Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Chase

photo by diongillardvia PhotoRee

It's off to Goodison Park today to see Everton take on Arsenal, both sides looking for maximum points to gain ground on an increasingly tight pack of teams chasing league leaders Chelsea. With a win today the Toffees can move to within four points of a Champions League berth, truly incredible given the slow start they've once again managed to burden themselves with; a loss leaves them still a point behind neighbors Liverpool and only two points clear of the drop zone, a situation true blue Everton fans including my friend Paul will find highly unpalatable. Arsenal will be looking to move one spot up the table, and leapfrog rivals United into second place. It's all on the line today as the two teams enter the pitch, with Howard Webb once again officiating. I swear, this guy is following me -- or is it the other way around?

Everton start the more aggressive of the two teams, unsettling Arsenal through the sheer physicality of the men up front, Tim Cahill and Louis Saha. Arsenal find it hard to gain even possession in the match's first ten minutes, quickly losing the ball and returning it back to Everton as soon as they manage to get hold of it. It's Everton with the first real chance of the game, and they should have the lead on 11 minutes, but Tim Cahill spurns a gilt-edged chance, uncharacteristically heading wide of the net on Seamus Coleman's fine cross to the far post.

By the 15th minute Arsenal settle in and find their footing, as Andrei Arshavin fashions two chances in quick succession. The little Russian is unable to test Everton 'keeper Tim Howard, though, and fires wide on both occasions.

Midway through the half referee Webb calls midfielder Jonny Heitinga over for a chat, presumably to discuss the Dutchman's grievously hard tackles on Arsenal players, but perhaps they also revisit their meeting in the World Cup final. Two minutes later and it's Webb writing down Heitinga's name in his book, and it's certainly not so they can finalize plans for a post-game cup of tea. In truth, the yellow card is nothing less than deserved for Heitinga's mutiple infractions which leave several Arsenal players debating whether to press charges for personal battery.

The game offers a stark contrast in footballing styles, with Arsenal's intricate passes and footwork opposed by Everton's more bruising, direct route to goal. At the 30 minute mark, it's a stalemate between the two philosophies, causing Le Professor to shake his head in le disgust at his team's lack of goalscoring opportunities. Five minutes later though, the Arsenal bossman is looking more content after Bacary Sagna puts the visitors ahead, ripping a rare goal from a sharp angle, as Tim Howard is beaten on the near post by the sheer force of the blast.

Although Saha's header is just cleared by Fabianski near the halftime whistle, it's a worrying 1-nil advantage for the Londoners at the break. Worrying because Everton should at least be level in the match, as well as the fact that the Toffees have yet to come back this season in a game in which they've been on the short end of the half time stick. Although the mainstream media is quick to praise the Scottish coach, the latter fact doesn't say much for his gametime adjustments or ability to inspire the troops.

No sooner do we start the second half and it's Arsenal extending the lead, with Cesc Fabregas pulling the ball just past the grasp of Tim Howard for a 2-nil scoreline. Everton are in deep trouble now, and will need to pull back a goal shortly to make this a contest.

Shortly after, it's Fabregas front and center again, although this time it's for a foul and not a goal, and the Arsenal captain is shown a yellow card for his efforts. Both sides are heated right now, and it'll be up to referee Webb to see that the tempers don't boil over this half.

Instead of tempers, though, it's end-to-end football that breaks out. Samuel Nasri displays both pace and power as he runs the length of the pitch before blasting a shot that Howard somehow solves. A minute later and it's Fabregas slotting a ball through that Marouane Chamakh should really have put in the back of the net; the Frenchman's inexplicable point blank miss shows the two goals he scored mid-week were an abberation, however, and he's back to his usual butcher's touch in front of goal, as Everton is let off the hook again.

Yakubu and Beckford replace Neville and Arteta at the 70 minute mark as Moyes opts to chase the game at home. The coach may be gesticulating from the sidelines, but Everton have left it late against an Arsenal side which is only too happy to play keep away with the lead and the ball on the road. Beckford comes close to pulling a goal back in the 81st minute, but after controlling a long pass in the box, his shot is beaten out by Fabianski for a corner, and Arsenal keep their two goal advantage.

Piennar hits a rocket directly at Fabianski a couple of brief minutes later, and it's quickly followed by a unsuccessful Baines cross into the box, and a Saha shot directed at the top left corner, as Everton finally begin to fight their way back into the match. The Toffees' redoubled effort pays off in the game's 89th minute, as a Saha knockdown is atypically met by Cahill's foot, although the Aussie striker will surely not refuse the goal that follows. 

It's unfortunate that it's taken all of 80-plus minutes for Everton to display a desire to win the game, and in the end they've left it too late to come all the way back.  There's no miracle comeback in stoppage time on tap today as it's not an early season United that Everton are facing, but an Arsenal side which has more points on the road than any other side in the league. As the Gunners hold out until the final whistle and move into second place with a 2-1 win, it's a disappointed farlieonfootie reporting for November 15.

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