Opportunity Continues to Knock...

By Lyndon Lloyd   ::  28/11/2012

Everton 1 - 1 Arsenal

Everton's frustrating run of results stretched to just one win in nine games under the Goodison Park lights this evening as they were held to a 1-1 draw by top-four rivals Arsenal, a result which will, in the final reckoning go down as another missed opportunity and which drops the Blues to sixth in the Premier League table.

Importantly, though, they fought back from conceding a goal before the first minute of the game had elapsed, Marouane Fellaini canceling out Theo Walcott's opener and providing a platform from which the Blues probably sbould have gone on to win the game.

Unfortunately, though they looked the more likely to grab a winner — and really should have been given the opportunity to do so just past the hour mark when Mikel Arteta hauled Steven Pienaar down in the area but referee Michael Oliver gave a non-existent corner — they again struggled to create enough clear-cut openings to win all three points.

With Fellaini returning from suspension and both Darron Gibson and Tony Hibbert finally fit enough to start, David Moyes made three changes to the team that started against Norwich, dropping John Heitinga to the bench in favour of retaining Sylvain Distin and also demoting Bryan Oviedo and Thomas Hitzlsperger.

Everton had barely had time to put any gameplan into effect, however, before they found themselves a goal down. Walcott collected a pass in the middle of the Everton half and surged into the space ahead of him, laid it on to Aaron Ramsey and continued his overlapping run on the outside.

The Welshman slipped the ball on for Walcott who clipped a shot goalwards that nicked off Hibbert's out-stretched leg and sailed past Tim Howard to make it 1-0 to the visitors with less than a minute on the clock.

Everton responded well, though, and with a pleasing resurrection of the Baines-Pienaar link-up in evidence, Nikica Jelavic looking more purposeful up front and Gibson slotting back into his midfield holding role, they were able to steady the ship and set about restoring parity.

In the seventh minute, Pienaar set Baines up for a cross from the byline with a sublime backheel but the centre aimed at Jelavic was a little too close to Wojciech Szczesny and the goalkeeper was able to beat it clear.

Then, after the electric Leighton Baines had won a 16th-minute corner off Bacary Sagna, Fellaini powered a downward header that the 'keeper got enough on for Sagna to hack it out of the Arsenal goalmouth.

With the bit increasingly between their teeth, the Blues kept up the pressure but the final, killer ball proved elusive as Jack Wilshere nipped in to take the ball off Fellaini's toe in the area and excellent footwork by the much-improved Steven Pienaar was let down by a through-ball to Jelavic that just had too much on it.

It was tenacity by Pienaar a minute later, though, that forced the equaliser. The South African pounced on hesitation by Per Mertesaker forcing the defender into an error that saw the ball ricochet to Fellaini just outside the visitors' penalty area and he stroke beautifully past Szczesny and into the corner of the net to make it 1-1.

With just one goal in his last seven, much has been said of Jelavic lately — a lot of it probably unfair given the dearth of service he is receiving — but he almost silenced his detractors and the traveling Gunners with a superb moment with five minutes left in the first period. Taking Fellaini's knock-down, he turned past Mertesaker impressively in one fluid movement but the bounce sat up just a little too high for him and he lashed a left-foot half-volley well over the crossbar.

The Croatian would find himself in the wrong place at the wrong time just a couple of minutes later, though, when Baines raced in on a defender as he dallied near the halfway line and poked it away from him in full flight. Jelavic instinctively latched onto the loose ball as it came to him but in an offside position — had he known to leave it, the England fullback would have been away in the clear with no red jersey near him.

Honours even at half time but lots to admire from Everton in the first half and every opportunity to press home their superiority in the second. It didn't quite happen for Moyes's men, though, with things either breaking down disappointingly with the final ball or the side letting themselves down by not committing enough men to the six-yard box when chances looked like they might open up.

Indeed, Jelavic probably wished he had been on the other end of three opportunities he engineered after half time with low crosses from the left side of the box but two just eluded Steven Naismith early in the second half and the third flashed agonisingly across the face of the Arsenal goal with just Fellaini in attendance a few yards back.

And with more composure in front of goal, Pienaar might have forced home a winner but both times he went for Szczesny's near post and on both occasions the 'keeper denied him with low saves. His third opportunity to test the 'keeper was thwarted illegally, though, by ex-teammate Arteta who pulled Pienaar back by the shoulder as he bore down on goal to howls of protest by the Goodison faithful. But while the same player had been penalised for dragging Fellaini back by the shoulder in the first half, when push came to shove in the Arsenal box, referee Michael Oliver awarded a corner even though the Spaniard hadn't made contact with the ball. Another game, another crucial decision going against the boys in Blue.

Perhaps the closest Everton came to going ahead fell to Distin after a clearance came back to Baines following a corner. He whipped in a trademark cross which the Frenchman header powerfully but Szczesny pulled off a terrific one-handed save to stop the ball flying under the crossbar.

Arsenal, for their part, showed flashes of the ball-retention football that has been their trademark under Arsene Wenger but they struggled to threaten Tim Howard for much of the game. Olivier Giroud sailed a header inches past the far post off Walcott's cross in the 68th minute and Ramsey almost caught Howard napping when he prodded the ball into the six-yard box three minutes later but the American eventually pushed the ball behind for a corner to save his blushes.

Santi Cazorla had, thankfully, been reduced to a peripheral role but he did get a chance to drive hard and low with 15 minutes to go, only to be denied by a smart parrying save by Howard to clear the danger.

Gibson lasted 70 minutes into his comeback game and was replaced by Hitzlsperger after going down injured in worrying fashion a few minutes previously. It was not clear whether he suffered a new knock or a recurrence of that troublesome thigh problem but Moyes withdrew him anyway in a like-for-like swap.

And "Der Hammer" had a couple of opportunities to unleash goalwards with his left foot but one was easily gathered by the 'keeper and the other ballooned high into the stands from similar distances.

By the closing stages, the game had taken on the air of two sides not wanting to lose what was a tight encounter and chances became fewer and farther between. A late flurry by both sides in injury time threatened later drama but nervy moments in both areas didn't translate into clear chances and the referee blew time after three added minutes.

In the context of Everton's recent history with Arsenal and the improvement in the Gunners' form of late, many Blues probably would have accepted a draw prior to this evening's game. More still would have grabbed that point after 53 seconds when Walcott caught the home defence on their heels to engineer and then finish the first chance of the game.

Having fought their way back into the game, though, and leveled the scores, Everton looked the more likely of the two sides to go on and win the game; that they didn't was disappointing and represents another opportunity to push on that has slipped away.

Just as Gibson's long layoff was keenly felt in central midfield, Mirallas' absence has been a big factor in the Blues' lack of potency up front, their first-half dominance at Reading notwithstanding. Today they again lacked cutting edge in the final third; someone with the pace, acceleration and speed of thought to drive straight through the heart of the opposition defence.

They also suffered from too many loose passes in midfield and the final third and though the bench was stronger than usual, there still isn't a match-winner to which Moyes can turn if things are getting stale on the pitch. Oviedo when he replaced Naismith was again ineffective playing on the right and made no real impact going forward.

Fellaini blew hot and cold, by turns appearing too casual and laid back and then too aggressive in the tackle when he didn't need to be. His goal was priceless but his performance was a little erratic when Moyes really need him to step up and drive the team forward to victory. Even with all that said, however, he was still one of the best players on the pitch.

And so to the next test at the Etihad Stadium at the weekend, a game that is winnable with the right mental approach and if the team that began the season in such fine attacking form can re-find itself when the pressure is off against the Champions.

Reader Comments

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Nick Entwistle
803 Posted 29/11/2012 at 01:31:43
A place dropped, but a point gained on 4th, so not bad.

The commentator said 'the German's call him Der Hammer, and so do the Scousers' which was funny.

Man City? No problem.

Steve Cotton
879 Posted 29/11/2012 at 15:24:32
Just a couple of points from last night's game:
Okay,Gibson and Hibbert were only just back but I felt both struggled to make the pace of the game, hopefully by City they will be better for the run out.

Osman was anonymous last night and struggled to get into the game.

Naismith is no right winger and being played there makes him look like a League 1 player. Jelly in one turn would have won goal of the month so he will get his form back...

The non-given penalty was a disgrace but perhaps Pienaar's tendency to fall quite easily didn't do him any favours.

Last week, after LFC were denied a goal with an offside flag; the next day, the whole back page of the Echo stated 'ROBBED' in bigger letters than 9/11 got — let's see if they do the same for us this week! — and he was offside by the way!!

Lyndon Lloyd
901 Posted 29/11/2012 at 17:34:45
I thought Osman did well, Steve, sitting in with Gibson and disrupting Arsenal's flow and as a link-man for things going through the middle but was less effective in the final third than we're used to.

And after so long out, Hibbert and Gibson were bound to take a while to get back up to the speed. Apart from their goal and one moment where he allowed Giroud to gallop down the left touchline later in the game, I thought Hibbert really improved as things went on.

As far as Naismith goes, he's at his best going forward and in the penalty area but is less effective defensively and gives the ball away too often in midfield. You can see how he succeeded in the Scottish Premier League where there's a bit more time and space and more opportunities in front of goal but he needs to adapt to the speed of the English game. Right now, he's a good squad player and I agree that right wing is not his best position; it remains to be seen if he can step it up.

Jack Wilkinson
910 Posted 29/11/2012 at 18:32:53
I often find myself disappointed with the criticism Osman receives. I'm not saying he is immune but I think some of the criticism is misplaced. He was by no means anonymous. He does simple things well - often carries the ball 10-15 metres out of his own half then lays it off to someone else in space and he disrupts the flow of the opposing team well too. May sound simple but every team needs somebody to do it.
Ian Bennett
916 Posted 29/11/2012 at 19:43:13
Steve, I agree Naismith is no Messi, but he will get goals arriving late in the box. A lot of chances were rolled across the box last night that he could snaffle.

I thought Gibson did well considering how long he was out, whilst Osman got through a huge amount of work. Osman vs Arteta... sorry but it's the Wigan man for me, and I didn't think I'd ever say that.

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