Having seen his side twice go behind, Arsène Wenger realised that coming out of this game with a point was the best he could have hoped for. That was especially true a minute after the Gunners went 2-1 down, as Manuel Almunia helped avert certain defeat with a save from James Vaughan. If the substitute striker had shown the poise of Steven Pienaar, then Everton would have clinched a victory that most agreed the Toffees deserved.
Pienaar's goal, collecting Tim Cahill's pass before embarking on a run of 50 yards that ended with him scooping his shot over Almunia as the Spaniard went to ground, was the highlight of this contest played out in increasingly difficult conditions, as the snow swirled around north London. Pienaar's goal showed brilliant presence of mind even if his manager didn't think he was capable of pulling it off.
David Moyes said: "I wouldn't say his finishing is his strongest point. But that was unbelievable, especially on that pitch, with snow on it. It just took that little bit longer [to go in] and my heart was in my mouth. He deserves it because he is a fabulous footballer."
He has to be thankful Pienaar's South Africa is such a bad team that they didn't qualify for the African Nations Cup which started yesterday in Angola.
For a similar strike, think of Karel Poborsky's goal against Portugal at Euro 96, although the Czech Republic winger had to lift his shot higher over Vitor Baia. Pienaar was as surprised as his manager by his goal. "It was a bit of luck. As soon as I got close I saw he was quite far from his line. I thought I might not take the risk but then thought there's nothing to lose, it's 1-1 and I was lucky he went on his knees early. It's one of the best goals I've scored, maybe the best."
The display by the visitors showed how they have closed the gap on the top sides since they were destroyed 6-1 by Arsenal on the opening day of the season, a campaign largely ruined so far by injuries. Draws more recently, having been behind, against Chelsea and Tottenham have shown more of the spirit usually associated with Everton.
Moyes said: "This set the record straight [after the 6-1] because there were mitigating circumstances at the start of the season. But today showed that maybe Everton aren't quite as far away from Arsenal as maybe the points difference suggests." Pienaar described that thrashing back in August as "a disgrace".
Playing like this, the team from Merseyside could turn their run of six Premier League games without defeat – albeit with more draws than wins – into an even longer unbeaten spell that takes them towards the Europa League places. Although Moyes has lost Joseph Yobo and Yakubu to duty with Nigeria in Angola, that feeling of better times ahead is bolstered by the fact he also has players coming back from injury.
Everton were never made to look out of place at the Emirates, on a day when Moyes gave Landon Donovan – the LA Galaxy forward just back from holiday in Hawaii – his debut. The United States international presumably didn't move to the Premier League for the weather, as he prepares for the World Cup and a group game against England, but he probably did not imagine he was signing up for games in sub-zero temperatures.
However, he quickly impressed Moyes, having taken the corner that set up Leon Osman for his headed goal – the smallest man on the pitch outjumped William Gallas – and another incursion into the penalty area which should have seen him shoot and not pass.
The Everton manager said: "Donovan did very well. From what I have seen of him his football's simple, he's quick and he's lively. He was intelligent enough [against Arsenal]. He tracked people back and we know he can play off the front or wide. He made a good contribution."
But Moyes acknowledged his side's need to be more efficient and "ruthless" as he put it, when they have chances to win games. From the kick-off after Pienaar's goal, Denilson went to ground clutching his lower ribs, Cahill collected the ball and passed to Vaughan ,who should have scored after his own 40-yard run. Denilson will have a scan today that will reveal whether he will be fit to play on Sunday at Bolton.
Arsenal realised they had been given a second chance, after Vaughan's miss, one they took when Tomas Rosicky's shot deflected off Lucas Neill and past Tim Howard two minutes into stoppage time. Moyes said there was some shouting in the dressing -room, after two points had been thrown away. Presumably Vaughan was the main target.
With Chelsea's match called off because of the weather, this game offered Arsenal the chance to close the gap on the league leaders to one point, but even after Denilson's goal – again deflected – Wenger admitted they never looked likely to beat an Everton side that dominated midfield through Marouane Fellaini and Osman.
In sticky clashes like this, Arsenal clearly miss the ingenuity and ability to beat a player, or two, with a pass from midfield that Cesc Fabregas offers, let alone the threat up front from Robin van Persie, but at least the Spaniard could return at the weekend. Arsenal must hope their push for the title comes back at the same time.
Arsenal (4-3-3): Almunia; Sagna, Gallas, Vermalen, Traoré; Denilson (Merida, 81), Ramsey (Rosicky, 65), Diaby; Nasri, Arshavin, Eduardo (Vela, 75) Substitutes not used: Fabianski (gk), Silvestre, Eastmond, Emmanuel-Thomas.
Everton (4-4-1-1): Howard; Neville, Neill, Heitinga, Baines; Donovan (Bilyaletdinov, 70), Fellaini, Osman, Pienaar; Cahill; Saha (Vaughan, 75) Substitutes not used: Nash (gk), Coleman, Duffy, Baxter, Mustafi.
Referee: P Walton (Northamptonshire).
Booked: Arsenal Sagna; Everton Pienaar.
Man of the match: Pienaar.
Attendance: 60,053.Reuse content