James Garner knows that maintaining focus will be a key factor if Everton are to earn a positive result from Sunday’s clash with Arsenal.
This weekend’s opposition at Goodison Park last visited the home of the Blues in early February, when Sean Dyche overcame the league-leading Arsenal with a 1-0 win in his first match as Everton manager.
Garner may have been absent due to a back injury for that game, but the Birkenhead-born midfielder remembers the defiant attitude in the dressing room and believes that same mentality will be applied for Sunday’s match.
“That was the manager’s first game” Garner said to evertonfc.com, as he recalled the victory over Arsenal. “Everyone was trying to prove a point – not just to the fans, but to the manager too, and trying to prove that they should be the ones starting.
“I think everyone was at 100 per cent and I think we will be at the weekend as well, and hopefully, we can produce the same type of performance and get the same type of outcome.”
Despite the Blues recording a higher expected goals figure and registering more shots on target than Mikel Arteta’s side in that game, Arsenal recorded north of 70 per cent possession.
Such dominance on the ball poses a mental challenge, admits Garner, who explains the difficulties when facing a side like Arsenal.
“I think it’s more of a psychological test to stay focused and stay ready,” he said, describing the obstacles to overcome against a high-possession team. “We’re all playing in the Premier League, so we all have enough technical ability to be out there.
“But when you play against the likes of Arsenal, they’re going to have the ball for most of the game, so you have to stay focused and do the dirty work. When you do have an opportunity to make the final action, whether that’s a shot or a pass, you have to make sure you get that right and you take your chances.”
Garner has started every game for Everton this season and his versatility has been well-documented. Under Dyche, the 22-year-old midfielder has enjoyed minutes in a familiar central-midfield position, while also featuring as winger, wing-back, as well as full-back, where he operated for England Under-21s in their summer triumph at the European Championships.
Rather than his technical ability, which Garner has shown in abundance since his September 2022 move from Manchester United, he attributes a mental edge as the reason for his versatility.
“I think it’s my understanding of the game,” replied Garner, when asked about how he’s able to thrive in several areas of the pitch. “I feel like I understand what it takes and what’s needed to play a certain position. Also, I’m a good listener. I listen to the manager, and with the instructions he gives me, it’s not hard to follow them.
“He’s a straight talker, tells you how it is and gives you tough love, but sometimes people need that. He’s good to work with, and the staff are as well.
“He gave me the opportunity to play regularly during the back end of last season, and for me then, it was more about getting to grips with Premier League football because it’s the best league in the world. Now, I think I’m getting better each game and I’m getting more comfortable.”