Arsenal missed out on the chance to move seven points clear after being held to a 1-1 draw by Everton.
After the likes of Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea either lost or drew on Saturday, the onus was on the Gunners to deliver.
They were not at their best. Still, they looked likely to claim three points when Mesut Ozil netted with 10 minutes remaining. That is, until Gerard Deulofeu grabbed a leveller for the visitors.
It’s not often Arsenal are dominated on their home pitch, but that was the case for 40 minutes at the Emirates.
Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 8, 2013
Everton played a high-tempo pressing game, and the likes of Ross Barkley and Kevin Mirallas swarmed all over Arsenal. But for all the pressure and possession Everton enjoyed, they did not test Gunners keeper Wojciech Szczesny in the opening 45 minutes.
And it was Arsenal who crafted the two best chances of the first half. It took the Gunners 40 minutes to gain a foothold, but they could arguably have gone in at the interval two goals to the good.
A clever pass from Jack Wilshere played in Olivier Giroud, but Tim Howard dashed off his line to make the save.
The Everton keeper showed his class once again in the final minute of the half after a combination of Santi Cazorla, Giroud and Aaron Ramsey had sliced open the Toffees. Once again, Howard was fast off his line and able to smother the ball at the feet of Ramsey.
Szczesny was called into action for the first time on 54 minutes, as he had to push out a stinging drive from Steven Pienaar after a rapid Everton break.
Minutes later, the alert Howard denied Ramsey a ninth Premier League goal, as the Everton keeper scrambled across his line to keep out the Welshman’s volley.
Szczesny was in the thick of the action again on 67 minutes. He had to push out a fierce drive from Barkley after Wilshere had inexplicably allowed a loose ball to run across the edge of his own area.
Flamini, Walcott, Rosicky all coming on ... Wenger's playing a full hand— Sam Wallace (@SamWallaceIndy) December 8, 2013
Gunners boss Arsene Wenger made a triple substitution with a shade over 20 minutes remaining, and it almost provided an instant impact. A loose ball fell to Mathieu Flamini inside the box, and he flashed a shot a fraction wide of the target.
Arsenal were well short of their best, but there is a steely determination about them, and they found a goal with 10 minutes remaining.
Two of Wenger’s substitutes had a big say in the goal. Theo Walcott nodded a cross from Tomas Rosicky across goal, and Ozil was on hand to stroke the ball home after Giroud had missed his kick.
The lead did not last long, courtesy of an on-loan Everton substitute—and no, not the high-profile Romelu Lukaku. Gerard Deulofeu picked up the ball inside the box and flashed a powerful, dipping shot that flew past Szczesny.
Giroud came close to snatching a winner in injury time, but his rasping drive clattered against the woodwork.
Barkley gave an interview to broadcaster Sky Sports immediately after the game:
I think the draw was a fair result. It was 50-50, end to end and we had the same chances as them. ...
The gaffer told me to get in between their midfield and defence and it was good for me today. ...
The season is going well for me, I am playing for Everton and England. We have only been beaten once and we are going well.
Ross Barkley: B+
There’s plenty of competition for spots in England's World Cup midfield. In front of the watching Roy Hodgson, Barkley made his point. He was the shining light in the matchup with Arsenal’s high-profile midfielders.
Per Mertesacker: B
The Germany international has faced plenty of criticism in his time at Arsenal. This season, he has gone a long way to silencing his critics, and once again he was impressive in the way he dealt with the threat of Everton.
Aaron Ramsey: C-
It was a rare off day for the star of the season so far for Arsenal. He looked a little heavy-legged as Everton swamped the midfield. He almost snatched a goal on two occasions, which shows he can contribute when short of his best, but this is not a game he will look back on with fondness.