What price quality? Well, if you believe the press, the likes of Real Madrid and Manchester City are angling to find out where Robin van Persie is concerned, but for Arsene Wenger it's got to be priceless given the striker's incredible form in 2011. The Dutchman produced a stunning volley 20 minutes from time just when it looked as though Arsenal were doomed to failure in their attempts to overcome an Everton side that have still not won on the Gunners' home turf since David Moyes took the helm.
This was a strange game in some ways; after picking their way through the Blues' midfield and defence with increasing regularity in the first half, it appeared simply to be a matter of time before Arsenal made the breakthrough and set the foundation for a convincing victory. That it took another 25 second-half minutes and a moment of individual genius was a tribute to the resilience and self-belief that grew in Everton's ranks as the game wore on but also spoke to how the home side were running out of ideas and momentum.
That was until Alex Song lifted an inch-perfect ball over the visiting defence for Van Persie to despatch a crisp volley across the face of Tim Howard's goal and in off the far post. These days, one goal is enough for an Everton side who have now not managed a shot on target in two full matches, although surprise substitute, Conor McAleny, almost delivered a moment of magic of his own two minutes into stoppage time with a dipping half-volley that dropped agonisingly past the post.
Yet Wenger's men could have been comfortably ahead by the halfway mark when, following a fairly even opening, they took the game by the scruff of the neck and set about dismantling Everton's high defensive line and offside trap.
After Louis Saha's 10th-minute shot had been blocked before it could get near Wojciech Szczesny's goal, Mikel Arteta, who had a mostly subdued game, was the architect of the Gunners' first real chance of the game. He mugged Marouane Fellaini of the ball in the centre circle and released Walcott but when the winger eschewed the shot and tried to square it to Gervinho instead, Tony Hibbert's sliding challenge did enough to put the striker off initially and the defender did brilliantly to block his eventual shot from the angle behind for a corner.
Just before the half-hour mark Aaron Ramsey was released into space behind the defence and though he turned inside Tim Howard giving him a clear sight of goal, he curled his shot over the crossbar. Less than a minute later, Gervinho found himself in on goal in similar circumstances but he shot early and Howard saved his effort superbly with his legs.
A number of close calls with the offside flag and some impressive defending kept Arsenal at bay as half time approached but with Everton offering almost no threat at the other end, a breakthrough for the home side looked to be only a matter of time.
Though Arsenal started the second half started in a similar vein to that in which they'd finished the first, with Vermaelen's ambitious thunderbolt from 30 yards being blocked by Neville and Walcott breezing past Baines before unloaded from the angle and forcing another superb stop by Howard who beat it behind for a corner, Everton started to come forward with more belief as the second half progressed.
With almost an hour gone, Baines whipped a cross to the back post where Vermaelen had to get in ahead of Cahill to head behind for a corner and Neville almost susprised the 'keeper when he fizzed a side-foot shot a foot over the bar from 20-odd yards.
By that stage, Saha's afternoon had come to a premature end, presumably because an hour or so was all he could manage after missing last week with a thigh strain but David Moyes left top scorer Apostolos Vellios on the bench and opted instead to being on Sylvain Distin and move John Heitinga into midfield.
But just five minutes later, Van Persie struck and killed what momentum the Blues' had been trying to build. Moyes's response, though, was baffling, with Vellios again ignored and the manager throwing young debutant McAleny and Magaye Gueye on in place of Neville and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.
McAleny's first touch might have ended in a free kick wide on the Everton left but referee Howard Webb played the advantage as Gueye drove forward after picking up the loose ball but he shot disappointingly across goal and out for a goal kick.
Moyes's decision to blood McAleny almost took on a completely different complexion in injury time, though, when the youngster picked up Fellaini's flick-on and unleashed a right-footed half-volley that so nearly stunned the Emirates Stadium and spoiled the Gunners' 125th anniversary celebrations.
Ultimately, though it took an inspired finish to beat them and a draw would not have been a complete travesty from the neutral's perspective, Everton were still a shadow of the team they have been over the last few seasons. Of course, with the creative guts ripped out of the midfield and the lack of a regular goalscorer, that's not a total surprise but there is still a glaring lack of cohesion, belief in the side and any evidence that Moyes wants to change anything about his approach.
Fellaini had a poor game and was unable to dictate much for the Blues, Coleman was a mostly unreliable outlet down the left and though Baines occasionally threatened down the left with some potentially dangerous crosses, Everton, again, simply offered too little going forward, with Saha and Tim Cahill isolated and out of sync with each other.
Again, they looked a bit more lively once Gueye came on — surely he's now earned a start instead of Bilyaletdinov while Drenthe's out injured? — but, in the main, their passing was poor, they relied too heavily on the long ball and there was no killer pass in the final third to create anything approaching a clear goalscoring opportunity.
Player Ratings: Howard 8*, Hibbert 6, Jagielka 6, Heitinga 7, Baines 6, Neville 5 (McAleny 7), Fellaini 6, Coleman 5, Bilyaletdinov 5 (Gueye 6), Cahill 5, Saha 6 (Distin 7)
Everton face their sternest test since their meek performance at Manchester City when they make the trip to the Emirates Stadium this weekend to take on fifth-place Arsenal.
Had last Sunday's encounter against Stoke at Goodison gone according to plan, the Blues would be coming into this fixture in eighth place and seven points behind the Gunners; as it is, following the depressing defeat against the Potters, David Moyes's side are closer to the bottom three in terms of points than they top seven.
Given their approach to and performances during their matches against those members of the Premier League's current elite, there's little to inspire confidence in Everton getting a result in North London and spoiling Arsenal's 125th anniversary celebrations.
After a decidedly shaky start to the campaign, Arsene Wenger has settled his team down and, helped in part by the presence of ex-Blue, Mikel Arteta, they're unbeaten in the League for two months. In contrast to Everton, they easily despatched of Stoke on home turf, sprung a surprise on Chelsea with that dramatic 5-3 victory at Stamford Bridge, and demolished Wigan 4-0 last time out.
They faltered however in their last home game against Fulham when they were held to a 1-1 draw and were beaten comprehensively by Olympiakos midweek so there is some vulnerability to exploit if Everton can just get their act together in attack.
And there's the rub for the Blues; Louis Saha may return after missing the Stoke game with a thigh strain — if so, he will replace Apostolos Vellios who has clearly struggled as a lone striker playing without support — but unless clear goalscoring chances are created, it's unlikley to make much difference.
With Jack Rodwell and Leon Osman set to miss out with fresh hamstring injuries, Moyes will have to make more changes in midfield as he seeks to find a combination that will lead to the side being more effective going forward. Royston Drenthe, who has missed the last two games with an ankle injury, is still doubtful but will undergo a late fitness test and his availability will likely dictate whether Diniyar Bilyaletdinov keeps his place on the left. And Phil Neville could return to the first team alongside Marouane Fellaini in Rodwell's absence.
At the back, not muhc has been said of the fitness of Sylvain Distin but it's assumed he's back in contention for a starting place in central defence, an area of the pitch that will be key for Moyes this weekend given the form of Robin van Persie. If the Blues can keep the Dutch marksman quiet, they stand a chance of getting something from the game... but it's a big if.
|Premier League Scores|
|Premier League Table|
|2011-12 Reports Index|
|When Skies Are Grey||Report|
|Everton fans' reports|
|Other media reports|
|4 the Game||Report|
|Vermaelen (Miquel 82')|
|Walcott (Frimpong 89')|
|Gervinho (Rosicky 82')|
|Subs not used|
|13||Queens Park Rangers||16|
|15||West Bromwich Albion||15|