Arsenal 2 – 2 Everton
0 – 1 Osman (13)
1 – 1 Denilson (28)
1 – 2 Pienaar (81)
2 – 2 Rosicky (90)
Before kick-off, the assumption was that the game in hand would be won, pressure placed on Chelsea as the gap to the top closed to but one point. As events unfolded, Everton proved anything but the routine cannon fodder they were presented as being, an unrecognisable outfit from the one obliterated on a sunny August afternoon on the opening day of the season.
The point gained could quite easily have been three dropped; whether the negative aspect of the result matters will be known when the new home for the Premier League title is found. Tomas Rosicky has been missing for some time, flitting in and out of the first team as his fitness permits. A telling contribution to Arsenal’s season came as full time loomed, a deflected equaliser saving a snowbound afternoon from being a disaster for the home team.
Everton claimed the early ascendency pressing forward with their usual directness. Saha had a goal rightly chalked off for offside before squandering a great opportunity, getting goal side of Traore, Almunia blocking and the rebound sent skywards. Positionally, Traore’s inexperience betrayed him on that occasion yet he did not crumble, continuing to work hard on the Arsenal left.
Their pay-off came when Osman headed the ball from a Donovan corner, Denilson powerless to stop the ball entering the net. The goal was a poor one to concede. Gallas and Vermaelen marked their assigned men but no-one picked Osman’s run from deep; he attacked the ball, Gallas holding his ground under pressure was the nearest Arsenal player, Osman arriving ahead of him to the trajectory.
Thereafter, Everton retreated into their shells, defending in numbers and hitting on the break when opportunities arose. Arsenal responded, the best opportunity fell to Gallas from Diaby’s subtle chip over the defence, the defender beating Howard to the ball but Baines retrieving the situation with more cover behind him, an indication of the tenacity with which Everton were defending.
Fifteen minutes passed before Arsenal equalised. Nasri crossed from the right, Arshavin and Eduardo played a neat triangle, Denilson firing from range, the ball deflected to leave Howard wrong-footed. Shortly after, the Croat wreaked havoc being fleet of foot through the visitors defence, denied by running into one of the numerous centurions on the edge of the area.
The second period saw the Arsenal and Everton attacks trading punches, the host’s flurries met with the occasional jab. Yet few clear cut chances were created, most of the impetous petering out as sights of goal came, snuffed out by numbers in the area, Arsenal perhaps the better side in attempts at goal. Rosicky bravely attacked a cross, not ducking out of the challenge as Howard sought to meet the same ball.
Vermaelen struck a stiff shot, Neville blocked, Denilson clattered by Neville as the rebound left the ball safe. A penalty? The infuriating aspect is that some referees would have given it. Arshavin emerged from the periphary to smuggle the ball down the touchline, sprint into the area, weave an opening, blocked en route to goal.
Everton thought they had won the game with 81 minutes gone. Denilson was struggling as Pienaar sprinted from the Arsenal half, collected the ball and ran unchallenged towards the penalty area. Almunia came to meet him, went to ground perhaps early, Pienaar lifted the ball over the Spaniard and watched as it ekked towards the line, enough pace to evade the retreating ‘keeper.
Moments later, Denilson collapsed whilst in possession, Vaughan broke and Almunia saved, perhaps answering some of his critics with a point-saving parry. The referee should be suitably chastised. At no point could he ascertain what caused the collapse yet play progressed. He could not have known whether it was a life-threatening injury but decided play must progress, presumably sure that the Brazilian was feigning his condition.
A familiar scenario ensued. Arsenal pressed to save a point and Rosicky duly provided it, slamming home a shot via a defender into the net. Calmness reigned in the middle of the battle, the Czech confident in his own ability to hit the ball with the outside of his right boot. The goals were an object lesson in shooting; Frank Lampard has built a career on scoring deflected shots, Arsenal’s midfield has learned the benefits as well.
It was not a fantastic performance, one reminiscent of those immediately following the international break as I feared yesterday. A point though is welcomed, three now the deficit, emminently retrievable.
The question as to whether Wenger needs a new striker was not answered. Eduardo’s confidence has returned, his willingness to put himself in the firing line undiminished. A question arises over whether central midfield cover is required, Denilson’s condition will answer that. However, Diaby was willing to put his boot into tackles and perhaps provides that solution yet as quickly as players return, others are falling by the wayside.