Arsenal. The quadruple — apparently... Well, that was
last week. "Triumphant and Overconfident," says Ferguson
— Kettle, pot, black? A draw against Chelsea in the FA Cup; a
defeat to Blackburn in the Premiership; and now defeat and out to Valencia
in the Champions League.
Seaman, Keown and Cole definitely out; Viera and Campbell
doubtful. If Campbell were unable to start a second game in 5 days,
then their centrebacks could be Cygan and Silva with Toure at left-back
and Stuart Taylor guarding the nets (third choice when Wright was at
Highbury). I'd take our back-line, thank you very much!
Still, they will likely have Pires, Bergkamp, Ljungberg and the
mercurial Henry running at us up-front.
After those three disappointing performances, Arsenal are likely to be
very fired up against us. However, we have already seen this season
that Arsenal can go off the boil.
The first 30 minutes will be key. United may well have gone top
early on Saturday, which will be a huge blow to an Arsenal team that will
have crashed out of the Champions League; struggled in the FA Cup and
surrendered superiority in the Premiership — all in the space of 8
hectic days. Their confidence will be sorely tested — as will that
of the Highbury crowd.
If we can stay in touch up to half-time, the concerns for the home side
will begin to mount.
Although Everton's West Ham performance was simply terrible, we have
lost just once now in our last 8 games. The losses of Hibbert and
Pistone are a real blow but the amazing strength-in-depth that Moyes
appears to have created will simply see young Yobo step back into the 1st
team — albeit slightly out of position. Elsewhere, Li Tie's cameo
against West Ham should see him start alongside Gravesen — please, Moyes
— Gemmill just is not good enough!
Brian McBride will likely start on the bench in his last appearance for
Everton, with Campbell starting. Ferguson had another 90 minutes
(3½ games for the reserves now in 3 weeks...) but Moyes may hold fire
until McBride has gone and until we are playing at Goodison — Newcastle
in two weeks?
A cracking game is in prospect. Forget that Arsenal have Chelsea 48
hours later in the Cup — that will mean nothing during this game.
On top form, they could blow us away — but that is unlikely. The
first 30 minutes will be so important. If we are within 1 goal with
20 minutes to go, then Arsenal may well start to be concerned — if a
certain Rooney is then on the pitch, those concerns will mount.
After Ian Wright tormented us so many times, how delightful would it be if
Rooney could return the favour!
1-1 with my heart — and a point for all the overseas Evertonians
watching this one *live* on TV.
Arsenal too strong for lacklustre Blues
Going into what — along with Manchester United away — is Everton's most feared
game of the season, David Moyes's side had to deal with the grim realization that they had dropped to 6th position following Liverpool's comfortable win
over troubled Leeds at Anfield. The enormity of the failure to deal with West
Ham last week is beginning to hit home as the Champions League slips out of
the Blues' grasp and the target for the remainder of the season becomes merely
retaining a UEFA Cup spot.
The worst team news on the eve of this daunting encounter was that the Blues
would have to do without their top scorer and chief attacking outlet, Tomasz
Radzinski, who missed his first game of the season with a groin injury. That
meant a new strike partnership of Kevin Campbell — in for the now-departed
Brian McBride — and Wayne Rooney, making his first start of the year.
Elsewhere, an ankle injury to the unfortunate Tony Hibbert meant that Joseph
Yobo was given a rare start at right back, Scot Gemmill was replaced by Li Tie,
and Mark Pembridge came in for the increasingly ineffective Gary Naysmith.
Although it was Everton who were given the opportunity for the first effort
on goal in the second minute — Pascal Cygan bundled Campbell over just
outside the area but Rooney's shot went into the defensive wall — Arsenal
got their customary early goal after eight minutes when Cygan charged in unmarked
and powered home a header from a corner. Too easy.
The Gunners took control of the match and Bergkamp had an effort after a quarter
of an hour that Richard Wright, playing at Highbury for the first time since
his big summer move to Merseyside, spilled at Thierry Henry's feet but the 'keeper
did enough at the second attempt to deflect it out for a corner. The Frenchman
himself had a snapshot from 25 yards out ten minutes later that had Wright scrambling
across goal but it bobbled past the far post to safety. Soon after that,
Henry was put through down the left channel but his tame angled shot was blocked comfortably
again by Wright.
By this stage, Arsenal had laid bare all of Everton's limitations: the over-reliance
on Radzinski's pace and creativity; the complete absence of width or ability
to attack down the flanks (Unsworth banging aimless cross-field balls from
the left sideline doesn't count); the appalling distribution and glaring absence
of a creative central midfield; and Thomas Gravesen. The Dane did his best headless
chicken act for much of the first half and didn't make his first successful
tackle until the 12th minute but the odd attacking contribution once again illustrated
why he is so frustratingly erratic.
Worst of all for David Moyes, Wayne Rooney simply wasn't in the game in any
shape or form. A lack of service from the midfield was compounded by his own
lack of sharpness — in particular, his apparent refusal to come and meet
passes made to him meant that the home defenders were continually stepping in
to steal possession.
Around the half hour mark, however, Everton started to make their presence
felt in areas other than the defence which, through numerous men behind the
ball, were containing Arsenal's off-key attack reasonably well. Gravesen had
the Blues' first shot but it flew high and wide off his left foot and the first
and second Everton corners followed three minutes later, but both were wasted.
The long-awaited first piece of Rooney magic didn't arrive until the 40th minute
when he cheekily beat two defenders on the touchline and fired in a dangerous
cross but no Blue shirts were anywhere near to capitalize. The 17-year-old was
almost put in by his strike partner a couple of minutes later but he just couldn't
get on the end of Campbell's flick-on. From the resulting corner, the ball flashed
inches wide of the far post, although it was hard to tell who made the final
touch on Pembridge's wicked in-swinger.
The Welshman also had the last word of the first half with another dangerous
in-swinging free-kick that flew half a yard wide of Stuart Taylor's post. Half
time: 1-0 to Arsenal which is where the smart money would have been before the game.
The interval yielded no changes from either side, but there was the greater
sense of purpose that Everton displayed in the last quarter hour of the first
period was pleasingly carried through into the second, Moyes no doubt sensing
that although the home side were weaving plenty of pretty patterns, they were
still lacking their trademark cutting edge. With Campbell dropping further back,
he fed Rooney who bolted past Lauren and the defender was booked for catching
the Everton No. 18 very late.
A minute later, Yobo was in the thick of the attacking action in the Arsenal
penalty area and he did well to find Watson on the right side of the box but,
again, no one was there to connect with his cross. A minute after that, Stubbs
picked Rooney out with a wonderfully weighted ball over the top but when the
teenager cut it back, Campbell couldn't make full contact and all he could find
was the side-netting. Still, it was a clear signal that the Blues had found
some ingenuity going forward and that they were capable of scoring.
That was merely confirmed inside four minutes. Campbell found Rooney midway
inside the Arsenal half and ran purposefully at the defence, pulled his closest
marker slightly to the right and fired past Taylor into the far corner for a
wonderful equaliser. Very reminiscent of his priceless winner at Leeds, it came
out of nowhere and got Everton back on level terms at a great time.
Rooney and Everton were re-energrised. He made space in the area once again
a couple of minutes after his goal but shot wide from a tight angle and then
displayed another moment of class on the touchline, drawing his marker into
the challenge before clipping it past him to make room for a cross that was
just too far for Pembridge on the by-line.
Out of the blue once again, though, Arsenal were back in front in controversial
circumstances. Unsworth and Bergkamp contested a bouncing loose ball in the penalty
area and the Dutch striker appeared to hold the defender back as he tried to
clear and Vieira was on hand to thump it past Wright. It was against the run
of play and more than a little unjust because of it. Such is life against the
With 17 minutes to go, Moyes made the sensible change of taking Li Tie off,
who had been booked for one infringement too many and looked prematurely spent,
and replacing him with Gemmill who, if nothing else, could add a bit more creativity
in the centre. Five minutes after that, Watson made way for Duncan Ferguson
to make his first league appearance of the season. The big man had 12 minutes
to make a difference but he entered the fray at a time when Arsenal were enjoying
periods of comfortable possession without really threatening to extend their
That changed, however, when Freddie Ljunberg found himself free on the left
side of the area with just Wright to beat from the angle, but, thankfully for
Everton, he blasted over the bar. In terms of chances, that was pretty much
it. The second goal had knocked the wind out of what self belief the Blues had
generated through an improved second half and another equaliser looked a distant
possibility despite Ferguson almost getting a shot in from 12 yards, but he
was crowded out by a clutch of defenders.
In truth, this was another disappointing performance by Everton. Again, they
picked things up in the second half but were left to rue a poor first 45 minutes,
during which they looked overawed and daunted by the prospect of taking on an
Arsenal team wounded by recent results. Key injuries did not help Moyes's task
and the fact that the goal came from Rooney's natural ability and self-confidence
merely illustrated that without him and Radzinski, the Blues struggle to score
Moyes has to regroup his team and concentrate once again on their strengths,
namely commitment, confidence and fitness. The former two have been missing
recently and getting out of the blocks early and commanding an early advantage
is going to be key in the coming matches.