David Moyes kept faith with the same XI that drew on Saturday against Chelsea, with midfielder Jack Rodwell again asked to regularly support goal scorer Saha. After Everton took the lead Rodwell dropped deeper, and in the second half Mikel Arteta offered the principal support to the Toffees’ lone forward. The standout player from either side was the third of Everton’s central midfielders, the giant Belgian Fellaini. In the opening period he was colossal in front of the away defence, using his calm touch to break up attacks and distinct drive to support Everton’s counters, but as Arsenal came back into the game after the break, the hastened speed with which they moved the ball numbed Fellaini’s effectiveness.
For the first half it was Everton using the ball more effectively. They moved possession quickly around midfield with one and two touch passes, not allowing the home side to press with the same ferocity Everton brought to proceedings. The visitors’ first half strategy of pressing the ball all over the field worked well with possession turned over a number of times, or the ball being returned to the Arsenal goalkeeper thanks to a lack of options. Arteta also caught the eye with some smart dribbles away from a congested central area, keeping possession and spreading the play wide to initiate Everton attacks, most often through the willing runs of full-back Leighton Baines. Despite the contentious way Everton took the lead – Saha was clearly offside – the Toffees had the better of a muted first half.
The second stanza was a different story, however. Arsenal got to grips with the midfield and picked up the tempo, slickly moving the ball past Everton’s three central midfielders and removing Fellaini’s reading of the game from the equation. Unable to prevent wave after wave of Arsenal attacks, Everton were under increasing pressure and Saha became increasingly isolated. Everton also began to sit deeper and deeper, a symptom perhaps of being caught on the counter-attack against Chelsea at the weekend. This only served to invite more pressure as Arsenal swarmed over the Merseysiders, and they eventually got their reward through Arshavin. Five minutes after the Russian poked past Tim Howard, Everton’s good work was undone when Koscielny headed past Howard from a corner, and a strong Everton performance had been wasted by a basic failure to mark from a set-piece.
A feisty game petered out after Arsenal took the lead. Everton had a large slice of fortune in going ahead – deserved as it was – and lacked the inspiration to draw level. Without a similar dose of luck Everton toiled away but the Gunners held firm.
18 Neville – 5 Heitinga – 15 Distin – 3 Baines
23 Coleman – 25 Fellaini – 10 Arteta – 7 Bilyaletdinov
65 – 21 Osman on for 7 Bilyaletdinov
78 – 28 Anichebe on for 23 Coleman
78 – 6 Jagielka on for 18 Neville