A much-improved Everton side stunned Premier League leaders Arsenal at raucous Goodison Park, giving new manager Sean Dyche a dream start.
Dyche was appointed last Monday, replacing Frank Lampard, who was fired with the team in relegation trouble. And the hosts won their first game in 11 in all competitions thanks to a link-up between two men who played for Dyche at Burnley.
Centre-half James Tarkowski rose at the far post to power home a header from Dwight McNeil’s corner, eliciting the kind of joyous scenes that have been rare at Goodison Park this season.
Everton had created far more chances in the first half, but striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin was unable to convert from the excellent Amadou Onana’s low cross and also flicked a header wide.
Arsenal was outfought for long stretches and struggled to find a rhythm, though January signing Leandro Trossard forced Jordan Pickford into a late save.
The Gunners were unable to find a winner, and their lead at the top will be reduced to two points if champions Manchester City defeat Tottenham on Sunday.
Thousands marched down Goodison Road before the game to protest Everton’s board and its management of the club. But what a difference the experienced Dyche has made on the pitch in just five days.
The former Burnley manager has already begun to change the mindset of a team that has been abysmal this season. Dyche requested “hard work” and a demonstration of “pride” in wearing the Everton shirt in his matchday programme notes, and he got both.
Everton, who lined up in a 4-5-1 formation, snatched into tackles and denied high-flying Arsenal any breathing space, with Vitalii Mykolenko’s late challenge on captain Martin Odegaard in the second minute set the tone.
The home team’s pressing and ferocious tackling were exemplified by Belgium midfielder Onana, who made four tackles, more than any other player on the pitch, with each challenge met with a roar from the home fans.
Tarkowski nodded in at the back post on the hour mark before wheeling off to celebrate a goal that ended a run of four consecutive home defeats with a statement win.
It was their fourth league victory in 21 games this season, lifting them one point above the relegation zone, but they could drop back into the bottom three depending on other results this weekend.