Things were going well for league-leading Arsenal, right up until running into the great wall of Sean Dyche. Everton's new manager masterminded a 1-0 win for bottom-table Everton in his debut at Goodison Park. It's a type of loss that has become uncommon for Mike Arteta's side this season, and now with their lead only at five points, Manchester City can draw within two points of the top of the table with a victory on Sunday against Tottenham. Dyche, most notable for his decade in charge of Burnley, which ended during the team's relegation campaign last season, relied on a connection provided by his former players for the goal with former Burnley men Dwight McNeil and James Tarkowski linking for a header that was the goal that made the difference.
This is not the end of the world for Arsenal. Losses like these happen to good teams sometimes, and the energy was high at Goodison Park in Dyche's first game in charge but what Arsenal need to do is ensure that the loss is a blip and not the beginning of a trend with a February 15 match against City just over the horizon. These are reasons why the Gunners strengthened the side in January adding Jorginho, Leandro Trossard, and Jakub Kiwior.
Depth is important to keep a team's form going and there's no question that Arsenal improved in that regard during the transfer window. But on Saturday, it was Everton that showed their shift for the better. Helpless under Frank Lampard, they looked like a new team with Dyche in charge as the Toffees were able to pick up critical points in the relegation race, leaping, at least provisionally from 20th to 18th, in a massive five-way tie on points.
The best sign for Everton was that they really were the better team on the day, this wasn't a fluke result. It's true that Arsenal dominated possession, as you can see from the momentum chart of the match they carried much of the play.
But, that didn't really translate into chances, and especially not good chances. Despite completing 550 passes to Everton's 178, the shot differential was only 15-12 in Arsenal's favor and as the expected goal chart below shows, it was Everton that were taking the better of the shots.
Amadou Onana put in a shift in the center of the park to keep Arsenal at bay winning two tackles and also providing two interceptions to keep the Toffees ticking. While on the opposite of the ball, Thomas Partey, who came into the match as a fitness doubt was withdrawn for Jorginhio only moments before Arsenal conceded from a corner kick. It's definitely possible that on another day, the ball breaks differently but not Saturday, and the reality of the match was that first place Arsenal needed the ball to break their way against 20th place Everton.
With Brentford up next, there is time to right the ship before facing City and Everton are now the only bottom half side to claim a defeat over the Gunners. That's the difference between Arsenal and City so far this season. Arsenal have now dropped four points to bottom half sides compared to City dropping seven points in similar matches. With thin margins in the league, these matches matter and it's fair to think that in Arsenal's case, they won't drop many more points to the bottom half as the season progresses, but they'll have to live up to that expectation if they want to hold the Premier League trophy at the end of the season.