Everton v Arsenal

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FA Carling Premiership 96/97 - Game 27
Saturday 1 March 1997
Goodison Park, Merseyside

Result: Everton (0) 0 - Arsenal (2) 2
Bergkamp(21) Wright(27)

Everton: Southall, Barrett, Unsworth (Short 46), Watson, Phelan, Stuart, Ferguson, Speed, Barmby (Branch 46), Thomsen, Parkinson.
Booked: Speed, Thomsen, Phelan, Parkinson.
Subs Not Used: Hottiger, Rideout, Speare. Unavailable: Gerrard, Grant, O'Connor, Hinchcliffe (all injured).
[Ebbrell was transfered to Sheffield United at the end of February for a fee of £1,000,000]

Arsenal: Lukic, Dixon, Winterburn, Vieira, Platt, Wright, Bergkamp, Keown, Garde (Morrow, 46), Marshall, Hughes.
Subs Not Used: Selley, Harper, Shaw, Rankin. Booked: Garde, Dixon, Wright, Winterburn.

Ref: Paul Danson Att: 36,980 League Position: 11th Results and League Table

Previous Match: Everton v Nottingham Forest -- Next Match: Southampton v Everton

Match Summary

SoccerNet (Tony Lanigan, The Mail on Sunday): Everton need new players quickly or their season will plummet into terminal decline. Already the early-season hope of a European place is non-existent and to finish tailed off again is not good enough for a club of their stature with massive support.

Their first-half display against the seriously weakened Arsenal was appalling and they were suitable punished by the two Arsenal goals that decided the match. An improved showing -- and how desperately it was needed -- after the break salved a little pride but nothing else.

Gary Speed missed a good chance and Graham Stuart hit a post; but apart from that the shaky-looking John Lukic had nothing to trouble him. The former Everton defender, Martin Keown, was superb, coping effectively with the threat of the abrasive Duncan Ferguson and marshalled his defence in a style of which Tony Adams would have been proud.

What a contrast at the other end! David Unsworth endured a nightmare for 45 minutes and was replaced for his own protection. The skipper, Dave Watson, was also stretched by the volatile Ian Wright and Earl Barrett looked out of sorts and invariably second to the ball. In fact, it is hard to find any redeeming feature anywhere in a performance that dismayed the fans, who never relented in their vocal support for a team clearly in need of inspiration.

The blustery conditions made things difficult but were not enough excuse for such poor control and dismal passing. The referee, Paul Danson, did not help with his constant stoppages for mystifying reasons. He booked eight players, four from each side, and put already insecure players more on edge.

He remonstrated with Ferguson in the first half for no apparent reason and a furious spectator rushed on and pushed him in the chest before being escorted from the ground. Reprehensible, but still possibly the most positive action by an Evertonian all afternoon.

The manager, Joe Royle, was frank: 'We were just not good enough and must do better sooner rather than later. You can't give a two-goal start to a poor side let alone a good one and hope to get away with it.

'I'll bet Arsenal can't believe how easily they have taken the points without playing well themselves. We were better in the second half but clearly not good enough. We didn't have the guile or the power to break them down and that's worrying.

'We made mistakes for both their goals and their two front players gave them a cutting edge on the day that we lacked. We are now looking over our shoulders and must get to that magical 40 points sooner rather than later. This was a very poor performance.'

In a niggling first half Everton could not get their game together and in the 21st minute the suffering Unsworth allowed the ball to bounce over his head and Denis Bergkamp raced away to force the ball home through Neville Southall's legs. Six minutes later Arsenal virtually tied up the match when Everton's defence left Ian Wright unmarked in the box. He made them pay with fine control of Remi Garde's through ball and a shot into the corner.

Everton rallied but apart from those efforts from Speed and Stuart they rarely looked like saving the match.

Testing times ahead

Guy McEvoy: Despite Arsenal being in absence of Merson, Seaman, Bould and Adams, there were few of us who had witnessed the debacle at Coventry who expected any return against this obviously classy side. In that respect at least, Everton lived up to my expectations.

First Half

The quick passing, incisive attacking, fantastic close ball control and ability to find space and exploit it would all have been a joy to watch if it hadn't have been us on the receiving end. Everton did manage to vary their play a little from last week which must be seen as a small step forward but, even in our best 20-minute spell of the match, we only ever became mediocre.

Arsenal established their lead by punishing bad defensive errors without mercy; after that they just toyed with us. First off, David Unsworth had all year to watch a long punt up-field, rather than heading it first time he chose to let it bounce (no doubt so he could carry on with his awful habit of passing back to the keeper when there is no need). He totally misjudged the bounce, unlike Dennis Bergkamp who gratefully took the ball dragged it wide and slotted it with power under the hand of Southall.

In no time at all, Arsenal had the luxury of the two-goal cushion. Again Bergkamp was able to find himself clear, Wright was in the box, Watson made the wrong choice pushing forward when he had been goal side of him, Bergkamp delivered a measured defence splitting pass and Ian Wright found the finish that the move deserved. Sexy football? Not against us please.

At this point it was obvious we were getting beaten fair and square so the help Arsenal were getting from the 'eccentric' referee was less than welcome. 'Eccentric' is probably a little polite. The man was card happy, had no concept of the flow of the game with the consequence of a stop-start encounter of American Football proportions, and he was also, it has to be said, a twat.

It was during one of these prolonged card inducing stoppages that another footnote in Goodison folklore occurred. Suddenly walking onto the pitch, completely unchallenged by any stewards was this very angry looking bloke, he walked right up to the ref, finger wagging, and said, I imagine, what the entire 36,980 present thought of him, probably with more than a little colour in the language.

The Arsenal players (who obviously agreed with him), then sportingly tried to shield him from the stewards as he tried to make a quick escape by diving through a gap in the Street End. He was nabbed though in the middle of the Street End, which meant that in order to be ejected they had to walk him past half the Gwladys and the entire length of the Bullens Road to the side of the Park end. The effect of this was a slow Mexican Wave of supporters giving him a rousing standing ovation as he was escorted past their section. Even the Gunners fans joined in. If I ever meet that man I'll buy him a pint.

His actions had the effect of rousing the crowd again (though not apparently the players) until the break.

Second Half

Two substitutions were made during the interval. The first, the most obvious Royle will ever have to make, was to replace Unsworth with Short (though why after the displays last week this change wasn't made to the starting line-up I cannot understand). The second was to chose Barmby ahead of Stuart to make way for Branch (admittedly a much tougher call).

And for 20 minutes we were spoilt with a little hope. A series of menacing attacks could well have brought reward. Speed managed to head the ball inches wide from close range after a good leap; Ferguson and Branch (particularly Branch) were denied what to my blue specs looked like clear penalties. Graham Stuart narrowly squeezed the ball past Lukic but the tight angle sent it onto the post. It was with that chance that Everton's belief evaporated.

Arsenal had a few more displays of pass and move, the best of which was criminally missed by Platt who spooned over from about five yards, Everton could muster no more.

For all those who walked away moaning about this being the worst Everton display of recent years, it wasn't -- nowhere near it. Last week at Coventry was much worse for starters. Arsenal were a class team, Bergkamp in particular treated us with something beneath contempt.  They have a system that plays to their strengths as a unit, they stick to it and it works for them.

The biggest worry for me now is that with the rapidly reduced squad we have the team that we fielded today was probably about as well as we can do, there are very few permutations on this line-up left now. The Thomsen, Speed, Parkinson midfield doesn't work despite Speed's efforts to die for the cause. Roll on to recovery, Tony Grant, but even then I suspect we still need something more.

Testing times ahead I'm afraid.

Individual Performances

Ratings for today's inept performance!!

From Paul Snellgrove:


A dreadful, woeful, embrassing defeat

Robbie Newton: What a dreadful, woeful, embrassing defeat. I'm sorry to report this -- genuinely I am -- but Everton have not progressed at all. It's been a case of one step forward and two steps back. We're now worse than what we were before Royle came to the club, IMO. That's not just an over-reaction from today's disasterous performance, but merely a reaction to the form of our once cultured Blues over the past six months.

How long can we carry on giving Royle a chance to prove us wrong? Another four years? Is that what you want - four years of boring, predictable, uninspiring, passionless football, and perhaps not even an end product? You may, but I certainly don't. Patience is running out and fast. The first half an hour was perhaps the worst display of football I've ever seen by an Everton side. I can honestly say that I've seen Sunday League sides play better. David Unsworth has to be sold --he's lost it. It's now got to the point where's he's costing us points.

One of the first things you are taught as a kid playing footy is to "watch the bounce". Therefore, it's a disgrace that a professional footballer and a role model for young impressionable kids cannot even apply this to his game. On 20-odd minutes the ball was looped into the air. Unsworth misjudged the ball and it went over his head. Bergkamp was onto it in a flash and bang. 1-0.

Five minutes later and Unsworth makes mistake number 2. Bad defending and another misjudgement; Ian Wright is onto it in a blur and the ball flies into the net -- a truly fabulous finish after truly apalling defending. Unsworth was not content with making two mistakes though. Two more mistakes followed but luckily for him they went unpunished. His head was being called for, so it was no surprise that he was withdrawn at half-time (why was Short dropped anyway? He was our best man at Coventry last week whilst Unsworth was crap).

On 30 minutes, enter the first excitement. An Evertonian sitting in the Paddock was incensed by yet another poor decision by Referee Paul Danson and decided to show the him just how annoyed he was. He jogged onto the pitch casually without any stewards thwarting him and assaulted the ref by pushing him. It was met with huge cheers from the whole stadium, followed by a dramatic increase in atmosphere. And that in turn finally made the players realise that they were supposed to be playing football. There was a slight improvement in passion but the football was still of a very poor standard.

Half-time whistle blows and boos ring out. The second half starts and Everton have brought on Branch (not like JR to throw him on when we're losing) to replace the non-existent Barmby and Short to replace the diabolical Unsworth. The Blues are now also playing the same system as Arsenal - hence, it was very much a cancelling out thing so game was already over before second half kicked off.

There was another slight improvement by Everton, but the passing and movement was a disgrace. I mean, come on! These are supposed to be class players, and yet not one of them has the balls to run at the opposition and not one of them could make a meaningful pass -- except if it was back to Southall (yawn, yawn).

The only threat Everton carried was from set-pieces. And without Hinchcliffe we only possess a tiny threat from them. Even with Hinchcliffe we don't offer much threat anymore.

The one chance Everton did create was missed by Stuart. It was created quite well, with a little bit of luck it may be added. But the ball should have been put in the onion bag. It wasn't, and once again it underlines the need for a striker who can stick the ball away. Stuart runs a lot but it isn't enough. Ferguson offers threat in the air, but nothing else. Barmby plays well when the team plays well, but nothing else. Branch is excellent but is given a fair crack of the whip (Royle is trying to do a "Ryan Giggs" with him by protecting him -- didn't do Robbie Fowler much harm being in the first 11 every week from age 17 did it?)

The rest of the second half was dire. Arsenal were strolling around the park knowing that the game was wrapped up. They knew that our only way of playing was through Ferguson. They had that sorted. Stop Ferguson and you stop Everton -- and that's only if Dunc has a good game, which is now very rarely. We are now so predictable it's quite literally unbelievable.

Arsenal had a few more chances on the break and should have put ribbons on the performance when Platt shot over the bar from 6 yards. We didn't have another shot on goal. I think that in itself -- 3 shots on goal in two matches -- just about sums everything up.

Just as at Coventry last week, the boos were ringing out before the final whistle, though not as loudly. Evertonians won't be fooled. We know when the team is giving 100% and we know when the team has played well. That's why any Joe Royle after-match comments of "we were ok in the 2nd half" will not be accepted.

Everybody at the match today knows that it was worse than amateurish and The Gooners took the piss to be quite honest. They were toying with us. Even Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn looked class. And that says a lot, cos they're both pretty average players.

The final whistle blew with the ground half empty. The current support Everton are getting is very undeserved - 36,980 were at the game today, an incredible figure when you consider we are only 7 points above 17th place.

Joe Royle's ambitions need to be questioned, as does his coach Willie Donnachie - after all, it's him who coaches the players and tells them how to play. Was Donnachie only appointed out of friendship? Answers, please.

Team Ratings

Worrying times

Richard Marland: I had no great enthusiasm for going to this game, I was in no rush to get out of the house, I was in no rush to get to the ground, I eventually took my seat ten minutes before kick-off whereas normally I would have been there 10 or 15 minutes earlier, it was that sort of day. Despite the surprising size of the crowd (an amazing -- under the circumstances -- 37,000) my lack of enthusiasm seemed to be shared by the majority of the crowd, this was a very quiet 37,000 people.

Realistically, we appeared to be catching Arsenal on a good day. Two recent defeats had seen them concede the title race, so seeing their season end may well have seen them ease off slightly. Compounding this was a mini injury crisis: no Seaman, no Bould or Adams and no Parlour or Merson.

Everton, on the other hand, appeared to be steadying their ship, with a good victory against Forest and a ground-out draw at Coventry. We were also able to put out what was possibly our strongest available side, Nev was back for the injured Gerrard, and Parkinson was in midfield with Short making way. The formation saw another switch from the Coventry game, a flat back four with a midfield three of Parki, Thomsen and Speed, Stuart up front and Barmby playing behind the front two.

First Half

Unfortunately, the game didn't pan out as hoped. In a very difficult, swirling wind, Arsenal always appeared to cope better with the conditions. We had no-one to match Bergkamp's touch and class, Wright's verve and eagerness, and Keown's defensive solidity. Instead we got a mish-mash of uncomfortable defending and uninspiring attacking.

On a day that cried out for keeping the ball on the ground we didn't appear to have anyone who was prepared to bring the ball down onto the deck and play some football. Fairly quickly we found ourselves two goals down.

Unsworth made a terrible mess of a long Winterburn clearance; I don't think he was aware of Bergkamp's close attendance and he was worried by the wind, instead of dealing with the ball positively he let the ball bounce over his head. I can only assume that he thought he had the time to turn and pass the ball back to Nev. instead it fell nicely into Bergkamp's path and he advanced on Southall who he beat comfortably. It was a dreadful mistake by Unsworth and was part of a nightmare performance by him.

The second goal was down to the routine brilliance that Ian Wright shows against us. He collected a pass on the edge of our area, his first touch took the ball into space behind our back four, his second touch found the back of the net. Finishing of the highest order.

At this stage, we were all over the place and I really thought that we could be in for a pasting. Fortunately for us it never quite materialised, mostly due to Arsenal's lack of ambition and also in part to the fact that we did improve slightly.

Through all this the crowd, like the team, was fairly muted there was some booing after the second goal but not much, I think most of us were too stunned to do anything. It took referee Paul Danson to rouse the crowd. In a very short space of time he gave three decisions against the Blues:

This time Keown reacted to Dunc's supposed challenge by picking up the ball and flinging it towards Dunc, Dunc being no shrinking violet went back to exchange pleasantries with Keown. It was clearly something that Danson had to deal with, and he called both players to him, as he started to talk to the players a spectator ran on from, I think, Bullens Road, ran towards Danson and started remonstrating with him and then pushing him. Lukic and Winterburn led him away, in fact credit to Winterburn as he tried to get him back into the safety of the crowd away from the stewards. Alas it wasn't to be as he was intercepted by the stewards and frog-marched away to the cheers and applause of the crowd. Doubtless the club will get into trouble for this but his actions summed up what we all felt towards Mr Danson. The first half ended to boos, boos towards the ineptitude of the team, and boos towards the ineptitude of the referee.

Second Half

Clearly Joe had to change something at half time and it was no surprise to see that we were making two substitutions, on came Short for the hapless Unsworth and Branch for Barmby. Branch immediately went up front and Stuart went wide right as we reverted to four across the midfield. I thought that this was the right tactical switch to make, we had looked somewhat unbalanced in the first half with practically all our play down the left through Phelan and Speed, I wasn't too sure about the man to come off, Stuart looked out of sorts today whereas Barmby had shown a few decent touches, maybe there was an injury involved or maybe it was just felt that Stuart as an ex winger could make a better fist of the job.

We did improve in the second half but we never really looked like having the wit to break down an organised Arsenal defence. Lukic barely had a save to make as Arsenal held us out with some comfort. Our best chance fell to Stuart to the right of goal, he beat Lukic but hit the outside of the post.

We also had two good penalty shouts:

  1. One where Keown nudged Dunc as they were both running through, Keown clearly felt that Dunc took a dive as they squared up once again
  2. The second, which I felt was more clear cut, was when Branch was pole axed by the fast advancing Lukic, as Lukic didn't get a touch on the ball but most definitely did get Branch we were gobsmacked that neither the ref nor the linesman gave it.

In terms of goalmouth action, that was about it. Arsenal had a few sporadic openings, David Platt missing their best chance. Danson had a few more incorrect decisions to make, mostly against us but we also got a few things that we shouldn't have. There was also a couple of other flare-ups between players, most notably between Dixon and Short as they clashed whilst trying to keep up with a fast Arsenal break away.

By the time of the final whistle about half of the Goodison crowd had made an early getaway. Those who had stuck it out to the end greeted the final whistle with rather half-hearted boos, and some sporting applause for Arsenal. Ian Wright made a point of applauding all corners of the ground, I thought for a minute that he was taking the piss but maybe that's being a bit uncharitable on my behalf.

The natives are undoubtedly getting restless. Apparently there were two leaflet campaigns outside the ground (I arrived too late to actually see them myself), one was the expected Goodison for Everton group, the other was the less expected Johnson Out campaign.

Midway through the second half I thought that I heard a chant of "If you hate Peter Johnson clap your hands" from the Street End faithful.

There was no actual chant calling for the head of Joe Royle, but there was plenty of dark mutterings. Joe has now got to prove his mettle. It is too far from the end of the season to tread water, I still don't think that we'll get pulled into a relegation scrap but we have to get a few wins on the board to avoid it.

In Friday's Echo there was still some talk from Claus Thomsen of us making a late charge for a UEFA slot, hopefully those thoughts will be put out of everyone's head and we will wake up to the realisation that it is mathematically possible for us to get relegated.

We have to turn things round very quickly, I don't know how we will do this as there aren't too many options available within the squad. It's looking increasingly likely that we will need a good signing even if it's only for the psychological lift it will give the team and crowd.


Team 5 Yet another wretched, disjointed home performance. We looked deficient in all departments, only Phelan and Speed played well and of the others only Ferguson and Parkinson can hold their heads up.

"We are looking over our shoulders now"

Joe Royle (PA News): Joe Royle conceded tonight that he was worried about the threat of relegation from the Premiership. "We are looking over our shoulders now," he admitted after the 2-0 defeat by Arsenal at Goodison Park.

"We have got to get to 40 points as quickly as possible." That means Everton need eight points from their last 11 games -- which on the face of it seems an easy target. But Royle's anxiety stems from the fact that his team have picked up only nine points from their last 13 matches and they now face a crucial test at struggling Southampton on Wednesday.

Arsenal secured their victory thanks to goals from Dennis Bergkamp and Ian Wright. Bergkamp's opener came after a dreadful error by centre-back David Unsworth who allowed a long ball from Winterburn to go over his head leaving the Dutchman clear on goal. Unsworth was replaced by Craig Short in the second-half and Royle said: "David was suffering a bit and put his hands up for the goal.

"You can't give any team a two-goal start and Arsenal probably couldn't believe their luck. But we never had the guile or the power to break them down. It was a poor performance."

Arsenal breeze past Everton

Derick Allsop, Electronic Telegraph: EUROPE still beckons for Arsene Wenger's ensemble, albeit perhaps on a more modest stage than the Champions' League. Arsenal may have been found wanting in more demanding circumstances of late, but even with a depleted side they wielded too much quality and menace for an Everton team again cast adrift in a sea of uncertainty.

First-half goals by Dennis Bergkamp and Ian Wright exposed the frailties of Joe Royle's charges and scarcely flattered Arsenal. They made light of blustery conditions, lighter still of Everton's resistance. The gale blowing through Goodison Park was as nothing compared with the force of discontent being generated once more in these parts. A nervous home defence and an ineffectual midfield served merely to bolster Arsenal's con fidence.

Arsenal were reduced to a shadow squad as they endeavoured to resurrect their championship campaign, David Seaman, Tony Adams, Steve Bould, Paul Merson and Ray Parlour all out of the side through injury or suspension. Rallying to the cause was David Platt, back after a six-week absence, while the irrepressible Wright was intent on maximum production from his red boots before stepping down to serve a two-match suspension.

Everton had eased some of their anxieties with four points from the previous two games and restored Joe Parkinson to their midfield. Also recalled was Neville Southall, given the opportunity to reclaim his regular place in goal because of an injury to Paul Gerrard.

Arsenal coped more readily with the hostile wind and Everton were relieved Bergkamp could not could not complement his deft early touch and turn with a telling centre. Another initiative by the Dutchman almost released Wright beyond the home back line.

Southall was soon in the wars, receiving treatment after a clash with his own defender, Earl Barrett, as both attempted to beat Wright to Platt's pass. The ball broke to the former England captain who lifted his effort over the prostrate Everton pair and the crossbar.

Southall, perhaps still suffering the effects of the collision, was unable to prevent Bergkamp from giving Arsenal the lead in the 20th minute. David Unsworth misjudged the bounce of a seemingly harmless ball and was left in Bergkamp's wake. Just when it appeared the forward might have drifted too wide, he cut back a low shot which squeezed beneath Southall's right hand. Three minutes on, Arsenal had a second. Remi Garde provided the through ball, Wright the splendid control and clinical finish.

Duncan Ferguson, Gary Speed (twice), and Claus Thomsen unleashed shots without reward as Everton struggled back to their feet in the latter stages of the first half. Craig Short, on for the hapless Unsworth, headed over early in the second. Speed headed wide of a gaping goal, Ferguson's appeals for a penalty were rejected and Graham Stuart struck a post. But for all that, Platt should have added a third for Arsenal.

Report Copyright The Electronic Telegraph

Arsenal get it Wright at last

Ian Chadband, Sunday Times: AT THE END of a week which started with Arsène Wenger conceding that Arsenal's championship hopes are dead, this shrewd customer was not about to start talking of resurrection after this triumph over a pretty woeful Everton side. Europe is clearly still very much on the agenda though.

This was a bit of a smash-and-grab raid without the likelihood of Arsenal ever getting their collars felt. Dennis Bergkamp and Ian Wright effectively sealed the points for them before half-time; then the shutters came up. Everton, for all their territorial domination after the interval, had neither the wit nor the invention to undo what was in reality a patchwork rearguard.

What has Wright got against Everton? In each of the last six seasons, he has netted against them in the league, totalling 11 in all. So there was an inevitability about his effort ­- a real beauty -­ which effectively settled the issue after only 27 minutes. How typical that, in his last match before a two-game suspension and still suffering the fall-out from his close encounter with Peter Schmeichel, he should deliver one of his specials.

He also found himself booked for one poor challenge, but he was in good company. Eight names in all found their way into the notebook of referee Paul Danson, who had such an erratic game himself, mixing heavy-handed discipline with a series of curious and sometimes plain daft decisions, it appeared he was trying to reclaim his tabloid tag from Mike Reed as the "world's worst referee".

One Everton fan gave his verdict by rushing onto the pitch during the first half as Danson was handing out one of his lectures to Duncan Ferguson and Martin Keown, and had to be restrained as he sought to tell the Leicester official his fortune. There was no malice in this game, yet Danson spent so much time delving into his notebook that you could swear he was writing a novel.

But the Everton fans' real frustration had to be aimed at their players, who were all huff and puff, with little else to commend them. Some were just plain bad; poor old David Unsworth had such a nightmare that it was an act of mercy when he was brought off at half-time.

Nothing exemplified his misery more than Bergkamp's goal, which was a direct result of his serious miscalculation. Until then, Arsenal had posed little threat, but when Unsworth came in to meet Nigel Winterburn's hoofed clearance, he allowed the ball to bounce over his head and Bergkamp latched onto it like a shot. Haring wide to the edge of the box, the Dutchman delivered a tame strike, but it squirmed beneath Neville Southall's body. The veteran keeper, back in the team because of injury to Paul Gerrard, would have swallowed this one in his heyday.

Then Wright joined the party. He had hardly touched the ball but when Remi Garde found him in the area with a measured ball, he took just one touch to control it, one to turn Earl Barrett and one to bury a right-foot strike in the corner. "A great goal," Wenger said.

Everton responded with some vigour, but even though an unfamiliar central defensive trio of Garde, Scott Marshall and Keown looked distinctly shaky on a few occasions, how the home side needed someone like the ever-impressive Bergkamp or Vieira to unlock them. Instead, they had Barmby, who was so ineffective his half-time replacement Michael Branch had to do better.

Still, they could not complain about lack of chances. Claus Thomsen had one speculative volley tipped over, while Graham Stuart hooked one overhead effort just too high before the break and then rattled John Lukic's left upright just after the restart. Gary Speed had a free header from one corner but nodded it wide.

Danson did them no favours, either. He made one good decision not to award a penalty when Ferguson tripped on the heel of Keown, followed by a dodgy one when Lukic appeared to make a rash challenge and lay out the advancing Branch in the area.

Arsenal held out with familiar stoicism. Their injury list, reckoned Wenger, has been the worst he has seen, but it was some comfort for him to be able to recall the solidity of Platt and Keown. "The team showed their mental strength after a very difficult week," the manager said.

In fairness, Joe Royle, his Everton counterpart, has been little better off recently, down to just 16 fit men in his senior squad. Yet there could be little excuse for them running around in seemingly ever-decreasing circles. "Very poor," he said, admitting that the sooner they reach the magic 40 points which he believes will guarantee Premier League safety, the better.

Report Copyright The Sunday Times

Royle's music-hall jokers fail science test

David Maddock, The Times: THEY still talk about the "school of science" at Goodison Park. Indeed, the programme for the game on Saturday against Arsenal contained a two-page treatise on the subject. For those with memories that do not span several decades, the Everton school of science described a visionary style of play crafted by Kendall, Ball and Harvey. It was football in its purer form; it is a style of play to which the club's supporters still aspire.

That is where the problems start for Joe Royle. He has spent close on £20 million producing a side familiar only with the science of destruction and their performance on Saturday seemed to be following the basic principle of Chaos Theory. Everton were truly, awesomely, inept. It is hard to recall a display from an FA Carling Premiership side quite as bad as that conjured up by them during the first half of this contest. It was so bad it became entertaining, a music-hall act.

If it was vaudeville, then David Unsworth was the attraction. After a howler to gift Dennis Bergkamp the first goal for Arsenal on 21 minutes, his performance descended to the level of farce. By the interval, the crowd was tempted to shout "behind you" every time he loitered on the ball. A small improvement followed when Craig Short went on for him after the break, but it was far too late.

It may be too late for Royle. "I don't think Arsenal could believe how easy it was to take the points without even playing well," he said. "We were just not good enough, and now we are looking over our shoulder at the relegation scrap. We really are going to have to do much better -­ and sooner rather than later."

Yet Royle it is who has spent so much money over three seasons to produce a side that is not good enough. There are many reasons for such a decline, principal among them the fact that Royle's management style is at odds with Everton's tradition. He has always built teams that scrap their way to victory and buys players in that image, but such tactics are obsolete in the foreign inspired Premiership.

One suspects that Royle may already have been scouring the situations vacant column had Everton possessed among their backroom staff a candidate for caretaker-manager. Royle had to look at Arsène Wenger on Saturday to see the way forward for a Premiership manager. He has crafted a side of balance -­ skill and commitment combined in equal measures to create a team with too much technique and intelligence for Everton.

They killed off Everton in the first half and brazened out a more physical second period. Bergkamp embarrassed Unsworth and then Southall with a near-post shot, and then Ian Wright repeated the trick on 27 minutes with a goal that owed much to glorious touch and instinct.

Wenger, though, was still cautious, refusing to be carried away by a performance against a side of such obvious restriction. "I think we will need to defeat a few more teams before we can believe we can get back into the title chase," he smiled.

Report Copyright The Times

Cracks in Royle's citadel

Bob Houston, The Independent on Sunday: If Everton thought that four points from their last two games had lifted the blues that are at present enveloping Goodison Park, they were sorely mistaken as Arsenal helped themselves to three points which might also mean that Arsene Wenger's hint of their abdication of title aspirations could be premature.

A terrace poll when the final whistle went would have shown that Royle's popularity is at about the same level as the Tories in the nearby Wirral. The Everton manager's jacket, it would seem, is on a decidedly slack nail.

So abject were Everton's efforts that when Dennis Bergkamp and Ian Wright scored within four minutes of each other midway through the first half, the pessimism rising from the terraces was almost tangible.

The scoring could have started in the 13th minute when Neville Southall and Earl Barrett clattered into each other and David Platt scooped the loose ball over an empty goal from 20 yards. It did start in the 22nd minute when David Unsworth misjudged a bounce and Bergkamp stole beyond him to shoot under Southall. Four minutes later, Remi Garde found Wright with a splendid pass which the striker struck low past the diving keeper.

Unsworth's nightmare was almost compounded with another error a minute later but Southall came to his rescue, and he was saved further embarrassment when he was replaced by Craig Short after the break. John Lukic was not asked to make a real save in the full 90 minutes. He did have to dash to the edge of his area twice to block the substitute Michael Branch but, despite almost incessant Everton pressure, that was it.

Suffering from an absolute poverty of imagination and flair in midfield, Everton resorted to the inanely obvious tactic of hoisting high balls towards Duncan Ferguson. The big Scotsman, tightly marked by Martin Keown, has had better days.

In contrast, a snap Bergkamp volley was close enough to worry Southall, and Platt had the miss of the day when he contrived to scoop his shot over the bar after Wright and Bergkamp had filleted the Everton defence.

Arsenal did much to restore their morale, shattered by a week of setbacks. They did all that was needed here to walk away with the points and no more. But with Everton in this condition that was all that was required and the visitors could keep their powder dry for doughtier opposition.

Everton expose their familiar failings

Ian Ross, The Guardian: It is at around this point in the season that clubs ditch any pretence of subtlety and staple into their match programmes polite reminders that the time has come for Joe Punter to dig deep and renew his or her season ticket.It is a period for forgiveness, for togetherness. The message is always the same: things can get better, and with the help of the money you can ill afford, things will get better.

However, Everton's plea for the pound in their supporters' pocket did not appear on Saturday, which hints at a more pronounced sense of timing in the boardroom than out on the pitch. Somewhere in the back of the manager Joe Royle's mind lurks the very real fear that Everton's wretched season is actually going to end in relegation. Can you imagine that?

The wheels have come off again, and even a man rightly feted for an ability to inject humour into the bleakest, most dismal of scenarios is struggling to cope.

'We were awful against what was a depleted Arsenal side,' he said, his ashen face untroubled by emotion. 'In the first half we were nothing. It was poor and it is just not good enough.'

But Royle, whose side visit Southampton on Wednesday, added: 'There is no need for panic. We have the money to buy, that is not the issue. It is a matter of the right players being available.'

He believes 40 points will be sufficient to extend his club's increasingly tempestuous relationship with the Premiership, and that begs the question: where are they going to get eight points? Arsenal lacked a clutch of front-line players yet won at a canter. More pointedly they did so without once being required to change stride.

As Arsene Wenger suggested afterwards, had his side not chosen to defend with such stoic diligence after achieving an early breakthrough, Everton could possibly have been humiliated rather than exposed as witless and clueless.

'There was a lack of risk in our football during the second half because, after a bad week, my players wanted to make sure they won the game. That was understandable and really I admire them for it,' said Wenger.

Everton were embarrassed, yes, but their football was so gutless and threadbare they deserved a worse fate. They will struggle for just as long as the rudiments of the game are beyond them and while the likes of Unsworth find themselves named on the teamsheet. Astonishingly, this young full-back, with all the grace and appeal of a fully laden skip, has played for England. It was his appalling first-half performance -- he did not reappear after the interval -- which all but condemned Everton to defeat.

After he had ducked beneath Winterburn's lofted pass to allow Dennis Bergkamp to sprint forward and score, there was to be no way back for his team.

'Unsworth was struggling a bit and held up his hands for the first goal,' said Royle. 'But we never had the guile or the power to break them down.'

Ian Wright's even more clinical finish only six minutes after Bergkamp's goal was fair reward for Arsenal's colourful football but by that point Everton had just about given up, and on an afternoon of many misdemeanours that was the greatest crime of all.

It wasn't like this in the brochure

Guy Hodgson, The Independent: Everton supporters do not naturally empathise with Kevin Keegan yet one of his phrases keeps coming to mind. Not 'I'd really love it if we beat them' - they would really love it if they could put one over anyone at the moment - but the former Newcastle manager's 'it wasn't like this in the brochure'.

Flicking through the glossy pages, Joe Royle's team ought to be challenging for the championship now on the back of an FA Cup win in 1995 and a near miss in the Premiership last season. At the very least the small print promised a playing curriculum issued from the School of Science.

The truth has under-performed the promise. It is dog eat dog of war out there and although Everton delivered the first part of the bargain they are now being regularly mauled. They have won only once in 10 Premiership matches and a golden scenario has been replaced by the cold image of the mid-winter, mid-table team which plummets like a stone.

There was bewilderment and unhappiness at Goodison Park and not just in people within the ground. 'Have these to drown your sorrows,' the woman serving toffees to the Toffees at the newsagents opposite the main stand said sadly. 'I've never seen so many people leave at half past three before.'

Another Everton supporter was equally bemused. 'You can't give two-goal starts to bad teams never mind good sides,' he said. 'I don't think Arsenal can believe how easily they've taken the points without playing particularly well themselves.' The man bleeding blue on to the carpet was Royle himself.

It was a faultless assessment of a faulty afternoon. Everton have under-performed this season but even regular attenders found it hard to remember worse. Without Andrei Kanchelskis to slice defences the only tactic appears to be the hoof to Duncan Ferguson and you have to go a long way to find opponents who have not seen that one.

It would help if Ferguson was unsheathing his claymore but the Scottish striker looks as disillusioned as the supporters with the service he is getting. Like a dodgy lift, he goes up but whether he is going to reach his destination is debatable.

His performance appeared more supine when it was held up against Arsenal's front runners. In windy conditions (which were not helped by the fussiness of the referee Paul Danson), Ian Wright was his usual firecracker while Dennis Bergkamp was so smooth the surface of a mirror has the undulations of the Pennines by comparison.

It was not hard to find a candidate for throwing himself off the Dutchman's highest peak. In the second minute David Unsworth thundered into a tackle on the touchline only to find Bergkamp had gone. A rhino has the luxury of giving up chasing a fly but the England Under-21 defender had to keep charging and it was a mercy when he was substituted at the interval.

Inevitably he was at fault with the first goal, misjudging a long ball, to allow Bergkamp a free run at goal. On Saturday, however, Everton culprits rarely came singly and Neville Southall will not want to watch replays of the shot that went under his body.

There was also collective calamity about the second goal as Dave Watson and Earl Barrett allowed Wright a pocket of space in the area. Give him time 10 yards out and the defending team might as well line up for the kick-off and he duly scored his 25th goal of the season.

After that the injury-weakened Gunners waited for a reaction that, Graham Stuart's shot against a post apart, was lame. 'They challenged us to break them down and we lacked either the power or the guile to do it,' Royle said. 'It was a poor performance, not good enough. We have to get ourselves right because we are looking over our shoulder now.'

Results and League Table

Monday, 3 March 1997

COVENTRY CITY           1-1    WIMBLEDON                 15,273  
Dublin (37)                    Ekoku (32)

Sunday, 2 March 1997

ASTON VILLA             1-0    LIVERPOOL                 39,339

Saturday, 1 March 1997

BLACKBURN ROVERS        1-0    SUNDERLAND                24,208  
DERBY COUNTY            3-2    CHELSEA                   18,039  
Minto(og:51) Asanovic(pen:62)  Minto(18) Leboeuf(54)
EVERTON                 0-2    ARSENAL                   36,980  
                               Bergkamp(21) Wright(27)
LEEDS UNITED            1-0    WEST HAM UNITED           30,575  
MANCHESTER UNITED       3-1    COVENTRY CITY             55,230  
Breen(og:4) Cole(5)            Huckerby(86)
NEWCASTLE UNITED        0-1    SOUTHAMPTON               36,446  
                               Le Tissier(56)
SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY     3-1    MIDDLESBROUGH             28,206  
Booth(21) Hyde(43)             Mustoe(72)
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR       0-1    NOTTINGHAM FOREST         32,805  
WIMBLEDON               1-3    LEICESTER CITY            11,487  
Holdsworth(66)                 Elliott(17,27) Robins(32)

Wednesday, 26 February 1997

SOUTHAMPTON             0-0    WIMBLEDON                 14,418

Table after 3 March 1997

Club                          P    W    D    L   GF   GA   GD  Pts
Manchester United            28   16    9    3   56   31   25   57
Liverpool                    28   15    8    5   46   21   25   53
Arsenal                      29   14    9    6   47   26   21   51
Newcastle United             27   14    6    7   51   31   20   48
Aston Villa                  28   13    7    8   35   26    9   46
Wimbledon                    27   12    8    7   39   32    7   44
Chelsea                      26   11    9    6   41   37    4   42
Sheffield Wednesday          27   10   12    5   34   32    2   42
Leeds United                 28   10    6   12   23   31   -8   36
Leicester City               26    9    6   11   32   38   -6   33
Everton                      27    8    8   11   34   40   -6   32
Tottenham Hotspur            27    9    5   13   30   38   -8   32
Derby County                 28    7   11   10   30   38   -8   32
Blackburn Rovers             26    7   10    9   27   25    2   31
Sunderland                   27    7    8   12   23   34  -11   29
Coventry City                29    6   11   12   26   39  -13   29
Nottingham Forest            27    6    9   12   24   40  -16   27
West Ham United              27    6    7   14   24   37  -13   25
Southampton                  26    6    6   14   35   44   -9   24
Middlesbrough                26    5    7   14   31   48  -17   19*

* Includes 3 pts deducted from Middlesbrough for illegal match postponement  

This League Table Update provided by Lawrence "Leagueman" Breakey

This Match Report Compilation was prepared by Michael Kenrick for Marko Poutiainen. 4 Mar 1997.