Arsenal scored twice in the final 10 minutes to secure an unlikely draw at Everton on Saturday at Goodison Park in a thrilling matchup of Premier League top-four contenders.
Everton had taken a two-goal lead through Seamus Coleman and Steven Naismith, and they seemed set for victory after an impressive first-half performance. But Arsenal fought back with late goals by Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud to claim a point despite struggling to sustain attacks for much of the match.
The draw leaves Everton with two points from as many matches this season following the Toffees' draw—by the same 2-2 scoreline—at promoted side Leicester City last weekend. But while Roberto Martinez's side will be happy with their first-half performance, the result must be seen as two points lost.
Throughout the first 45 minutes, Everton tore through Arsenal's defence seemingly at will. Full-backs Coleman and Leighton Baines terrorised Arsenal's flanks throughout the match, while Gareth Barry and James McCarthy kept on lid on the Gunners midfield.
With the diminutive Alexis Sanchez playing as the sole centre-forward, Arsenal were unable to trouble Everton's defence. But with the introduction of Giroud at half-time, the tide started to turn as the Gunners slowly made their way back into the game.
For Arsenal, who now have four points from two matches, Saturday's encounter seemed destined to become another disappointment on another big away day. After playing poorly on the road against top sides last season—including a 3-0 loss at Everton—manager Arsene Wenger admitted his team must improve in such games this term, as per the London Evening Standard. But their first-half performance suggested the Gunners still have much to improve on when playing tough teams away from home.
The schedule remains tricky for Arsenal from here. Up next is the second leg of their UEFA Champions League play-off with Besiktas on Wednesday. Following last week's scoreless draw in Turkey, Arsenal need a victory at the Emirates to secure passage to the group stage of that competition.
Much like last season's encounter at Goodison Park, Everton spent much of Saturday's first half tearing through Arsenal's defence. The opener arrived in the 19th minute via Coleman, moments after the full-back had given away possession in a dangerous spot in his own half. That miscue had come to nothing after Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain dragged a shot off target, and Coleman made amends soon after.
Everton worked a free-kick from the middle over to the left flank and back into the middle for Gareth Barry, who lifted a fine cross toward the back post. Coleman, who had slipped free from the attention of Mesut Ozil, headed in unmarked off Wojciech Szczesny's palms.
Three minutes later, it was nearly 2-0.
Arsenal's defence was shredded again as Kevin Mirallas ran free onto a ball lofted over the top. The Gunners escaped this time, though, as Mirallas shot wide.
As the visitors struggled to sustain attacks, Everton came close yet again in the 35th minute as Mirallas curled a free-kick just wide of the top corner. It was only a brief let-off for Arsenal, however, as the Toffees doubled their lead just before half-time.
There seemed to be no danger when Everton cleared their lines in the 45th minute, but the situation quickly escalated when Romelu Lukaku muscled Per Mertesacker off the ball and immediately tore down the right flank.
Bearing down on goal, Lukaku slipped a precise pass through to Naismith, who finished deftly past Szczesny. With that, the Toffees went into half-time with a deserved 2-0 lead, though Arsenal will feel somewhat aggrieved after replays showed Naismith was offside in the buildup to the second goal.
Depressing that Everton outwitting us with effectively the same plan as last season. Doesn't bode well.— gunnerblog (@gunnerblog) August 23, 2014
What did Wenger expect? Our centre-forward is 5'5, and we're playing a #10 on the left wing. Hardly rocket science why we're struggling.— Arsenal Repört (@ArsenalReport) August 23, 2014
Half-time brought a change to Arsenal's attack as Giroud replaced Sanchez. With his first touch, the French striker nearly hauled Arsenal back into the game. Oxlade-Chamberlain set up the chance in the 46th minute with a cross to the back post, where Giroud scorched his first-time volley over the bar.
Frustration started to build for Arsenal, Jack Wilshere going into the book for a late challenge on Gareth Barry in the 54th minute. Giroud had another opportunity in the 67th minute after being set up by Wilshere, but he dragged his shot wide of the near post. Two minutes later, the French striker poked a shot on target from close range, only for Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard to save.
Wenger responded by introducing Joel Campbell and Santi Cazorla to the attack. And in the 83rd minute, Arsenal pulled a goal back with Cazorla prominently involved.
Holding possession on the left side, Cazorla had plenty of time and space to drive through Everton's box and cross into the middle. Ramsey was on hand to sweep into the net between two defenders.
Suddenly Arsenal were back in the match, and in the 90th minute, Giroud's good work paid off with the equaliser. Nacho Monreal chased down a poor cross deep on the left and crossed back into the middle for Giroud, who held off Sylvain Distin and powered in his header.
With that, the unlikely comeback was complete. From there, Arsenal might have fancied themselves to win the match with another late goal, but after being outplayed for much of the 90 minutes, Wenger's side will be happy to take a point back to London.
|Steven Pienaar||No rating||N/A|
|Leon Osman (for Pienaar, 10')||6.3||6.7|
|Aiden McGeady (for Lukaku, 76')||N/A||5.9|
|Christian Atsu (for Mirallas, 85')||N/A||No rating|
Ratings via WhoScored.com
|Olivier Giroud (for Sanchez, 45')||N/A||7.4|
|Santi Cazorla (for Wilshere, 74')||N/A||7.2|
|Joel Campbell (for Oxlade-Chamberlain, 74')||N/A||6.4|
Ratings via WhoScored.com
Wenger: "I think it is a strong point because we were 2-0 down. The game was played with high pace. It's a good & deserved point."— Chris Wheatley (@GoonerTalk) August 23, 2014