It was a match that both teams needed and a result that neither team really wanted.
Technically, Tuesday's scoreless English Premier League draw between Arsenal and Everton at Emirates Stadium will help both teams in their quest for a top-four finish, but considering the tightness of the field, the happiest parties weren't even playing.
On one hand, Arsenal stayed in third place and extended their unbeaten run against Everton to 12 league matches. On the other, the Gunners failed to put four points between themselves and nearest competitors Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur.
And on one hand, Everton just about stayed alive in their own quest for UEFA Champions League football. But on the other, the Toffees also made their task even tougher.
The score would suggest a drab match, tight teams and a lack of chances. Instead, it was tense and taut, alternating between rugby and football with challenges and chances peppering both ends.
And in the end, of course, the real winners were Chelsea and Spurs.
Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny returned to the Arsenal side as midfielder Mikel Arteta took the captain's armband against his former team. Nominal captain Thomas Vermaelen headed back to the bench, replaced by the bigger Per Mertesacker on defense. Theo Walcott slotted into midfield, replacing Gervinho.
Everton manager David Moyes made just one change from the side that beat QPR 2-0 at the weekend, bringing in 19-year-old midfielder Ross Barkley for Leon Osman. No surprise there—for Moyes, a repeat result was vital to his side's top-four challenge.
"To get into the Champions League we probably need to win tonight" - Everton manager David Moyes.— Premier League (@premierleague) April 16, 2013
Everton started the sharper side and generated the first chance, with Steven Pienaar sending his first-time shot over the bar in the sixth minute after running on to Phil Jagielka's through ball.
Arsenal's first shot came in the 24th minute following Marouane Fellaini's poor clearance. Santi Cazorla set up Kieran Gibbs, who blazed his shot over the goal.
What the opening exchanges lacked in quality and aesthetics, they more than made up for in commitment and physicality. Darron Gibson drew the first yellow card after clambering into Walcott in the 27th minute, but following the match's early form, Arsenal failed to produce a chance with the ensuing free-kick.
Gibson then escaped a second booking six minutes later after knocking down Walcott with a body check.
The match opened up before the break. Barkley had a shot saved in the 38th minute and set up Victor Anichebe two minutes later. The Nigerian's shot was deflected by two Arsenal defenders, but Szczesny collected the ball.
At the other end, Giroud crashed a first-time shot wide from Aaron Ramsey's gorgeous cross and Jagielka blocked Cazorla's cross/shot moments later.
Looked like some rucking/pushing between players in the tunnel. Arsenal steward blocked the mobile cameraman from following it. Spoilsport— Sam Wallace (@SamWallaceIndy) April 16, 2013
Both teams created half chances shortly after half-time. Kevin Mirallas sent a weak shot at Szczesny, and Cazorla stung Tim Howard's hands, winning the game's first corner in the process.
Arsenal countered dangerously in the 57th minute, but Walcott's final pass was behind Giroud, who was unable to shoot. Eight minutes later, Barkley curled a shot inches wide of the top corner on the other end.
The hosts created their best chance yet with another counter in the 78th minute. Cazorla led the attack and picked out second-half substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right. Ox had a clear view of goal, but instead of shooting, he passed to Giroud, whose mishit effort looped away from goal and into Howard's arms.
Giroud shot over the bar again two minutes later, prompting frustrated cries from the home fans. It was the last good chance in a game that, in general, lacked the creative spark needed to break the deadlock.
Afterwards, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said his team did enough to win and criticized the referee's handling of Everton's physical approach. On the latter, Everton manager David Moyes said (h/t Oliver Kay): "It's actually allowed in football. Up north we do that quite often."
Neither team will be satisfied, though Arsenal—with more to lose having already climbed to third—might rue the result the slightest bit more.
With tough matches facing all of the top-four challengers, these surely won't be the last points dropped.
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