Martinelli hits double as Arsenal thrash Everton to go five points clear at the top

As the olés rang out from the Arsenal support with 15 minutes to go, the victory in the bag, Everton looking broken, it was possible to wonder how on earth they had lost to the same opposition at Goodison Park at the beginning of February.

If that was one of the clearest examples in recent times of a new manager bounce, Everton responding to Sean Dyche, the visitors were back to the toothlessness that has characterised much of their season, even if they did make life difficult for Arsenal until the 40th minute.

Once breached by a scorching Bukayo Saka finish, there was only ever going to be one winner – particularly given Everton’s lack of edge in front of goal. No team has scored fewer Premier League goals – 17 in 25 games – and it was easy to see why on this evidence.

There were flickers from them before Saka’s goal, a few surges, balls in from the sides, but never the sense that an end product was coming. Even their attempt at a last-second consolation came to nothing, the substitute Tom Davies denied at point-blank range by Aaron Ramsdale. The Evertonians who had stuck around ought to have rubbed their eyes in disbelief. Except it is all too believable for them.

Arsenal were patient when they had to be and then clinical, the moment that in effect ended the contest just before half-time being one to keep Dyche awake at night. And Idrissa Gana Gueye, who dallied on the ball facing his own goal for so long that it seemed as though he must have heard a whistle from the referee, Michael Oliver. Saka nicked it off him, Gabriel Martinelli ran through to finish and, if Everton thought they would be reprieved by a VAR check for offside, they were wrong. Martinelli was level. It was not a night when Everton would get away with anything.

Martin Ødegaard added the third, Martinelli the fourth – both goals coming after Arsenal had played up and through Everton’s right side – and there was plenty for Mikel Arteta and his players to celebrate, not least when they looked at the league table. Their lead over Manchester City is up to five points.

Bukayo Saka thrashes his shot past Jordan Pickford for Arsenal’s first
Bukayo Saka thrashes his shot past Jordan Pickford for Arsenal’s first. Photograph: Shaun Brooks/Action Plus/Shutterstock

It has got to the stage where Arsenal fans have to be peeking at what their team have left. There are some difficult looking away assignments, including Fulham, Liverpool and Newcastle – plus the big one at City on 26 April. But it is difficult to escape the feeling that a first title since 2004 is theirs to lose. It has appeared that way for a number of weeks, although there was the small wobble after the Goodison defeat when they drew against Brentford and lost to City – both at the Emirates Stadium.

It is easy to suspect Dyche is no lover of Arsenal; he sees a fancy and entitled London team. Remember his post-match rant after his Burnley had lost at the Emirates in August 2019 when he raged about diving and cheating? It was not an Arsenal thing, he said; he was worried about the game in general.

Dyche was all action in the technical area while the game was level, cajoling and demanding, even if his players were acutely aware of what he wanted; what he always wants. It was compact lines in a formation that was resolutely 4-5-1 without the ball; aggression in the challenges, hard running on the defensive cover.

If Everton were to lose, they would do so with an honest performance, full of fight and focus – which was what made the gamechanging concessions for the first two goals so frustrating. Until then, Dyche’s team had got men around the ball, made their tackles and stifled Arsenal.

Then everything changed, the breakthrough a bolt through the royal blue, Everton’s concentration slipping for a second and it was all that Saka needed. He drifted inside from the right, away from Vitaliy Mykolenko, and Michael Keane, who Dyche had preferred to Conor Coady, did not step across.

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The space was there for Oleksandr Zinchenko to ping a pass and he did so. Saka took a touch, spun in on goal and, although the angle was tight, he knew that Pickford’s near, top corner offered the route to gold. Saka mined it and, when Gueye suffered his aberration moments later, it was hard to see a way back for Everton.

Dyche could not explain what had happened to Gueye. He would substitute him at the interval, saying that the decision was made with the team’s crowded schedule in mind.

Everton’s woes in front of goal have been well documented and it was remarkable to think that their leading scorers in the league at kick-off time had just three goals apiece. One was Demarai Gray, left on the substitutes’ bench until the 60th minute; the other Anthony Gordon, sold to Newcastle in January.

Arsenal merely had to keep out the division’s most misfiring attack in the second half to chalk up another win. With Thomas Partey on for Jorginho, who felt unwell, providing presence in front of the back four, it was never in doubt.

Dwight McNeil did wriggle clear to work Ramsdale with a low shot on 62 minutes but Arsenal were the likelier scorers of the next goal. They got it when Leandro Trossard, who played as the No 9, crossed low and Ødegaard arrived to finish via a deflection off James Tarkowski. Eddie Nketiah, who came on for Trossard, would tee up Martinelli towards the end after another incisive pass from Zinchenko.