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Demarai Gray belter gives Everton  victory over Arsenal after VAR denies them twice



It helped that one of Everton’s brightest moments of the first half came just a few seconds earlier, when Demarai Gray drove a fizzing delivery across the face of Aaron Ramsdale’s goal.

Aside from that, there was to be little attacking quality from either side in the opening exchanges, when Arsenal saw plenty of the ball without doing much with it. Their harmless possession suited Everton just fine, with Benitez’s side waiting for opportunities to steal the ball and attack with pace.

For Arteta there was clear concern at his side’s lack of cohesion in attack. It came despite the unexpectedly quick return of Granit Xhaka, who was back from injury almost a month ahead of schedule. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang by contrast was taken out of the side after a series of disappointing performances.

Aubameyang’s withdrawal raised eyebrows but the more pressing issue for Arsenal, it soon became clear, was the loss of Emile Smith Rowe to a groin injury. The Englishman has been his side’s most dangerous forward this season and they looked short of ideas without him in the final third.

It quickly became a match in need of a game-changing moment, and that might well have arrived if Ben Godfrey had been sent off for a stamp on the face of Arsenal’s Takehiro Tomiyasu. The incident was looked at by the video assistant referee, but there was to be no punishment for the Everton defender, playing at left-back here.

Everton thought they had the lead before the break, when Richarlison headed home Andros Townsend’s free-kick, but the offside flag came to Arsenal’s rescue. The home fans were still reeling from that decision when the visitors put together their first real attack. Kieran Tierney’s cross found Odegaard, who volleyed a smart finish into Jordan Pickford’s corner. An undeserved lead, perhaps, but a lead all the same.

Richarlison continued to push, soon finding the net again after racing onto Abdoulaye Doucoure’s pass. Once again, the Brazilian’s finish was excellent. Once again, an offside ruling saved Arsenal’s blushes. The lines on the VAR decision were so marginal that it was surely the definition of “level”, but who is to say what is level or not these days?

In these moments it must have seemed to Benitez as if all his luck had truly run out, especially as his forwards continued to struggle to create any goalscoring opportunities. But Richarlison kept the fight going and eventually, at long last, had his reward. Gray’s curling strike bounced off the crossbar, and the striker was there to loop home his header on the rebound.

The game was there to be won, with Arsenal going close through Odegaard before Gray charged forward to unleash his moment of genuine, perhaps season-altering, brilliance.





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