Van Persie's wizardry conjures point against odds for Arsenal

Everton 1 Arsenal 1

If Arsenal, as their manager has been insisting, still claim to be championship challengers, they can thank Robin van Persie for them not having disappeared off the radar completely.

Barely 30 seconds of stoppage time remained when the Dutchman secured an unlikely and barely deserved point with a stunning finish that levelled the 100th goal of Tim Cahill's English career.

Van Persie chested down Abou Diaby's diagonal ball and flashed an angled left-foot shot past Tim Howard for his 13th goal of the season. That Everton's keeper had made only one token save to that juncture underlined how unexpected the equaliser was.

Both teams are now unbeaten in nine games but there was perhaps a clue afterwards from Arsène Wenger as to his innermost thoughts on the title's destination.

"For me, Everton are as big a threat to us as Aston Villa for a top-four place," he said. "They are a good side." No mention there of still aiming to unseat Manchester United and he added: '"A point is never enough because you play for three but it was a difficult game. I knew we would keep going to the last second and it was an exceptional finish by Van Persie."

The forward stood out in a largely forgettable performance from a side showing six changes to the one who drew in the FA Cup at Cardiff. The overhaul included William Gallas's recall for his first Premier League action of 2009 – and defenders on both sides held a vice-like grip on the first half.

Apart from a long-range Van Persie free-kick that deflected wide and a stretching effort from the same player that was off target, Everton were not threatened and Arsenal were seldom ruffled by opponents who again had Cahill alone up front as they foraged for scraps in the manner that served them well during their two recent draws across Stanley Park.

A swirling mist did nothing to improve the spectacle and Arsenal were guilty early in the second half of a bad miss that such an incident-deprived contest could not afford. Van Persie used Gaël Clichy's run as a decoy and instead fed the unmarked Denilson, who scooped horribly over from 18 yards.

Cahill fired one of several warnings at the other end when he burst into the area to drive into the side-netting after Mikel Arteta had set him up.

And it was the Australian who delivered once more for his side in the 61st minute.

Leighton Baines crossed well from near the byline on the left and Clichy arrived too late to deny Cahill the space he needed to climb and plant a header across Manuel Almunia. It was a trademark finish by the makeshift centre-forward and an utterly appropriate way for him to reach his personal milestone.

Howard was called upon for the first time when scooping up a header from Van Persie following Alexandre Song's chip. Routine or not, at least it was an on-target effort from Arsenal.

Underwhelmed though he must have been by his side's efforts, Wenger waited until the final 19 minutes to make any changes; two of them at once, in fact, with positivity in mind. By then, Leon Osman had curled wide of the far post, then Cahill thumped a shot into the chest of Almunia before Everton's masterful defence were finally breached for only the second time in the League since 7 December.

On that date, they lost at the death at home to Aston Villa, whom they now trail by 10 points, with Arsenal in fifth place, equi-distant from the two of them.

With so few forwards at his disposal and moves for two loan targets confirmed last night as having collapsed, it is difficult for Everton's manager David Moyes to talk up his interest in fourth place but he tried: '"It was a really good team performance,'" he said. "We're playing well enough to catch the teams above us."

Goals: Cahill (61) 1-0, Van Persie (90) 1-1.

Everton (4-5-1): Howard; Hibbert, Jagielka, Lescott, Baines; Osman, Neville, Fellaini, Arteta, Pienaar; Cahill (Anichebe, 86). Substitutes not used: Nash (gk), Yobo, Castillo, Rodwell, Jutkiewicz, Gosling.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Almunia; Sagna (Eboué, 71), Gallas, Djourou, Clichy; Denilson, Diaby, Song (Bendtner, 71), Nasri; Adebayor, Van Persie. Substitutes not used: Fabianski (gk), Touré, Vela, Ramsey, Gibbs.

Referee: A Marriner (W Midlands)

Booked: Everton Arteta, Hibbert; Arsenal Diaby, Nasri.

Man of the match: Van Persie.

Attendance: 37,097.

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