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Venue: Goodison Park, Liverpool
Premier League
 Weds 28 November 2012; 7:45pm
1 1
 Fellaini (28')
Half Time: 1-1
Walcott (1') 
Attendance: 37,141
Fixture 14
Referee: Michael Oliver

Match Report

Everton's frustrating run of results stretched to just one win in nine games under the Goodison Park lights this evening as they were held to a 1-1 draw with top-four rivals Arsenal, a result which will, in the final reckoning go down as another missed opportunity and which drops the Blues to sixth in the Premier League table.

Importantly, though, they fought back from conceding a goal before the first minute of the game had elapsed, Marouane Fellaini canceling out Theo Walcott's opener and providing a platform from which the Blues probably sbould have gone on to win the game.

Unfortunately, though they looked the more likely to grab a winner — and really should have been given the opportunity to do so just past the hour mark when Mikel Arteta hauled Steven Pienaar down in the area but referee Michael Oliver gave a non-existent corner — they again struggled to create enough clear-cut openings to win all three points.

With Fellaini returning from suspension and both Darron Gibson and Tony Hibbert finally fit enough to start, David Moyes made three changes to the team that started against Norwich, dropping John Heitinga to the bench in favour of retaining Sylvain Distin and also demoting Bryan Oviedo and Thomas Hitzlsperger.

Everton had barely had time to put any gameplan into effect, however, before they found themselves a goal down. Walcott collected a pass in the middle of the Everton half and surged into the space ahead of him, laid it on to Aaron Ramsey and continued his overlapping run on the outside.

The Welshman slipped the ball on for Walcott who clipped a shot goalwards that nicked off Hibbert's out-stretched leg and sailed past Tim Howard to make it 1-0 to the visitors with less than a minute on the clock.

Everton responded well, though, and with a pleasing resurrection of the Baines-Pienaar link-up in evidence, Nikica Jelavic looking more purposeful up front and Gibson slotting back into his midfield holding role, they were able to steady the ship and set about restoring parity.

In the seventh minute, Pienaar set Baines up for a cross from the byline with a sublime backheel but the centre aimed at Jelavic was a little too close to Wojciech Szczesny and the goalkeeper was able to beat it clear.

Then, after the electric Leighton Baines had won a 16th-minute corner off Bacary Sagna, Fellaini powered a downward header that the 'keeper got enough on for Sagna to hack it out of the Arsenal goalmouth.

With the bit increasingly between their teeth, the Blues kept up the pressure but the final, killer ball proved elusive as Jack Wilshere nipped in to take the ball off Fellaini's toe in the area and excellent footwork by the much-improved Steven Pienaar was let down by a through-ball to Jelavic that just had too much on it.

It was tenacity by Pienaar a minute later, though, that forced the equaliser. The South African pounced on hesitation by Per Mertesaker forcing the defender into an error that saw the ball ricochet to Fellaini just outside the visitors' penalty area and he stroke beautifully past Szczesny and into the corner of the net to make it 1-1.

With just one goal in his last seven, much has been said of Jelavic lately — a lot of it probably unfair given the dearth of service he is receiving — but he almost silenced his detractors and the traveling Gunners with a superb moment — with five minutes left in the first period. Taking Fellaini's knock-down, he turned past Mertesaker impressively in one fluid movement but the bounce sat up just a little too high for him and he lashed a left-footer half-volley well over the crossbar.

The Croatian would find himself in the wrong place at the wrong time just a couple of minutes later, though, when Baines raced in on a defender as he dallied near the halfway line and poked it away from him in full flight. Jelavic instinctively latched onto the loose ball as it came to him but in an offside position — had he known to leave it, the England fullback would have been away in the clear with no red jersey near him.

Honours even at half time but lots to admire from Everton in the first half and every opportunity to press home their superiority in the second. It didn't quite happen for Moyes's men, though, with things either breaking down disappointingly with the final ball or the side letting themselves down by not committing enough men to the six-yard box when chances looked like they might open up.

Indeed, Jelavic probably wished he had been on the other end of three opportunities he engineered after half time with low crosses from the left side of the box but two just eluded Steven Naismith early in the second half and the third flashed agonisingly across the face of the Arsenal goal with just Fellaini in attendance a few yards back.

And with more composure in front of goal, Pienaar might have forced home a winner but both times he went for Szczesny's near post and on both occasions the 'keeper denied him with low saves. His third opportunity to test the 'keeper was thwarted illegally, though, by ex-teammate Arteta who pulled Pienaar back by the shoulder as he bore down on goal to howls of protest by the Goodison faithful. But while the same player had been penalised for dragging Fellaini back by the shoulder in the first half, when push came to shove in the Arsenal box, referee Michael Oliver awarded a corner even though the Spaniard hadn't made contact with the ball. Another game, another crucial decision going against the boys in Blue.

Arsenal, for their part, showed flashes of the ball-retention football that has been their trademark under Arsene Wenger but they struggled to threaten Tim Howard for much of the game. Olivier Giroud sailed a header inches past the far post off Walcott's cross in the 68th minute and Ramsey almost caught Howard napping when he prodded the ball into the six-yard box three minutes later but the American eventually pushed the ball behind for a corner to save his blushes.

Santi Cazorla had, thankfully, been reduced to a peripheral role but he did get a chance to drive hard and low with 15 minutes to go, only to be denied by a smart parrying save by Howard to clear the danger.

Gibson lasted 70 minutes into his comeback game and was replaced by Hitzlsperger after going down injured in worrying fashion a few minutes previously. It was not clear whether he suffered a new knock or a recurrence of that troublesome thigh problem but Moyes withdrew him anyway in a like-for-like swap.

And "Der Hammer" had a couple of opportunities to unleash goalwards with his left foot but one was easily gathered by the 'keeper and the other ballooned high into the stands from similar distances.

By the closing stages, the game had taken on the air of two sides not wanting to lose what was a tight encounter and chances became fewer and farther between. A late flurry by both sides in injury time threatened later drama but nervy moments in both areas didn't translate into clear chances and the referee blew time after three added minutes.

In the context of Everton's recent history with Arsenal and the improvement in the Gunners' form of late, many Blues probably would have accepted a draw prior to this evening's game. More still would have grabbed that point after 53 seconds when Walcott caught the home defence on their heels to engineer and then finish the first chance of the game.

Having fought their way back into the game, though, and leveled the scores, Everton looked the more likely of the two sides to go on and win the game; that they didn't was disappointing and represents another opportunity to push on that has slipped away.

Just as Gibson's long layoff was keenly felt in central midfield, Mirallas' absence has been a big factor in the Blues' lack of potency up front, their first-half dominance at Reading notwithstanding. Today they again lacked cutting edge in the final third; someone with the pace, acceleration and speed of thought to drive straight through the heart of the opposition defence.

They also suffered from too many loose passes in midfield and the final third and though the bench was stronger than usual, there still isn't a match-winner to which Moyes can turn if things are getting stale on the pitch. Oviedo when he replaced Naismith was again ineffective playing on the right and made no real impact going forward.

Fellaini blew hot and cold, by turns appearing too casual and laid back and then too aggressive in the tackle when he didn't need to be. His goal was priceless but his performance was a little erratic when Moyes really need him to step up and drive the team forward to victory. Even with all that said, however, he was still one of the best players on the pitch.

And so to the next test at the Etihad Stadium at the weekend, a game that is winnable with the right mental approach and if the team that began the season in such fine attacking form can re-find itself when the pressure is off against the Champions.

Lyndon Lloyd

Match Summary

Darron Gibson made his long-awaited return to Everton's midfield but Kevin Mirallas missed out again with a hamstring injury.

John Heitinga, Thomas Hitzlsperger and Bryan Oviedo dropped to the bench to make way for returning trio Gibson, Tony Hibbert and Marouane Fellaini.

Everton relinquished possession from the kick-off and relinquished any sense of discipline or structure as Arsenal skipped forward, Ramsey and Walcott exchanging passes on the Everton right, where Hibbert was AWOL, Walcott scooping the ball with ease over Howard and into the far corner with less than 2 mins under the Goodison lights. Astounding incompetence from Everton!

Koscielny was an early casualty, pulling a hamstring overstretching for a ball at the back. He as replaced by Gibbs. Everton pushed and probe as they tried to settle after the early shock, and made some good approach play. A dangerous free-kick curled in by Baines was easily defended away.

From Everton's first corner, Baines swung one in very deep to Fellaini but his ground header was straight at the keeper. Everton were getting some good possession building toward the Arsenal area but not really getting much further, and a period of Arsenal dominance followed.

Naismith was blatantly held back by Gibbs and rightly booked. Some great passing led to the second corner, again deep but headed away. Sanga went down claiming contact from Osman in a threatening position, Vermaelen driving it through the wall at Howard.

Pienaar made a great interception but his ball for Jelavic looked to be the end of the move. However, hhe did it again on the Arsenal clearance, the ball careening acorss to Fellaini, we steady himself ofn the edge of the area and cureld it bueytifully around Vermaelen and Szczesny into the corner of the Arsenal net. 1 - 1!

A late tackle from Gibson on Walcott led to him getting a yellow card. Arsenal won a couple of corners, both defended away, as the game looked fairly even, if a little stop-start. Everton needed defend solidly, but on the breakout, Jelavic almost got ahead of Sagna, who gave up a corner, which was again repelled.

Jelavic did a lovely chest-down and turn to beat Mertesacker but then leaning back, lashed over, when he really should have done better. Fellaini pulled back Corzola rather cynically as the contest neared half-time, Jelavic breaking well but form an offside position. Corzola looked to make space but his strike curled a long way from the Everton goal. Arsenal won a late corner in added time but it was defended away.

Good interplay between Baines and Pienaar that saw the South African power a shot goalwards after the break, and Everton's approach play continued to show signs of promise, with Jelavic switching to wingman and provider for Naismith, who could not get his foot to a glorious chance ahead of the full-back.

Pienaar was looking a lot sharper, and from a corner, Distin got a good look at the whites of Szczesny's eyes off a deep ball in from Baines that the Arsenal keeper parried away with an instant reaction save.

More superb work by Pienaar saw Fellaini denied a certain header as Szczesny took the ball off his head, but Everton kept pressing, although Fellaini's ground shot at Szczesny lacked invention. Moyes acted on the hour, swapping Naismith for Oviedo, an interesting move given the player's last outing.

Pienaar appeared to be tackled from behind as he advanced on goal. surely a penalty, but the ref bottled it, giving a corner. Everton were giving it their best, but the crucial chances, as ever, were not turning into goals, while at the other end, Giroud came mighty close with a header that flew inches past the post.

Howard looked lost, scrambling a loose ball behind for a corner but came out well to punch at the next attempt as the momentum swung back Arsenal's way... Moyes reacting by swapping in Hitzlsperger for the tiring Gibson. Corzola had a poke at one end, then Hitzlsperger at the other, both keepers doing their jobs effectively, as the game was end to end, each side keen to score the winner.

Arteta caught Fellaini to give away a really promising free-kick that Jelavic rather casually spooned in toward the top corner, too slow and too obvious to beat Szczesny why no Hitzlsperger Hammer?

Into the last 10 minutes, Wenger swapping Ramsey for Gervinho as another Baines corner was defended away, with the tension reaching breaking point as the game continued from end to end, although a Jags hoofball not really the preferred method!

Oviedo was a firecracker going forward abut Hibbert's cross was a total waste as the game rested on a knifeedge until it was Fellaini's turn to 'do a Naismith' and spoon his cross shockingly under zero pressure. Then the Hammer's turn finally came and his shot was utterly woeful as he got right underneath it.

More great work set up a brilliant chance, but the ball from Jelavic was just too far ahead of Fellaini as it really looked more and more like Everton would not score the winner, even if it was handed to them on a plate. Meanwhile, hearts in mouths each time Arsenal went forward as the game went into 3 mins of added time.

Chances continued at either end, Arsenal finishing a little stronger after another great chance for Jealvic went begging, and it was a poor chiice from Pienaar at the end.

A very good game and a crucial litmus test of Everton's real quality... which came up short in the end against inferior competition yet again. Two more important home points lost.

Michael Kenrick


Match Preview

In retrospect, the Blues' fixture calendar going back as far as mid-September had a fairly benign look to it and that fact doesn't ease the nagging feeling in the pit of the Evertonian stomach that the team has missed a big opportunity over the past few weeks.

Moyes's side have lost just once since their disappointing display at the Hawthorns on 1st September but they've also only won three of those 10 games from, as we all know full well by now, promising positions of attacking and territorial superiority in almost every case.

Importantly, though, they have got something from all but one of those games and while a continued glut of draws won't get the Blues anywhere near the Champions League, the points they have amassed to this point does provide a platform from which to build while the team works through its current frustrations.

The complication, of course, is that the fixture list now takes on a decidedly more treacherous look, starting with the midweek visit of Arsenal and continuing through the Etihad and Britannia Stadiums, Upton Park and home games against Tottenham and Chelsea before the end of the year. Plenty of opportunity for Everton to really make a statement of intent in their quest for fourth place but an equally daunting prospect for a side struggling to keep clean sheets and score enough goals.

Injuries to really important players have not made things any easier. Marouane Fellaini will return after serving a one-game ban for reach five bookings on the season, although it's not clear who should make way. Steven Naismith has grabbed three goals over the past month as a starter, Steven Pienaar's enterprise is well known but he is worryingly off form, and Bryan Oviedo was arguably Everton's best player on Saturday before he switched to the right flank.

Regarding the possibility of Darron Gibson or Kevin Mirallas returning to the starting line-up, Moyes was giving nothing away in his pre-match press conference.

Both were close to being ready but neither played any part in the 1-1 draw with Norwich on Saturday, perhaps because their manager was saving them for the visit of Arsenal where he could put out something close to his strongest side. Gibson, in particular, needs to be eased back into action after almost two months out and Mirallas, by the nature of hamstring injuries, could also suffer a set-back by returning too quickly.

Gibson would be an obvious replacement for Thomas Hitzlsperger who has done well since making his first start at Reading 10 days ago and should Mirallas return, again Pienaar, Naismith or Oviedo — assuming they hadn't already made way for Fellaini — are potential options to drop to the bench.

Elsewhere in the side it was assumed that Seamus Coleman missed out against Norwich through injury and though Tony Hibbert was named among the substitutes, Phil Jagielka was preferred at right back. Whether Moyes saw enough from that reshuffled back line to persist with it remains to be seen, though.

With every player that returns, of course, Moyes's options increase and the selection headaches become positive ones.

The Gunners come to Merseyside sitting sixth in the table and a point behind the Blues having battled through erratic form over the first quarter of the campaign. They have shown an ability to score goals when they're in the mood but defensive fallability has also seen them drop points of their own which has raised yet more questions in North London about the Board's willingness to invest in the squad and the future of Arsene Wenger.

Arsenal are the last team to win at Goodison Park when they escaped with a 1-0 win back in March, though, and their record against the Blues in the Premier League era will give them confidence coming into what is an important match-up as far as that race for fourth is concerned: They did the double over Everton in each of the last two seasons and haven't lost here in five seasons.

Even though he played in the same fixture in March, much of the media focus will be on the return of Mikel Arteta but perhaps the biggest threats to Everton's newly porous back line will be the pace of the likes of top scorer Theo Walcott, who should return from a shoulder problem, and the invention of Santi Cazorla.

The Blues have looked vulnerable on the break in recent weeks and that may be how Arsene Wenger sets out his stall for this one, while keeping an eye on how he can capitalise from set-pieces — another area where Moyes's men have been susceptible — through Lukas Podolski or Olivier Giroud.

For Everton, possession, that elusive ruthlessness and the power of the Goodison 12th man under the floodlights will be key. At their best this season they've looked capable of beating anyone in the division — they just need to channel that belief and attacking talent into goals.

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Match Preview
Match Summary
Match Report
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Match Reports
2012-13 Reports Index
< Norwich (H) Man City (A) >
EVERTON (4-5-1)
  Gibson booked:70' (73'Hitzlsperger)
  Naismith ( 62'Oviedo booked:70')
  Subs not used
  Anichebe (injured)
  Coleman (injured)
  Neville (injured)
  Mirallas (injured)
  Bidwell (loan)
ARSENAL (4-4-2)
  Koscielny (4' Gibbs booked:21')
  Ramsey (80' Gervinho)
  Cazorla (90' Coquelin)
  Subs not used

Premier League Scores
Aston Villa 1 - 0 Reading
Sunderland 0 - 0 QPR
Chelsea 0 - 0 Fulham
Everton 1 - 1 Arsenal
Man United 1 - 0 West Ham
So'hampton 1 - 1 Norwich
Stoke City 2 - 1 Newcastle
Swansea 3 - 1 West Brom
Tottenham 2 - 1 Liverpool
Wigan 0 - 2 Man City

Team Pts
1 Manchester United 33
2 Manchester City 32
3 Chelsea 26
4 West Bromwich Albion 26
5 Tottenham Hotspur 23
6 Everton 22
7 Arsenal 21
8 Swansea City 20
9 Stoke City 19
10 West Ham United 19
11 Fulham 17
12 Liverpool 16
13 Norwich City 16
14 Newcastle United 14
15 Wigan Athletic 14
16 Sunderland 13
17 Aston Villa 13
18 Southampton 12
19 Reading 9
20 Queens Park Rangers 5


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