Roberto Martinez had pegged the New Year as a vague target for when Gerard Deulofeu would start making his mark on the English Premier League but the impatient teenager is on an accelerated timeline of his own making. It seems as though the narrative of every Everton game is heavily influenced in some way by the Barcelona prodigy these days and he delivered a nasty plot twist for Arsenal to digest, earning the Blues a richly-deserved point in the process.
The Spaniard came off the bench to deliver the kind of incision that Martinez's increasingly composed side had generally lacked in the final third up to that point despite an astonishingly accomplished performance over the rest of the pitch, rifling home an 84th-minute equaliser just when the league leaders looked to have cruelly won it through a Mezut Özil strike with 10 minutes left.
That would have been rough justice on Everton who would end the game with a share of possession clocked by the statisticians at 56%, having out-passed and often out-played a team who have been utterly dominant on their own patch in the League since their shock opening-day defeat to Aston Villa. Coming on the heels of a midweek win at Manchester United, it was a performance that firmly establishes the Blues as contenders for the top four and wholly vindidates their new manager's rapidly-instituted evolution in playing style.
Martinez kept faith with the side that started at Old Trafford last Wednesday and his team immediately established a vice-like grip on possession, one they wouldn't relinquish until more than 40 minutes had expired and Arsenal suddenly found some room to breathe under a suffocatingly determined and tenacious Everton display. The Blues dictated the game with a self-assured arrogance at times – this against the most consistent team in the top flight so far this season and one that can, itself, pass its opposition into a spell – and the only thing missing was the killer final ball or the right decision made in a split second to open the Gunners defence up.
It meant that while Everton would go into half time having controlled two thirds of the possession – at The Emirates, of all places! – they were no doubt ruing their failure to test Wojciech Szczesny in the Arsenal game during the first period.
They had a couple of nearly moments amid some wonderfully precise and confident passing. Seamus Coleman ended a break sparked by the effervescent Ross Barklely by skidding a tempting ball across the penalty area and, after the youngster had won a corner, Sylvain Distin lashed a half-volley from the edge of the box wide.
Coleman and Mirallas then both missed with more speculative efforts from the edge of the box and Romelu Lukaku, for whom chances would be like gold dust, saw a drive blocked by the defender in front of him before it could trouble the 'keeper. On the whole, though, having so much of the ball and so much say in the tempo of the game kept Howard's goal untroubled and it led to increasing restlessness among the home fans.
Arsenal, for their part, didn't manage an attack of note until the 27th minute when Santi Cazorla rolled the ball dangerously across Tim Howard's six-yard box but there were no red shirts there to convert. And it was until the last five minutes of the half that Arsene Wenger's side started to put together the kinds of penetrating passing exchanges that Martinez must have been fearing more of before the game.
Twice Arsenal sliced through the Blues defence before the break but Howard, sans beard, was alive to both situations and denied first Olivier Giroud and then Aaron Ramsey with excellent saves with his legs.
The home side carried that quicker tempo and elevated level of performance into the early stages of the second half and Cazorla had a chance when Jack Wilshere cushioned a volley across goal to set the winger up right in front of goal but he headed straight at Howard from six yards out.
But Everton remained a threat on the break and when Phil Jagielka, of all players, led one counter in the 53rd minute by scampering forward on the overlap and laying it inside, Barkley flicked it on with a beautiful backheel to meet Steven Pienaar's run but the South African probably hit his drive too true and Szczesny beat his effort away with both hands.
Back at the other end, Howard did well to push Ramsey's volley at the back post behind before James McCarthy, putting in another enormously effective, high-octane performance in the Everton midfield, somewhat harshly picked up his fifth booking of the campaign for a high-footed challenge. It means he will miss the home game with Fulham but will be available for the festive programme.
Confusion between Ramsey and Mikel Arteta just inside their own area then created a great chance for Barkley who seized on their indecision and unleashed a vicious shot from 18 yards but, again, it was too close to Szczesny, although it took an awkward double-handed parry for the 'keeper to deal with it and Coleman's centre from the rebound was disappointing in that he couldn't pick out Mirallas who would have had a clear shot on goal.
Wenger's frustration with the pattern of the game was illustrated perfectly with a rare treble substitution in the 67th minute that saw Theo Walcott, Tomas Rosicky and Mathieu Flamini all introduced to try and turn the game in the Gunners' favour. It almost worked to perfection when Flamini popped up in space inside the box but, thankfully, he pinged his shot across goal and wide of the far post.
Martinez had delayed the substitution of Pienaar for Osman for a few minutes to see how Arsenal's changes affected the pattern of the game but the veteran midfielder was introduced with 20 minutes left and he was involved in what was perhaps Everton's best move of the match, a delightful interchange of passes that ended with Osman releasing Mirallas behind the defence and Szczesny tipping the Belgian's shot behind. Everton kept the ball after the resulting corner was cleared and Distin headed over at the back post.
Mirallas was substituted a minute later and Deulofeu was introduced but he'd barely had time to get into the game before Arsenal scored. Rosicky flighted a ball over Bryan Oviedo to Walcott who headed back across goal with a first-time header and though Giroud completely missed the ball right in front of goal, Özil was on hand at the back post to bang it into the roof of the net.
How the Emirates burst into premature victory song, accustomed as they are to having things their own way here. But Everton are no wilting flower these days and Deulofeu
had other ideas than an Arsenal win that would have put them seven points clear at the top of the table.
The move was created by another precocious surging run by Barkley who fed the ball to Oviedo and he delivered a rare early cross from the left into the heart of the defence. Lukaku missed with an overhead kick attempt and the ball dropped to Deulofeu about 15 yards from goal and with three defenders between him and the goalkeeper. A couple of neat touches with the outside of his right foot were all the Spaniard needed to engineer the space he needed to smash home an audacious, stunning shot that was past Szczesny before he'd had time to extend his arms.
There were a few subsequent minutes where it looked as though the momentum had shifted decisively in Everton's favour and a typically rampaging run from the halfway line by Lukaku in stoppage time carved open the chance for a clear shot on goal from 20-plus yards but powered it narrowly over.
That was almost that but Giroud almost produced a winner out of nothing when Jagielka's clearing header from Jenkinson's cross fell to him 25 yards from goal. The Frenchman took the ball down neatly and despatched an Exocet on the half-volley that cannoned off the outside of the angle of crossbar and post.
So, another terrific Everton performance earned a draw that was probably a fair result on the day and brings the Blues a return of four points from a possible six where, in recent history, they have often collected nothing. It keeps them fifth, just two points off second place and preserves their excellent recoerd of just one League defeat all season.
The manner in which they consistently passed their way around and through Arsenal was a joy to behold and marks an incredible transformation from the hesitant, profligate passing that was so often the Blues' undoing in the centre of the park in recent years.
Having established an ability to control games through possession against even the very best teams, the key for Martinez now is to find more consistent end product from his players in the final third. Some would argue that he doesn't have the players to could achieve what teams like Arsenal can the way they slice their way through opposition defences with mesmerising passing, but there were occasions today when the Blues were the Gunners' equal on that score, albeit in deeper positions.
A closer partnership between Lukaku and Mirallas would help – the latter Belgian was disappointing today – as will more experience for Barkley, something he is gaining every week, in fine-tuning his radar as to when to release the ball and to whom.
Overall, though, the way this team is developing under Martinez is hugely encouraging and his immediate challenge is to ensure that this level of performance continues now in upcoming matches which is side is expected to win. The Blues are certainly well positioned going into the Christmas programme with easier points in the offing; now they just have to take them and see how things are shaping up vis-a-vis the chase for Europe in the New Year. Onward and upward!
The next big test for Roberto Martinez, after the fantastic performance and result at Old Trafford, was up against the current Premier League leaders, Arsenal. With Leighton Baines still out injured, the manager made no changes to the side that started against Man Utd.
Everton put in a superb display for the first 40 mins, but lacked the killer final touch. Martinez dallied with his second half subs while Wenger made three and finally went ahead through Ozil. But Deulofeu finally figured out how to score one-on-on, scooping a brilliant strike over Szczesny. A well-deserved draw rescued from a commanding but unfilled position of dominance? Or two more points dropped...
Some really excellent football from Everton at the start, moving the ball around brilliantly and a nice forward run by Coleman, but a couple of lazy giveaways spoiled the flow of some really smart forward moves, with Arsenal trying to be equally inventive in a very open and flowing game.
Some great play by Oviedo, but Pienaar taken out, no foul says Webb, rather disappointingly. Barkley tried to unload but won a corner that Mirallas curled in and, as the ball bobbled, Distin poked it wide.
Everton won a free-kick wide left and tried to work it into the Arsenal area again but Pienaar's probing throughball was intercepted. It was significant that it was 15 mins before Arsenal got the ball into the Everton area! And it was great to see Howard throwing the ball out to Coleman and more Everton attacking until Barkley inexplicably passed to an Arsenal player 3 feet form him.
Another good break, with Barkley running through the middle, played out to Mirallas who should have crossed for Lukaku but he chose to selfishly lash one high and wide. Everton producing some really scintillating approach play but trying to be too clever at the edge of the Arsenal area.
Coleman was nest to do brilliantly beating two defenders but shooting wildly rather than picking out a cross. A swarming break by Arsenal looked frightening, a great cross that would normally be an easy tap-in, but it was shepherded out for an Everton goal-kick. Barkley was then fouled in a good central position, but Mirallas poorly scooped it to Szczesny.
Another absolutely gorgeous move, great running down the middle, Pienaar played in Lukaku whose cross was just too far ahead of Mirallas. Another nice break, Lukaku this time tried to do it all himself. Meanwhile it seemed Arsenal would really get going... but each of their attacks would fizzle out, while Everton were looking really really good (68% possession!)... just needing a little more care with the telling pass and a fraction more inventiveness in the final third.
Coleman caught Wilshere's heel and that upset Wenger. Arsenal always seemed capable of penetrating and they did much better in the last few minutes before the break, finally putting Everton under some real pressure Giroud getting behind and forcing Howard to come out and block him very well when it could so easily have been 1-0 to the Arsenal, with Barry picking up a yellow card for a late challenge on Ozil. Then Ramsey got through in almost identical circumstances, and again, Howard was out to block brilliantly.
Arsenal appeared chastened after the break and came at Everton with guns blazing, penning Everton back for the first 3 mins without getting really close to beating Howard. It seemed though that Arsenal could score when Wilshere pulled back a good cross for Corzola but Howard was there to grasp his header. Everton finally started running with the ball again,and some neat interplay, a really cool flick form Barkley, set Pienaar for a nice shot on goal. but a little too close to Schhezny.
Another frightening move by Arsenal looked really threatening but again Howard was there to block the shot away. McCarthy came in a little high on Ramsey, and picked up his 5th yellow card of the season. Everton could not get the same fluid movements going and Martinez got Osman off the bench as the hour mark passed, although the game was again really screaming out for Deulofeu.
It was disappointing to see Barkley turn around and play the ball back for some slow midfield play instead of going forward... but eventually the ball was played up and it fell oddly for Barkley who lashed it straight at Szczesny's head, as Wenger made a triple-substitution, getting in ahead of Martinez, who looked a little too much like Moyes, giving Osman a physics lecture off his iPad... Finally, Osman replaced Pienaar on 71 mins.
More Arsenal attacking, Flamani dragging his shot inches wide. From a foul by Coleman, it was pinball on the Everton penalty spot, 8 players trying to wrap their foot around the ball, until Jagielka hoofed it away. Howard picked up yellow for time-wasting on his goal-kick. A great throughball for Mirallas, and he forced a vital save, and on the afters, Distin came around the back but could not keep the deep deflected ball down.
Finally, with only 10 mins to do his business, Deulofeu was introduced for Mirallas, who had not been effective enough.
But Arsenal finally got the breakthrough off an offside header from Walcott went through to Ozil at the far post after Giroud totally missed it. A hugely disappointing outcome.
But Everton pushed, with excellent work by Barkley, the ball coming to Deulofeu and an absolutely brilliant finish over Szczesny. Why oh why had he not been brought on a lot earlier???
Everton now had a real urgency about them, trying to get the ball through a packed Arsenal defence but they then broke and Delboy had to foul and draw a card. Howard punched yje free-kick away but it needed more defending by Osman for a corner. Pressure relieved only until a really poor pass by Deulofeu, that caused a moment of crazinness at the back,
Three minutes of added time and both sides desperate to win it, Lukaku now the selfish one, trying to do it all himself and firing high, as Naismith replaced Barkley with less than a minute left, to get Everton an extra 30 seconds? But Arsenal had all the possession and an incredible strike by Giroud smacked into the Everton angle, Howard well beaten... an amazing shot.
In the end, a draw, and perhaps a fair result... although it really was a game Everton could have won if they had done more to take the initiative in a disappointing second half.
32 goals were scored in the Premier League on Wednesday evening but there can surely be no argument over which one of them was greeted with the most elation. With one sweep of his left leg, Bryan Oviedo brought an end to one of Everton's most enduring and frustrating hoodoos with the goal that beat Manchester United at Old Trafford, the first victory for the Blues there in over 21 years.
While the Costa Rican may have supplied the killer blow, capping a fine personal performance in what was his sternest examination yet since his move to England in August last year, it was a famous win earned by all 14 players involved and, of course, the increasingly admirably leadership of Roberto Martinez.
It has been worn to the point of cliche over the past three days but it bears repeating that the Spaniard managed in one game what his predecessor could not in 11 years and 46 attempts, testament to the mentality and style of play that he has brought to Goodison in such a short space of time.
And by the twist of the fixture calendar, Martinez will get the opportunity this weekend to end another long-lived curse when Everton take on Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium for a fixture that the Blues have not won since Andrei Kanchelskis belted home the winner for Joe Royle in the 1995-96 season.
They came close under David Moyes – agonisingly close – four years ago when an underrated wonder goal by Steven Pienaar – a highlight that young Gerard Deulofeu would do well to watch prior to the trip down south... hell, the kid from Barca should just watch how deadly Andrei was in one-on-one situations! – looked to have sealed a superb win, only for Tomasz Rosicky to ruin it all a couple of minutes from time with a deflected goal off the despairing leg of Lucas Neill.
From memory, they played with a fair bit of swagger that day and the events down the East Lancs Road on Wednesday, coming on the back of a really impressive start to life under Martinez, has Evertonians buzzing about the team's prospects on Sunday.
They meet an Arsenal side that has raced out to an early lead in the race for Premier League title on the back of mesmerising form, though. Since their opening day defeat to Aston Villa – the one that had infuriated Cockneys screaming into the nearest camera about how the Board had failed them and how Arsene Wenger should have been sacked for his failure to sign anyone over the summer – the Gunners have lost just once, at United interestingly enough, and sit four points clear at the top of the table.
Though the acquisition of Mezut Özil was a brilliant piece of business and a vital part of any team's jigsaw, something has clearly clicked for Arsenal this season – that combination of potent attacking football, confidence, and the rhythm that comes from winning matches.
That will make them formidable opponents but, as Villa and Borussia Dortmund have already proved, not infallible and Martinez's Everton are building up a similarly impressive head of steam, albeit it one undermined a little by the three draws that preceded the momentous events at Old Trafford in midweek.
Nevertheless, while a second successive win on a ground on which we have barely dared to dream of winning in recent memory is obviously the goal and the hope, a point from this one would not be a bad result at all.
If he lives up to his promise, though, Martinez will be unflinching in his desire to go to the Emirates with the aim of winning and with no injury or disciplinary concerns to have come out Wednesday, he could field the same team that started against United. It's not clear how great a physical toll that effort took, though, and the manager may take fatigue, perhaps to the likes of Steven Pienaar, into consideration when he chooses his line-up.
As far as the approach goes, the game promises more of the same need for closing down the space in front of the back four and keeping things tight across the back line to prevent the opposition playing through as in midweek. Arsenal are likely to be more dangerous and potent going forward than United were, though, and it will take another stellar performance from the defensive six to extend that terrific record of eight clean sheets to nine.
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