Arsenal 0 Everton 0 match report: Deadlock at the Emirates as both sides rue missed opportunity in battle for Champions League qualification
Neither side could break the deadlock at the Emirates
Watching from the stands at the Emirates, Sir Alex Ferguson will have recognised the difference that an assured goalscorer makes to a club with Arsenal's ambitions on a night such as this. He should know, after all. It was him who took the last great striker from this club.
When Arsenal really needed a centre-forward with ice in his veins in front of goal, they got Olivier Giroud. He is by no means a lost cause, 17 goals this season tells you that, but on an occasion when they needed to pinch a winner and take the three points, their French striker in the No 12 shirt was not quite up the standard required.
Not all Arsenal's failings go back to Giroud, far from it, but the chance he missed four minutes before half-time against Everton was one of those moments upon which seasons can turn. It might well be that Arsenal secure that Champions League place with ease, from their current position two points clear of Chelsea in fourth place having played two more games. Should that be the case then this result can safely be forgotten.
But if it transpires that Arsenal, serial qualifiers for the Champions League, miss out this time then it will be on the fine margins of games like this, and opportunities that went begging. At this stage of the season it matters little how you secure the points required; it matters just that you do so.
For David Moyes this was a good point although not enough to make his team, in sixth place on goal difference from Spurs, serious competitors for the Champions League places. His team had arguably the game's outstanding player in Phil Jagielka but they never created a better chance than the one that fell for Steven Pienaar in the sixth minute and was lifted over the bar.
In the aftermath it descended into point-scoring between the two managers in their respective press conferences. Moyes accused Arsene Wenger of complaining too much to the referee Neil Swarbrick and his fourth official Kevin Friend about the tackling of the away team. “Up north we do that quite often,” Moyes said. “That's actually allowed in football.”
As for Wenger, he claimed that some of Everton's play “went over the edge” and, rather more justifiably, pointed out that Darron Gibson could have been sent off for a second yellow card in the 34th minute. These are two men who harbour fairly entrenched views about the game and the way in which their teams approach it. Just for good measure there was also a half-time tunnel ruckus.
On that occasion, Kevin Mirallas craftily squirted water at Jack Wilshere as they left the field and the young Englishman reacted badly, requiring the intervention of Jagielka to stop the episode escalating. It was not the only time that the astute Everton defender put himself in the way of trouble.
The Everton captain was crucial in the early stages when his side were placed under the most pressure and which saw them close to the brink on at least one occasion. That was when Gibson, already booked for a foul on Theo Walcott, checked the Arsenal man in full flight and was very lucky not to receive a second yellow for his trouble.
Gibson's earlier booking had looked harsh but it was obvious from his immediate conciliatory reaction to the second foul that he knew he was very close to going off. The referee Swarbrick would undoubtedly have booked the Everton player had he not already done so and it was perhaps his guilty conscience that pricked him into booking Pienaar for an identical offence minutes later.
Both sides had one very good chance each in the first half from which they should have scored. Everton's came early, within six minutes, when Seamus Coleman's ball from the right found Pienaar's run through the centre - it might well have been intended for Victor Anichebe - but the Everton man put his shot over the bar.
While Arsenal had the better spells of possession they did not build a similarly promising position until four minutes before half-time. Then it was Aaron Ramsey who got away down the right and crossed perfectly for Giroud who slid in for the ball before Tim Howard could reach it. Having opened up the opportunity, he did not manage to keep the shot on target.
At that moment you would not have expected Arsenal to create better chances but Everton, to their great credit, never let them get as close again. In the 78th minute, the substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain played in Giroud who made space around Jagielka for the shot. His effort was well over and Moyes later claimed the striker was offside anyway.
Moyes picked Ross Barkley, the 19-year-old academy product, in place of the injured Leon Osman in midfield, where the teenager showed some good touches, particularly a shot in the second half that was just off target. “We want to give the young boys a go if we can and promote them,” Moyes said. “It's hard in the Premier League when you've got something to play for, either at the bottom or the top.”
Arsenal started the half reasonably strongly with a shot from Santi Cazorla but in that opening stage up to the hour failed to bring the pressure to a critical point. They broke just after the hour with Walcott in full cry but nothing came of it. Kieran Gibbs had a chance to cut the ball back to Giroud shortly afterwards but the ever-vigilant Jagielka slid in to block the shot.
Wenger tried to shake his side up with around 20 minutes left, bringing on Lukas Podolski and A Oxlade-Chamberlain and the latter had a noticeable effect. It was his cross on 77 minutes that Coleman did extremely well to reach before Giroud, taking the pace off the ball.
After the game Moyes admitted that he would take fifth place and a spot in the Europa League next season if it was offered to him now. “I would take it, but I'm going to try and get Champions League,” he said. “If we're still getting that mention in mid-April, it's not bad for Everton.”
Not bad, but not good enough for Arsenal. Wenger, of course, still believes that his team will secure one of the Champions League places, but there can be no assurances for their supporters that it will be easy watching from now to the end of the season.
Man of the match Jagielka.
Match rating 5/10.
Referee N Swarbrick (Lancs).
Race for fourth: Remaining games
Arsenal Sat Fulham (a); 28 Apr Man Utd (h); 4 May QPR (a); 14 May Wigan (h); 19 May Newcastle (a)
Chelsea Wednesday Fulham (a); Sunday Liverpool (a); 28 Apr Swansea (h); 5 May Man United (a); 8 May Tottenham (h); 11 May Aston Villa (a); 19 May Everton (h)
Tottenham Sun Man City (h); 27 Apr Wigan (a); 4 May Southampton (h); 8 May Chelsea (a); 12 May Stoke (a); 19 May Sunderland (h)
Everton Sat Sunderland (a); 27 Apr Fulham (h); 5 May Liverpool (a); 12 May West Ham (h); 19 May Chelsea (a)
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