Goals: Walcott (1), Fellaini (28)
Arsenal earned a hard-fought point at Goodison Park after a game that Everton mostly dominated.
Arsenal had a 4-2-3-1 formation. Szczesny was at the goal. Vermaalen started at left back but had to switch to centerback to pair with Mertesacker when Koscielny got injured in the third minute, after which Gibbs played at left back. Bacary Sagna returned at right back. In central midfield, Wilshere was paired with Mikel Arteta. Ramsey was on the left instead of Podolski, and Walcott was on the right. Cazorla was behind Giroud who started as the central striker.
Arsenal took the lead inside the first minute. Walcott received the ball on the right flank close to the halfway line and started a surging run inside. Despite Jagielka’s tackle, he was able to keep the ball alive and found Ramsey. The Welshman’s return ball to Walcott provided the English international with a shooting chance at a slightly narrow angle in the left side of the box. When his curler took a deflection and hit the net at the far corner, only 52 seconds have passed. Right after the goal, Koscielny got injured, and Vermaalen switched to centerback with Gibbs coming in from the bench to left back.
After the shock of this very early goal, Everton gradually built a relentless pressure and the visitors found it quite difficult to keep the ball in Everton’s half. Tactically, Arteta was following Fellaini’s movement in between Arsenal’s midfield and defensive lines, as the Belgian was a constant menace with his physicality. Using Fellaini, however, was not Everton’s only weapon. In the 6th minute, Baines and Pienaar excellently combined on Everton’s left (as they would do all game long) and Baines’ cross was parried away by Szczesny with difficulty.
Everton kept working very hard all over the pitch, cutting passing angles, creating blind alleys and forcing Arsenal to mistakes on the ball. Around the 15th minute mark, Fellaini’s header from a Baines corner was well saved by Szczesny. Minutes later, Gibson’s weak shot did not trouble the Polish goalkeeper, but Everton were constantly knocking at the door. Another brilliant move between Pienaar and Baines was intercepted by Wilshere’s sliding tackle before Fellaini could pounce. While Everton kept pressing and attacking, Arsenal’s only answer was a weak Vermaalen free-kick that was saved by Tim Howard. Seeing the ease that Baines and Pienaar were torturing Arsenal’s right wing, Wenger switched Walcott to the left and placed the more defensively responsible Ramsey to the right flank.
Everton finally scored their well-deserved equalizer shortly before the half hour mark. After Arsenal monopolized possession for the first time and knocked the ball around in Everton’s half with some comfort, possession was finally lost and Pienaar tried to play a hopeful through ball to Jalevic. Szczesny caught this ball, but he clearly had not understood that his teammates were trying to slow the tempo, as he quickly released the ball to Sagna who passed it first time to Arteta in front of Arsenal’s box. The Spaniard was pressured immediately by Pienaar, and Sagna’s panicked clearance of the loose ball reached Fellaini right at the edge of the box: the big-haired Belgian curled the ball to the bottom corner with his left foot. It was a goal that could have been avoided with a little more concentration.
The rest of the first half saw Arsenal hopelessly messing around with the ball, not being able to make any penetration and routinely losing it in dangerous areas. In the 40th minute, Jelavic turned away from Mertesacker showing good skill, but skied the ball high when he only had Szczesny to beat. Three minutes from half time, Arsenal again lost the possession in a dangerous area with Ramsey somehow managing to gift the ball to Pienaar, but when the South African played Jelavic through, a correct offside flag saved Arsenal.
The second half continued in the same fashion of sporadic Arsenal attacks in the face of relentless Everton pressure. When the visitors broke from their right with Ramsey, his cross was volleyed by Giroud in the box, but the ball comically bounced back from Giroud’s own face. Then, another electric Baines-Pienaar move saw Pienaar’s shot missing the near post by a smal margin. Minutes later, Pienaar again got behind Sagna (who had a terrible game by his own high standards), but before Jelavic could finish his low cross, Gibbs made a crucial interception. Everton still attacking, Naismith turned away from Wilshere with great ease and found Pienaar on the left yet again, but the winger was denied by Szczesny. As Everton were peppering Arsenal’s goal almost constantly, Distin saw his bullet header from a Baines cross also saved by the Polish goalkeeper.
Arsenal’s main chance of the half came when Gibbs and Walcott combined on the left and Walcott sent in a good cross into the box, but Giroud’s glancing header missed the far post by the smallest of margins. Especially in the second half, Cazorla looked as tired as a teenager who woke up and masturbated 86 times until noon: when he found some space in a central position, his low and hard shot was parried away by Tim Howard. Ten minutes from time, Arsenal almost nicked an undeserved winner when a good counterattack saw Wilshere releasing Walcott on the left. The winger fed Giroud’s run inside the left channel. The Frenchman could have easily squared it to the substitute Gervinho for a tap-in, but instead he sent in a high cross above the Ivorian’s head. In the dying minutes, both sides looked quite tired after their fierce battle and the spoils were shared.
Having played 4 games in 11 days with almost the same set of players, Arsenal did indeed look very tired in this physically draining game. Cazorla, Giroud and Arteta looked particularly knackered. As in recent games, they were quite ineffective going forward in the face of relentless Everton pressure, but at least they were able to hang on to a point, and it is hard to fault their effort. Arsenal now have played 8 away games in 14 Premiere League fixtures, with difficult away games at Everton, Liverpool, Manchester City, Stoke City, West Ham and Manchester United all out of the way. Hopefully, the team can now finally gain some momentum with home victories against Swansea and West Brom in the upcoming two fixtures. However, lack of depth in the squad is particularly worrying, and Wenger should do something about this in January, and I do not mean loaning Thierry Henry again.