Baines inspired by Arsenal nightmare
Saturday 13 November 2010
It was the first game of the season. Arsenal had finished the 2008-09 campaign in fourth; Everton were fifth.
This would be a demonstration of who had made the most of their summer. Arsenal came to Goodison Park and won 6-1, inflicting Everton's heaviest home defeat since another Arsenal side won by the same margin in 1958.
"It was one of the lowest points of the season, but also such a strange feeling," said the Everton defender, Leighton Baines. "They kept picking us off on the break and everything they seemed to do resulted in a goal. I remember there being a feeling of disbelief in the dressing room afterwards – you just couldn't fathom how that had happened.
"The excitement builds through pre-season and then on day one we had the wind knocked right out of us. We crashed back to earth but we had a decent season against the rest of the top sides – especially at Goodison."
Everton's record against Arsenal under David Moyes is not abysmal but it just seems that way because the defeats have stood out like Rafael Benitez's priest on a mountain of sugar. In 2004, the newly-crowned Invincibles opened the defence of their last Premier League title with a 4-1 victory on Merseyside. They won the return in May 7-0 and it says something for the resilience of the team that Moyes constructed that in between Everton finished in a Champions League spot.
A familiar stuttering start to the campaign – only once under Moyes have Everton collected more than 10 points from their opening half a dozen fixtures – means the Champions League is probably already beyond them. The Europa League, with its journeys to European football's further shores, may not seem a great incentive but it is a goal that Baines and his team-mates pursue with a burning sense of desire.
"A realistic and cautious ambition is for us to aim for Europe," said Baines. "We have done it in the past and when everyone is fit we have a fantastic squad. On the flip side, we don't spend the same money as other clubs who are pushing to achieve the same thing.
"If we'd had just a slightly better start to the season that would have made a massive difference. We would have been just one win away from the top sides."
Yesterday Moyes and Arsène Wenger were wrestling with the same problem – how to keep footballers happy. Moyes has all but accepted that Steven Pienaar will leave Goodison when his contract expires in June, but he managed to keep Phil Jagielka from abandoning Everton's pre-season tour of Australia to join Arsenal.
Wenger was asked how he could keep forwards Marouane Chamakh, Robin van Persie, and Nicklas Bendtner content as the season hurtles towards its midpoint. "Have you ever seen a player on the bench who isn't frustrated? He doesn't exist. When you try to convince a player to be patient, you waste your time," Wenger replied when asked about Bendtner, who has threatened to quit the club if he is not given more games "fast".
Marouane Chamakh's eight goals this season seem the Dane's biggest obstacle, although Wenger confessed that he has had to warn him about his tendency to dive. "I spoke with him and said: 'Listen, in England you cannot tolerate that because the English people become very aggressive'."
Bendtner, who did not score in the 6-1 rout two Augusts ago and has not started a League game this season, would probably relish the chance to roll over in the box, although Wenger confessed he was unlikely to grant any request to leave. "I just repeat the theory of the train. It's what they call in Japan a Nozomi – it means you cannot get off the train because it is so fast."
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