Mikel Arteta insists Arsenal are not feeling the pressure in the Premier League title race and says he loves his players more than ever despite losing 1-0 at Sean Dyche’s Everton.
James Tarkowski’s header on the hour mark gave Dyche a winning start to life at Goodison Park and condemned the Gunners to only their second league defeat of the season.
Arsenal’s best chance came when Bukayo Saka saw his goalbound effort cleared off the line by Conor Coady as the visitors struggled to threaten Jordan Pickford’s goal in the second period.
Defeat left Arsenal five points clear at the top of the table, with title rivals Manchester City playing Tottenham on Sunday, but Arteta thinks his side are still relaxed.
Asked whether his players were feeling any pressure, Arteta said: “No, I don’t think so, we’ve played a lot of games this season like that already.
“But credit to them, this is what they train every single day. You have to defend really well to get your control and earn the right to play. For moments we did it and in other moments we didn’t do it well enough to dominate in the game.
“In the last 10 or 15 minutes, particularly after we made the changes, we started to give away a lot of free-kicks and a lot of rash decisions.
“Which is exactly what they want – slow the game down, do everything really long, play long into your line and don’t play a lot. We haven’t managed that well enough.
“I want the team to know how much I love them. I love them much more now than three hours ago, a week ago, a month ago, three months ago.
“It’s very easy to be next to the players when they’re winning and performing. These are the moments when I love my players more and my staff more and we’re going to stay together.
“This journey is going to be difficult and challenging and there’s going to be big stones in the middle and we have to overcome that. Now we have to prepare the week really well to get to Saturday with the right emotional spirit to beat Brentford.”
I want the team to know how much I love them
No time for panic for Arteta and Arsenal
Sky Sports’ Oliver Yew:
It was the perfect storm for Everton. A new manager, a new intensity and a renewed spirit from the Goodison Park crowd.
It was another huge examination of Arsenal’s title credentials but having come through the Spurs and Manchester United tests last month, this was a hurdle they couldn’t clear. Everton were in their faces from the very first minute right until the last and in the end, it was an intensity Arsenal could not match.
So, does the narrative now change surrounding Arsenal? Immediately, Sky Bet returned Manchester City to being favourites for the Premier League title and there will be plenty talking about Arsenal’s inability to match Everton physically.
Questions will now be asked of Mikel Arteta’s side and rightly so. However, this is no time to panic.
Their performances so far this season have allowed them the comfort of a gap at the top of the Premier League table, and that still remains at five points ahead of Man City’s clash with Spurs on Super Sunday. The gap could obviously close to two points, but Arsenal will have a game in hand – against Everton.
Arsenal have proved their credentials so far this season, and they will have to do so again. How they respond to this setback will be crucial. That chance will come at home to Brentford next week before Man City head to north London.
All potential champions have blips in what we know is a long season. It’s how a side responds to defeat that defines them and two home wins in their next two games will make this Everton nightmare a distant one.
Dyche on performance: ‘You could see there was a response’
Meanwhile, Dyche led Everton to their first win since October, ending a run of 10 matches without a victory under predecessor Frank Lampard, but they remain in the relegation zone.
Dyche said: “Performance is the right word because you can’t guarantee the outcome of any game – certainly against the league leaders who are playing so well.
“But I wanted a performance. The players have put a lot of honesty into the week and a lot of respect in the changes we have tried to make, but I said to them, ‘It’s actions, that’s the key’.
“You could clearly see there was a response.”
Dwight McNeil and Tarkowski, two players Dyche managed at previous club Burnley, combined for the winner.
“Of course, I planned it all.” Dyche joked. “We believe in our set-piece set-up, it’s another valuable weapon for the team to use.
“It was great delivery and a great header and I thought we were causing problems with that today.
“It’s a start point. That one (win) doesn’t guarantee the next one. That’s what I’ve learned from being a 16-year-old in professional football. It is a start, the way they have taken ownership and pride in what we have tried to do this week – and I value that.”
‘Hopefully it’s the turning point’
Match-winner James Tarkowski to BT Sport:
“What an atmosphere.
“Fair play to the fans, it’s been tough times. It’s been a change of management that we’ve had to buy into straight away.
“It’s been tough for us and for the fans and for the staff. Hopefully it’s the turning point. We’ve got to get our heads down and crack on.
“We’ve not lacked technical ability (this season), we’ve just lacked a bit of grit at times. That’s what fans want to see.”
‘It’s all about the players’ | ‘Win gives us a platform to move forward’
More from Everton boss Dyche:
“It’s all about the players and they are the focal point for me. They have taken a lot on this week. The minimum requirement is maximum effort and we saw that today.
“They have been in a position where it has not been nice for anyone. I still believe we can improve with our play.
“It gives us a platform to move forward. We have crammed a lot in this week. To get a win against top of the league…we managed to calm the game down. I want to them to understand the basics of the game.”
Dyche’s dream start ignites Everton’s season
Sky Sports’ Peter Smith:
After all the build-up and talk about bleep tests, when Everton’s new era finally got underway it was clear to see Dyche-ball is an ideal fit at Goodison Park.
The home support had already shown their passion for their club in their pre-match protests against the board but when the game got underway that energy was channelled into the creation of a ferocious atmosphere inside the four old stands. The Everton players – just as they did at the end of last season – responded.
Physical in the challenge, Everton looked secure in their 4-5-1 and despite some scares on the counter, showed courage in possession to take the game to the Premier League leaders.
Intensity, desire, organisation and an excellent match-winning set-piece routine – it was a win which had all the the ingredients Dyche wants from his side.
We’ve seen similar uplifts before at Everton. The key will be sustaining it. But Dyche couldn’t have wished for a better start, especially against the Premier League leaders. It’s a fantastic platform to build on. Next up? Liverpool. That one could be feisty too…
Opta stats: Arteta’s miserable run at Everton continues
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta has lost all three of his away matches against Everton in his managerial career. Indeed, Arteta became the first Arsenal manager to lose three consecutive away Premier League games against the Toffees.
Arsenal suffered just their second defeat in their last 21 Premier League matches (W17 D2), losing for the first time in 14 games.
Everton have won three consecutive league games against Arsenal at Goodison Park for the first time since March 1977 to August 1978.
Everton boss Sean Dyche became just the second manager to beat a side starting the day top in his first Premier League game in charge of a club, after Alan Curbishley’s West Ham beat Man Utd in December 2006.
The Merseyside Derby will be shown live on Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football when Everton visit Liverpool on February 13. Coverage starts at 7pm with kick-off at 8pm.
Arsenal continue their title bid when they host Brentford on Saturday, February 11 at 3pm