A case of paradise postponed? For too long it was, as a redoubtable Everton thwarted their hosts' intention of producing more heavenly football, continuing where they had left off last weekend at Reading. Finally, Arsène Wenger's men came alive in the second half, displaying the kind of football we have come to associate with the Frenchman's philosophy.
The fact that his side were unable to provide the victorious finale that Robin van Persie's viciously struck free-kick equaliser had promised was partly the consequence of their own failure to finish, with Thierry Henry just one of the culprits, but was also testimony to the visitors' defensive resolution. The Everton back-four restricted the Gunners to relatively few clear opportunities, considering their possession and in view of the visitors' state of health.
Everton's manager, David Moyes, revealed afterwards that no fewer than six of his players had been "feeling sick". They included Mikel Arteta, who had complained of double vision during the game, and Lee Carlsey.
"I think everyone turned up expecting to see Arsenal play like they did last week. We had to make sure they didn't," said Moyes, whose team were beaten at Highbury 7-0 two seasons ago. "If we'd have come here playing an open game, they'd have cut us open. The performance was real gutsy and full of character." Moyes was sent to the stands in the final minutes by referee Mike Riley, although Moyes insisted it was simply for gesturing at his watch to remind him of the time.
By that time, such was Everton's rearguard that Wenger had been able to remove a defender, Johan Djourou, and thrust Theo Walcott into the fray. Yet his team were unable to capitalise on that late domination, and the reality for Arsenal is that their title expectations continue to be undone by indifferent form here.
Their two home Premiership wins, from five games, have come against promoted Watford and Sheffield United. More dropped points yesterday mean they lose further ground as Manchester United and Chelsea's relentless progress continues unabated.
Though Wenger paid tribute to Everton's defending he was unhappy with what he perceived as timewasting tactics from the visitors. "I have nothing against negative football," he said, "if it is played in the right spirit - but not when you have to wait two minutes for a goalkeeper to take a goalkick." He can expect more of the same from CSKA Moscow here on Wednesday night.
It was also suggested to Wenger that the crowd had started to turn on Henry because of his failures in front of goal, though that appeared to come from only a few voices. "When they don't score goals, strikers get critics," he retorted. "There was no real space. It was not easy up front."
The eulogies which followed the eclipse of Reading suddenly sounded hollow as the visitors established an 11th-minute lead. Tim Cahill's movement caught Kolo Touré slumbering as he stole in to win the ball, albeit not with a great deal of grace, from Arteta's corner, then drove it high into the net. It was the Australian's seventh goal of the season, and he came close to adding another when Arteta's astute free-kick caught the home rearguard static again. The midfielder just failed to make contact.
Midway through the first half, the game acquired an unpleasant edge when Arteta rugby-tackled Gallas to the ground, and in doing so appeared to catch him with his foot. An enraged Gallas had to be restrained by his team-mates. It all concluded with cautions for both men.
Cesc Fabregas and Tomas Rosicky had earlier come close for Arsenal, while Everton's goalkeeper Tim Howard also did well to thwart Henry, but the home team's play in the final third possessed little of the free-flowing precision shown against Reading.
Wenger's men were revitalised after the interval, however. With the exception of the occasional sortie by Andrew Johnson, the visitors were barely in their half. A Henry header forced another splendid save from Howard and Rosicky launched an effort just over the bar. Then Rosicky was again wide, and Fabregas brought more out of Howard's repertoire before Henry headed wide.
Halfway through the second period, Walcott was introduced. Within a couple of minutes, Rosicky was adjudged to have been felled by Carsley just outside the area, although Moyes later disputed that award. Van Persie finally beat Howard with a blistering free-kick.
It was the prelude to a sustained onslaught by Arsenal, but the solid blue line continued to cope - just. In the final minute, Henry beat Howard to the ball to steer a header narrowly wide, as Gallas slid in but failed to make the vital contact. It reflected Arsenal's fortunes in the second half.Reuse content