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Well it's not for want of trying

By Paul   Traill  ::  11/12/2011   11 Comments (Last) Up bright and early, bound for London Euston on the 09:04 am rattler. I had to change trains at Crewe and joined a train full of rowdy Arsenal fans travelling down from I think Scotland for the match.

I arrived in London in good time and then had to board a bus to Stoke Newington. With my sister living in London it's an ideal opportunity to catch up and make a night of it whenever Everton are in the capital. Once I?d dropped my bag off, I was Arsenal-bound.

I had a ticket for the Tottenham game on the opening day of the season which of course got postponed due to the London riots. I was able to sell the ticket to a fellow London-based Blue via the Toffeeweb Message Board and so arranged to meet him prior to this in a pub called The Woodbine on Blackstock Road. This brought with it convenience also as Leslie was due to sit with the Arsenal supporters with some friends for this game whilst, strangely, an Arsenal-supporting friend of mine from work was due to sit next to me in the Everton end. Can you imagine going to Goodison Park but sitting with the away supporters? It would be surreal. Anyhow all we could do was imagine this as Manuel and Leslie were able to swap tickets so Leslie was sat next to me with the Everton fans.

The Arsenal supporters moved on a little earlier than usual to witness their clubs 125th anniversary celebration so Leslie and I stayed a little longer before making our way towards The Emirates. It was fascinating to see sections of the old Highbury ground still retained amongst the rather plush surroundings. Onto the Emirates Stadium and you can?t help but marvel at the magnificence of their ground. That?s how to build a new stadium.

We moved through the turnstyles and got to our seats nicely in time for kick-off. No big surprises from Moyes with the line-up. Phil Neville returning into midfield in the absence of Leon Osman and Jack Rodwell. With Royston Drenthe still unavailable for whatever reason Bilyaletdinov filled the left flank. Saha was deemed fit enough to start in attack. Arsenal began with four centre-backs stretched across their defence with Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Koscielny and Djourou forming the back four. The much loved Mikel Arteta centre in midfield along side Aaron Ramsey with Song anchoring. Gervinho and Walcott supported the goal-machine that is Robin van Persie in attack. Groans and boos met the announcement of Howard Webb as the match official. The game got under way with the Everton support in good voice.

Whilst Everton were rather productive down the flanks, particularly the left hand side, in the first half we regularly succumbed to the all to familiar confidence problem of the final ball not being good enough or not having enough options in the box but we began with encouragement. It didn?t take Arsenal long to start slicing us open, however... and they really ought to have scored with at least one of three very presentable opportunities. One when Robin van Persie turned smartly and curled an effort slightly over the gaping goal; a second when Gervinho was played through on goal but smashed his drive a little too close to Howard who saved well; and a third when Arsenal typically tried to pass the ball in, Walcott squaring the ball when he should have shot and Hibbert eventually denying Gervinho with a heroic block when I expected the net to bulge. Our only effort of note was a Saha effort from distance which sailed harmlessly wide.

Having survived the Arsenal onslaught and made it through to half-time, you felt we could get something here if we re-organized a bit and put out a few fires. It?s worth noting what a marvelous reception Mikel Arteta received as he came to our side to take a first-half corner. It was quite funny when he got applauded and when Everton tried to break clear from the corner Arteta cynically tripped Seamus Coleman. ?Book him ref the dirty Spanish bastard? yelled the fella behind me in jest? it made me titter anyway. Speaking to some Arsenal fans after the match, they felt he was slightly out of sorts today, probably struggling to come to terms with playing against Everton.

Into the second half and you really couldn?t fault any of the players for effort. They worked really hard to try and get something from the game and they?ll have left the capital a little disappointed that they didn?t. It?s probably even worse for the players that they were undone by a practically unpreventable goal. You could perhaps argue that Jagielka missed the flight of the ball and might have come and met it as it sailed over him. I?d prefer to applaud what was quite a remarkable volley by the unstoppable Robin van Persie. A long ball over from Song and met on the volley beautifully by the Dutchman. Surely a Goal of the Season contender

Prior to this, Moyes baffled pretty much everyone by taking off Saha and bringing on a centre-back in the shape of Sylvan Distin, thus moving Heitinga up into midfield, Fellaini further forward and the busy Cahill up top. The goal ensured further changes were necessary and Moyes surprised us again with the introduction of debutant Conor McAleny and Magaye Gueye for Phil Neville and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov. Play was generally disrupted at this stage by a dose of Arsenal play-acting to break the game up and sabotage by an overly fussy linesman.

As with the first half, we did create several opportunities to get the ball into the box but the final ball / pass / movement was always lacking. It?s particularly disappointing that we failed to test Szczesny with either of our three opportunities. I believe that?s two games in a row without a shot on target which is disappointing. The chances ? Phil Neville swept one onto the roof of the net just over the crossbar which was a little unlucky; Gueye skidded one just wide of the post after a little Arsenal hesitation; the one which had everyone up on their feat however (well, we stood the whole match I think) was when McAleny clipped a delicious volley inches wide of the post right at the death. That was very unlucky as the effort was every bit as good as Van Persie?s really and would have won us a point of course.

At full-time Leslie and I headed back to The Woodbine to join his generous chums. I say generous, as every time I looked up at the table I seemed to have a fresh pint in front of me which somebody had bought me. Rather drunkenly, I tailed off to meet some friends at about 7pm, enjoying a fun evening in the city.

All in all, upbeat rather than downbeat. We should really be looking to gather 12 points and progress to the FA Cup 4th Round in our next five games. The league games are all very winnable and hopefully we can really kick on in the New Year. Hopefully with a new striker.

Player Ratings:
Howard: Made a good stop in the first half but was helpless with the goal. Distributed quite well. 7
Baines: Had an excellent game going forward, working well with Bilyaletdinov to put pressure on Djourou. Unfortunately he was a little wasteful from corners in the first half but not a bad all round showing at all. 7
Jagielka: Distributed poorly at times and was possibly culpable for the goal but was solid and dependable otherwise. Seems to be forming a decent partnership with Heitinga. 7
Heitinga: Very solid display from the Dutchman. I think he quite enjoyed his tussle with is fellow countryman. My man of the Match. 8
Hibbert: Decent enough in defence, usual nonsense going forward. 6
Fellaini: Was sloppy at times in the first half but really got to grips with the game in the second and matched them for quality. 7
Neville: Had a good, solid game in the middle. I think it helped the rest of the team having him back in there. Shows good leadership. 7
Bilyaletdinov: Showed some good initial promise though faded in the second half before being subbed. 6
Coleman: Not one of his better days but it wasn?t for want of trying. 5
Cahill: A very busy performance from the Aussie. Still searching for that goal but is working hard. I?m convinced it will come in one of the next two home games. I wish it would have come yesterday? I had a fiver on him as first goal scorer at 20-1. 7
Saha: Held the ball up quite well in the first half but was subbed in the second presumably due to injury. 6
Distin (for Saha): Settled into the back four okay and was a bit more no-nonsense than Heitinga was at the back. We?ve got good competition from those three in that area. 6
McAleny (for Neville): Looks a decent little player. Quite quick, technically gifted and clever on the ball. Looks a good prospect. Very unlucky not to score. 7
Gueye (for Bilyaletdinov): Did OK. Worked the full back quite hard and had an effort on goal. Moyes seems to be slowly trying to work him into the team. 6

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