Arsenal v Everton

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FA Carling Premiership 96/97 - Game 23
Sunday 19January 1997
Highbury, London

Result: Arsenal (0) 3 - Everton (0) 1
Bergkanmp (55), Viera (57) Merson (69); Ferguson (90)

Arsenal: Seaman, Winterburn, Vieira, Bould, Adams, Platt (62 Hughes), Wright (45 Dixon), Merson, Bergkamp, Keown, Parlour.
Subs Not Used: Linighan, Lukic, Shaw, Hughes. Booked: None.

Everton: Southall, Barrett, Unsworth, Watson, Phelan, Stuart, Ferguson, Speed, Barmby, Thomsen, Kanchelskis (60 Branch).
Booked: Ferguson, Watson.
Subs Not Used: Rideout, Grant, Gerrard, Short. Unavailable: Hinchcliffe, Parkinson, Ebbrell, O'Connor (all injured). Limpar [finally off to Birmingham City]

Ref: K Burge Att: 38,095 League Position: 8th Results and League Table

Previous Match: Sheffield Wednseday v Everton - Next League Match: Newcastle United v Everton
Next Match (FA Cup 4th Rnd) Everton v Bradford City

Match Summary

SoccerNet (John Burton): Arsenal responded to manager Arsene Wenger's plea to stay cool as they kept their title challenge on course by delivering a knockout blow to Everton with two goals in two minutes. When leading scorer Ian Wright -- back after serving a three-match ban -- failed to appear for the second half, Everton must have thought it was their lucky day. But they failed to take into account that Wenger has given this new-look team a licence to entertain while impressing the need for discipline.

Everton, attempting to get back on an even keel after a run of defeats, could justifiably claim that they had a legitimate goal ruled out in the first half which might have altered the eventual outcome. Nicky Barmby looked onside when he beat England goalkeeper David Seaman but a linesman had his flag raised. Welsh referee Keith Burge accepted the judgement and it was a key moment followed quickly by another when Seaman plunged spectacularly to keep out Duncan Ferguson's goalbound drive at the expense of a corner.

If manager Joe Royle felt hard done by, he could have no complaints when Arsenal turned on the style in the second half to condemn his side to their fifth consecutive Premiership defeat. Substitute Lee Dixon's delightful chip over a square defence saw Dennis Bergkamp react the quickest and he sidefooted into the bottom corner of the net with Neville Southall helpless after 55 minutes.

Two minutes later Everton failed to clear a Nigel Winterburn corner and the ball fell invitingly for Patrick Vieira to drill a right-foot shot home. Everton, with midweek signing Claus Thomsen from Ipswich unable to stem the flow in midfield, completely lost their way.

Bergkamp dispossessed David Unsworth on halfway after 69 minutes and was left with a free run on goal. Not for the first time, Southall came to the Merseysiders rescue with a brave, diving save but fortune deserted him as the ball spun to Paul Merson, who stabbed in from close range.

It might have been even worse for Everton but again Southall distinguished himself with a fingertip save as Bergkamp let fly from the edge of the box. It was plain to see just how much Arsenal will miss their Holland star, who now starts a three-match ban for being sent off at Sunderland a week last Saturday.

Ferguson gave Tony Adams, on his 500th appearance for Arsenal, a few moments of anxiety but in truth the Scotsman was kept on a tight leash until he escaped his markers in the last minute to head a consolation goal from Barmby's corner. But Arsenal always had the edge even though Wright, in the past Everton's tormentor-in-chief with 10 goals in his previous six meetings with them, could not quite find his touch.

On one occasion he tried to lob Southall from 40 yards but did not quite judge it correctly and then the striker wasted another opportunity when the ball fell to him on the edge of the area but this time he tamely volleyed the ball into the overworked goalkeeper's hands. Merson attempted to chip Southall in the first half and the keeper needed to leap at full stretch to deny him.

The striker was taken off as a precaution with a slight hamstring strain but David Platt was carried off with a more serious hamstring injury which will keep him out of England's World Cup qualifier next month against Italy.

Royle blamed 'dozy defending' for his side's defeat and refused to find an excuse in Barmby's disallowed goal. He said: 'I'm not making an issue of that. It's gone and done.

'Arsenal had a purple patch early in the second half, but while they were having that, our defending was dreadful. From a defence that was very tight a few weeks ago, we now have one that looks like a colander.

'Bergkamp's strike for the first goal was excellent but it was also dozy defending by us. We were watching the ball while he moved for it. Goals change games and who knows what would have happened if Barmby's had stood, but Arsenal are a first-class side and we've got three key men missing after operations.

'I don't know what's gone wrong in the last five games but obviously it is something to do with the missing players. We've now just got to regroup and look ahead to a very important cup tie next week but I'm not concerned over suggestions of a crisis in the League.'

As for Arsenal, their all for one and one for all philosophy appears to be a winning formula and could be the key to their title ambitions.

Skies are grey...  Come on Everton!

Guy McEvoy:  I had the same fatalistic feeling about this one that I had for the Wimbledon home game and it was a similar sort of affair; briefly Everton shatter my pragmatic mental preparation for the loss by playing quite well and, just as that sweet flicker of hope has crept in, the buggers go and collapse.

First Half

Today, it was the first half which was the designated forty-five minutes for actually playing football. It never approached the flowing stuff we showed in the chosen half at Wednesday but then Arsenal are an altogether more classy proposition. The Gunners could have notched themselves ahead a few times but thankfully Messrs Wright and Merson seemed to be aiming for the snob boxes rather than the goal. When Arsenal did hit the target, Nev showed he was more than equal to it.

Uncharacteristically unfazed by the early hints of pressure, Everton gradually started to forge their way into the game and the chances slowly started to come. It was annoying for the travelling fans that Everton's best spell was at the other end. I was on the front row towards the corner flag and it was another case of feeling a bit like watching the game standing in a trench. Thankfully, Arsenal have one of those big screen efforts that show instant action replays the moment anything meaningful happens.

Anyway, somewhere in the far distance the ball found its way to Barmby and with a quick swivel he fired away, the net rippled and every Everton fan was on their feet arms aloft in a moment of joy and glory. The sinking feeling came too fast to savour it, as the nearby Arsenal fans did the smug "calm down, calm down" routine. Sensing injustice we all turned to the big screen. No replay.

Nevertheless, our confidence was still evident and there was time for Duncan to force a good stretching save out of Seaman before the half-time whistle effectively brought an end to the day's effort from Everton.

During the break, my suspicion that we'd probably been conned was confirmed when they showed all the first-half 'highlights' and again decided it prudent to completely omit the Barmby effort. Still, we all had our reinstated confidence bolstered further by the news that Wright wasn't coming back out and that Lee 'over-rated' Dixon was to fill in. And then it began....

Second Half

In no time at all we seemed to be subjected to a whirlwind of Arsenal chances. Bergkamp, Vieira, Merson, Dixon and Parlour all seemed to have a permanent 10 yards of clear space. Our midfield had held up the white flag straight from kick off and the defence managed to hold out tamely for maybe another 10 minutes. When they finally went, they went big style. Three goals in quarter of an hour all symptoms of slack, naïve marking and sloppy give away passing by Everton. Bergkamp first, then Vieira and Finally Merson reduced the remainder of the game to a meaningless exhibition match.

The introduction of Branch for Kanchelskis seemed a token gesture, it obviously wasn't aimed at reducing the midfield's woe. Tactically Everton had been crushed; -- that there were some poor individual performances on top of this only served to exacerbate matters.

It is extremely difficult to attempt to work out what the formation was supposed to be. I kept an eye on several players to try to figure out what they'd been told to do but no sooner did I think I had them sussed than they'd pop up lost on the other side of the field. They only men who seemed assured of their roles were Southall, Ferguson and Thomsen and consequently they looked the best of a bad bunch on the day.

With 88 minutes on the clock I did the absolute unthinkable. My train connection was a bit tight, so I figured I'd beat the rush to the tube. Leaving a game early is a crime that deserves some sort of punishment, and so I had a bad day made much worse by missing Ferguson's late consolation goal. Gutting.

Come on Everton, Skies are grey, make me happy.

Individual Efforts

And the Dogs Shall Lie Down Like Lambs

Dave Shepherd: If EFC decide to rebuild or relocate Goodison Park, they could do a lot worse than paying a visit to Highbury. It's a large arena, but it tucks up close to the pitch. It's modern, but has retained a lot of 30's-stadium style. Nowhere does it look like a huge nissan hut.

Meanwhile, if EFC decide to rebuild their TEAM into one to challenge for the title or Europe, they could do a lot worse than paying a visit to Highbury...

Everton were so comprehensively outclassed for large portions of this game that the blue support who packed half the Clock End were not even angry, just sad as they watched their damaged little outfit get taken apart.

The morning paper proclaimed that Gerald Ashby was to be referee, and shook its vulture feathers as it mentioned that two notorious blue-collar teams (they cannot have bothered to read the fair play table) were about to collide with a ref who had given 17 yellow and one red card in only four previous outings.

Yet it was Keith Burge who turned up on the pitch, and his philosophy was rather more to the liking of the home team, who execute as many pushes as they do passes.

Even with this advantage, and Ian Wright back from suspension, Arsenal could not get hold of the game. Everton -- visibly holding together better with the luxury of a genuine defensive midfielder in new signing Claus Thomsen -- held on to the ball for quite a long time, only giving it up when they attempted to turn possession into attack.

When Arsenal got the ball, they would build by breaking from their massed and depressingly effective defence, relying on the midfield combination of Bergkamp, Merson and Vieira to supply the goalscorer. (Now, where have you seen that tactic before?)

Their problem was that the first few goal attempt flew so wildly wide that self-doubt crept in very early. It was increased by a series of Everton free kicks. Burge couldn't spot pushes, but he objected to the arm-over method of challenging blues with the ball.

As Arsenal's confidence wilted, Everton's suddenly burst into flower on about 22 minutes. The impenetrable Arsenal defence suddenly leaked like a sieve, and Everton's nippy players danced around them like traffic cones. Stuart, Speed and Barmby caused havoc, and created three excellent goal chances in quick succession, the third being slammed into the net by Nick Barmby with a waist high swivelling volley from close range.

One of the dubious benefits of Arsenal's two matrix replay screens is you can watch replays of chances during the match, and a package of highlights at half and full time. Strangely, this disallowed goal was never replayed and the reason for this became clear when the media declared it clearly legal.

If that bad call was not the cause of the evaporation of Everton's dominant spell, there must be some other reason, because it then disappeared as mysteriously as it had started.

The rest of the half ran out as poorly as the first 20 minutes, with Arsenal's aim not improving, and all three results possible but 0-0 likely. It seemed a lot more likely when the re-emerged to the announcement that Wright had been subbed for Lee Dixon.

Having survived 45 minutes against England's most dangerous striker, they folded and died in 10 against a team without either him or his first choice replacement Hartson. Someone had whispered in their ear that Everton were as porous as a tissue when you run at them, and Bergkamp not having to waste balls on Wright does this about as dangerously as Kanchelskis.

Bergkamp runs, Bargkamp shoots 1-0. Goons win a corner, Vieira shoots 2-0. Chances are lining up and a couple of Neville saves avert it being 4-0. Then he double-saves but the rebounds are snapped up 3-0. The transformation from the first half is drastic. Arsenal are in complete control and very confident. They look look as commanding as Newcastle last year and Man Utd the year before. If championships were given on skill rather than goals, Arsenal would be heading for an easy win this season.

The Everton performances were not really poor, as they have been too often recently, they were simply left standing helpless at the station as the Gooner express charged by. But what do we have to do to get 90 minutes from these people? For ten minutes we saw what they were capable of, but that only served to highlight how pitifully little we got after that.

The scoreline and the humiliation were not as painful as having to watch a team getting it all right, and having to shelve our dreams of a team in royal blue getting it right for at least another year.

Branch had come on at 2-0 for the neutralised-as-usual Kanchelskis, and pleasantly surprised us by getting though more than once with only one shirt-tugging defender to shake. He didn't manage to get a good shot in thanks to these illegal tactics that referees ignore and Arsenal live by, but it was great to see him attacking the goal instead of dancing around doing the wingers' job.

A just reward did finally come, and I think the derisive Goons will find it was one ex-Spurs player who chipped the perfect near post corner (from a spot not 14 feet from where Guy McEvoy had been sitting) onto the head of the soaring Duncan Ferguson (no-one getting even as high as his chest -- as usual) and he slam-Dunc'ed it downwards into the side netting. I leapt about as high out of my seat as Dunc had. It was picture perfect. It wasn't enough to forgive 80 of the previous 90 minutes, but it was a jewel, a cameo. The digital countdown clocks read 00:00.

I thought for about three minutes at the start that I actually saw Everton making some midfield tackles, and that Joe's Dogs were about to make a comeback. It must have been a dream, because after that it was back to the same old tackle-free garbage.

At least the Dogs got results or went down fighting; isn't the obvious repair to a plan going wrong to backtrack to the last point where it was going right? Or are we just going to lick our wounds and hope it comes on a plate next year instead?


TEAM PERFORMANCE 5 Should the rating be higher because of the late goal and the 10 minute purple patch, or lower because it was only 10 minutes?

Ref: K BURGE (Tonypandy) The perfect choice for the home team's physical defence, at least he didn't buy the attackers dives.

Pass it back for the big hoof

Ruth Grimley: A big match in our household. My husband is a gooner bond holder while I'm a lifelong blue. We sat as usual, in opposite ends of the ground, me with my brother and him with his dad and a gang of our friends.

We didn't travel hopefully but the first half didn't seem too bad. We probably shaded the first half and, although we couldn't see whether Barmby's disallowed goal was offside, we were quite encouraged that we were even getting into those positions. Nev made one good save, from Merson I think. Seaman made a decent save from Dunc who should have tested him a bit more than he did.

Claus Thomsen seemed to be one of our best players -- he ran about energetically and made some great tackles. Like the rest of the team, however, he didn't have much of a clue when we had the ball, except he had a better excuse than the rest. Still, 0-0 at half-time was better than we could have hoped for and we were even beginning to think that we might get something from the game.

The second half began in a completely different vein. We kicked off and tried to go forward but Arsenal pushed up straight away and we suddenly seemed to be out of our depth. We survived the first five minutes or so, but then they were on the rampage and we were nowhere. People around me were laughing in nervous horror as Merson and Bergkamp ran rings round our almost non-existent defence. Being beaten for pace by a yard or so is one thing but Phelan in particular was caught out of position by 20 yards or so on more than one occasion.

Unsworth had a shocking game all round. He had no idea what to do with the ball on the halfway line and kept passing back to Nev for a big punt forward instead of playing it himself. There were screams of "Taxi for Unsworth" from the folks around me. At times it was laughably embarrassing. He was several yards too slow and seemed to be carrying a lot of weight. The only pace we have now at the back is Phelan and he seems to want to play as a wing back even when the formation is 4-4-2.

Arsenal's first two goals came in a couple of minutes and it was all over. In that 20-minute period, we could have gone five or six down. Luckily, it was only three. It was relentless. Then the nightmare seemed to be over as fast as it had started. Whether we pulled ourselves together a bit, or Arsenal just stopped playing, I'm not sure.

Branch came on for an ineffectual Kanchelskis and looked lively. In fact, we had several decent chances which were taken so poorly that they could easily have gone unnoticed. Branch was through against Seaman from about eight yards when Bould stumbled, but he just passed it back to Seaman. Sometimes we seemed to be guilty of over-elaborate forward play with no-one willing to take a shot.

The goal came too late to make any difference, but was well taken by Dunc all the same. We had at least four or five corners in the afternoon and if they'd all been delivered like the last one, Ferguson would have had more than one goal to his credit. It's horrible to think that losing Hinchcliffe has had such an appalling effect on our forward play but it's true. Dunc didn't have a great game -- he got a lot of stick for being lazy which maybe he was -- but he got terrible service. I don't think Kanchelskis or Stuart got a decent cross in all afternoon.

Funny to say how I feel about this one. I expected us to lose 3-0 or 3-1, but not after being marginally the better side in the first half and certainly not by having twenty minutes of absolute madness defensively in the second half. Claus Thomsen and Nev were probably men of the match. Unsworth, Kanchelskis and Speed had shockers.

Taxi for Unsworth!

Steve Malone: First the good news. Klaus Thomson can tackle, run the width of the pitch to win the ball, he can pass, his positional play today was excellent, he can head, and he is verbally assertive (at one point shouting "Oy!" to Watson to cover a large gap behind him, who meekly obliged. He was possibly our most impressive player - a major achievement in yet another dismal performance by the boys in Blue.

This was the stereotype game of two halves: Everton started reasonably well, with Unsworth, Watson and Barrett as the three at the back (except as usual Barrett spent much of the match forward on the right wing) with Thomsen playing ahead of these three in the middle. Kanchelskis was on the right touchline, with -- wait for it -- our instant Limpar replacement Phelan playing most of the first half way forward on the left wing. This left Speed, Barmby and Stuart to get in each other's way and Duncan covering acres of pitch and occasionally defending well.

As usual, the sole tactic was to knock it at Ferguson, who became more surly and irritable as the match progressed, and you just knew he would get a booking at some point for mouthing at the referee (Yawn, how predictable; he did). Highpoint of the first half for me was seeing Kanchelskis run from the halfway right back to his own goaline and dispossess an Arsenal winger -- I think I'll retire now having only yesterday written about the reasons why he doesn't tackle.

At half time the general feeling on the Terraces was: Hmm... that wasn't so bad as we were expecting. We had a brilliant Barmby lob disallowed, and although Arsenal had a few decent chances, there was some semblence of organisation and committment form the team to suggest that we might actually have a chance of a point or three.

I said to my girlfriend at half time that, just as sure as one-tactic us wouldn't change a thing after the break, Obscene Wenger, one of the best coaches in the world, surely would. Sadly, I was right. My gratitude to Wenger for substituting Wright was short lived, as Arsenal had about 5 good chances in the first 6 or 7 minutes, and it was clear we were about to be taken apart.

To say that this happened comprehensively would be an understatement -- back to giving the ball away, passing it to nobody, punting it at Ferguson, full Pussie mode on -- you name it, it happened. Unsworth in particular showed all his serious deficiencies in full glory -- hesitating for everything and giving the opposition the ball on many occasions (somebody in the Everton crowd shouted "Taxi for Unsworth" after one shameful piece of staring at the ball).

I don't know how it came across on Sky, but take it from me, in the flesh we were very bad. Three quick goals with most of the team as onlookers and there was a fear of a rout. Thankfully it didn't happen, despite minimal resistance from the team. JR brought on Branch, who made no difference, but took off Kanchelskis, whom I thought was playing quite well. Astonishingly, JR left on Stuart, who was invisible the whole day.

Barmby looked uncertain and uncomfortable for much of the game. Speed also ineffective, whilst Phelan never saw much of the ball despite his prominent position on the halfway line. Watson made a number of "thank god he got to that one, or they would definitely have scored" -- type headers, whilst Thomsen had a much quieter second half. Big Nev made two outstanding saves and I didn't spot any mistakes.

Big Dunc's headers often seemed to be into space adjacent to defenders with no Blue shirt anywhere near -- I am beginning to see where the current frustration with him from some quarters of the Toffeenet, and the Everton end today, is coming from. There was furious barracking from the Everton fans as the game went on, with somebody screaming at the players to take off their shirts because they weren't fit to wear the blue.

Apart from myself, g/friend and friend, the whole row where I was sitting had departed 15 mins from the end, all of them uttering lots of expletives that rhyme with Wright. Sadly for them, they missed a fine headed goal from Duncan 5 mins from time, when he literally soared head and shoulders above everyone else and beat Seamen, who had a good game. However, the result only served to flatter us.

How many losses in a row constitute a crisis?

No flair whatsoever

Robbie Newton: All the pre-match talk was about Ian Wright's goal scoring record against Everton. All the post-match talk was about how poor Everton were.

First Half

A first half ended 0-0 when Everton should have led 1-0. A glorious Nick Barmby goal was ruled out for off-side when quite clearly he was not.

To say it was an Everton dominated first half would not be telling the whole story. Indeed, Everton didn't manage a shot on goal until the 23rd minute when Speed fired over. But then, the same could be said about Arsenal. Whilst they had efforts on goal, none were really testing. Only Paul Merson's attempted lob, superbly tipped away by Southall, was any note-worthy effort on goal from Arsenal. Even Ian Wright looked subdued.

Then came Barmby's "goal". A throw-in by Speed to Phelan, a good croos which found Ferguson's head, a wonderful knock down and a truly expert finish by Barmby, swivelling to volley home. The linesman on the near side was late in raising his flag but did and the goal was disallowed. True, Barmby was off-side but try being a linesman. It's not as easy as it looks.

A good ten-minute spell followed for Everton. Ferguson had two efforts on goal and on both occasions he was unlucky not to do better. The half-time whistle went and the home fans could have little to argue about. Everton's first half was made to look better by an Arsenal side struggling to get into gear.

Second Half

At half-time Ian Wright was substituted, good news. Everton re-appeared unchanged.

Arsenal, just as at Sunderland in mid-week, came out looking a totally different side. And so were we. Instead of coming out attacking to try and get something from the game, Joe Royle had his players running scared. There was no desire to get forward and score, but rather to stay back and hope not to concede. But there's little hope of that when you have Earl Barrett, David Unsworth and Terry Phelan back there.

On 55 minutes the inevitable breakthrough for Arsenal. But what apalling defending. The ball was played into the Everton box and both Stuart and Barrett stood watching while Bergkamp tucked the ball past Southall.

And as if that wasn't bad enough, goal number 2 followed as soon as we had stopped bawling at Stuart. This time the whole team stood and watched whilst a corner was cleared and Vieira struck home. Vieira was allowed to run 6 yards and shoot without even a challenge from an Everton player. The ball hadn't even been in the Arsenal half yet and it was 2-0.

Recently, Everton have only started playing when they have conceded a few goals. Today, however, we got worse and worse.

A whole minute after goal number 2, and Bergamp was clean through -- yes, you've guessed it, down our right hand side -- and only a good save by Southall prevented the 3rd goal. This was Sunday League stuff from Everton.

Royle's answer was to bring on Branch in place of Kanchelskis. Not like JR to put Branch on when we're getting beat is it? That'll be doing Branchy's confidence a world of good won't it? Not!

Goal number 3 followed shortly. David Unsworth -- who gave the ball away all afternoon -- made a terrible error by trying to pass it. His pass never even got within smelling distance of Watson and Bergkamp was away yet again. Bergkamp's shot was saved by Southall but Merson was there to put the rebound in. The Arsenal players were quicker to react once again. Score: 3-0.

Then came the height of humiliation. 60 minutes on the clock and Highbury saluting every pass made to one of their players. Arsenal were toying with Everton and we had no answer. A long cross from Dixon went to the other wing where Bergkamp had time to slide and receover the ball, get up and regain his composure while Barrett stood off him.

Arsenal had more chances to score but, thankfully, Neville Southall at least remembered who HE was playing for.

Then in the 90th minute a wonderful goal from Duncan Ferguson. And a goal he thoroughly deserved. In his best performance for some time, he proved many of his critics -- me included -- that he can actually play a bit of football. You had to feel sorry for him in fact. He received plenty of the ball in the air but he was unable to do anything with it. Not his fault. A Nick Barmby corner, a giant leap and a powerful header even left a lot of Arsenal fans clapping.

In the end, Everton were happy to hear the final whistle. Joe Royle can now go and ponder which has-been to sign next. Craig Flemming, Mike Milligan or even Andy Ritchie perhaps?

Individual Performances

Do you now realise that we don't have A SINGLE PLAYER at the club who can dribble past defenders with skill now that Limpar has gone? Kanchelskis can only go past defenders with pace -- knock it past 'em and run -- whilst Branch is the same. Dear, oh dear. No flair whatsoever. That IS a disappointment.

Bradford will be looking forward to Saturday...

Everton Blitzed by Superior Gunners

Lyndon Lloyd: Everton crumbled to their fifth straight Premiership defeat, their worst record since Joe Royle took over, as Arsenal scored three goals in 12 second-half minutes to cruise to three points at Highbury. Royle will be smarting at a first half goal that was scandalously ruled out by one of the most inept displays by a linesmen in many a week, but he cannot escape the way in which his side simply surrendered yet again, sitting back on a competent and encouraging first-half performance.

This was a typical game in all respects. It was typical of Everton's luck that Nick Barmby's fantastic finish was cancelled out by a laughable decision by the linesman; the Blues' number 12 was a yard onside when he volleyed home after Duncan Ferguson's miskick had fallen perfectly for him. More typically, Everton capitulated with shameful ease while Neville Southall was in typically superb form and the team showed that it has still not worked out how to play to its strengths.

The visitors had more than matched Arsenal in a first half of few chances. The signs, however, came early on when Dennis Bergkamp sailed through the opposition defence but his attempted cross was headed clear by Dave Watson. The Dutch forward then repeated the feat four minutes later but was shut out by the physical presence of Graham Stuart. Paul Merson then had a 20 yard effort saved and Ian Wright ballooned a volley from a similar distance while, at the other end, some good work by Kanchelskis led to Barmby fluffing a good opportunity wide from the angle.

Southall was called into spectacular action on 24 minutes when Merson picked up a loose ball in acres of space but his attempted chip was palmed away by the Welsh 'keeper at full strength. This prompted a confident spell by the Blues. Barmby had his swivel-and-shot ruled out before Ferguson swerved a left-footed effort that Seaman turned away for a corner. The Scot then volleyed straight at Seaman from 20 yards on his unfamiliar right foot as the Toffeemen carried the greater threat going into the break.

However, despite this improved performance, the holes kept opening up in the Everton defence. David Unsworth made his third crucial error of the half when he got mixed up with Terry Phelan but fortunately Ian Wright dinked a volley wide.

At half time, the signs were that perhaps Everton had turned the corner. There had been some nice movement up front where Barmby was buzzing and Speed was looking inventive and eager. Ferguson was his usual threat and Earl Barrett showed increased confidence going forward and probably beat more players in the half than Andrei. Claus Thomsen was calm and assured, if a little unspectacular, on his first appearance; his height and long legs a major asset at times.

The mentality of Royle's outfit seemed to have changed almost from the outset of the second half. Patrick Vieira found himself in the kind of space to send an agoraphobic into palpitations but his 20 yard effort was hit straight at Neville. Bergkamp curled an effort wide in the 51st minute before, three minutes later, he collected an inspired chip over the static defence to coolly stroke home Arsenal's first on the volley. Two minutes later, an uncleared corner fell straight to Vieira and the Frenchman dispatched a clinical volley under the arm of Southall for number two.

At 2-0 you KNEW the game was lost. As heart-breaking as it was, you could see no way back for a Blues side who had not won for five games and defeat was inevitable. Southall prevented a deluge a minute later when his outstretched leg diverted Bergkamp's low shot out of danger as the Gunners threatened a rout.

By the hour mark and with the game running away from the Toffees, Royle hauled off Kanchelskis who had become little more than an onlooker in favour of Michael Branch's youthful enthusiasm when perhaps Stuart could have done with an early contemplative bath as well. Ferguson headed weakly at Seaman from another dangerous Barmby set-piece but it was curtains a minute later down the other end as Bergkamp capitalised on a suicide pass from Unsworth. He went one-on-one with Southall whose legs saved the day again but a fortuitous ricochet fell to Merson who tucked in number three.

It became exhibition stuff from Arsenal who took their foot off the proverbial pedal but nevertheless forced a few more saves from Southall, one a stunning diving, one-handed palm over for a corner from, who else, Bergkamp. Everton had their moments but looked, for the most part, a sorry outfit by this stage. Branch, chasing yet another lost game up front had two difficult chances easily dealt with by the England 'keeper and even Terry Phelan was game for an effort, popping up in the Arsenal box three minutes from time but he was closed down by Seaman.

A consolation came, on cue following Martin Tyler's comment that the travelling Blues faithful needed something to take home, from Ferguson who powered a towering header past the helpless home rearguard with a minute to go to score his third goal in as many games. It was scant consolation for a poor second half display and yet another defeat.

Joe now has a mountain to climb. His expectations for the season have been utterly destroyed and it seems it is all he can do now to stave off a relegation dog-fight if confidence and results do not improve. There were definitely signs for 45 minutes that a result was on the cards for Everton but a lapse in concentration and the all-too familiar surrender left them rueing a cruel decision, wasted opportunities and some woeful defending.

Player ratings:

Team performance 5: Sat back thinking they had done it all in the 1st half. A team of 10 internationals (only Stuart of the starting 11 wasn't) should not get stuffed like that. Encouraging 1st half but the 2nd leaves us back at square minus 1.

A new top-class defender is looking an urgent priority.

Bergkamp keeps red flag flying

Henry Winter, Electronic Telegraph: THE Premiership was placed on red alert this weekend, arguably the most formative of this season of intrigue. Comfortable victories for Liverpool and Manchester United were followed yesterday by Arsenal's ruthless second-half dissection of Everton at Highbury. It remains an open championship, with Newcastle United, Wimbledon and Chelsea capable of involvement, but three thoroughbreds in scarlet liveries are pulling clear.

Arsenal's thoroughly deserved success, secured through goals from Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Vieira and Paul Merson, carries them four points clear of fourth-placed Newcastle, right on the designer coat-tails of United and Liverpool. Playing with typical organisation and devastating speed on the break, the most attractive Arsenal team in this observer's memory overwhelmed Everton after the interval, despite losing Ian Wright and then David Platt to injury.

"Ian has a slight hamstring but Platt has a big hamstring," Arsene Wenger, Arsenal's manager, said in that French way of his. Wright's injury is not thought to be serious but Platt will be out for three weeks and, Wenger confirmed, is out of contention for England's squad to face Italy. With young Stephen Hughes building on his impressive Sunderland display, Wenger enjoys options in midfield but the imminent loss of Bergkamp, to a three-game suspension, is far more worrying.

Yesterday Bergkamp was exceptional against Everton's acquiescent back three, scoring the first and creating the third. "Every time he comes in he has a bottle of champagne," Wenger said. "I think he's opening a shop."

With their deft Dutchman pulling the strings, and Tony Adams cutting those of Everton on his 500th appearance, Arsenal produced some imperious football, worthy of the "oles" that rippled from Clock End to North Bank, from East to West Stand. Everton, slumping to a fifth successive League defeat, could point to a wrongly disallowed Nick Barmby "goal" but proved too defensively suspect to deal with the rapid-fire Gunners in the far more interesting second period.

The first half offered little hint of the dramas to come. Barmby shot wide while Merson demanded a fine, clawing save from Neville Southall, that enduring presence between Everton's posts. Then came the Barmby controversy, the little striker hooking home a volley ruled out for offside. Replays showed Barmby a yard onside but manager Joe Royle refused to make an issue of it.

A poor half concluded with Adams nutmegging Duncan Ferguson, an act that increased anticipation for the re-start. Although Wright failed to re-appear, Arsenal have grown accustomed to his absence and conjured three goals in 13 minutes.

Highbury heaved with disappointment when Platt's over-ambitious pass cannoned off an Everton defender. But the danger was just beginning. Lee Dixon, making a welcome return, lofted the ball over a sea of blue for Bergkamp, gauging its flight expertly, to place a shot past Southall. "It was a great finish by Bergkamp," Royle reflected, "but it was dozy defending by us."

Worse followed. Arsenal, hunting the ball in pairs and covering for each other well, dominated midfield, despite the best endeavours of Graham Stuart, and soon added a second. Another Arsenal attack brought another Arsenal corner, whipped in by Nigel Winterburn and cleared only to Vieira, whose shot rose inexorably into Southall's net.

Platt then departed, on a stretcher, following a collision, but Arsenal's rhythm was too strong to disrupt. After 68 minutes, Everton's defence again ushered Arsenal through, David Unsworth underhitting a pass to Watson which Bergkamp stole like Raffles in a hurry. Off he dashed, this flying Dutchman, bringing Southall's goal quickly into his sights. Southall saved well but there was Merson, eternally eager, to direct in Arsenal's third.

Wenger's men then relaxed, allowing Everton to add an irrelevant footnote to an Arsenal victory. Barmby's last-minute corner arrowed over for Ferguson, rising high, to head in. But nothing could take the gloss off Arsenal's performance, and the spread of red over the Premiership.

Report Copyright The Electronic Telegraph

Stylish Bergkamp signals red alert

Rob Hughes, The Times: RED, or perhaps rouge, is becoming the dominant colour of the FA Carling Premiership. This weekend, after so much inconsistency, Liverpool, Manchester United and now Arsenal have shown their power, their reserves, their goalscoring potential and occupied positions, one, two and three. It begins to look like a clean break from the field.

Arsenal, scoring three times in 13 minutes early in the second half, identical to Liverpool against Aston Villa the previous day, must accept that their win yesterday, as polished as it was, owed plenty to the great good fortune of an Everton goal being unjustly ruled offside.

It happened after 31 minutes. Ferguson, fitful though he was, had attempted an overhead kick but, when the ball slithered down off his boot, Barmby stole two yards forward and, with his own acrobatics, swivelled to hook the ball cleanly and powerfully into the net. To be fair, it did appear offside to the naked eye; Sky Television, with its cameras and its blue-line technology, proved conclusively that Barmby had come from behind Keown and Bould. Such decisions turn matches.

Everton, on the corresponding day last year, had been the last team to take all the points from Arsenal at Highbury, and once the home side found a higher rhythm, and better shooting boots, they were swept aside. "We never doubted from the bench that it was a goal," Joe Royle, the Everton manager, said. "But that doesn't take away some of the things I saw in the second half. We were comatose for a quarter of an hour; Arsenal didn't need the kind of sloppy defending from us, they hit their own purple patch and my side, which had been tight for five games since Christmas, was like a colander."

Dennis Bergkamp, in such resplendent form but about to be suspended, unhinged the Everton defence. The first goal, in the 55th minute, stemmed from a dreadful error by Barrett, who gave the ball carelessly to Winterburn. When Dixon lobbed it forward over an inert rearguard, Bergkamp, only using the instep of his right boot, let the ball fade elegantly off him into the net.

From the very first minute Bergkamp appeared a man on turbo cruise control as he outpaced the comparatively ponderous Unsworth. Yet Arsenal, as pleasing as it was to see their self-control, as comprehensively as Merson ran from midfield and Vieira passed, waited too long to exploit Bergkamp's graceful omnipotence.

Two minutes after the first goal, from a similar position but with full-blooded venom, Vieira almost burst the inside of the netting with another volley, this time after the ball had been poorly cleared from a corner.

The contest was effectively over after 68 minutes when Bergkamp accelerated between Watson and Unsworth. Southall, having made two immaculate overhead saves from Merson and Bergkamp, this time used his legs to deflect the low shot from the Dutchman. Unfortunately for the goalkeeper, it rebounded off the shin of Unsworth to Merson who, from three yards, accepted the reward for following up to score his 99th goal in an Arsenal shirt.

"We had had problems finding our rhythm in the first half," Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal manager, said. "I was a little bit scared that, physically, we were not prepared because of our cup match at Sunderland last Wednesday. So I was surprised how quick we started the second half, how we produced so much collective energy within the team, and when they share this energy with the crowd, they can beat anybody. It was not like that in Monaco, where you have no fans."

In Monaco, they did not have Bergkamp. Here, as for the past two months, he showed the hypnotic control, the agile mind to transcend yet another game. "I think after every match he comes in with a bottle of champagne," Wenger said. "He can open a shop now."

But he will drink alone, suspended for an uncharacteristic wild tackle on Paul Bracewell during the Premiership match away to Sunderland. David Platt, whose hamstring snapped in the second half, will also be out for three weeks: out for Arsenal and for England's World Cup qualifying match with Italy on February 12. Ian Wright suffered a less stressed hamstring injury and was taken off as a precaution. Stephen Hughes, the substitute, showed, however, that Arsenal have hidden reserves.

Signing Hristo Stoichkov on loan is only a rumour, and Wenger said: "We don't need a left winger. We are looking for a forward, but he is not on our list."

Everton were left to reflect on what might have been. They are mid-table, have suffered five consecutive defeats, and struggle without Hinchcliffe, Parkinson, Grant and Ebbrell, all injured. Yet, with their new signing, Claus Thomsen, competently matching up to Vieira, they turned the pitch into a controlled environment for 45 minutes. Everton's intent was as grey as the north London weather, containment was almost an art form to them, and yet not only had they broken for the disallowed goal, but two minutes after that Barmby had sweetly released Ferguson, whose first-time shot from the edge of the penalty box was saved thrillingly by Seaman, who dived at full stretch to his right.

In the end, Everton were allowed one flurry, one consolation. It was 12 seconds from time, Arsenal had lost concentration and Adams, in his 500th game for the club, together with Bould and Keown, had relaxed. They simply watched Ferguson soar majestically to head home. A forlorn token for the team wearing blue, but now it really does seem that red is the colour.

Report Copyright The Times

Arsenal exploit their stroke of good fortune

Glenn Moore, The Independent: Arsenal completed a redwash for the Premiership's top three yesterday as they emulated Liverpool and Manchester United's Saturday performances with a resounding victory of their own. Everton, though, travelled home nursing a strong sense of injustice. After half an hour, with the game goalless, Nick Barmby had a spectacular goal ruled out for offside. Television replays showed he was well onside.

Arsenal, reprieved, went on to score three times in 13 second-half minutes through Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Vieira and Paul Merson. Everton's reply, from Duncan Ferguson, was far too late to matter, even on a weekend of dramatic comebacks. Arsenal's architect was Bergkamp, who capped an outstanding display with an exquisite goal. He has taken time to settle here but is now in intoxicating form. Alas for Arsenal, he is now suspended for three matches.

Both sides needed a victory. Arsenal had only won once in six Premiership matches, Everton had lost the last four. Yet Arsenal were second and Everton eighth, an indication of the equality, if not the quality, of the Premiership. Injuries and suspensions had played a part. Arsenal had not fielded David Seaman and Wright in the same side for two months, Everton had been weakened in defence and midfield.

The signings of Terry Phelan and Claus Thomsen had eased Everton's problems and with Arsenal also back to full strength neither side looked short of confidence. The early stages were characterised by several sweeping moves with neat interplay from both teams. Chances were rarer, with a tame shot from Paul Merson the only time either goalkeeper was exercised in the first 20 minutes.

This situation was unlikely to last. One of the joys of watching Everton over the years is that, however well or badly they are playing, at some stage you will be treated to an example of Neville Southall's enduring brilliance.

Sure enough, after 21 minutes, Merson found space on the edge of the area and sought to chip the Welsh veteran. The ball appeared to be going in but Southall hung in the air to claw it away. Four minutes later he showed fallibility, dropping a cross under pressure from Platt but recovered in time to catch Wright's attempted chip. Then came Everton's 'goal'. David Unsworth curled in a cross from the left, Ferguson mis-hit a volley and Barmby stole in to volley spectacularly past Seaman. But Everton's celebrations were quelled as Keith Burge spotted a yellow flag raised in front of the West Stand. "Offside" said the referee's assistant. But it was not.

Everton continued to press with Ferguson bringing two saves, one excellent, from Seaman. At the other end Wright missed after Phelan had hesitated. It was Wright's last act, but instead of Arsenal being emasculated by his half-time departure it was Everton's defence which was unhinged. Perhaps they subconsciously relaxed; if so, it was an error as grievous as the referee's assistant's had been.

Vieira, Bergkamp and Merson all went close before Dixon, returning for the first time in two months, chipped the ball in to Bergkamp. The finish, a first-time side-foot volley, was immaculate. Two minutes later Everton only cleared a corner as far as Vieira, who thrashed the ball back past Southall. Eleven minutes on, Everton sealed their own fate. Unsworth gave the ball away to Bergkamp. He ran 40 yards, but Southall stood up well to save, only for Merson, following up, to score.

Some Everton heads went down and, for Southall, it was fast becoming a reprise of his two international encounters against the Dutch. Three times he denied Bergkamp, once brilliantly. Merson, too, was thwarted as Arsenal continued to pour forward.

It was a graphic illustration of the change in philosophy wrought by Wenger. Under George Graham, leads were there to be preserved, not built on. As Arsenal finally eased up, and Everton rallied, Ferguson rose to head in Barmby's corner. It gave the scoreline a fairer gloss but it was hardly a consolation.

Bergkamp keeps up quest for gold

David Lacey, The Guardian:  Arsenal are looking for gold in the Premiership rather than mere bronze, and yesterday the alchemy of Dennis Bergkamp inspired the emphatic victory over Everton at Highbury that has kept Arsene Wenger's team in close touch with Liverpool and Manchester United at the top. If Everton ended the first half slightly unlucky not to be in front they finished the match grateful not to have been beaten by a wider margin.

Half the match was like so many between Arsenal and Everton, with space cramped between the penalty areas and neither attack finding the wit or the quality of pass needed to break through. Once Arsenal had scored twice in as many minutes early in the second half, however, their football flowed in the Wenger manner.

This was Everton's fifth successive league defeat and, although they are still in the top half of the table, a continuation of the slump would soon raise the spectre of a relegation struggle at Goodison Park. Yesterday, after a reasonably enterprising first half, they fell away disappointingly.

For a time, Thomsen, the Dane whom Joe Royle has just signed from Ipswich, worked hard with Stuart and Speed to break up Arsenal's passing rhythms. Vieira, Wenger's principal supplier of the telling through-ball, was reduced to a fairly anonymous role and once Southall had pawed away Merson's attempted chip in the 21st minute there was little threat to Everton's goal for the rest of the half.

In the 32nd minute Ferguson met Speed's centre from the left with a long-legged attempt at an overhead shot. The big Scot miscued but Barmby hooked the loose ball into the net only to be ruled offside wrongly as the television replay showed. With Ferguson shooting just wide and drawing a sharp save from Seaman, Everton could feel reasonably pleased with themselves at half-time. But between the 55th and 57th minute their hopes collapsed.

Platt's shot was charged down but Dixon lobbed the rebound over the defence for Bergkamp to send a clinical half-volley past Southall's left hand. Then Watson cleared Winterburn's corner straight to Vieira and the Frenchman firmly drove in Arsenal's second goal. Arsenal's third, after 68 minutes, was down to a sleepy error by Unsworth, who tried to pass square to Watson only for Bergkamp to intercept and hare through for a shot which Southall blocked, leaving Merson to score from the rebound.

Two minutes from the end Ferguson timed his run well to meet Barmby's corner with an imperious leap followed by a downward header past Seaman. Arsenal, unbeaten at Highbury and with home games against United and Liverpool to come, remain the side most likely to prevent the title again becoming a two-horse race. One Dutch thoroughbred should see to that.

Results and League Table

Monday, 20 January 1997

WEST HAM UNITED         0-2    LEEDS UNITED              19,441 Sky
                               Kelly(53) Bowyer(70)

Sunday, 19 January 1997

ARSENAL                 3-1    EVERTON                   38,095 Sky
Bergkamp(55) Vieira(57)        Ferguson (90)
Merson (69)
Roy(47,62)                     Sinton(2)

Saturday, 18 January 1997

CHELSEA                 3-1    DERBY COUNTY              28,293
Wise(36) Leboeuf(pen:44)       Asanovic(25)
P Hughes(85)
COVENTRY CITY           0-2    MANCHESTER UNITED         23,085
                               Giggs(60) Solskjaer(79)
LEICESTER CITY          1-0    WIMBLEDON                 18,927
Heskey (73)
LIVERPOOL               3-0    ASTON VILLA               40,489  CSI
Carragher(50) Collymore(58) Fowler(63)
MIDDLESBROUGH           4-2    SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY       29,485
Ravanelli(pen:14) Festa (23)   Pembridge(29,80)
Emerson(pen:72) Juninho(90)
SOUTHAMPTON             2-2    NEWCASTLE UNITED          15,251
Maddison(88) Le Tissier(89)    Ferdinand(14) Clark(82)
SUNDERLAND              0-0    BLACKBURN ROVERS          20,850

Table after 20 January 1997

Club                          P    W    D    L   GF   GA   GD  Pts
Liverpool                    24   13    7    4   41   20   21   46
Manchester United            23   12    8    3   46   26   20   44
Arsenal                      23   12    7    4   42   22   20   43
Newcastle United             23   11    6    6   42   26   16   39
Wimbledon                    21   11    5    5   34   25    9   38
Chelsea                      23   10    8    5   36   32    4   38
Aston Villa                  23   10    6    7   31   24    7   36
Sheffield Wednesday          22    7   10    5   25   27   -2   31
Everton                      23    7    7    9   31   34   -3   28
Tottenham Hotspur            22    8    4   10   24   30   -6   28
Leeds United                 23    8    4   11   21   27   -6   28
Sunderland                   23    7    7    9   22   30   -8   28
Leicester City               22    7    5   10   21   30   -9   26
Blackburn Rovers             22    5    9    8   23   22    1   24
Derby County                 22    5    9    8   22   29   -7   24
Coventry City                23    5    8   10   22   33  -11   23
Nottingham Forest            23    5    8   10   23   37  -14   23
West Ham United              22    5    7   10   18   28  -10   22
Southampton                  22    5    5   12   31   39   -8   20
Middlesbrough                23    5    6   12   29   43  -14   18* 

* Includes 3 pts deducted from Middlesbrough for illegal match postponement 

This League Table Update provided by Lawrence "Leagueman" Breakey

This Match Report Compilation was prepared by Michael Kenrick for Marko Poutiainen. 23 Jan 1997.