Arsenal v Everton
Everton’s quest for European football is still on track after David Moyes’ charges battled for a point at the Emirates Stadium.
An action-packed encounter failed to produce a decisive goal, but the Toffees were good value for a share of the spoils – their eighth draw on the road this season.
The impressive Ross Barkley – in for the injured Leon Osman – was arguably the Blues’ star performer.
The 19-year-old – starting a game for just the second time this season – came closest to snatching a winner for Everton, firing inches wide in the second half.
With so much at stake, predictably it was a fast and frantic start to the action. Both sets of fans were in buoyant mood too, backing their teams with chants and shouts during the early stages having observed a period of silence before kick off to remember the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster and those affected by Monday's bombings in Boston.
Everton showed no signs of missing their midfield playmaker Osman as they settled the quicker of the two teams.
A defence-splitting pass from Seamus Coleman afforded Steven Pienaar an early opportunity, but the South African side-footed over from eight-yards out.
Barkley showed his eagerness by leaving his mark in two strong – but fair – tackles on Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere.
Everton’s intent was obvious as they knocked the ball around confidently on the lush Emirates turf. Indeed, it took Arsenal the best part of 20 minutes before they had their first sight on goal, with Kieran Gibbs flashing over the bar after a loose pass from Marouane Fellaini.
On the half-hour mark, Darron Gibson was booked for a rash tackle on Theo Walcott. The baying home crowd felt that the Irishman deserved to be dismissed for another check on the England winger five minutes later but referee Neil Swarbrick this time showed more leniency.
The final 10 minutes of the first half was full of exciting and enterprising football. Barkley - growing with every passing minute - brought a smart save out of Szczesny before releasing Anichebe in the Blues’ next attack, with the in-form striker unable to get enough purchase on his finish.
Arsenal had chances too. Olivier Giroud steered a sliding attempt narrowly wide and Phil Jagielka bravely blocked a stinging shot from Cazorla. However, despite the increase in the tempo of play, it was goalless at half-time.
The second half started as the first had ended with the action switching from end to end.
Howard – on his 300th Premier League appearance – beat away a fierce volley from Cazorla, while Giroud fired over.
Anichebe headed wide and Leighton Baines drove a free-kick into the wall as the Toffees also pressed for the deadlock-breaking goal.
The pace didn’t relent and Barkley was a fraction away from his first Everton strike with a curling shot from 20 yards. Szczesny was beaten as the ball flew just past the far post.
Substitutes Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were thrust into the action midway through the second period. The latter’s first real contribution was to unselfishly square to Giroud after a lightning-quick counter-attack, but a combination of Coleman and Sylvain Distin prevented the Frenchman from getting a finishing touch.
With 10 minutes remaining, Giroud did find himself in a promising position inside the box, but he fluffed his big chance, blazing over the bar from close-range.
Both teams huffed and puffed to the very end but a winner couldn’t be found, even after four minutes of stoppage time.