Arsenal survive tough Goodison test
Everton 1 Arsenal 1: It was another draw away from home but, in contrast to Saturday’s rainswept stalemate at Villa Park, Arsenal’s travelling supporters did not ask if their manager knew what he was doing.
There used to be a banner at Highbury that said simply "Arsène Knows" and Wenger would be all too familiar with the fact that these days points at Goodison Park are hard-earned and, despite taking the lead before some of the crowd had taken their seats, Arsenal did not deserve more than one. "It was a game of remarkable intensity and we needed to show great spirit," Wenger said.
For David Moyes, this was Everton's sixth draw in their last eight matches but it was far more encouraging than some of their recent games. With fixtures against Manchester City, Tottenham and Chelsea to come, the flow of Everton's season is about to become trickier. Last night suggested it can be navigated, although Moyes was critical of the referee, Michael Oliver, and not just for any failure to award a penalty for a foul on Steven Pienaar by Mikel Arteta.
"A lot of games are won by decisions referees make or don't make and we were never going to get anything from this referee," said the Everton manager. "We had to earn everything because we were not going to get a jot."
Nevertheless, Moyes may be more frustrated by the prospect of losing Leighton Baines, who suffered a hamstring injury, for Saturday's encounter at Eastlands.
It would have surprised those who imagine him prowling his living room late at night trying to find transmissions of league matches from the Ivory Coast but Wenger had proclaimed that Arsenal's future lay with young British footballers. Whether or not this was to placate Theo Walcott into signing a fresh contract, it was a statement borne out before the game was a minute old.
The finish was Walcott's; a sublime shot, struck with the side of his foot into the corner of Tim Howard's net. But it was made by Aaron Ramsey, who ran diagonally at Everton's defence and then, as they anticipated a through-ball pushed out wide, the young Welsh midfielder played it inside to Walcott who finished exceptionally.
There were 52 seconds on the electronic scoreboard when it struck the net which made it the quickest goal of the Premier League season, a record that lasted until just after kick-off at Old Trafford a quarter of an hour later.
Almost immediately, Wenger brought on another young British talent in the shape of Kieran Gibbs as Laurent Koscielny pulled up with a groin injury that may keep him out for three weeks and Everton ensured he and the rest of the Arsenal back-four were fully occupied.
The style of football may have been slightly different but both sides were fast, slick and capable of turning a clear moonlit night above Goodison into grand theatre. Marouane Fellaini is Belgian rather than British but he is someone coveted by Wenger and here was a demonstration as to why.
When Fellaini's shot from the edge of the area rifled past him into the bottom corner of the net, Wojciech Szczesny leapt to his feet and began gesticulating angrily at his defenders. The swearing would have been mostly directed at Bacary Sagna. It was his loose pass to Arteta that had allowed Pienaar to dispossess his former team-mate and feed Fellaini, who provided a further example of his worth.
This was his seventh goal of the season and Fellaini said that even during his time at Standard Liège he had never scored more than nine. That statistic is unlikely to survive long into the new year.
Man of the Match Baines.
Match rating 7/10.
Referee M Oliver (Northumberland).