The race for Champions League football became even tighter tonight as Arsenal and Everton shared the points in an intense, but goalless Premier League encounter at the Emirates. Fellow top four hopefuls Chelsea and Tottenham will be the teams most pleased with this arguably fair result, as they remain within touching distance of third-placed Arsenal, but both pick up a valuable game in hand.
Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger, who spent much of his evening lamenting the fourth official for not giving his team due justice, claimed after the game that his side “should have won”, while opposite number David Moyes seemed slightly more pleased with his hard fought point, and, rather mockingly, pointed out that northern teams like to play a bit more rough.
Gunners fans will be pointing fingers of blame at striker Olivier Giroud for the lack of three points, with the Frenchman failing to convert a glorious chance in each half; however it was Everton who came closest to scoring through Adam Barkley’s beautiful curling shot, which crept just the wrong side of the post a little after the hour mark. But it was a night for the defensive side of the game to be showcased, with perfectly executed last-ditch tackles and tough challenges ensuring the sheets remained clean in a game that for large parts was rough, and lacking in creative quality.
Everton had started the match brightly, Marouane Fellaini combining with Phil Jagielka who slipped Steven Pienaar through on goal after just six minutes, but the midfielder’s touch was heavy and the chance went begging. A midfield battle then commenced in the early stages; with both teams going toe-to-toe, as it seemed Everton were attempting to use their strength to shake up Arsenal.
Fellaini was deployed deep and did a good job defensively for the most part, using his size to seize the ball from Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey, who complained to the referee but weren’t given much. However on 23 minutes Fellaini inexplicably decided to cross into his own area from the left-back position, finding Santi Cazorla who fed Kieran Gibbs at the edge of the box, but the fullback blazed his shot over the bar – a warning for Everton.
Arsenal began to find their feet in the game, making use of Theo Walcott’s pace down the right hand side, which restricted the usually dangerous Leighton Baines to his own half. As Walcott’s runs continued to cause nuisance to Everton, Darron Gibson picked up a booking for blocking him off just before the half-hour mark. Gibson was lucky to be on the pitch a few moments later for yet another cynical block of Walcott, in what turned out to be inconsistent refereeing, as Pienaar saw yellow for an identical challenge a minute later.
The Toffees then had a decent attacking spell, registering the first shot on target of the blotchy first half through Barkley, before slicing Arsenal open, but Gibbs’ excellent back tackle prevailed over Victor Anichebe, who looked set to score from just outside the six-yard box. Arsenal hit back by creating the best chance of the half – Cazorla fed the lively Ramsey down the right who ran on and swung in a delicious cross, but with the keeper off his line and committed, Giroud could only fire wide from six yards.
Arsenal improved in the second half; Cazorla began to work his magic, which happened to coincide with Wilshere and Walcott being taken off for Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. There has been talk of Cazorla being at his most effective when not playing alongside Wilshere, whose forward driving runs can leave Cazorla a little isolated, and it certainly rung true tonight.
Cazorla troubled Tim Howard with a powerful drive as Arsenal cranked up the pressure a notch. However, Barkley, who had been menacing in his roaming number 10 role, had Arsenal hearts in mouths when he found space and curled a sumptuous shot that skimmed the outside of the top of the post, with Wojciech Szczęsny well beaten.
From then on it was all Arsenal, as the home crowd urged them on for a dramatic late win. Giroud was guilty in missing the two best chances, one being agonisingly intercepted by Seamus Coleman after a low Gibbs cross. The last chance came when Giroud made a yard for himself in the box, but could only hammer his shot over on the turn, and the points had to be shared.