Football: Muddled Everton offer no challenge

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The Independent Online
Arsenal. .2

Everton. .0

AS A form guide to one of the championship contenders this was a futile exercise. Everton were so lacking in ambition that Arsenal's reserves would probably have beaten them comfortably. In fact, that is almost what happened since the Gunners, now fourth in the Premier League, had to replace two injured players and finished with only 10 men when another, Nigel Winterburn, was carried off because of damaged knee ligaments with 15 minutes remaining.

The Arsenal manager, George Graham, has recently made much of his team rediscovering their 'meanness' though it was hard for them to maintain that edge against a side as generous as Everton. If it had been a prize fight it would have been like watching Rambo against Mother Theresa.

Everton's curious line-up, with a flat back five, did little to help them. The idea, presumably, was that the full-backs, Ian Snodin and Andy Hinchcliffe, would push up the flanks, leaving the three centre backs, Martin Keown, Gary Ablett and Dave Watson, to take care of the Arsenal forwards. Yet the extra man simply meant that the players got in each other's way and were uncertain who was responsible for what.

Such was the muddle in the Everton defence that a nearby radio commentator offered the opinion that Arsenal could have been 'four goals up' in the first five minutes. That was an exaggeration, but they did take the lead effortlessly, Ian Wright rising to head in an inviting Paul Merson cross after Neville Southall had saved brilliantly from Kevin Campbell.

Wright had to leave the field after 39 minutes with a pulled hamstring, the same fate that Lee Dixon suffered earlier. With him would have gone much of Arsenal's invention and dynamism, but for the fact that the substitute, Anders Limpar, was in irresistible form.

Playing behind the front pair of Alan Smith and Campbell, he stroked the ball around as if he was on a billiard table even when a second-half sleet storm and some irritable Everton tackling made conditions treacherous. His goal, in the 58th minute, was a gem. Exchanging passes with Merson he made Snodin and Keown look as clumsy as a couple of Daleks as he twisted one way and then the other before slipping his shot past Southall.

Why Limpar was not on from the start was a mystery. It would appear that the Swede does not easily fit into Graham's mean-machine blueprint although the Arsenal manager said, somewhat vaguely: 'He will no doubt play an important role in the championship this season.'

The Everton manager, Howard Kendall, was envious that Arsenal could bring on someone of Limpar's quality. Almost two years after his return to Goodison the rebirth of Everton looks as far away as ever. In their succeeding five matches they have scored only one goal and gained only one point.

At least Kendall has kept his sense of humour, although when he described his team's display, his face looked like an undertaker's. One journalist prefaced a question by saying 'I haven't seen Everton play this season', at which point Kendall interrupted. 'I haven't very often either,' he said morosely.

Goals: Wright (5) 1-0; Limpar (58) 2-0.

Arsenal: Seaman; Dixon (Pates, 29), Winterburn, Hillier, Bould, Adams, Jensen, Wright (Limpar, 39), Smith, Merson, Campbell. Substitute not used: Miller (gk).

Everton: Southall; Snodin (Harper, 69), Hinchcliffe (Rideout, 53), Keown, Watson, Ablett, Warzycha, Beardsley, Cottee, Horne, Beagrie. Substitute not used: Kearton (gk).

Referee: K Hackett (Sheffield).