Walcott returns with a goal but Toffees draw leaves Arsenal no closer to top four
22:19 28 November 2012
Premier League: Everton 1 Arsenal 1
Theo Walcott marked his first-team returns with a first minute goal but the draw at Everton did little to boost their bid to regain a top-four spot in the Premier League.
Walcott, who had missed two matches with a shoulder injury, scored after just 52 seconds only for Marouane Fellaini, having served a one-match ban, to equalise just before the half-hour mark.
Everton thought they should have had a second-half penalty when former Toffees midfielder Mikel Arteta appeared to foul Steven Pienaar, but their appeals went unheard.
A sixth draw in eight league matches has put a dampener on the Merseysiders’ impressive start to the season and they have now dropped to sixth, with the Gunners immediately below them.
Arsenal had won eight and drawn two of their last 10 league meetings and must have felt they would add to their tally of victories after gaining such an early advantage.
Walcott, for whom one of the issues regarding renewing his contract which expires this summer appears to be a desire to play up front, gave an example of what he offers in the penalty area.
Fans barely had the chance to take their seats before he put the visitors ahead in a move which carved open the Everton defence in a manner which will have infuriated manager David Moyes.
Walcott set off on a diagonal right-to-left run, aided by a fortunate rebound off Phil Jagielka, but when he got to the edge of the penalty area he offloaded to Aaron Ramsey.
The England international continued the path of his run and his Welsh team-mate duly returned the ball for him to fire in a shot which looped up off Tony Hibbert and over goalkeeper Tim Howard.
It took him into double figures for the season and made him joint league scorer - with four - alongside Olivier Giroud, Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla.
Arsenal were forced into a reshuffle minutes later when Laurent Koscielny injured himself clearing the ball and was replaced by left-back Kieran Gibbs, with Thomas Vermaelen reverting to his usual place in the centre.
Fellaini took a while to get into the game and his downward header at a corner lacked any threat and was collected by Wojciech Szczesny at the second attempt.
However, the Belgium international is not one to pass up chances when they are presented to him on a plate and he capitalised in the 28th minute.
Bacary Sagna, under pressure from Steven Pienaar, duffed a cross-field clearance straight to Everton’s leading scorer 25 yards out.
He took a moment to get the ball under control before curling a low, left-footed shot inside Szczesny’s right-hand post.
Sagna was not having the best of nights and, under pressure from Fellaini, he toe-poked a backpass just wide from distance.
Nikica Jelavic then produced a moment of sublime skill to control Fellaini’s flick on his chest and turn Per Mertesacker but his finish in no way matched his touch and he ballooned a shot into the Park End.
After 10 minutes contesting dominance at the start of the second half, Everton emerged on top and had it not been for Szczesny they would have gone ahead.
The Poland international kept out Pienaar’s near-post shot at the expense of a corner and when Leighton Baines’ initial cross was returned to him he picked out Sylvain Distin whose powerful header was denied by Szczesny’s fingertips.
Arsenal were even luckier when former Everton midfielder Mikel Arteta’s challenge sent Pienaar sprawling in the penalty area - television replays suggesting the Spaniard got nowhere near the ball - only for referee Mike Jones to award a corner.
The Gunners responded with Olivier Giroud flashing a header across goal from Walcott’s cross as they started to show signs of turning the tide.
Suddenly Howard was the busier goalkeeper, punching clear a couple of corners and repelling Cazorla’s long-range strike.
Jelavic had one late chance to snatch victory in the 89th minute but he fired his cross-shot through the six-yard box.
Everton: Howard, Hibbert, Jagielka, Distin, Baines, Naismith (Oviedo, 62), Gibson (Hitzlsperger, 73), Osman, Pienaar, Fellaini, Jelavic.
Unused subs: Mucha, Heitinga, Gueye, Barkley, Vellios.
Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny (Gibbs, 4), Vermaelen, Walcott, Ramsey (Gervinho, 80), Arteta, Wilshere, Cazorla (Coquelin, 90), Giroud.
Unused subs: Mannone, Rosicky, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jenkinson
Referee: Michael Oliver (Northumberland)