It was ridiculous, on the balance of play and scoring chances, that the Highbury crowd should be reduced to calling for the final whistle as their team defended a free-kick in stoppage time, but no surprise that Everton messed it up; they had, after all, failed to demand a save from David Seaman in the previous 90 minutes.
Arsenal are currently like a touring team brushing the local opposition aside while struggling in the Test matches. The difference is that their manager, Arsene Wenger, insists the domestic stuff is his priority. After being given the run-around, twice, by Dynamo in the Champions' League, his players must certainly have enjoyed meeting this strange Everton side, full of central defenders and full-backs.
Additionally, although Dennis Bergkamp got no further than the substitutes' seats, Nicolas Anelka was fit again, scoring one goal and coming close to several more. Fredrik Ljungberg, not yet available for European games, made a worthy contribution in a floating role and Gilles Grimandi was untroubled in defence. Everton's captain, Duncan Ferguson, must be tempted to give the club sponsors a call and request a one-to-one with a winger who could supply the service he desperately needs. He received no support whatever from the pounds 4.5m signing Ibrahima Bakayoko alongside him, and for Grimandi and Martin Keown, it was not exactly like facing Andriy Shev- chenko and Serhiy Rebrov.
Last week Everton had finally managed a goal at home, when Michael Ball landed a free-kick on Ferguson's head. Two more set-pieces from Ball, both in the first half, offered the only possibilities yesterday of retrieving Anelka's goal: with neither Tony Adams or Steve Bould available to jump with him, and Seaman, on the second occasion getting nowhere near the ball, Ferguson headed once against the top edge of the bar and once wide.
At the other end, Anelka's pace took him past labouring defenders time after time, normally into the inside-left channel for a shot. That was how the goal came about in the sixth minute as Anelka, receiving from Ray Parlour, easily tricked the unhappy Richard Dunne. Marc Overmars, arriving on the left, was not required as the Frenchman dispatched a fizz- ing shot across Thomas Myhre.
In an identical situation shortly afterwards, the goalkeeper made two good blocks. He was beaten as Anelka latched on to Ljungberg's pass and put his next effort a foot wide of the far post.
Ljungberg, sticking to his instructions to keep on the move, twice headed dangerously at goal from corners, and swit-ched regularly with Overmars, who cut inside just before half-time for a good attempt of his own, that Myhre held.
At the interval the visitors withdrew Dave Watson, one of their umpteen defenders, and put Danny Cadamarteri out on the right, where he saw little of the ball. Few Everton players did, except as it pinged past them.
Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira, tired of sitting comfortably in front of the their unruffled back four, both stepped up for a shy. Petit, losing sight of the ball of the ball as he burst into the penalty area, suddenly discovered it at his feet, but was denied by Myhre; his countryman glanced a header wide from Parlour's cross.
Lee Dixon's strong drive was deflected over the bar, Overmars shot into the side-netting and Anelka might have completed a hat-trick. It was unfair, on this day, to criticise his finishing. "He's 19 and will miss chances," Wenger said. "He's a boy who wants to be the best. I wouldn't want to play against him."
Chelsea will be grateful not to in the Worthington Cup tie at Highbury on Wednesday, tho-ugh they may have to face Bergkamp and Ljungberg in what will otherwise be a shadow squad as the main men rest up for the visit of George Graham and Tottenham three days later. An opportunity may also be given to Fabian Calballero, an Argentinian striker on loan as Wenger seeks a new goalscorer at a reduced price while his youngsters mature. Seeing yesterday what Everton have got for their pounds 4.5m will not have dissuaded him that that is the wisest policy.
Wenger did admit that failing to kill off Everton had raised uncomfortable memories of how Southampton escaped with a point in the previous Highbury game.
Goal: Anelka (6) 1-0.
Arsenal (4-4-1-1): Seaman; Dixon, Keown, Grimandi, Winterburn; Parlour, Vieira, Petit, Overmars; Ljungberg; Anelka. Substitutes: Manninger (gk), Bergkamp, Wreh, Hughes, Upson.
Everton (4-4-2): Myhre; Dunne, Watson (Cadamarteri, 45), Materazzi (Milligan, 84), Unsworth; Cleland (Hutchison 78), Dacourt, Collins, Ball; Ferguson, Bakayoko. Substitutes not used: Simonsen (gk), Short.
Bookings: Arsenal: Grimandi, Keown, Petit. Everton: Dunne, Materazzi, Collins, Ferguson, Cadamarteri.
Referee: G. Willard (West Sussex).
Man of the match: Ljungberg.
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