Football: Cracks in Royle citadel

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The Independent Online
If Everton thought that four points from their last two games had lifted the blues that are at present enveloping Goodison Park, they were sorely mistaken as Arsenal helped themselves to three points which might also mean that Arsene Wenger's hint of their abdication of title aspirations could be premature.

A terrace poll when the final whistle went would have shown that Joe Royle's popularity is at about the same level as the Tories in nearby Wirral. The Everton manager's jacket, it would seem, is on a decidedly slack nail.

So abject were Everton's efforts that when Dennis Bergkamp and Ian Wright scored within four minutes of each other midway through the first half, the pessimism rising from the terraces was almost tangible.

The scoring could have started in the 13th minute when Neville Southall and Earl Barrett clattered into each other and David Platt scooped the loose ball over an empty goal from 20 yards. It did start in the 22nd minute when David Unsworth misjudged a bounce and Bergkamp stole beyond him to shoot under Southall. Four minutes later, Remi Garde found Wright with a splendid pass which the striker struck low past the diving keeper.

Unsworth's nightmare was almost compounded with another error a minute later but Southall came to his rescue, and he was saved further embarrassment when he was replaced by Craig Short after the break.

John Lukic was not asked to make a real save in the full 90 minutes. He did have to dash to the edge of his area twice to block the substitute Michael Branch but, despite almost incessant Everton pressure, that was it.

Suffering from an absolute poverty of imagination or flair in midfield, Everton resorted to the inanely obvious tactic of hoisting high balls towards Duncan Ferguson. The big Scotsman, tightly marked by Martin Keown, has had better days.

In contrast, a snap Bergkamp volley was close enough to worry Southall, and Platt had the miss of the day when he contrived to scoop his shot over the bar after Wright and Bergkamp had filleted the Everton defence.

Arsenal did much to restore their morale, shattered by a week of setbacks. They did all that was needed here to walk away with the points, and no more. But with Everton in this condition that was all that was required and the visitors could keep their powder dry for doughtier opposition.