Everton 1 Arsenal 1: Spoils Shared in Arteta’s Homecoming
This was a game were history favored Arsene Wenger and his Red Army. It has been ages since Arsenal lost at Goodison Park that has been a happy hunting ground for the Gunners in recent times.
Following the disappointing draw against Aston Villa, the boss made some changes with both fullbacks getting the axe. Thomas Vermaelen and Bacary Sagna returned to the fold. Further up the pitch, an illness suffered by Lukas Podolski allowed Aaron Ramsey to enjoy a continued run in the team and Theo Walcott returned from his shoulder injury.
With just 52 seconds gone, Walcott made a direct run at the Everton defense before teeing up Ramsey. The Welshman held the ball just in time for Walcott to make a diagonal run and he wasted no time in squaring the ball for the pacey forward, whose deflected finish went past Tim Howard to give the Gunners the brightest of starts.
Shortly afterwards, Laurent Koscielny suffered an injury and was replaced by Kieran Gibbs, which gave Thomas Vermaelen the chance to return to his favored central defensive position.
Steven Pienaar and Leighton Baines were constant thorns in Arsenal’s flesh and they combined superbly on the left hand side. After a neat back heel from Pienaar, Baines drilled in a cross that was intercepted for a corner kick by Wojciech Szczesny. Baines lofted in a corner that was headed by Marouane Fellaini but Szczesny made another fine save before Sagna cleared it away to safety.
The Baines-Pienaar combo worked its magic down the left again but Jack Wilshere showed great awareness to track back and intercept a cross aimed at Fellaini.
Sagna had to do a lot of defending due to the attacking threat Baines and Pienaar posed down the left but the French fullback waltzed forward and won a free kick in the process. Vermaelen fired the resulting free kick straight at Howard but the shot required the American goalie to smother the ball in his second attempt.
Against the run of play, Arsenal shot themselves in the foot when Sagna gifted possession to Everton on a platter, and Fellaini wasted no time in curling the ball past Szczesny. The keeper was clearly livid with his defense because it was a goal that would have been avoided.
Fellaini almost turned from scorer to provider when he fashioned a chance of Nikita Jelavic. The Croatian striker controlled the ball superbly before dinking it over Per Mertesacker but his shameful finish didn’t match the buildup.
Another sloppy play from Arsenal allowed Baines to spring through to intercept the ball but Jelavic interfered with play, thereby causing an offside. Late on, Santi Cazorla had a tame shot that went wide.
In the early part of the second half, Ramsey left Baines for dead before sending a delightful cross that was miscued by Giroud. When Jelavic broke away through a counter attack on the right, he crossed the ball to Steven Naismith’s path but Gibbs was on hand to make a vital block.
Pienaar was having the time of his life on the left and he had a golden chance to make it 2 – 1 from a tight angle. His initial ball was ricocheted by Mertesacker, handing Pienaar a second bite of the cherry, but his second attempt was palmed to safety by Szczesny.
Pienaar was at the thick of things yet again and the Everton faithful had believed that Arteta was adjudged to have fouled the South African in the box. The ref gave deaf ears to their penalty appeals.
Walcott found Olivier Giroud with a neat cross but the Frenchman’s header just missed the post by a lick of paint. An unmarked Cazorla had another shot that stung Howard’s palms.
Wenger withdrew Aaron Ramsey for Gervinho to inject some life into Arsenal’s attack. After some amazing end to end football, Arsenal almost gave the Toffes a sucker punch when Walcott’s pass to Giroud saw the Frenchman locate an unmarked Gervinho but the cross was beyond the Ivorian’s reach.
Francis Coquelin came on for a surprisingly ineffectual Santi Cazorla and the ref’s whistle sounded moments later.
In the end, there were some positives and negatives to take away from the daunting trip to Merseyside. On the brighter note, Jack Wilshere’s performance in midfield is worth commending and Walcott’s importance in this team continues to grow. The club had promised to sort his future out before Christmas, which is now a matter of weeks away.
Szczesny’s introduction to the team has steadied the defensive ship a bit and the young Pole was never afraid to accept some defensive responsibilities by intercepting a boatload of crosses that came from the left hand side. He also made a couple of tidy saves and he had every right to be cross at his defense for the cheap goal they conceded.
On the bad side, this draw against Everton hasn’t helped Arsenal’s cause, as Tottenham’s win over Liverpool made the Spuds leapfrog the Gunners into fifth place. With Everton avoiding defeat against Arsenal, the Gunners are currently languishing in seventh place with 14 games gone.
At this rate, it would be a real miracle if Arsenal manage to get that coveted Champions League spot, and funnily enough, teams above the Gunners (bar the Manchester bullies) aren’t really consistent. West Brom were brought back to Earth against Swansea while Chelsea continues to fire blanks.
Elsewhere, fatigue is taking its toll on Santi Cazorla and he wasn’t in his electrifying best yesterday. With Tomas Rosicky returning back into the team, it’s high time the diminutive Spaniard gets a breather.
There’s no point sulking on these quick-fire away draws and all focus must be fixed on this weekend’s clash against Swansea before taking care of business in Athens.
All in all, it was a good homecoming for Arteta. Shame he couldn’t crown the moment with a goal.
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