Everton FC 1 Arsenal 1: Blues lack ammo to finish off Gunners
David Moyes said he hoped Mikel Arteta was not smiling afterwards, but it was with a sheepish grin and a sigh of relief that the once-revered Spaniard departed Merseyside last night.
He will know that only another woeful refereeing lapse prevented his former team grabbing a deserved win over his current club under the floodlights at Goodison. Referee Michael Oliver could have awarded a spot-kick for any one of Arteta’s fouls as he wrenched Steven Pienaar from behind, hauled him down and simultaneously failed to win the ball in a clumsy tackle as the South African bore down on goal in the second half. Not the first time this season Everton were left to rue a poor refereeing decision, and certainly not for the first time they had to settle for a share of the spoils – but this was an infinitely more promising draw than what has gone before. Everton may have slipped another place back in the table to sixth, as Spurs’ victory over Liverpool edged them ahead of the Blues, but the signs that their recent blip is over were numerous.
With two of their key men returning from injury in Tony Hibbert and Darron Gibson, Moyes’ side looked every inch the equals of a team which perennially nabs the fourth Champions League spot, and proved the Scot correct in his verdict that with a full-strength line-up they will be in the mix for that holy grail. Everton out-played the Gunners for large parts of a lively encounter, and certainly prevented Arsene Wenger’s side from finding their fluid rhythm. They showed resilience too in coming back from an early disaster to push for victory. Arsenal had gone immediately on the offensive from the opening whistle and got instant rewards. Theo Walcott went marauding and swapped passes smartly with Aaron Ramsey, before the England striker opened his body up to finish coolly into the top left hand corner.
One minute had passed. Everton were as shocked as they were dismayed, but they had been unfortunate when the ball had deflected off Phil Jagielka in the build-up and responded defiantly. After the early goal came an early substitution for the visitors, as Laurent Koscielny hobbled off to be replaced by Kieran Gibbs, and Everton kept their composure to try and get themselves back into the game. Interplay between Steven Pienaar and Leighton Baines allowed the latter to whip an inviting cross into the area and Wojciech Szczesny had to be alert to punch away as Fellaini and Nikica Jelavic loomed.
Undeterred, the Blues continued to press, with their imperious left-back impressive as ever. Baines sprinted 60 yards to win a corner he had no right to, and Fellaini went close with a towering downward header from the left-back’s useful delivery. Then Steven Naismith did well in space to cut the ball back to Darron Gibson who forced another save from the Gunners keeper. Everton were building momentum, and taking control despite the setback.
Their midfield refused Arsenal space to play and looked to expose the visitors’ defensive frailties with relentless pressing. It worked a treat too – as a tenacious Pienaar closed down Mikel Arteta and then Bacary Sagna who skewed his clearance to Fellaini. From 25 yards the irrepressible Belgian turned onto his left foot and bent a shot past Thomas Vermaelen and beyond Szczesny’s lunge into the bottom corner. Cue pandemonium, as the 25-year-old rampaged over to the home bench to celebrate. Everton’s talismanic number 25 was quickly becoming unplayable, and it was his knock down which allowed Jelavic to turn exquisitely past Per Mertesacker on 39 minutes, only to lash his shot over the bar and into the Park End. It was a flash of skill which suggested the Croatian’s self-belief has not wilted as much as has been suggested.He was back at it after the break, leaving Mertesacker in his wake again to send an enticing low cross into the area which Naismith was inches from converting.
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