On Saturday, the Arsenal manager rightfully lauded his opponent. Yes, Everton benefited from a manager change. The result was more than that. Arsenal had gone five months without a Premier League loss. Premier League leaders only drew twice, against Southampton and Newcastle.
The Sean Dyche effect: New manager improves Everton’s win over Arsenal
Dyche gave Everton more than the new manager bounce to win. He replaced Frank Lampard, but his tactical and stylistic changes won the game. Social media laughed at Dyche’s bleep test last week. That he did in shorts, raising two fingers to the frigid temperatures, bolstered his image as a taskmaster.
Dyche had a few days to assess his players’ physical abilities. Why? Saturday’s game. Premier League surveillance data showed an intense surge. Dwight McNeil, formerly of Burnley, was favored and covered nearly 12km, the second-highest total by any Everton player in any game this season. Gray watched from the bench.
McNeil’s assist for James Tarkowski’s winner was his most prominent contribution, but his off-the-ball work was equally vital. The 23-year-old raced back doggedly on Everton’s right to prevent Gabriel Martinelli from isolating Seamus Coleman. For the first time all season, Alex Iwobi ran 11.4km to neutralize Bukayo Saka on the other wing.
In reality, Everton’s intensity was visible across the team, probably most illustrated by Amadou Onana. They went longer than McNeil, pumping his chest in celebration at successful tackles and clearances. Also, their enthusiasm passed to the crowd, whose loud backing helped them win. Dyche only had a few days to train his side. But they were noticeably narrower and more compact. It was with the three-man midfield of Onana, Abdoulaye Doucoure, and Idrissa Gueye, supported by McNeil and Iwobi. They often tucked inside, working together to reduce central space and force Arsenal wide.
It worked to reduce Martin Odegaard’s influence. The Norwegian, one of the Premier League’s top performers, had 38 touches. It was until his 77th-minute retirement, his second-lowest total of the season. Eddie Nketiah and Arsenal struggled to find him. The striker had scored four goals in his previous five Premier League appearances. He was even more isolated than Odegaard. It was getting fewer touches (22) than in any other game this season despite playing 90 minutes. Arsenal’s attacking players were stifled, and when they did get into promising positions, blue-shirted defenders blocked vital passes and shots.