Everton Logo

Everton 0 - 1 Arsenal

Half-time: 0 - 1

Arsenal Logo
FA Carling Premiership 1999-2000 – Game 36
3pm Saturday 29 April 2000
Goodison Park, Merseyside
Att: 35,919
« Liverpool (h) Ref: Dermot Gallagher Leeds United (a) »
[1999-2000 Fixtures & Results] League Position: 10th [Premiership Results & Table]
John Collins Everton played this match to the limit of their current capability, with captain John Collins once again leading by example.  But the sad fact is that the gulf in class between these two teams would require nothing short of a miracle to overcome.  

Whatever Walter Smith may have done to improve a desperate situation he inherited at Everton, this game epitomised the constraints and realities he must face as he tries to carry this Club on to the next rung of their return from the brink.  

Everything Arsenal tried seem to work; everything Everton tried ended in the brick wall of an unyielding defence that denied Everton space and quickly stifled any brief moments of invention. 

More key saves from Gerrard kept Everton nominally in the match.  Smith threw in Ball and Jeffers in an unprecedented half-time double-substitution, followed by a third that put three players sup front when Jevons replaced Pembridge.  But the lack of guile and synchronicity in Everton's attempts to attack meant that a goal was never really likely.  

So Everton slip to a rampant Arsenal on a 10-match winning streak that may just deny Liverpool an automatic place in the Champion's League. 



Arsenal: Overmars (35')
   LINEUPS  Subs Not Used
EVERTON: Gerrard; Unsworth, Weir, Xavier, Dunne (46' Ball); Barmby, Collins (c), S Hughes (46' Jeffers), Pembridge (72' Jevons); Hutchison, M Hughes
Cleland, Campbell, Gough, Moore, Williamson, (injured); Myhre (on loan).
Simonsen; Ward.
Arsenal: Seaman, Silvinho, Adams, Keown, Dixon, Overmars (86' Black), Petit (80' Winterburn), Grimandi, Parlour, Bergkamp (69' Vieira), Kanu.  Manninger, Luzhny.
   Playing Strips  Formations
EVERTON: Royal Blue shirts; white shorts; blue socks. 4-4-2; 4-3-3
Arsenal: Red & white shirts; white shorts; red socks. 4-4-2
   Yellow Cards  Red Cards
EVERTON: Pembridge (55')
Arsenal: Silvinho (63')


Jenny Roberts Where we even interested?
Steve Bickerton Arsenal in full command
Alan Creevy Credit where its due
ELECTRONIC TELEGRAPH Everton hit by hungry Overmars
by Colin Malam
THE SUNDAY TIMES Arsenal keep Wenger happy
by Ron Clarke
THE INDEPENDENT Second thoughts inspire Overmars and Gunners
by Phil Andrews
THE TIMES Wenger consoled by Arsenal's perfect ten
by Stephen Wood
EFC NEWS SITE Link to the Echo/Daily Post Match Report

THE OBSERVER Link to Football Unlimited Match Report
THE GUARDIAN Link to Football Unlimited Match Report
SOCCERNET Link to SoccerNet Match Report
CARLINGNET Link to CarlingNet Match Report

 Where we even interested?
Jenny Roberts
Having decided that Dermot Gallagher really is Graham Poll in disguise, and also having recovered from the shock of seeing Abel Xavier's latest hairstyle, I spent the rest of this afternoon wondering whether our defensive frailties and our attacking ineptitude were all due to one source – money.

We just never looked interested in competing.  The fans know that our season is over, and so atmosphere was absolutely non-existent.  Walter Smith's tactics also left much to be desired.

A would-be assault on the elderly Arsenal defence cries out for the ball to be kept on the floor, and for the pace of a Jevons or a Jeffers.  However, we opted to fight for aerial competition between Hughes, Keown and Adams – a losing battle.

At the opposite end of the pitch, Paul Gerrard spent the majority of the match vulnerably wandering off his line, for no apparent reason – unable, it seemed, to decide between staying safely on his line, or coming to collect the ball.  He was thus caught out when Overmars scored.

The defence had failed miserably to prevent Overmars from reaching a goalscoring position, after Richard Dunne had been caught horrifically far out of position, and Davie Weir suffered a moment of uncharacteristic indecision, and seemed to hesitate between Overmars and Kanu.

So, once again unable to accept defeat, I began to compile the conspiracy theory.....

We were robbed in the Derby match, not only of two points, but of European football next season.  Our season has, in theory, finished.  However, we have been left with the comfort that, should we lose to Arsenal and Leeds, we will be interfering as much as possible with Liverpool's second-place and Champions' League challenge.

Most people seemed to think today that we were completely outclassed by Arsenal, so it seems strange that such an apparently poor Everton side should lose only by one goal.  Unless it had previously been agreed that the defeat would not be too embarrassing!

Knowing how much Liverpool needed a win from us, it would be nice to think that they lost out because Arsenal offered us more money.  But I know really (although I hate to admit it) that the conspiracy theory that we lost deliberately only exists because I would like to think that we could have beaten Arsenal had we set out meaning to!

Ungracious, as ever, in defeat, Jenny

 Arsenal in full command
Steve Bickerton
A sign of things to come for me.  Today was to be the first home game, since he started coming with me, that my son Peter had missed.  At an age where he realises the value of money, he had the offer of a Saturday job and that old devil lucre won.  Still, it enabled another young blue to use his seat as a neighbour's son accompanied me.

The lad in question is from a footballing family, his mother's maiden name is Wright and his family has a fine blue tradition, playing for and supporting the blues.  Remember Tommy Wright?  That's his lineage.  But less of this, more of the game.

The success of the line-up against the reds last week prompted Walter to abide by the old adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."  In the light of the passion displayed last week it was a sound judgement call, I felt, but couldn't help but feel a little disappointed that Jeffers could only make the bench.

We started the game at a stroll.  Maybe it was something to do with Arsenal deciding to defend the Gwladys Street first half, rather than kicking off.  Whatever it was, we seemed to forget that there was a game of football involved.  Arsenal just passed the ball around at will, brushed us aside and out-competed us for everything.  Yet they weren't even out of first gear.  Despite us not being in the game, though, they didn't really test Gerrard.  The first real chance fell to John Collins when a move down the left between Barmby and Hutchison saw Collins fed the ball in space just at the edge of the box only for a snatched left foot shot to go wide and high.

That this opportunity would wake us up was something of a vain hope.  What it did do, though was wake up Martin Keown.  He pushed, pulled, jostled, tripped and generally got way with every misdemeanour in the book against Mark Hughes and Don Hutchison.  Had one of them walked with the sheer frustration of Keown getting away with everything would not have been a surprise.  Petit was invariably the peacemaker, a sort of poacher turned gamekeeper, as he had been the earliest Arsenal player to be allowed to get away with a two-footed lunge, whilst seemingly every blue indiscretion was punished.

We continued to pussyfoot around and the general lethargy culminated in a poor header from Dunne being latched onto by Overmars, whose pace was enough to see him through the defence and coolly finish of his own move.  Gerrard had no chance.

Half-time came with very little more offered by Everton.  Two more half-chances fell to Collins but neither troubled Seaman.  Walter surely had to change things in the second half.

And change them he did.  Dunne was withdrawn and replaced by Ball.  This caused a switch at the back, with Xavier moving to right back, Unsworth into the middle with Weir and Ball replacing Unsworth at left back.  Stephen Hughes, who'd taken a knock to the head in the first half, which required lengthy treatment, was replaced by Frances Jeffers.  A midfield reshuffle ensued, with Barmby reverting to the right, Pembridge to the left and Hutchison dropping back to fill the gap left by Hughes's non-appearance.  Jeffers partnered Mark Hughes up front.

There was an immediate improvement in the shape of the team.  We looked more able to get the ball forward in a meaningful manner, but still we couldn't match Arsenal for skill.  One flash of pace from Overmars nearly saw us punished but Gerrard managed to push the ball away from his feet at full stretch.  

We lacked a final ball, a killer instinct and invariably we broke down our own moves with ineffectual passing and ineffective ideas.  The greatest culprit in this regard was Mark Pembridge who had a terrible game and his withdrawal, when it came, was not a moment too soon.  What was unforgivable, however, was the jeering and cheering from Everton fans when he was replaced by Phil Jevons. 

Even this change couldn't make a difference though.  As the game petered out to a tame draw, however, Hutchison was brought down just outside the Arsenal box.  A neat training ground routine saw Collins (again) push the ball wide of Seaman's left hand post, with the keeper looking beaten.  After that it was game over.

We were out-fought, out-competed and out-passed by a team riding high, unbeaten now for 9 games.  Even allowing for the aberration that was a referee, we were light years away from them in terms of skill and ability.  Walter's aim for next season should be to lessen that gap.

Man of the Match: Not many good performances, but not too many bad ones either.  We were beaten soundly by a better side.  Collins was again the inspiration in midfield and Weir was again solid at the back.  But my vote goes to Abel Xavier, who had a good game at both right-back and centre-back.

 Credit where its due
Alan Creevy
Not many Evertonians have given Arsenal the credit they deserve for their performance in this match. It was the kind of performance we should be aspiring to on a consistent basis – quick in closing down EVERY ball; speed on the break; comfortable in the air and on the ground; and the ability to con match officials.  I thought they were ten times the team Liverpool were the week before and not just, well, for the obvious reasons.

Sure enough we never really got going.  John Collins gave his usual tireless midfield performance without any real support, and Abel Xavier again did well against difficult opponents, but otherwise we were overrun and outplayed with, in particular – once again, against us – Overmars in a class of his own. Petit also gave his usual strutting, 'you would never get tired of pulling his ponytail against your size 9s very hard' showing.

We never really looked like scoring, but I think we can take some consolation from the fact that, a year and a half ago, we would have lost a game like that 3 or 4 nil.  I don't believe Arsenal won in second gear – I think they had to work really hard to keep us out of the game.  And don't believe for one second that had one eye on the UEFA Cup Final – surely an automatic Champions League place is more important to them?

It was disgraceful the cheering that went on when Mark Pembridge was subbed.  Totally disgraceful.  For someone who has been one of our better performers for a large part of the season (yes, I am serious), I felt he deserved better.  Nothing went right for him on the day and it was right that he should have been taken off, but not right for the decision to be cheered. It was as though the crowd had been waiting for another opportunity to get on his back because scapegoats have been thin on the ground these last few months. Regardless of his abilities or otherwise, he's rarely given less that 100% in a blue shirt and has never deserved the kind of pilloring he got in the first place.  Are Evertonians gingerist as well?

Player Ratings (by Peter O'Malley et al.)

  • Gerrard - Indecisive for the goal; couple of decent stops 
  • Dunne - Thought he did OK although probably partially to blame for the gaol 
  • Unsworth - Appalling distribution as always although very little options, no movement up front
  • Weir - Steady as ever, although he should have gone in on Overmars
  • Xavier - Better centre-half than full back 
  • Barmby - Strangely the game passed him by. Shut out by good Arsenal marking? 
  • Collins - Excellent in my view 
  • Hughes S - Tried too hard (I hope) Can only get better (hope) 
  • Pembridge - Should never play for the club again. Appalling, nuff said 
  • Hughes M - Tooo sloooooow and toooo dirty!!! 
  • Hutchison - Ok 1st half, 2nd wanted far too much time on the ball 
  • Ball - Best left back at the club (competition not too hot but I thought he played well) 
  • Jeffers - First touch reminded me of Barlow. Let's hope it was a one off (sadly, I am beginning to doubt it) 
  • Jevons - not on long enough, should have replaced Hughes M at half time.

 Everton hit by hungry Overmars
Colin Malam, Electronic Telegraph

EVERTON hardly had a chance yesterday to do neighbours Liverpool a favour.  Only about three times in the whole 90 minutes did the home side look like scoring, never mind taking the points off Arsenal that would have helped Liverpool's Champions League cause.

At a ground where they have not lost in the Premiership, Arsenal took the lead late in the first half through Marc Overmars and ought to have added several more.  But the lone strike proved enough for a 10th successive victory and lifted the Gunners above Liverpool into second place.

It was no great surprise to see Everton fielding the same side who had drawn with Liverpool here in the Merseyside derby over Easter.  Even yesterday, eight days later, the blue half of the city was still fuming over their bizarre last-minute 'goal' disallowed by referee Graham Poll.

One of the many midweek internationals deprived Arsenal of their most potent attacking threat.  The hamstring injury that leading scorer Thierry Henry aggravated playing for France meant the Gunners, with Dennis Bergkamp and Kanu up front, had no extra pace to rely on in attack.

Arsenal's nine consecutive victories cannot have been unrelated to the fact that Henry had scored in eight of them.  They were also without another of their French internationals, Patrick Vieira.  He was said to be suffering from a knee injury, but still appeared among the substitutes.

Gilles Grimandi deputised for Vieira and, to begin with, Arsenal looked none the worse for their absentees and dominated the scruffy, curiously passionless opening phase.

A change was marked by the first real scoring chance, carved out by Everton after 12 minutes.  Mark Hughes's strength in the tackle sent Hutchison running unchallenged to the byline to the left of goal. The striker pulled the ball back perfectly to John Collins, but the experienced Scottish international midfielder wafted his shot past the angle of post and bar when a more careful strike with the inside of his left foot must have brought a goal.

Arsenal spurned an equally inviting opening seven minutes later.  Ray Parlour, slipped clear of the Everton defence by Kanu, shot straight at Paul Gerrard from six yards.

Even so, the game itself did not acquire a recognisable edge until Bergkamp took a sly kick at Abel Xavier after 26 minutes and got away with it.   Then Martin Keown and Hutchison became embroiled in a scuffle without punishment as both teams at last showed a real desire to win.

Arsenal gained the upper hand in the last 15 minutes of the first half and deservedly took the lead after 35 minutes.  Overmars, who had looked hungrier than most for goals, had already fizzed one shot past a post.  So when Bergkamp slipped a pass to him just inside the Everton half in the 35th minute and the home defence backed off, Overmars ran 30 yards unchallenged to fire home.

The visitors might have increased their lead as the first half drew to a close too.  A shot from Bergkamp was deflected against a post; then Overmars lobbed just over from Emmanuel Petit's pass.

On the restart, Francis Jeffers and Michael Ball replaced Stephen Hughes and Richard Dunne respectively.  Although Hughes had suffered a bang on the head against the club who sold him to Everton for £3 million, the alterations looked to be tactical as much as anything.

With Jeffers going up front to partner Mark Hughes, Hutchison dropped back into his more natural position in the middle of midfield, while the right-footed Nick Barmby and left-footed Mark Pembridge switched to the flanks where they are most comfortable.  In defence, the arrival of Ball at left-back sent David Unsworth into one of the central positions and Xavier to right-back.

Though Everton now had a much better balance in all departments, they ought to have gone further behind on the hour.  Another of Petit's defence-splitting passes and another of Overmars' clever runs opened up the home defence so wide that only Gerrard's desperately flailing arm rescued his side as the little Dutchman tried to dribble round him.

Gerrard saved Everton again, five minutes later, when he went full-length to his left to turn Petit's blistering 30-yarder for a corner.  Nor was it much comfort for the Merseysiders as a whole when Bergkamp was taken off 20 minutes from the end and replaced with a substitute of the quality of Vieira, a change which sent the marauding Overmars even further forward.

Despite the introduction of their third striker, Philip Jevons, the best Everton could manage in reply was the shot Collins drove past a post following a free-kick minutes from the end.

Report © The Electronic Telegraph

 Arsenal keep Wenger happy
by Ron Clarke, The Sunday Times

THIS was as emphatic a one-goal victory as is possible and was probably even enough to put Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger in a good mood.  He arrived at Goodison Park after a series of tribulations but left in better spirits after seeing Marc Overmars get the goal and the victory which leapfrogged his team over Liverpool into that all-important second place which secures qualification for the Champions League.  Indeed, it could and should have been so much more as the visitors dominated proceedings from start to finish, reducing goalkeeper David Seaman to the role of spectator.

This was only Everton's second home league defeat and left their manager, Walter Smith, totally perplexed.  He said it was their poorest performance of the season and they had deserved to get nothing for it.

For his opposite number, it is a different story.  Just to rub salt into a sensitive wound, Arsenal arrived here without Thierry Henry.  He played for France in last week's friendly against Slovenia and managed to aggravate a hamstring injury.  His injury left Wenger fuming, adding to already well-noted irritation about Manchester United supposedly being handed the League title courtesy of omission from the FA Cup and a mid-season break to Brazil.

The manager's mood was not lightened when attempts to get their last game of the season, a trip to Newcastle United, brought forward, to give his players more time to prepare for their Uefa Cup final against Galatasaray, fell on deaf ears.

Still suffering from a sore throat, Wenger did admit after the game that first-half superiority followed by complete concentration had merited the three points.  He added that a further three points were still needed to secure runner-up position.  "It is important for us to finish second as we qualify for the European Champions League and after winning the Championship, that is the next best," he said.

Wenger then returned to old ground and said that the 19-point lead that Manchester United now have is not a true reflection of the Premiership.  He said that last year his team only lost it on the last day of the season and two years ago lost the title by only one point.

But back to the game.  It was all wrapped up after that Overmars goal on 34 minutes.  Man of the match Dennis Bergkamp easily rounded Abel Xavier on the halfway line to send Overmars racing almost half the length of the field before calmly sliding the ball past Paul Gerrard in the Everton goal.

What early chances there were fell to Arsenal.  On 16 minutes, Xavier, looking uncomfortable in his unaccustomed centre-back role, fed the ball straight to Bergkamp. The Dutchman was unlucky to see his curling shot rise to the wrong side of the post.  Moments later, the recalled Nwankwo Kanu gave a delightful flick to Ray Parlour inside the penalty area only for him to fire weakly at Gerrard.

It was Everton who could have taken a surprise lead when after only seven minutes, Mark Hughes and Don Hutchison combined well to set up John Collins.  In his eagerness to succeed, he rushed his shot from the edge of the 18-yard area and it spiralled away from Seaman's left-hand post.

Arsenal's only scare came when Seaman almost slipped following an innocuous backpass. Apart from that, it was one-way traffic.  Bergkamp, almost running the show single-handedly, could have doubled their lead when he struck the base of a post seconds before the interval.

Despite Wenger's mumblings of discontent, Arsenal still arrived here as the Premiership's second-highest scorers and on the back of an unbeaten run stretching to nine games.  Their confidence was apparent throughout as they remained in almost total control as the first half petered out.

Only a potential ugly confrontation involving Martin Keown and Hutchison threatened to interrupt proceedings.  It followed a hefty challenge by the latter and they were both pulled apart before it could develop into anything more sinister.

This was always going to be a game of contrasting styles, the brawn and bustle of the hosts against the flicks and fluency of the visitors.  It was especially apparent upfront where Hughes and Hutchison were almost trying to force their way through, while at the other end Kanu and Bergkamp continually weaved intricate movements.

In a desperate need for more shape, Everton rang the changes at the start of the second period.  Francis Jeffers came on to partner Hughes upfront, with Hutchison withdrawing to midfield.  Michael Ball strengthened the defence and Xavier was pushed out wide.  Richard Dunne and Stephen Hughes were the players to make way.

It made no difference.  Almost immediately after the interval, Kanu's neat back header was well saved and then Overmars almost rounded Gerrard before being thwarted by the goalkeeper's fingertips.

Everton's only serious attack saw Jeffers well and truly caught by Arsenal's infamous offside tactic.  The young man will have to learn to time his runs far better if he is to outwit such an outstanding defence.

By now Arsenal could take the opportunity to rest players.  Bergkamp and Emmanuel Petit were replaced by Patrick Vieira and Nigel Winterburn in the later stages of the game.  Just prior to his substitution, Petit swung in a glorious cross to allow Overmars to attempt a looping header. It was well saved by Gerrard.

Apart from a late long-range effort from Collins, the game was now over and Wenger could leave Goodison Park a happy man.

Report © Times Newspapers Ltd

 Second thoughts inspire Overmars and Gunners
by Phil Andrews, The Independent

Arsenal's progress towards a place in next season's Champions' League continued with a victory that was more comfortable than the score suggests.  It was sealed with a composed first half strike by Marc Overmars, just reward for the sharpest thorn in Everton's side.

Arsenal arrived on Merseyside knowing that anything less than victory would hand the initiative in the race for the runners-up spot behind Manchester United to the club on the other side of Stanley Park.

So, not surprisingly, they took the game to Everton from the outset, and Arsène Wenger soon had further cause to rue the absence of his leading striker, Frenchman Thierry Henry, whose hamstring injury was exasperated by his exertions for his country in midweek.

The firepower Wenger was able to employ through Dennis Bergkamp and Nwankwo Kanu seemed more than adequate, but between them they might have made better use of successive opportunities in the opening five minutes.

Everton, perhaps enjoying the unfamiliar luxury of being free from relegation worries at this stage of the season, contributed to Arsenal's early dominance with a series of sloppy passes, one which allowed Bergkamp to find Kanu unmarked inside the penalty area, but the tall striker could not keep his balance on a surface made greasy by a morning of light rain, and both he and the chance slipped away.

Minutes later Everton had to scramble clear an Emmanuel Petit corner and Bergkamp made a run across the face of the penalty area but chose to try to beat too many defenders when an early shot might have paid better dividends.

Everton found it difficult to put a coherent move together but carved out their only real chance of the first half when Don Hutchison shook off his marker and cut the ball back to his captain John Collins, whose fierce drive curled narrowly wide of the angle of the goal.

But it was a rare interruption to Arsenal's forward flow.  Bergkamp and Overmars both sent efforts wide of the target, Petit forced the Everton goalkeeper Paul Gerrard to gather at the second attempt and when Tony Adams headed Petit's free kick back across the face of the Everton goal there was no one following up.

But a goal had to come and it arrived when Overmars was given the ball midway inside the Everton half and charged forward with only one thought in mind.  With Kanu lurking to his right, the defenders backed off but the Dutchman needed no assistance and struck the ball low to Gerrard's right from the edge of the box after 34 minutes.

Arsenal almost doubled their lead five minutes later when Bergkamp's side-foot shot came back off a post and the increasingly influential Overmars, again doggedly shaking off a queue of tacklers, was unlucky not to send his side in at half-time with a comfortable cushion, when his chip floated narrowly over the bar with Gerrard well off his line.

The Everton manager, Walter Smith's response was to bring on Francis Jeffers after the break to partner Mark Hughes up front and withdraw Hutchison into the hole behind the strikers.  It almost did the trick instantly when Hutchison flicked the ball beyond the Arsenal back four but slightly too far in front of the young substitute.

His arrival briefly jolted Everton out of their lethargy and Hughes gave David Seaman an uneasy moment with a first time shot that dipped over his crossbar.

But still Arsenal looked the more incisive.  Overmars again wriggled through the Everton defence and, though Gerrard got one hand to the ball to steer him wide of goal, he pulled the ball back to Kanu, whose shot was charged down before Petit finally drove the chance wide.

It was the signal for Everton to relapse into sloppiness again, and when David Weir gave away an unnecessary corner with a miss-hit back pass, Kanu went close with a back header from the resulting kick.

Arsenal now sniffed the chance of the second goal they needed to make sure and, with even Adams venturing into the opposing penalty area in open play, they came close when Petit's shot was deflected to safety.

Report © The Independent

 Wenger consoled by Arsenal's perfect ten
by Stephen Wood, The Times

THE rain clouds had disappeared and, as he spoke, Arsène Wenger braved the sunlight to glance out of the windows of the press lounge at Goodison Park.  He would have observed the Merseyside skyline but in his mind's eye, the Arsenal manager appeared only to pick out Manchester United disappearing into the horizon.

Wenger seems to subscribe to the theory that the destiny of this season's FA Carling Premiership title has been ordained not by United's brilliance, but by the absence of a concerted challenge from their peers.  Rather than gulp at the 19-point gap that separates them in the table, Wenger treats it as a blip.

Arsenal, affected by injury and an unsettled defence, have under-performed for much of a campaign that has only been salvaged by the run of form that ushered in its tenth successive victory on Saturday.

"Two years ago, we won the championship and, last season, it was decided on the final day of the season," Wenger said. "That sort of competition does not disappear overnight.  This season, United have had huge advantages over the rest of us, because of their winter break and their absence from the FA Cup.  The gap is more reasonable than 19 points suggests."

Maybe so, but one suspects that Arsenal's dream of earning recognition, if not outright glory, in the European Cup remains distant.  For the moment, optimism is founded on the fact that they should enter the competition next season as runners-up in England, thus avoiding the chore of the preliminary round.  The desire of Wenger and his players at least appears undiminished.

Dennis Bergkamp, whose contribution ten minutes before half-time against Everton allowed Marc Overmars to score the only goal of a quite dreadful match, said: "Everybody knows that our ambitions in Europe have been unfulfilled so far.

"The quality we have at the club says that we should be successful every year, and there is a belief that we can give the supporters what they want sooner or later.  The team is feeling much stronger than it did a few months ago, and that is helped when you have people like Tony Adams returning in defence.  Next season, I think the experience we have gained in Europe will benefit us as well."

The importance of the European Cup overshadows even their appearance in the Uefa Cup final later this month, although Wenger's ability to strengthen his squad this summer is more significant still.  At best, he will add to it and, at worst, he will strive to keep its finer elements intact.

More rumours have resurfaced recently, linking Overmars and Emmanuel Petit with moves to Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively, and Wenger said:  "It is always difficult to change your team and even to keep your own players. I am 80% happy every season that I keep these players, although I believe they should stay with us again at the end of this season.  The players we are talking about are on three or four-year contracts."

While Everton's own European dream withered and died on Saturday, their disappointment in failing to qualify for the InterToto Cup will hardly give rise to shockwaves.

Walter Smith, the manager, sought to add a sense of perspective.  "The fact that we were frustrated at how poorly we played shows how far we have come," he said.  "But we must remember that we are still shedding our image as a club which will battle relegation every season.

"We need to establish ourselves in the top eight on a regular basis and then we can start considering ourselves as one of the top clubs again."

Report © Times Newspapers Ltd



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