Arsenal started the game with a high tempo, and the surging runs of Adebayor, Nasri and Clichy. One could have been forgiven for expecting wonderful things from the team during the first ten minutes, but as they say football is a game of two halves. The return of the “Calm down” afro called Fellaini seemed to provide more potency to the Everton attack. Cahill was amazing in the air, in attack and defence, jumping higher than players several inches taller than himself. The warning signs were there for the Arsenal as Jagielka’s glancing header just missed Almunia’s far post, and with David Moyes employing a five man midfield, the opportunity for beautiful play was diminished as the toffees snapped into 50/50 tackles and left Denilson and Diaby with only milliseconds to control and play the ball.
This harassing tactic has been well employed by teams against us, and one wonders why we seem unequal to it as it is so predictable. We cannot move the ball around anymore, whereas the Arsenal of old would have raised their game quickly and efficiently to counter this. Gallas who had returned along side Djourou was man marking Cahill and the two were involved in several feisty encounters during the game. Nasri tracked back to assist Clichy against the rampaging runs of Hibbert, but the industry lacked the end product. It seemed more like a cup tie. What was very frustrating was the way that a few players would give up making runs into space. No matter, Robin van Persie was there and at the moment as long as he is on the field, Arsenal have hope.
Arsenal’s best chance of the first half fell to Denilson who really should have done better with his 20 yd shot which curled just wide of Howard’s right hand post. Referee Andre Marriner gave yellow cards to Diaby and Nasri for late tackles, and so with only one minute of extra time, play ended with honours even.
Half Time: Everton 0 Arsenal 0
The fog rolled in over Goodison park and Arsenal started the second half as if their half time orange juice had been doped with tranquillizers. Everton were playing with less energy, probably due to their gruelling two local derbies at Anfield. There was much more space in midfield, but the Arsenal quartet failed to use it well. We seemed content to pass the ball in any direction apart from forwards, and when finally we attempted such a feat, we either gave the ball away or Adebayor was offside. We played like a Championship side, error prone and devoid of ideas.
Again we passed the ball backwards, only for Sagna to knock the ball out into touch to avoid a corner, within seconds the ball was in the back of the Arsenal net. Leighton Baines had crossed a simple ball into the danger area, and there was Cahill being marked by Clichy, to powerfully head the ball back across the despairing dive of Almunia. It was so so predictable, as Cahill celebrated his one hundredth career goal by punching the corner flag.
Everton 1 (Cahill 62’) Arsenal 0
The later introduction of Bendtner and Eboue didn’t help matters either. Imagine the speed of a rampaging pregnant hippopotamus, well that was how much pace that Bendtner had down the right flank. We looked certain to lose this game as the fourth official held up the board for 3 minutes.
An eerie calm had settled over the travelling Arsenal support, as they pondered about tomorrows headlines. The thought of being 6 points adrift of the fourth placed Aston Villa was almost too painful to contemplate. We seemed as a team to wake up with 2 minutes to go, when out of nothing, Diaby floated a 30 yard aerial pass wide left over the Everton defence. Who was there to receive it? None other than Robin van Persie whose first touch off his chest was world class. He allowed the ball to run a foot beyond him before smashing in the half volley from the typical tight van Persie angle. Howard had no chance, and the Dutchman had once again saved Wenger’s bacon.
Full time: Everton 1 Arsenal 1 (van Persie 93’)
Everton: Howard, Hibbert, Jagielka, Lescott, Baines, Osman, Arteta, Neville, Pienaar, Fellaini, Cahill (Anichebe 86).
Subs Not Used: Nash, Yobo, Castillo, Rodwell, Jutkiewicz, Gosling.
Booked: Arteta, Hibbert.
Arsenal: Almunia, Sagna (Eboue 72), Djourou, Gallas, Clichy, Nasri, Denilson, Song Billong (Bendtner 72), Diaby, Adebayor, Van Persie.
Subs Not Used: Fabianski, Toure, Vela, Ramsey, Gibbs.
Booked: Diaby, Nasri.
My MOTM: Robin van Persie
Arsene Wenger said after the game that Arsenal showed intensity, focus and desire, and that it was important to keep the unbeaten run going. But under that cool French exterieur, he must be worried that this group of players have become dysfunctional. We lack balance and pace, but most of all, we lack the killer instinct. Carlos Vela is the next best finisher in the club behind Robin van Persie, and yet he was never given a chance. For the moment we should remain calm as we are only five points off fourth place with 15 games to go. We will not win the premiership, placed some eleven points behind Man U if they win their game in hand.
There is a malaise at the club at the moment, and Arsene Wenger needs to pull a rabbit out of the hat, because now this is getting silly. The talk of new signings in the form of Rosicky (8 weeks), Eduardo (two weeks) Walcott (four weeks) and Fabregas (8 weeks) will arrive to late unless we start winning games regularly. Next up West Ham at the Emirates.
Fabregas the King.