A draw would have been just reward for Everton on their trip to the Emirates, but sloppy marking from a Gunners corner ended that hope and, in that respect, the team has only itself to blame. That aberration aside, there was plenty to provide sustenance to the Toffees who have suffered a disappointing, relegation-threatened season. Marouane Fellaini continued his streak of excellent performances, dominating the vaunted Arsenal midfield for much of the match, while Louis Saha nabbed the goal he deserved as he once again impressed, even if he was clearly offside. Mikel Arteta gave possibly his best showing of the entire campaign, playing with poise and elegance and was ably assisting Fellaini in the heart of the Blues’ midfield.
Regardless of the positives, Everton still came away from north London empty-handed meaning the weekend’s clash with Blackpool takes on even more importance. Despite their phenomenal debut Premier League season, the Seasiders sit just a point above Everton, although a Birmingham City win tonight could leave the Toffees only a point off 17th, the last safe spot above the relegation zone. Admittedly, the Midlands Blues are hosting title-chasing Manchester City and a victory appears unlikely, although it would not be the first time Roberto Mancini’s side have slipped up on their travels this season. Nonetheless, three points against Blackpool on Saturday would seriously ease any lingering fears over Everton being dragged into a relegation battle regardless of the results around them this evening,
A more long-term concern comes from the state of Everton’s squad. Instead of being bolstered last month, David Moyes’ ranks thinned. Only young centre-back Eric Dier and equally youthful Greek striker Apostolos Vellios made the move to Goodison Park and neither is likely to feature in the first team before May. That leaves Moyes’ hand considerably weakened for the rest of the campaign with the loss of playmaker Pienaar and strikers Yakubu and Vaughn. In truth, only Pienaar was a likely starter in Moyes’ first choice XI but the two departed strikers did provide competition and a couple of useful options from the bench. There is a crop of promising youngsters at Goodison, Jose Baxter and Magaye Gueye in particular, and the coming months may see them called upon, out of necessity more than anything else.
Meanwhile the internet has been abuzz with rumours regarding Everton and stories of unpaid players, rifts between the manager and Chairman Bill Kenwright, and important players destined for the exit in the summer. But when unrest takes hold of the supporters of any team on a tight budget that kind of gossip is inevitable, especially in the age of instant communication. The best riposte to a trying January for Everton would be victory over Blackpool.