Arsenal 0 Everton 0: Opportunity Available, Certainly Not Taken
“Everton would visit the Emirates shortly afterwards and it would be a game that would be regarded as a must-win for Arsenal. In recent times, both teams have matched each other pound for pound and a draw would seem like the most possible outcome.” – enigma106
I had a gut feeling that this game had a draw written all over it but I still harbored some hope that Everton’s atrocious away record agaisnst Arsenal would play a role in giving the home side the edge. In 13 visits to North London, David Moyes had managed just two draws and historically, Arsenal enjoy playing the Toffees more than any other Premier League opposition as they have smashed in 49 goals past the Merseyside outfit.
We didn’t really expect Everton to park the bus entirely like Norwich but David Moyes’ starting XI had an air of physicality about them, especially in central midfield. One of those midfielders, Ross Barkley, incurred the wrath of the fans early on when he clattered Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott in quick succession.
From an attacking sense, Arsenal’s first sight at goal almost appeared when Aaron Ramsey dinked a pass over the top for Wilshere but the ball was beyond the Englishman. The midfielder went on to have another bad day at the office reminiscent of his performance against Norwich.
With Arsenal probing for an opener, they were almost gifted when Marouane Fellaini uncharacteristically cleared the ball into his own danger area which was received gracefully by Santi Cazorla. After a few touches, the Spanish maestro teed up Kieran Gibbs but his shot went over the bar.
There was a turning point in the game when the referee’s officiating was put under question. Darron Gibson had been brandished a yellow card for a rash challenge at Walcott. Moments later, the Irishman cynically clattered Walcott with a challenge worthy of another booking but the ref chose to ignore Arsenal’s pleas. Shortly afterwards, the ref booked Steven Pienaar for a somewhat weaker challenge than Gibson’s.
Arsenal’s best chance of the half and probably the game came when Ramsey sent Giroud through with an inch-perfect pass but the Frenchman unfathomably blasted his effort wide with a gaping goal at his mercy. For a striker with 17 goals to his name, that was shameful to say the least.
Arsenal’s last chance of the first half arrived when Cazorla shimmied past his marker before driving a shot that was superbly blocked by Phil Jagielka. Cazorla had the first chance of the second half as well, when he blasted a shot goalwards after a flick from Gibbs. Gibbs made another foray forward before finding Giroud but the Frenchman killed a bird in the sky with his effort.
Just like the Norwich game, it almost seemed like a classic case of deja vu when Arsenal conceded a free kick at the edge of the area with the dangerous Leighton Baines set for the kill. The wall did its job for Baines’ dead ball and Arsenal instigated a counter attack with Walcott fashioning a chance for Giroud but his control let him down.
When Arsene Wenger decided that he had seen enough, he summoned the calvary in the forms of Lukas Podolski and the Ox.
With the Gunners gaining momentum, a counter attack was launched through Giroud with Cazorla covering some distance before finding the Ox. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had two plausible options of blasting the ball across the goalmouth or creating a chance for Giroud a la Norwich. The Ox chose the latter and Giroud was only denied a goal courtesy of some dogged last-ditch defending from Seamus Coleman.
The Ox drilled a neat through ball for Giroud and the Frenchman matched it up with a brilliant first touch. However, his effort on goal summed up his horrible night as he probably damaged one of the Emirates floodlights with his shot. The last meaningful chance from an Arsenal perspective arrived when Cazorla sent Mikel Arteta through with a sumptuous pass but the elder statesman got the nerves and dallied on the ball, killing his team’s chance of going four points clear.
Had Arteta scored the only goal that would have settled the tie, it would have been some headline. Unfortunately, the opportunity was available for Arsenal to give themselves some breathing space from their London rivals vying for Champions League football but it certainly wasn’t taken.
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