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Everton were almost straight onto the back foot after their normal kick-off ploy of hoofing the ball forward and ceding possesssion that they struggled to regain in the early exchanges that saw Arsenal attacking in waves. It seemed only a matter of time before the breakthrough after Ramesy blasted a golden chance over, then Verlaaelen nodded one in far too easily from Arsenal's first corner. So much for the KITAHTNO gameplan!
They surged through the porous Everton defence a few more times while the Blues struggled to get a grip on their pace and trickery, but Everton were able to stem the flow somewhat, and create a couple of half-chances, Osman nodding a ground ball wide and Jelavic heavily overplaying a promising one-two before Arteta showed he still had trouble beating the first man with his corners.
Pienaar didn't do that much better at the other end, putting his corner kick onto the roof of the net as the game settled into a more even midfield struggle. Drenthe got around the outside and scored a nice goal but it was wrongly called offside. Jelavic might have scored off a lazy clearance but could only divert it wide. Cahill dived in poorly and surprisingly was not booked, but Sagna was for his tackle from behind.
Everton had come back into the game quite well by the end of the half, considering it looked like a mauling was in store, with more dubiously marginal offsides against Jelavic and then Drenthe hinting at what might've been...
Everton started the second half winning a free-kick that Fellaini got to but headed too close to Czezney. Another stupid tackle by Cahill saw him yellow-carded as Everton played some better football and started to test Arsenal, Jelavic rather spoiling things by trying to con the ref and going down far too easily but on the counter Van Persie stung the foot of the post.
As things hotted up, Drenthe was lucky not to be called for a penalty, while at the other end Everton were getting balls behind the Arsenal defence without making the vital breakthrough. But as the game wore on, Everton had fewer ideas while Arsenal had a new lease of life and threatened to kill the game with a second goal.
Moyes rang some changes after Drenthe failed to keep a good chance down below the bar, and he was replaced by Anichebe, with Gueye coming on for Osman...? Strange moves that seemed highly unlikely to clinch things for the Blues...
3 mins left and El Traca was brought on for the niggler, Cahill, as Jelavic continued to go to ground far too easily and the game ended in glorious defeat for the plucky Blues.
May appear here later
There are times when you just throw your hands in the air and ask yourself, What's the fucking point?
Having been handed a footballing lesson by Arsenal for the first 15 minutes of this poorly officiated encounter and fallen behind to a sloppy set-piece goal, Everton recovered their composure and equalised with a goal of the kind of quality you usually associate with their opponents.
Except, of course, it wasn't allowed to stand. Despite being a yard onside when the final ball in a sweeping move was played through to him, Royston Drenthe's clinical finish was struck off by a linesman's flag and the Gunners were allowed to keep an advantage they would defend ably to record a sixth successive Premier League victory.
It's hard enough beating Arsenal without incompetence from the match officials robbing you of goals, but then we're very much used to that as Evertonians, aren't we?
Though they would fall short on the shots count, the Blues maintained the ascendency for long periods of the remainder of the game until their momentum was killed when Moyes inexplicably withdrew Drenthe with 12 minutes to go.
On the basis of the game's opening quarter, Arsene Wenger's men were full value for the three points. Assuming immediate control, they ran their hosts ragged with some sumptuous passing, movement and pace. Aaron Ramsey really should have made that early pressure tell with just five minutes on the clock when he was set up perfectly by Robin van Persie's header but he lashed well over the bar.
Arsenal only had to wait another minute, though. Carved open again, the Everton defence was almost punished when Bacary Sagne popped up in space in the penalty area but Ramsey's shot deflected up off Sylvain Distin and looped behind for a corner. Thomas Vermaelen shook off the attentions of Marouane Fellaini for the resulting kick and arrived unmarked to head past Tim Howard to make it 1-0.
Three minutes later, Howard had to save low to deny Van Persie and memories of the 6-1 mauling the Blues endured here a few years ago came flooding back.
To their credit, though, Everton righted the ship in fairly short order after that and began to dictate matters, exhibiting some slick passing of their own. As has so often been the case, though, they struggled with the final ball at times, Fellaini and Tim Cahill killing promising attacks with awful passes before everything came together beautifully with half an hour gone.
Osman intercepted Song's attempted ball forward superbly before laying it off to Fellaini who fed it further forward to Nikica Jelavic on the edge of the area. The Croatian's smart backheel found Cahill who rolled a perfect pass to Drenthe in space on the right side of the box allowing him to tuck it past Wojciech Szczesny. Flag up, offside decision, incredulity followed by seething anger among the home faithful.
Three more incorrect offside decisions, two for Everton and one Arsenal, would follow before the half-time break, the most glaring again went against Drenthe when Osman chose not to shoot at the end of another impressive move and tried to play the Dutchman in again on the right.
Moyes's side continued to probe and press in the second half but though they made a number of raids down the left flank, they just couldn't find the killer ball to find Jelavic and Fellaini in the centre. The Belgian international had been switched with Cahill earlier in the first half and forward by Moyes but he found the going tough at times against the aerial prowess of Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny
Fellaini did have perhaps the best Everton chance of the half, though, when he rose to meet Steven Pienaar's corner but planted his header straight towards the 'keeper who caught the ball under his crossbar.
The Blues were almost caught out at the other end in the 57th minute when Van Persie rattled Howard's post from fairly close range and Drenthe's clumsy challenge on Tomas Rosicky just inside the box went unheeded by referee Lee Mason before Fellaini came within a few inches of getting a toe to Baines' whipped cross.
Walcott burst through the home defence in the 73rd minute setting up Ramsey but Howard denied him with an excellent one-handed stop and Drenthe hammered a drive a foot or two over when a corner came out to him on the edge of the box as Everton stuggled to find the target.
In truth, Moyes's substitutions stalled any momentum his side had going into the final ten minutes. Drenthe had been having one of his most effective and mature performances of the season but was hooked in favour of Victor Anichebe, while Magaye Gueye replaced the flagging Osman. Neither sub made much of an impact and Arsenal held out to become the second team to do the double over Everton this season.
The result keeps Everton in 10th but within five points of Liverpool in seventh ahead of a tricky trip to in-form Swansea City at the weekend. If they play as well as they did at times tonight, they should be fine for at least a draw at the Liberty Stadium but it's been inconsistency and a failure to create clear-cut chances that has been their undoing this season. Jelavic has made an impressive start to life at Goodison Park but he can't create the goals for himself.
Man of the Match: A difficult one. I'd be tempted to award 7s across the board as it would be harsh to single anyone out. Jelavic ran himself ragged and took a clattering from Koscielny, Pienaar was a hive of activity but let himself down with a few wayward balls at crucial moments, while Drenthe was a constant threat and did everything that was asked of him for the goal that never was.
Everton host top-five opposition at Goodison Park again this Wednesday with the visit of Arsenal who have recovered from their early-season jitters and are pressing on the heels of neighbours Tottenham for third place in the Premier League.
Arsene Wenger's men may have been dumped out of the Champions League at the hands of AC Milan last week but they come to Merseyside on a run of five straight League victories that have propelled them back into the top four, fueled by Robin van Persie's scintillating scoring form.
The Blues, meanwhile, can leapfrog Saturday's opponents, Swansea City, into eighth place if they can record what would be a rare win over the Gunners. David Moyes has beaten Arsenal just three times in his 10 years at the helm but his team's home form against the top flight's elite so far in 2012 bodes well for this one.
The manager will have reduced options in midfield, though. Darron Gibson is back in training after recovering from a knee injury but will not be fit enough to start — the Club's medical staff have him pencilled in as being available for the weekend trip to south Wales.
And both Seamus Coleman and Jack Rodwell have suffered recurrences of thigh and hamstring problems respectively that will likely see them miss out again. Rodwell, in particular, has struggled to shake off the muscle strain and there will inevitably be question marks over whether he will be fit enough to play for England in 2012, if selected.
Everton Assistant Manager, Steve Round, indicated that Rodwell will be given another week to recover after playing a full 90 minutes in the Merseyside derby but then missing the FA Cup draw with Sunderland at the weekend.
None of those injury concerns are likely to affect Moyes's starting line-up, however. Marouane Fellaini and Leon Osman are odds-on to continue their partnership in central midfield and, with Steven Pienaar returning after being cup-tied for the Cup quarter-final, Royston Drenthe will, in all likelihood, switch flanks and line up on the right.
Indeed, Pienaar or Coleman may be the only change from the side that started against Sunderland, although Tony Hibbert could come in for Phil Neville at right back as the now 35 year-old Captain rotates in and out of the team during this congested part of the fixture calendar.
The game will, of course, mark the return to Goodison for the first time of one-time Evertonian hero, Mikel Arteta. The Spaniard has made no secret of his affection for the Club that provided him the platform to finally get his career on track after frustrating spells at Rangers and Real Sociedad and he is expected to get a warm reception from the home faithful when he runs out of the tunnel for the first time since August.
Arteta was clearly struggling for form in a team that made a poor start to the 2011/12 season but the Basque-born midfielder has been a fixture in Arsenal's first team since making a £10m switch to The Emirates on the summer transfer deadline day.
Everton will, of course, be hoping to keep Arteta and, more importantly, Van Persie quiet as they look to extend their recent run to one defeat in 11 games. Key to their chances, of course, will be their high-tempo pressing game, resilient defending and the service to Nikica Jelavic.
The Croatian striker has played two full games now, scoring once and providing an assist for Tim Cahill in the other and the onus will be on the midfield to carve out the chances for Jelavic to fire the goals that could lift Everton to a moral-boosting victory ahead of two tricky away games coming up in the next week.
|Premier League Scores|
|Premier League Table|
|2011-12 Reports Index|
|Drenthe (78' Anichebe)|
|Cahill:52' (87' Stracqualursi)|
|Osman (78' Gueye)|
|Subs not used|
|Walcott (Gervinho 79)|
|Rosicky (87' Djourou )|
|Subs not used|
|Premier League Scores|
|13||West Bromwich Albion||36|
|17||Queens Park Rangers||25|