Firmino: a No. 9 who can cause a myriad of problems for his defensive opposition, but who also possesses the requisite hold-up play and distribution skill-set to create plenty of chances for his teammates.
That was Calvert-Lewin this afternoon. His aggression and tenacity kept Mustafi and Sokratis on tenterhooks for most of the match, while his sharp and intelligent runs behind the defence meant the pair could never enjoy a moment’s rest.
Granted, the 22-year-old is some way off the creative quality and panache of his Brazilian counterpart, but his exploits through the middle are similar to Firmino in that goals are secondary to his presence and work rate in the final third.