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Toffees stick close to Gunners

Written By: Robert Halter

Arsenal dedicated their December match at the Emirates Stadium with Everton to the Arsenal Foundation, the club’s charitable arm for young people’s causes as Arsene Wenger and the first team squad donated a day’s wages but on the pitch the Gunners were looking to consolidate their position at the top after a 2-0 home win over Hull City but the Toffees were coming off the back of a 1-0 victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford which was a coup for their new manager Roberto Martinez before the showdown with Arsenal, as the Gunners captain, Mikel Arteta lined up against his former club. Prior to kick off, a minute’s applause was observed as a token of respect for the late Nelson Mandela. After five minutes, Everton broke forward as Ross Barkley found Kevin Mirallas but his right wing cross was unable to find James McCarthy, who was in a good position. Just before the half hour mark, the Gunners created a good opening as Kieran Gibbs broke through the middle and supplied a ball to Carl Jenkinson, who in turn gave Santi Cazorla the space to play a ball across the face of goal, which just eluded the outstretched boot of Gibbs. A minute later, the Toffees responded as Romelu Lukaku’s strike skidded along the floor but Mirallas was unable to get there in time to apply the finishing touch. The best chances of the first half fell to Arsenal near the end as Aaron Ramsey opened the pathway for Olivier Giroud, whose testing shot produced a strong block by the Toffees keeper Tim Howard and then just before the break, Mesut Ozil came in from the right to link up with Giroud, who supplied Ramsey whose first time effort was forced away by Howard with a double footed stop. After seven minutes had been played in the second half, Ozil lofted a cross from the right side which was touched on by Jack Wilshere but the advancing Cazorla put his header straight into the reach of Howard. In the fifty fourth minute, Wojciech Szczesny pulled off his first save of the game to push away a stinging strike from Steven Pienaar, after a flick on by Barkley. Two minutes later, Howard was at full stretch to keep out a lunging low volley by Ramsey, after Gibbs had put over a floating cross from the left flank. Then in the seventieth minute, the Toffees pressed again and Szczesny had to palm away a blast from long range by Barkley. In a triple change, the Gunners took off Cazorla for Theo Walcott, Wilshere for Mathieu Flamini and Ramsey for Tomas Rosicky before Everton changed Pienaar for Leon Osman. There was a chance for Flamini to make an immediate impact but he drove the ball wide after being set up by Giroud. But as the final ten minutes of normal time approached, Everton spurned two chances as a Mirallas shot was deflected off Laurent Koscielny into the side netting and this was followed by Sylvain Distin being unable to find the target with a close range header. Another Toffees change was made as Gerard Delofeu took over from Mirallas. The deadlock was eventually broken in the eightieth minute, as Rosicky’s chip was headed on by Walcott and through the legs of Giroud but the ball fell kindly for Ozil to power the ball into the roof of the net. But the Gunners lead was short lived as four minutes later, the Toffees struck back as Bryan Oviedo’s cross evaded Lukaku but with a sublime finish, Delofeu, bent the ball over Szczesny into the left side of the goal. To see the game out, Everton took off Barkley for Steven Naismith. In the Toffees final threat, Lukaku sailed a twenty yards effort over the bar, but it was  Arsenal that were denied a winner in the dying seconds, as Giroud cracked a bending strike from distance which rattled the crossbar that left the match tied at one apiece which put the Gunners five points clear of their rivals in the table by occupying first position while Everton remained just outside the top four.