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COLUMNIST PAUL TRAILL

Heroic Everton denied at the last

By Paul Traill :  10/01/2010 :  Comments (8) :

Match Report: Arsenal vs Everton

“Ya heard the news?” asks Mike over the phone on Friday night. “What, the games been cancelled?” I ask…worried. “Nah, not cancelled… BUT… there’s severe weather warnings for Saturday night in London… I don’t think we should stay over for the night.”

Well Mike was being as big a hypochondriac, as ever.  Nothing quite grips the panic of the British public like a bit of snow, eh?  My mother was extremely worried about us going down with the snow... My sister lives in London so, once Mike had calmed down, we stuck to the original plan of staying over for the night.

We got a jump on the traffic, setting off at 7am.  As I thought, the road was completely fine more or less all the way down.  We got caught in a bit of a snow storm just after Birmingham but that passed by OK, with the main problem being the windscreen wiper pipes being frozen so we had to stop about half a dozen times on route to give the windows a wipe.  All-in-all, we arrived at my sisters around 11:15am, waking her up as she wasn’t really anticipating our arrival until about 1pm.  Job well done so far.

After a quick stretch of the legs in the beautiful but freezing Clissold Park, we took sanctuary in a boozer, the Kings Head, for a few beers.  Mark, an old mate from school who now lives down in London, called me to ask whereabouts we were. “Erm, dunno. You know Clissold Park? I t’s a big one,” I asked.  Long pause. “There’s a lot of parks in London, Paul.”  Fair point.  We then went to meet him by Hollywell Road station, grabbing a few beers in Metro just next door to it before the game.

You just can’t fail to be impressed by the Emirates Stadium, can you?  It’s my first visit to the ground and it stands as a glowing example of everything we need from a stadium.  Moreover, it highlights our pressing need to get our stadium situation sorted out.  The matchday profits at Arsenal must outstrip Everton staggeringly.

We took to our seats behind the goal just to the right, nicely in time for the teams to enter the field. What struck me straight away was the amount of players we had in short sleeve jerseys despite the freezing conditions.  We looked like we meant business.  I noticed Donavon was playing from the start but so too was Saha… surely not 4-4-2?

4-4-2 it wasn’t as Donovan took his place on the right wing with Pienaar on the left, Fellaini, Osman and Cahill made up the rest of the midfield with Bilyaletdinov dropping to the bench.  In defense, Tony Hibbert was out injured so Neville slotted in at right back.  Otherwise it was as you were.

Thinking about the game on Friday, I dared to dream that we may have a reasonable chance in this one with Fabregas out injured and Song away with the African Nations Cup.  This presented opportunities in the midfield for Ramsey and Denilson.  I felt Everton could ‘get into them’ a bit. Arshavin and Eduardo partnered in attack. The referee was Peter Walton.  I had some ‘chant-starters’ standing on their seats as the game kicked off.  I hoped they weren’t going to continue that trend all game... They didn’t.

Everton began fantastically, taking the game to Arsenal from the off.  The first chance came when Saha got himself away from Gallas and with a great opportunity and smashed the ball at goal, though well high and wide away from it.  We built on this though, pressing the tempo further and snapping into Arsenal in the midfield.  Saha had another effort on goal, this one deflected behind for a corner kick to Everton…

I felt Donovan hadn’t really gotten into the game in the opening exchanges and needed to step it up a little bit.  He then went and clipped a great corner into the box which, of all people, Leon Osman connected with a powerful header to put the blues 1-0 to the good.  It was just what Everton deserved after a terrific start to the game.

I semi-expected Everton to capitulate having gained an advantage but we held our own well, not looking too threatened when Arsenal attacked, defending well and keeping things together in the midfield.  Arsenal didn’t really look as though they had the solution so it was much more than annoying when Denilson struck an effort on goal which was going so, so, so far wide until it deflected off Osman, wrong-footing Howard and into the net.  That was hard for Everton who’d done practically nothing wrong and everything right and deserved to be ahead.

Thankfully the boys didn’t let this affect them though and we continued to stick to our game plan.  Pienaar and the now-very-much-in-the-game Donovan provided the main attacking outlets whilst Fellaini and Cahill snapped away in the midfield whilst Osman provided a bit of added sparkle.  It was a great first half and at 1-1 we were nicely poised for a cracking second period.

Cracking it was as Everton continued all their good work from the first half.  The swirly snow went crazy after the break as the temperature seemed to drop considerably.  As expected Arsenal took the game to Everton a bit more in the second half but Everton held firm and wouldn’t let the Gunners dictate to them.  What I enjoyed most about the second half was the battle. I haven’t seen two teams slog a game out like that for quite some time now and it really was quite a throwback to games of yesteryear as tackles flew in from both teams.

I felt that if Everton kept up the bullying approach they would have a reasonable chance of grabbing a winner in this game.  Many of the Everton players seemed more suited to the conditions than their Arsenal counterparts and that’s why I felt it was a good idea to get Vaughan onto the pitch when we did so – he likes a scrap.

Before Pienaar’s stunner we’d had a great chance when unbelievably good work by Cahill, dribbling the ball forward out to the wing and cutting excellently inside Gallas and bringing the ball into the penalty area, resulted in a pull back by Cahill towards Vaughan but the ball was hoofed clear, I think by Sagna. We were looking good but Arsenal also continued to press… too much.

I couldn’t quite believe Arsenal had pushed so far up the pitch.  A ball broke to Cahill inside his own half.  Under pressure from a couple of Arsenal players, the Australian looked up and picked out a quality pass for the onrushing Pienaar.  He timed it perfectly as the South African ran from inside his own half and thus couldn’t be offside.  He still had plenty of work to do though but did it superbly, running the ball forward and dinking it brilliantly over Almunia and into the goal. Que jubilation in the away end.  Stunned silence elsewhere.  With just nine minutes to go, could Everton hold out?

Really we oughta have put ourselves out of site when Denilson, unchallenged, seemed to just crumble in a heap on the halfway line.  Cahill took full advantage, taking the ball on and picking out a great throughball for Vaughan.  With a similar chance to Pienaar’s, the young Brummie shot too close to Almunia and the Spaniard saved.  That would have won it.

Sadly this was costly.  We looked to have been home and dry anyway as we forced a few corners and Pienaar clipped a great effort over the crossbar.  It was all Everton until the board went up: 5 MINUTES OF STOPPAGE TIME. With Everton now sitting back a little, a storming run by Diabi resulted in a pass to substitute Rosicky who smashed the ball into the net… leveling the scores. Gutted.

At the time I thought he’d just smashed the ball home brilliantly, it’s only after watching it again on Match of the Day did I realize the enormity of the deflection off Lucas Neill.  Really hard on Everton to be done by two deflections in this one.  Arsenal pressed even further following the goal, though another goal by Arsenal would have been shockingly unfair.  We got the draw in the end.  Very disappointing as we definitely should have won.

After the match, Neville led the players over to the Everton fans to throw their shirts into the crowd.  Not all made it all the way, only Neville, Cahill, Osman and Heitinga did so but nice to see our support is appreciated by the players.  Fellaini was first one down the tunnel by the way.

Just a few observations. To come away from the Emirates and be disappointed with a draw speaks volumes of how well we played today.  We seem to have a steely determination about us at the moment. I’ve got a feeling that, with injured players returning, we can really pick up the pace for the rest of the season and you never know, may just hijack fifth or sixth place.

Otherwise, how many times now this season have we been done by badly deflected goals? Away at Fulham, at home to Liverpool and of course yesterday at Arsenal are a few which come to mind off the top of my head... though there could be more?  Is this just plane bad luck or are we not getting to player’s quick enough / getting a good enough block on the ball?  We never seem to score any of these goals… or did we get all our luck at once at Stamford Bridge. 

One other thing: still no away win against the ‘big four’ under Moyes.  Well we’ve still got one of those games to go this season.  Let's hope we’re saving it for that one.

Keep the faith. With Europa League and the FA Cup both very much on the agenda, players returning and European qualifying places still not entirely out of reach, I’ve got a feeling this might be a good 2010 yet.

Player Ratings:

Howard:  A bit hair-brained at times, but made a couple of decent stops when he had to. 6

Baines:  Fine.  Nullified their attack well and combined nicely with Pienaar. 7

Heitinga:  A rock.  Just getting better and better.  The fans seem to have taken to him.  Do they see a bit of Big Dunc in this hard nut maybe? 8

Neill:  Worked well with Heitinga.  Desperately unlucky with that late deflection. 7

Neville: Had a great game at right back.  Slotted in like he’d never been away. 8

Fellaini: Bossed the game at times in the middle.  Is really maturing now. 8

Osman: Cracking header and worked tirelessly all game long.  Also unlucky with the deflection. 7

Pienaar: Took his goal superbly and his skill and vision was second to none. I  like the way he always looks for the pass or a way out no matter what area of the pitch.  Crazy goal celebration. 9

Donovan:  Great debut.  Took him a while to get going but he stormed it once he did before tiring. 8

Cahill:  My Man of the Match.  Quality assist for Pienaar’s goal and bullied the Arsenal midfield out of the game.  Was snapping away all match and used the ball well.  One of his best performances in a blue shirt if you ask me. 10

Saha: Did well. Made chances out of nothing at times though just couldn’t quite get his shot away. 7

Bilyaletdinov (for Donavon): Adapted into the game and the conditions well. 7

Vaughan (for Saha): Yes, he missed a sitter, I know.... but his fight and harassment was exactly what we needed at the time. 7

Reader Comments

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Peter Bourke
1   Posted 10/01/2010 at 22:31:21

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Excellent read Paul.
I think your player ratings are just about spot on as well.
I thought the quality of the game was remarkable given the conditions it was played in.
Keith Glazzard
2   Posted 10/01/2010 at 23:13:32

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Calm down now Paul - a point away at Arsenal which felt like two dropped is cause for celebration. But be careful when awarding 10/10.

Tim Cahill certainly earned his corn yesterday - the hold up and give to Steven was classy - and he did what he has done best for us for many seasons now. But what is it? The pundits, obviously, pick out his goals. Any fool can see that. But what does Tim do?

The brother reckons he annoys the opposition. He breaks them up, anywhere on the field, anytime of the day. They can’t claim that the ball is theirs when Tim’s there. And I agree. Some would call this a negative value, and perhaps it would be if that was all he could do (the English game has lionised destroyers for many a decade), but, as we know, he is capable of much better than that.

Good, very good - but not 10/10. Keep that for the day he holds that trophy up, or possibly celebrates his derby winner.
David Hallwood
3   Posted 11/01/2010 at 01:19:46

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Good report Paul, and we’ve (well I have) got back to a situation where you’re not dreading the game. Can’t wait for the Citeh game and playing the RS, I might even try and get a ticket.
Lynn Thorne
4   Posted 11/01/2010 at 06:54:52

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I think that the referee merits a mention too. I also really enjoyed what was a ’proper’ football match. Thanks mostly for Peter Walton allowing advantages to be played and not blowing for every little foul. I don’t often praise the ref, but thought he did a good job on Saturday.
Matthew Tait
5   Posted 11/01/2010 at 09:58:56

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I was at the game, sitting with the Arsenal fans (a mate is a member and is out of the country, so I got his seat). Strange experience not being able to cheer our goals!

The Arsenal got absolutely battered in this game, and their fans knew it. Just about every conversation I heard was praising the quality of our play as well as lamenting theirs, and they knew they robbed the bank to get that result. Pienaar and Fellaini were especially singled out for praise — a couple of different people noted that Fellaini was just much too good for their lot, he really is becoming an immense defensive mid. Donovan looks class. Ramsey and Traore copped a fair roasting from their fans.

3-0 to us would not have been an unfair result based on the flow of the game and quality of chances. Absolutely sickening to come away with only a draw, fantastic performace from virtually every blue player.

And yes the ref had a great game too, especially in the conditions.
Tony Ateman
6   Posted 11/01/2010 at 10:24:26

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It was a good job Steven Pienaar didn’t take his shirt off when he scored, he would have been sent off at 90 minutes!
Tom Harries
7   Posted 11/01/2010 at 12:34:15

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Matthew Mackey — "A great performance by the lads, but did anyone notice? We were still last on MOTD even though our game had more goals in it than the only other game played and even though it was played earlier than the other game which of course was full of the Manure.
Just what do we have to do to get first on MOTD? Lineker had to pull out all the stops this week to get his "put-down" on us out."

It wasn’t just MOTD. I watched the build-up programme on Sky Sports News (the Jeff Stelling one; start time 12:00) and they didn’t get to the Arsenal-Everton game until quarter to 2!
Keith Glazzard
8   Posted 11/01/2010 at 22:25:52

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Tom - I don’t know if the Sky programme you have mentioned is free to air - I have never seen it. I certainly hope you aren’t paying them money to keep the Sky4 in their headlines.

If you are, cancel your subscription, then have a moan about the BBC like the rest of us.

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