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DAVID Moyes said he hoped Mikel Arteta was not smiling afterwards, but it was with a sheepish grin and a sigh of relief that the once-revered Spaniard departed Merseyside last night.
He will know that only another woeful refereeing lapse prevented his former team grabbing a deserved win over his current club under the floodlights at Goodison.
Referee Michael Oliver could have awarded a spot-kick for any one of Arteta’s fouls as he wrenched Steven Pienaar from behind, hauled him down and simultaneously failed to win the ball in a clumsy tackle as the South African bore down on goal in the second half.
Not the first time this season Everton were left to rue a poor refereeing decision, and certainly not for the first time they had to settle for a share of the spoils – but this was an infinitely more promising draw than what has gone before.
Everton may have slipped another place back in the table to sixth, as Spurs’ victory over Liverpool edged them ahead of the Blues, but the signs that their recent blip is over were numerous. With two of their key men returning from injury in Tony Hibbert and Darron Gibson, Moyes’ side looked every inch the equals of a team which perennially nabs the fourth Champions League spot, and proved the Scot correct in his verdict that with a full-strength line-up they will be in the mix for that holy grail.
Everton out-played the Gunners for large parts of a lively encounter, and certainly prevented Arsene Wenger’s side from finding their fluid rhythm. They showed resilience too in coming back from an early disaster to push for victory.
Arsenal had gone immediately on the offensive from the opening whistle and got instant rewards. Theo Walcott went marauding and swapped passes smartly with Aaron Ramsey, before the England striker opened his body up to finish coolly into the top left hand corner. One minute had passed.
Everton were as shocked as they were dismayed, but they had been unfortunate when the ball had deflected off Phil Jagielka in the build-up and responded defiantly. After the early goal came an early substitution for the visitors, as Laurent Koscielny hobbled off to be replaced by Kieran Gibbs, and Everton kept their composure to try and get themselves back into the game. Interplay between Steven Pienaar and Leighton Baines allowed the latter to whip an inviting cross into the area and Wojciech Szczesny had to be alert to punch away as Fellaini and Nikica Jelavic loomed.
Undeterred, the Blues continued to press, with their imperious left-back impressive as ever. Baines sprinted 60 yards to win a corner he had no right to, and Fellaini went close with a towering downward header from the left-back’s useful delivery. Then Steven Naismith did well in space to cut the ball back to Darron Gibson who forced another save from the Gunners keeper.
Everton were building momentum, and taking control despite the setback. Their midfield refused Arsenal space to play and looked to expose the visitors’ defensive frailties with relentless pressing. It worked a treat too – as a tenacious Pienaar closed down Mikel Arteta and then Bacary Sagna who skewed his clearance to Fellaini. From 25 yards the irrepressible Belgian turned onto his left foot and bent a shot past Thomas Vermaelen and beyond Szczesny’s lunge into the bottom corner. Cue pandemonium, as the 25-year-old rampaged over to the home bench to celebrate.
Everton’s talismanic number 25 was quickly becoming unplayable, and it was his knock down which allowed Jelavic to turn exquisitely past Per Mertesacker on 39 minutes, only to lash his shot over the bar and into the Park End. It was a flash of skill which suggested the Croatian’s self-belief has not wilted as much as has been suggested.He was back at it after the break, leaving Mertesacker in his wake again to send an enticing low cross into the area which Naismith was inches from converting.
Then Sylvain Distin, excellent on his return to the starting line-up, drew a terrific save from Szczesny as he met Baines’ cross with a thumping header.
If Everton’s Bainaar axis has been a little subdued of late it was at its compelling best again. The pair were giving Wenger’s men no end of trouble, and only the alertness of the visitors’ Polish keeper was denying the Blues their lead.
They were at it again, combining slickly to set Jelavic free after the striker controlled the ball on his chest but as the chances went unconverted, that familiar nagging fear returned that Everton would suffer for it.
Cue the awful decision to deny Pienaar a penalty, after Arteta failed to win the ball as he simultaneously hauled the South African down as he went through on goal following another fine exchange of passing in the final third.
If they were to be cruelly undone by their profligacy and home-grown errors it might have been when Tim Howard made a mess of dealing withRamsey’s harmless stab at goal. But the jittery USA international quickly redeemed himself with a fine reflex save from Santo Cazrola’s fierce shot.
Arsenal began to regain a semblance of momentum as the Blues understandably tired from their high-tempo pressing. Moyes responded by introducing Bryan Oviedo, who had acquitted himself well on Saturday, and soon after the impressive Gibson made way for Thomas Hitzlsperger.
Substitute Gervinho was two yards off side when he might have delivered the cruellest of twists but fortunately he fluffed his lines with a simple header, just as the referee’s assistant did the same by not spotting his errant run. At the other end Jelavic might have scored again, then only a valiant skidding tackle by Jagielka prevented Gervinho who threatened again on the counter-attack.
Time ran out on the Blues as they continued to press, but it will be with renewed belief that they travel to the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.
STEVEN Pienaar believes Everton were unlucky not to be awarded a potentially match-winning penalty after he was fouled by former team-mate Mikel Arteta during their 1-1 draw with Arsenal.
The South African appeared to be hauled down in the penalty area by Arteta as he burst through on goal in the second half, but referee Michael Oliver waved away the home side's protests and David Moyes’ men ultimately had to be content with a sixth draw in their last eight games.
However after Saturday’s demoralising stalemate against Norwich, Pienaar insists the Blues proved they are up for the fight to finish in the top four with their response after going behind to Theo Walcott’s first minute goal last night.
Marouane Fellani pulled the Toffees level after fine work by Pienaar forced a mistake from Bacary Sagna, and the midfielder said: “When you concede so early it’s easy for your heads to go but to be honest the support was fantastic even though that happened.
"The fans kept us going and there were 89 minutes left so we knew we were still in the game.
"We gave it everything, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough although it was a good point against a really good team.
“(For the penalty claim) I felt a pull and I don’t think Mikel touched the ball.
"I think I kicked it out as he pulled me down.
“I wished him good luck for the rest of the season afterwards but it was a costly decision.
"I think we were on the front foot and we were really going for it.
"We didn’t sit back and created some really good chances.
"I had a couple of chances as well but I need to work on my finishing because I could have scored, but we had a few more chances than them.”
The former Bafana Bafana captain said the mood in the Goodison camp remains upbeat ahead of Saturday’s trip to the Etihad stadium, even though they dropped a place to sixth in the Premier League table last night.
“If you look at the last two games it was much better,” he said.
“Against Reading we just gave it away and it was unprofessional the way we went about things, and Saturday was one of those games when we were not switched on at the end.
“That’s the best thing about football the games come quickly and you can always set t straight.
"We’re fortunate we’re in a job when if you make a mistake you can make up for it the next game and now we’ll look to go one better at City.”
LEIGHTON BAINES looks like missing his first Premier League game of the season at Manchester City on Saturday, after sustaining a hamstring injury in last night’s 1-1 draw with Arsenal.
But boss David Moyes revealed that Nikica Jelavic climbed off his sick-bed to complete 90 minutes – and but for a series of baffling decisions by referee Michael Oliver the Blues would have been celebrating victory.
The influential Baines – Europe’s most prolific chance creator so far this season – also completed the 90 minutes.
But Moyes revealed afterwards: “Leighton has a bit of a hamstring injury. He did it in the game but carried on in the last 10 or 15 minutes.
“I would think he would miss a game.”
Moyes also added that Jelavic’s inclusion was a last-minute decision, but that he was pleased with the Croatian’s contribution.
“I thought we put in a big effort to get that result but it could take its toll,” he said.
“We’ve got Hibbo (Tony Hibbert) back and Gibbo (Darron Gibson) back which has eased it a little bit, but I was worried that Jelavic was in his bed with flu symptoms until yesterday.
“He hasn’t trained since Saturday and yesterday I wasn’t playing him. But we decided this morning when he said he thought he was OK to play and I thought he was much better tonight.
“He made a great opportunity for himself and probably should have scored after beating the boy.
“Overall I thought it was a much improved performance.
“He’s definitely been off colour but I thought he held the ball up better tonight, I thought he was more of a handful and looked as if he could give us something in the game.
“I was happier with him tonight than I have been for a few games. He did well because I was probably expecting to have to take him off after 55 minutes or so because of the way he had been.”
Moyes was also pleased with his side’s display.
“I thought we played really well tonight against a good Arsenal team but great credit to the players for the character they showed to come back from going a goal down so early,” he added.
“We deserved the point for the way we played after that and I thought we kept it going in the second half as well. “It was a real big effort.”
But Moyes was less generous in his description of Michael Oliver’s display. The referee denied the Blues a clear penalty when Mikel Arteta hauled down Steven Pienaar and Moyes said: “We should have had a penalty. We played a really good Arsenal team and a lot of games are won by decisions referees make or don’t make.
“We were given nothing tonight whatsoever. We had to earn everything we got because we weren’t going to get a jot that’s for sure.
“I was disappointed by the foul on Pienaar not being given, but I was more disappointed by the one we chipped back in and he gave a foul on Fellaini. I’ve had a chance to see it and he doesn’t touch Mertesacker.
“Then he gave an offside against us when they had a boy nearly on the line. That was as mystifying as any of them really.
“But we’ve got to do it ourselves.
“We didn’t start in the first minute but we kept going until the final minute and we had two or three good opportunities in the last five minutes.
“We whipped a couple across the face of goal and chipped a couple in, but Arsenal are a really good team and we ran them close.”
It was perhaps fitting these two sides couldn't be separated after a titanic struggle, given they could well slug it out in a season long fight for fourth place.
Yet on a night of fast and fiery action that raised the temperature even as the big freeze was about to hit Merseyside, the most intense heat was provided by Everton boss David Moyes, who launched a scathing attack on referee Mike Oliver.
The furious Blues manager argued his side had to beat not only classy opponents but the over-zealous official too, who denied the home team a "blatant" penalty, and the chance to leapfrog into one of those precious European slots at the head of the Premier League.
"We should have had a penalty, for certain. We got nothing tonight whatsoever. I said to the boys we are going to have to really earn the win because the referee was giving us absolutely nothing," Moyes insisted.
"A lot of games are won by decisions referees make or don't make - and we were never going to get anything at all tonight from this referee. We had to earn everything, because we were not going to get a jot.
"The referee was well positioned to see the foul on Pienaar by Arteta, and I don't know why he didn't give it. I didn't speak to him afterwards - I wouldn't go near him."
It was no surprise this contest lived up to its billing with some sublime football from both teams, and as much controversy to match, because it is a fixture uncanny in its ability to deliver drama.
That much was obvious when the impressive Theo Walcott scored a fine goal just 52 breathless seconds from the start, and was reinforced by a Â game that ebbed and flowed, with both sides threatening an important victory in the race for fourth.
Arsenal's Theo Walcott celebrates scoring the first goal of the game Arsenal's Theo Walcott celebrates scoring the first goal of the game
Arsenal once again showed a resilience here they have often lacked elsewhere in recent seasons on their travels, and on this display, it could well be they slug it out with the home side for the final Champions' League spot.
Certainly, boss Arsene Wenger believes his team have emerged through a difficult opening to the new season, and are now well placed to strike out towards the top spots once more.
"It's our job now to aim for the top places. Â We have a new team, we have Wilshere back and hopefully we can go from strength to strength," he explained.
"It has been a tough start to the season, but we have shown the spirit to hang in there, and we have the chance now to be consistent and push on for the top four.
"We hope the run of fixtures we have coming will give us more chances to collect points. We've had eight matches away from home and played the two Manchester clubs away as well as Everton, and with a new team that has been difficult - but we have proven we have the spirit.
"We showed it here again. It was a game overall of real intensity. We needed to play with real spirit to get something."
After their perfect opening, when Walcott combined with the impressive Aaron Ramsey before seeing his shot deflected off Tony Hibbert over Tim Howard in the home goal, it seemed the visitors would control proceedings.
But that was ignoring the influence of Marouane Fellaini who was again the inspiration. His equaliser on 28 minutes was a case in point.Â
When Pienaar reacted quickest to steal possession from Arteta, the ball broke to the Belgian lurking around the box, and instead of the obvious pass to Nikica Jelavic, he unleashed a curling left foot shot that arrowed into the corner.
It makes the Belgian Everton's top scorer ahead of his strike partner, and the reason was not hard to discern soon after, when Fellaini provided the perfect flick on and a few weeks ago the centre forward would have buried the chance, but he snatched the shot and smashed over the crossbar.
That let off allowed Arsenal back into a wildly veering game the visitors had initially dominated after Walcott's painfully early goal, but then Everton controlled as the game progressed.
Arsenal have such skill in their team, but on freezing northern nights like this often seem to be exposed, and they should have been punished first when Distin saw a powerful header saved, and more clearly when referee Oliver - who had a shocking game - somehow failed to see the obvious foul on Pienaar.
HE may not be Arsenal’s pin-up boy right now but there is no disputing Theo Walcott is proving to be their Mr November.
The Gunners’ golden boy has been left off their 2013 calendar as the doubts over his future continue while a new contract remains unsigned.
But Walcott, 23, has certainly wasted no time this month showing how vital he is to Arsene Wenger — and that is despite being out for nearly a fortnight with a damaged shoulder.
He began it by bagging a priceless Champions League goal against Schalke, continued it by capping a 5-2 derby drubbing of Spurs — then finished it with a goal inside a minute to earn a point at one of the toughest venues in the Premier League.
Little wonder that the travelling fans left manager Wenger in no doubt as to what they wanted, bellowing: “Arsene, sign him up.”
The Gunners gaffer may not like being told what to do but at least it was a step up from his own supporters’ taunts of “You don’t know what you’re doing” during Saturday’s toothless draw at Villa Park.
Having failed to score there, Arsenal took just 52 seconds last night to edge ahead.
And Walcott was both architect and finisher, even though his barnstorming run from midfield included a slice of good fortune.
He pinballed his way past Phil Jagielka — but there was certainly nothing jammy about the finish after picking out Aaron Ramsey and continuing his run to the left edge of the six-yard box.
Ramsey returned the ball immediately and Walcott opened his body to finish exquisitely into the opposite top corner, albeit with a nick off Tony Hibbert’s desperate lunge.
Not bad for a man who still finds his ability to play as a central striker questioned by some. You would think 10 goals in 18 games this season would be answer enough.
Yet Everton, as ever, were never going to be a pushover on their own patch. Indeed, the Gunners’ victory here in March was the last time they suffered a home defeat.
And they went within a whisker of a quickfire leveller, after another magnificent combination between Steven Pienaar and Leighton Baines.
Pienaar’s delightful backheel picked out his partner in crime in acres of space, yet when the left-back fired over the cross, the diving Wojciech Szczesny reached it just ahead of Nikica Jelavic.
Then Marouane Fellaini towered above everyone to meet Baines’ corner but his downward header was too close to keeper Szczesny.
Already the giant, big-haired Belgian was showing signs of frustration and he was hugely fortunate to escape a card with a tackle on Goodison old-boy Mikel Arteta which was so late it was probably closer to Saturday’s game than this.
Arsenal had already lost Laurent Koscielny, who limped off a couple of minutes after Walcott’s opener, when he overstretched trying to clear.
And they lost their lead just before the half hour when Bacary Sagna’s challenge robbed Pienaar, yet merely shot crossfield to Fellaini, whose immediate fizzing drive from 25 yards curled around Szczesny into the bottom corner.
Ten minutes later, Fellaini was again the main man, when his glanced header found Jelavic, who did all the hard work in flicking it over Per Mertesacker but blazed his shot high.
Then Baines nicked one off Mertesacker’s toe but, while he would have been fine to race away on goal, Jelavic — not doing much to shoot down the “footballers are stupid” theorists — stepped in from a good four yards offside and the chance was blown.
Yet while that was not the brainiest intervention you will ever see, Baines is all craft, guile and trickery — usually deep in the opposition half.
A delightful drag-back and lay-off teed up Pienaar — but the South African pulled his shot past the near post.
Then Jelavic popped up on the left flank to fire in another finish-me-off cross — and Steven Naismith surely would have, had it not been for a wonderful sliding intervention from Kieran Gibbs.
Everton were absolutely flying, and the Gunners most definitely rocking — and in Baines the Toffees have a man in the form of his life.
He proved it again with another wickedly-curling delivery which Sylvain Distin met with a full forehead, only for Szczesny to push it to safety.
If the Polish keeper came to the rescue then, 10 minutes later it was ref Michael Oliver, as Pienaar traded passes with Baines and then Jelavic en route to the box.
He went down, with TV replays suggesting a backtracking Arteta clipped man rather than ball — and that was regardless of the arm he had on his former Toffees team-mate’s shoulder.
It was a refereeing cock-up which had home boss David Moyes fuming. He said: “We should have had a penalty.
“A lot of games are won by decisions referees make and don’t — we got nothing. We were not going to get a jot tonight.”
Wenger said: “It was a tough game overall and 1-1 is a fair result. It is a good point here. It was a game of remarkable intensity. We needed great spirit.
“We should have been more clinical but the effort we put in was good. Our job now is to push on.”
The fans will agree — starting by paying the dough to get Walcott signed up now.