Arsenal’s Momentum Halted by Everton; Fulham Wins

By Samuel Petrequin 9 December 2013

LONDON — Arsenal’s Premier League momentum was halted when the Gunners allowed a late equalizer in a 1-1 draw with Everton on Sunday, while Fulham ended its losing streak by beating Aston Villa to give new manager Rene Meulensteen his first victory.

Arsenal failed to take full advantage of its main rivals’ stumbles on Saturday as substitute Gerard Deulofeu leveled with a hard shot from a tight angle in the 84th minute to give Everton a deserved point.

Ahead of a crucial fortnight that will see them play against Napoli in the Champions League, Manchester City and Chelsea, Arsenal leads by five points ahead of Liverpool and Chelsea.

“Not bad to take, ideally wanted seven but at least we’ve got five,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said about his team’s margin. “It gives a little bit of a cushion to play in a serene way against other teams.”

After Chelsea lost 3-2 at Stoke and Manchester City was held 1-1 at Southampton on Saturday, Arsenal will certainly rue striker Olivier Giroud’s shot that hit the crossbar in stoppage time.

Seeking their first title since 2004, the Gunners got off to a strong start this season but some critics continue to cast doubts over their title credentials, despite their impressive combination of speed and flair.

“As long as we are five points ahead you cannot rule ourselves out even with the best desire,” Wenger said. “So let’s keep that cushion. It shows you that it will be a tough Premier League and the consistency in the end will be rewarded. The consistency for us is down to us to keep this attitude until the end of the season.”

Everton followed up their victory at Old Trafford midweek with another impressive performance, playing with determination and a high tempo during the first half to monopolize possession.

With Ross Barkley bossing the midfield, Everton was a constant threat on the flanks during the first half but lacked the finishing touch.

Failing to produce its usual sharp passing game, Arsenal started playing better in the closing stages of the first half and should have scored with two minutes remaining when referee Howard Webb decided to play the advantage following Gareth Barry’s rough tackle on Ozil.

But Howard was quick off his line to deny Giroud’s effort from close range. The United States goalkeeper was again decisive in the 45th minute to block Aaron Ramsey’s attempt from Giroud’s assist.

Arsenal played with the same intensity after the interval and went ahead after Everton wasted two good chances, as Theo Walcott headed a ball across the goal and Giroud failed to hit it before Ozil fired it into the roof of the net.

Everton fought back to equalize after Romelu Lukaku failed to connect with an overhead kick and Deulofeu slotted home from 10 meters, before Giroud almost grabbed the three points with his powerful strike that hit the woodwork.

“The performance, I couldn’t be happier,” said Everton manager after the club remained fifth in the standings, seven points behind Arsenal. “The only bit of criticism is you need to take your chances, in the final third we were not ruthless enough. But I am really, really pleased. The character is really strong.”

Earlier, Steve Sidwell and Dimitar Berbatov scored first-half goals to give Fulham a 2-0 win over Villa to end a six-game losing streak in the league.

The result marked Meulensteen’s first win as Fulham manager as his players ended Aston Villa’s five-match unbeaten run.

The visitors were kept at bay from the start and were never a real threat on a sunny afternoon at Craven Cottage.

After a minute’s applause for former South African President Nelson Mandela who died Thursday, Aston Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan pushed Berbatov’s header onto the bar but was powerless when Sidwell flicked the ball from a tight angle to open the scoring in the 21st minute.

Berbatov then calmly scored from the penalty spot for his second league goal this season after Alexander Kacaniklic was fouled by Leandro Bacuna in the box.

“I couldn’t be more delighted and the players should be delighted with themselves,” Meulensteen said. “We were quality going forward in an attacking sense. It’s a massive boost. Although we lost, we got the feel good factor back against Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday and it was about backing that up with three points today. The fans can see we’re back on track.”