Heading into Tuesday's fixture, the statistics painted a grim picture for Everton. No win over Arsenal since March 2007 and no win at Arsenal since January 1996. However, while those streaks continue after the scoreless draw, recent visits to North London highlight the narrowing gap between Everton and the sides above them. Running Arsenal close and Tottenham even closer, the Toffees merit their league position.
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Despite fading as an attacking force in the latter stages, Everton earned their point through tremendous defending and sheer bloody-mindedness. The attacking threat suffered near the end, as players tired, with Everton lacking the quality in reserve to alter matches. Ultimately, the extra strength in depth gives the top sides the edge over David Moyes’ men.
Although victory proved elusive, there were a number of performances to admire. Seamus Coleman is noted for his forward forays from full-back, but his defensive ability is increasing at a rapid pace. One outstanding second-half block typified the improvements.
Beside Coleman, captain-in-waiting Phil Jagielka thrived; this was his sort of game, especially near the end. If it moved, he tackled it; if it ran, he chased it; if it was on target, he blocked it. His distribution is questionable, but there are few better defenders in the league.
Darron Gibson continues to excel in midfield. For a player signed for £500,000, his influence on the side is remarkable. Ending the first half with the most passes and the best accuracy, his range is an impressive weapon in the Everton armoury.
Next to Gibson was Marouane Fellaini. The big-haired Belgian filled the Leon Osman-shaped midfield hole with consummate ease. Used farther forward this season, Fellaini has struggled on occasion when reverting to central midfield; there was no sign of that Tuesday.
Strong in the tackle, Fellaini imposed himself from the off and provided excellent cover for the defence. The statistics highlight his influence, as Fellaini registered the most tackles (7), headed clearances (6), touches (86) and passes (61).
Ahead of Fellaini and Gibson, Ross Barkley received another start. Previously used on either flank, the youngster has struggled to influence proceedings. Handed a start in an advanced central role, Barkley showed his undoubted potential. Whistling a second-half shot inches past the post, the highlight was a first-half turn beyond former teammate Mikel Arteta.
Showing enough to warrant further inclusion, the presence of Barkley would allow Fellaini to return to his favoured midfield position. In spite of his attacking threat, the Everton midfield has missed his physical presence and tackling ability this season. Last year, Fellaini won 100 percent of his tackles for several successive matches over a two-month period; this midfield needs that kind of ability.
As the curtain fell Tuesday, the most apparent difference between the sides was in forward areas. Possessing a strong defence and a well-balanced midfield, Everton only lack a scorer. For all his brawn (and clear improvements), Victor Anichebe still lacks the brains.
That leaves Nikica Jelavic, who appears to have gone missing, as this current imposter is a shadow of the player seen last season. The squad lacks depth, that much is clear, but Everton fall furthest short in attack. With an established scorer, the push for Europe would surely be stronger.
Ultimately, despite the poor away record against the top sides, these matches will not cost Everton. The costly ones are those draws against the other teams; Everton need to win those. Five points dropped in the last 10 minutes against Norwich quickly spring to mind.
Needing to discover a ruthless streak, akin to the one held by the league's best, the failure to dispatch the so-called 'lesser' sides is the main problem for the Blues. Overall, a Champions League push is probably a hurdle too far, but, on recent evidence, the gap is a closing one.