Arsenal 0 – 0 Everton
The first goalless League draw between the two sides in London for more than a century left Arsenal’s Champions League aspirations out of their own hands. It also puts the squad under immense pressure; they have to win at Fulham, anything less leaves them exposed in the race for not just Champions League football but Europa League as well. That latter scenario is the one David Moyes is hoping for, the rationale for an intense defensive performance that relied on physical effort more than techniquel the professors at the School of Science will be reeling, no matter what the rewards.
Arsenal were their own worst enemies, aided and abetted by timid officiating. Olivier Giroud is this morning’s most obvious culprit, missing a presentable chance in each half but he was not the only one in red to fail in front of goal. Darron Gibson remaining on the pitch beyond the first half still baffles, Neil Swarbrick’s inexcusable decision not to show a second yellow card minutes after the first underlined the poor standard referees in English football at the moment. If the best referee is not rated good enough for anything better than Colchester this weekend, there is little hope for the rest.
All this and Jack Wilshere at his pugnacious best; a shame that was in the tunnel though.
The match started slowly with Arsenal struggling to free the shackles placed on their midfield. Indeed, Everton had the best of the opening chances with Pienaar clearing the bar as Szczesny dived at his feet. Gibbs emulated that with Arsenal’s first effort of intent midway through a first half noted for the intensity of the visitors efforts, legal and not so in Gibson’s case. Rotating with Barkley and Pienaar, Gibson subdued Theo Walcott but the tally of fouls on the England winger caught up with the former Manchester United player, who was cautioned. Shortly after, a blatant bodycheck went inexplicably unpunished by Mr Swarbrick; it isn’t a conspiracy against Arsenal as many claim, simple incompetence explains. Yet moaning about officials always deflects attention away from failings in front of goal.
Arsenal’s best chance of the night arrived as the interval approached, minutes after Anichebe had been denied by Gibbs sterling tackle. Ramsey putting in another Man of the Match performance, surged down the right offering Olivier Giroud the moment with a tempting cross but as he arrived before the Everton defence, the French striker was unable to angle his connection to an empty net, instead hooking his effort wide.
The sides traded efforts in the second half, Cazorla and Giroud for Arsenal, Barkley for Everton. No matter what Arsenal tried, they found solid resistance which even in the face of tiredness, did not wilt. Twice in the final twelve minutes, Giroud offered hope that the deadlock would be broken; twice he failed, once through tenacious defending, the last caused by snatching at his shot.
Arsenal lacked something, that game-changing moment. The failings in front of goal were key, especially with chances at a premium. The hosts lacked the verve of Rosicky in the middle, the Czech maestro obviously not as fit as Wenger would have hoped for or was the manager being more cautious. Wilshere is gaining fitness but he is more of an all-round midfielder, the box-to-box role than the attacking lynchpin. In seasons to come, it is not hard to envisage him and Ramsey forming the basis of a quartet in midfield. In Rosicky’s absence, it seems odd that Cazorla is not moved centrally, bringing in Podolski or Gervinho on the left to accommodate this. Despite his ruthlessness in other positions, Wenger seems to be hampered in being a strong in the midfield. It isn’t a case of putting square pegs in round holes, just bringing together the most effective dynamic in the Czech’s absence.
The outcome suited Everton more than Arsenal. The visit to Fulham is the key to Arsenal’s season. A draw has left Tottenham with the advantage – even with Chelsea to meet – but time will tell whether the points on the table now are worth more than the games in hand. As disappointing as the result was – and the tone of Wenger’s post-match comments suggest that he has the same feelings – the sky has not fallen in on Arsenal’s season. Yet.