Saturday 24 February 2018

Wenger relief after Rosicky's last-gasp effort shares spoils

Arsenal 2
Everton 2

Oliver Brown at Emirates Stadium

IN this Arctic outpost of north London, Arsenal were more than grateful for cold comforts. True, Tomas Rosicky's painfully late equaliser salvaged only a point, but it felt like three as the bloody-mindedness of Arsene Wenger's players redeemed an enfeebled display.

As a blizzard swirled inside the Emirates dome, Everton fans could hear only the chill warning of the stadium announcer that they could find their last trains home cancelled; it threatened to be a long, hard road back to Merseyside.

Such was Everton's dominance, the only reaction Wenger could muster was one of relief. The Arsenal manager appears to have enjoyed an especially convivial Christmas, or made some drastic New Year's resolutions -- either way, his language was striking by its magnanimity.

"We gained one point, because we were closer to losing this game than winning it," he said, eyeing a three-point deficit to leaders Chelsea that could be bridged in one fell swoop when the clubs meet at Stamford Bridge on February 7.

"We didn't produce the quality that we are used to in our team play. I would have signed for a point," Wenger continued. "For the biggest part of this match Everton were more dangerous, sharper than us." He did not need to tell that to an apoplectic David Moyes, left to rue the failure of his team to make good on Steven Pienaar's stunning second-half breakaway goal. "There are a few of our players shouting at each other," the Everton manager said. "While the performance was terrific, we have to be more ruthless."

Arsenal merely thanked their fortune and nursed their wounds. Denilson, their in-form midfield conductor, had to be removed from the field on a stretcher with 10 minutes left after pulling up mysteriously, clutching his side. Wenger disclosed that the Brazilian was walking about normally in the dressing room afterwards, but confirmed further tests were needed. He had much to be grateful to Denilson for, given the 21-year-old's role in creating the first of two deflected goals.

Landon Donovan must have been pining for some California rays. Barely 24 hours after decamping to Merseyside, the second brightest star in the LA Galaxy (Mr Beckham being on his own sabbatical in Milan) was pitched into the teeth of a London snowstorm. It was a curious gamble by Moyes, who clearly preferred to rely on a jetlagged American and a less-than-fit Louis Saha than risk Jo, the mercurial striker who had disappeared to Brazil for Christmas without the manager's permission.

But he seemed satisfied with the decision: "Landon did really well, considering he has just come back from Hawaii." It took only 12 minutes for Donovan to contrive what American sports statisticians like to call an "assist". Saha had already wasted a finish, surging on to a crafty ball from Pienaar that left him square on goal, when the on-loan Galaxy winger whipped in the type of corner on which it would have been impolite not to capitalise. Leon Osman was the first to see the opportunity, putting every inch of his substantial frame behind a header that flew beyond goalkeeper Manuel Almunia.

Everton were pressing Arsenal to great effect, and it was left to the full-backs to spearhead the rare counter-attacks. When Bacary Sagna's cross was not properly dealt with, Eduardo pounced, touching the ball into the path of Denilson, whose low drive took a looping deflection off Osman to leave 'keeper Tim Howard stranded. It was more than Arsenal, through their ponderous play, would have dared hope for.

How Everton toiled to prove their superiority. Even Phil Neville was joining the attack, delivering a delicious pass for Tim Cahill, who should have done better than to angle a header tamely across the face of goal. But as the snow began to settle early in the second half, so Moyes' players did too.

Saha was their most consistent threat but Pienaar applied the more telling influence, latching on to Cahill's perfect through-ball to go one-on-one with Almunia and scooping a strike over the Spaniard with aplomb.

Arsenal's riposte was rather less elegant as Rosicky, signalling his return after 18 months of groin problems, weighed in with an injury-time shot that ricocheted past Howard off Lucas Neill. It was a move of scant aesthetic merit, but of potentially untold moment in this season's title race.


Sunday Independent

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