Moyes can still believe in the remarkable
It was thanks to some heroic defending by Séamus Coleman that Everton survived
Arsenal's Olivier Giroud reacts after an unsuccessful shot on the Everton goal. Photograph: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters
It was as the two sides left the field at the interval, one bruised and frustrated, the other sensing vulnerability, that simmering tempers boiled over. The suggestion was Kevin Mirallas squirted a water bottle over his shoulder and straight into Jack Wilshere’s face, provoking the England midfielder’s livid response.
The melee that ensued had the tarpaulin on the tunnel bulging violently. Unquestionably Arsenal had been rattled. This was that kind of evening.
It always seemed a make-or-break occasion for David Moyes’ team, a chance to force their way firmly into contention for a place in next season’s Champions League and to send shockwaves through those squabbling immediately below the top two.
As it was, the draw left them still four points adrift of Arsenal in third but they had inflicted bruises here on their hosts. Their pursuit is far from over and they will have drawn huge encouragement from a breathless contest.
But this was ferocious evidence that they can revel in this company. This season Everton have always felt in contention for the top four. There had been no slack start to the campaign to leave them playing catch-up, and the recent burst of form had fuelled thoughts of Europe’s elite.
Despite a record of two points from a possible 33 at Arsenal, they had arrived here with conviction. A chasm has separated these teams in recent years. The closest Everton have come has been nine points back in 2009 and that gap had been 41 five years previously. But the current gap is bridgeable. Moyes’ charges muscled their way into this contest as a team who felt they belong on this stage. They must be horrible to confront.
Republic of Ireland international Darron Gibson may have been rather too aggressive in stamping authority on midfield – harsh as his first booking may have seemed, he surely warranted a second from Neil Swarbrick for a shoulder-charge on Theo Walcott 11 minutes from the break – but Everton’s strength was all too evident and, generally, utterly admirable.
Marouane Fellaini bestrode midfield as a man possessed, a looming presence at either end, with his team-mates a blur of feverish work-rate around him. The centre halves are committed and tireless, their ability to summon last-ditch tackles staggering. Ross Barkley, the evening’s bold inclusion, was unpredictable but capable of brilliance, as his vicious shot just wide of the far post after the hour proved.
These are arguably players who should be making impressions on the Champions League. A direct comparison between the two clubs’ first teams conjures an intriguing debate over how many Evertonians would grace a combined XI: Tim Howard, Leighton Baines, Jagielka, Pienaar and Fellaini would demand inclusion. Séamus Coleman, excellent in recent weeks, can stake a claim with another outstanding performance.
Thanks to him Everton survived. They will believe they can still achieve something remarkable.