Arsenal’s momentum checked as stubborn Everton make their point
Giroud misses two best chances as Wenger’s men fail to find the winning formula
Everton’s Marouane Fellaini tussles with Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta during last night’s clash at The Emirates Staduim in London. Photograph: Adam Davy/PA
Arsenal 0 Everton 0
Arsene Wenger had mused that “momentum can be fragile” as he considered Arsenal’s recent upturn and the need for another victory to turn the screw still further on Chelsea and Tottenham in the Champions League race.
On a night of wrecking-ball intensity his team duly had theirs checked while David Moyes’ mission to break new ground with Everton and win at a big ground came up short.
The margins were suffocatingly tight. In what amounted to a slug-fest, clear chances were at a premium but the Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud had two and on each occasion, towards the end of either half, his sights were awry.
He became the symbol of Arsenal’s frustrations, almost as much as the punch that Jack Wilshere aimed at Kevin Mirallas during a tunnel bust-up following a fractious first-half.
The feeling was that Arsenal had handed the initiative back to Tottenham.
Still, points were always likely to be dropped or shared during the run-in and Everton, who remain four points behind Arsenal, are hardly the accommodating types.
They might never have won at Arsenal, Manchester United or Liverpool under Moyes, but their heart cannot be questioned. Everton had arrived as the form team in the division and there was a muscular strut to their game.
Nobody gets an easy ride against Moyes’ side, even though they had felt the pre-match spotlight pick out their inability to win the big ones when it mattered.
Moyes had started with Ross Barkley in the No 10 role – a show of faith in the young player – and he was in tune with the ethos; work ferociously and give no quarter in the tackle.
First half challenges from Barkley resulted in first Santi Cazorla and then Wilshere feeling sore. Barkley, though, was not the only source of Arsenal bruises. It was confrontational stuff. Everton refused to allow Arsenal time on the ball.
Passions frequently bubbled to the surface and Darron Gibson trod the finest of lines. The Everton midfielder was booked for a challenge on Theo Walcott, although it had seemed that Mirallas, who was also in close attendance, had been the aggressor and Gibson was fortunate to avoid a second yellow card on 34 minutes when he checked Walcott.
Moments later Steven Pienaar was booked when he checked Walcott as he burst away.
Everton had started brightly and Pienaar lifted over the crossbar from Phil Jagielka’s pass. Barkley’s curler towards the end of the first-half forced Wojciech Szczesny into a routine save .
Arsenal offered nothing until the 42nd minute but the chance that Aaron Ramsey’s cross created for Olivier Giroud was arguably the best of the first half.
Giroud slid in at the near post but with Tim Howard advancing, he diverted wide.
Cazorla was also thwarted by a brave Jagielka. The tension was palpable. Mirallas drove at Szczesny upon the second-half restart while Cazorla forced Howard into his first save with a well-struck drive shortly afterwards.
The action pulsed and the referee needed eyes everywhere. Giroud’s battle with Jagielka and Sylvain Distin was especially robust but across the field there were scraps that drew the eye.
Marouane Fellaini, all upper-body strength, emerged with honours. Arsenal struggled for rhythm in the second half, too, with Wilshere labouring to fire his team. It was no surprise when Wenger substituted him. Walcott did not last the distance either.
Everton could point to Barkley’s fizzing, curled effort midway through the second half, which flew inches past the angle, with Szczesny beaten, as evidence of their offensive punch. But Giroud ought to have done much better when he fired over after Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s pass had initially created the chance.