Arsenal were producing such dross, steam was rising from their manager. The arms were flailing, the fourth official was getting an earful and, finally, one misplaced pass too many broke the mask completely. Wenger took careful aim at a discarded drinks carton and gave it a hefty kick in exasperation. One-nil to Everton, and James Beattie.
There is considerable debate on Merseyside as to whether Beattie is a complete waste of money or a partial one, but yesterday he did repay some of the £6 million fee. He got the goal, but he also thoroughly got up the nose of Wenger, who spent most of the afternoon pointing out the alleged misdemeanours of the Everton No 8.
"Reyes is offensive, Pires is offensive and Ljungberg is offensive," Wenger said afterwards, pointing out that Thierry Henry was not playing alone up front, but there was no doubt that Beattie's robust style offended him most. Not that the Arsenal centre-backs are likely to be sending him belated Christmas cards, either, after spending much of the match bouncing off him.
Philippe Senderos was bumped and bundled into a nervous wreck, Sol Campbell was scarcely much better. The 13th-minute goal encapsulated their afternoon. Tim Cahill lobbed a speculative pass forward which Senderos treated in much the same manner cricketers deal with a Shane Warne slider. He dithered as he tried to read the spin, Beattie surged past and the goal was turned from a possibility into a probability when Campbell was tamely levered off the ball with a shrug of the Everton striker's shoulders.
Beattie, being the mixture of good and bad he is, managed to take the gloss off that excellent goal by missing an even better chance 12 minutes later, courtesy of Cesc Fabregas's dreadful back-pass. But in a season where he has spent most of the time looking like a poor man's Duncan Ferguson, this match left him with several trophies to admire even if the man-of-the-match award was not one of them.
He was awarded that by television viewers but he handed the bottle of champagne to Leon Osman, a more worthy recipient in his opinion, in a gesture that was typical according to his manager. "It shows the spirit we have got going in the club," David Moyes said. "What James is good at is running at people and putting them under pressure. He did that today."
The list of what Arsenal's Henry is good at is so long it saves time to list the few weaknesses, but yesterday's match would not have lasted long enough in the Frenchman's memory to survive the walk to the dressing room. He was elegantly irrelevant as he went in pursuit of getting the one goal that will push him ahead of Cliff Bastin as the club's record League scorer, but given the poverty of the service he received that was hardly surprising.
In theory, his pace should have had Alan Stubbs and David Weir (combined age 69) gasping for oxygen but Methuselah and his father could have been the Everton centre-backs given the amount of passes that found his runs, and the upshot was that Beattie was the more effective. Yes, you did read that.
The match ball finished in much the same state as the drinks carton at Wenger's feet, Henry booting it high into the air with anger. Two kicks, no points, plenty of frustration.Reuse content