When Everton travelled to face league leaders Arsenal at the Emirates on Sunday evening, many had hoped for a rip-roaring affair between two in-form sides. Thankfully, that’s exactly what the two sides delivered as they served up a veritable Christmas cracker that ended 1-1.
Arsene Wenger will surely have looked at this fixture as a potential banana skin ever since the beginning of the season as the Toffees have looked a wonderfully dangerous side capable of mixing it with the best in the business, and as Sunday’s match-up displayed, he will have been right to do so.
Under the guidance of Roberto Martinez, the blue half of Merseyside have been transformed into a surprise package this season with the talent and skill to match. Make no mistake, Everton are pushing for a Champions League spot, and with shocks and amazing results popping up practically every week, this might be the season they can successfully capitalise on them.
Two late goals meant that the sides had to share the spoils. Firstly, a Mesut Ozil goal with just over 10 minutes remaining fired the home side into the lead after Olivier Giroud had an attempt blocked away milliseconds before. From there, Wenger will have begun to relax somewhat after they had managed to turn the tie back in their favour following a nervy and uncharacteristically unsure display in the opening 45.
In truth, it was hard to separate them as they both had opportunities to seal the three points, and both had periods of sustained dominance – the pendulum continued to sway back and forth throughout. The visitors were on top in the first period, dictating the tempo and forcing Arsenal to sit deep in their own half, while the Gunners looked a renewed force after the restart.
Neither side appeared to possess a cutting edge in attack, and with both goalkeepers and each set of defenders doing a fine job, it was always going to take either a huge slice of luck, or something glorious to break the deadlock.
After Ozil’s goal rustled Tim Howard’s net, the onus was firmly on Martinez’s charges to fight back, but with so little time remaining, the pressure was on. Drawing on the same spirit of perennial pressure and endeavour that saw them snatch a special victory at Old Trafford, they once again proved themselves good enough against one of the best teams in the league.
Barcelona loanee Gerard Deulofeu was the saviour of the day as he popped up minutes after coming on as a substitution to hammer home Bryan Oviedo’s cross, and as a result the delight became visibly etched on the travelling supporters’ faces.
Only moments later, however, Giroud fashioned a wonderful opportunity for himself from far out as the French international directed a wonderful, curling effort towards Howard’s goal only to be cruelly denied by the upright. In truth, though, a goal so late in the game would have been an unfair punishment for Everton having battled so valiantly for so long.
Granted, there can’t be many Arsenal supporters who will be happy to drop points at home, but with Chelsea losing on Saturday against Stoke City and with Manchester City drawing with Southampton, this may well be the most opportune moment to do so.
The result keeps the Toffees hot on the heels of the top four and throws up yet another stumbling block for one of the title favourites, but once again underlines how exciting the Premier League can be.
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