Saturday, January 9, 2010
Donovan shines in Everton debut
The opening day of Landon Donovan's mid-season holiday in the Premier League was not quite as advertised in the brochure.
• Arsenal 2-2 Everton
The bright lights of England have long been a dream for the warm-blooded Californian who has proved himself to be a class act to his American audience for many a long year; but he could never have imagined that his debut in the land that gave football to the world would come in such frosty circumstances.
Team USA's all-time record goalscorer has spent much of his first week in England answering questions about his previously less than cordial relationship with L.A. Galaxy team-mate David Beckham, with the duo apparently now best of friends and sharing notes on what Donovan could expect during his brief stay at Everton.
Presumably, Becks had not prepared Donovan for sub-zero temperatures that have plummeted to depths few in England have experienced for decades and, with the winter blast ripping through the Premier League fixture list, this game at the Emirates Stadium was the last one standing in the 3pm kick-off slot.
It meant Donovan had the eyes of a few more millions trained on his opening day in the Premier League and he wasted little time in setting about his task of proving his worth as David Moyes' side went in search of revenge after the 6-1 humbling Arsenal handed out to them on the first day of the season.
Employed on the right side of the midfield, Donovan's first task was always going to be getting to grips with the pace and power that oozes from every Premier League game and the tactics Everton employed for this game meant there was no time for the American to settle.
With the snow tumbling down in front of us as the first whistle blew, Donovan quickly adapted to the leap in class as he looked to combine with the every-dangerous Tim Cahill and Everton's sole front man Louis Saha. Indeed, he warmed to the task well.
Okay, so he may not have taken hold of the first half in the manner he does for the Galaxy, yet such lofty ambition was always unattainable on a day when Everton's chief job was to close down Arsenal at every opportunity, in a desperate bid to cut down the flowing football that they strive to produce.
Young Arsenal defender Armand Traore was given plenty to ponder as Donovan ran at him with intent from the off and, such was the impact Everton made in this game, that it was little surprise when the visitors snatched a lead after just 12 minutes.
This reporter has not been alone in noting the Gunners' inability to deal with set-pieces in the past and it proved to be their undoing once again as a Donovan corner routine created the opening goal. The fact that little Leon Osman was the man who scored meant there were plenty of questions being asked of the Arsenal backline once again.
Everton continued to impress until Arsenal snatched a fortunate equaliser as Denilson's shot deflected off the unfortunate Osman, yet the visitors could be content with their efforts in the first-half and they came out after the break in equally positive mood. Donovan so nearly lit up the start of the second half with his first goal in the Premier League as his 52nd minute shot had uncertain Arsenal keeper Manuel Almunia scrambling, only for it to fly just wide.
The images before us as we shivered in the press seats during the second half were truly unique in this reasonably new arena. With the snowfall gathering in momentum, it felt as if you were watching this game on a grainy television from a different age and Donovan may have been relieved to take leave of the stage as he was replaced after 68 minutes.
The Everton fans who made the trip to London gave their newest hero a rousing ovation as he left the field and the congratulations from manager Moyes suggested he was content with his efforts, though the real drama in this game was to take place after Donovan had trotted off the pitch.
Everton had not won at Arsenal in their last 13 visits, but Steven Pienaar looked to have changed the course of history as he burst through on goal nine minutes from time and lifted the ball past Almunia, yet luck was to desert Moyes' men just when the dared to believe victory was secured.
It needed another deflection on Tomas Rosicky's 92nd minute shot to hand Arsenal an equaliser, much to the chagrin of a disappointed Moyes. "It should have been our day and we deserved to win this game," he said. "We created enough chances to be ahead at half-time and had plenty of possession as well, which is no mean feat against this Arsenal side. Both Arsenal goals were deflected and when you look at the game overall, we had chances to win the game with a bit of comfort. I don't mind it snowing every week if we play like that."
Moyes reserved special praised for his debutant. "I thought Donovan did very well," he stated. "He cramped up, so we had to take him off and the cold probably didn't help him. Landon was a threat to Arsenal all day and he did a great job out on the right. Landon offers us plenty of options and that is why we are delighted to have him."
A clearly agitated Arsene Wenger conceded his side were fortunate to escape with a point. "Everton stopped us from playing and it was closer to 3-1 in the end than it was to us getting a draw," he admitted. "Our spirit allowed us to get a point and we have to take something from that, but I admit we were a bit lucky.
"The conditions were the same for both sides, so we cannot use the snow as an excuse and you have to say Everton's commitment made life very difficult for us. They put their body in the way of everything and will be disappointed not to win."
The climate did little to help Arsenal produce the sort of football they are capable off, but this was a day when their opponents adapted better to the elements than they did. If this is the point that edges the Gunners towards an unlikely title challenge, they were very lucky to get it.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Tim Cahill. The Everton talisman gave Arsenal plenty to think about all afternoon and his role in the second goal was pivotal.
EMPTY PEWS: Several Arsenal regulars decided not to make the trip to the Emirates Stadium in the icy conditions as there were plenty of unused seats around the ground. Those who braved the freezing temperatures were entertained by a fine game, though the claim from the stadium announcer that 60,053 had made it to the ground seemed hard to believe.
EVERTON VERDICT: David Moyes is getting many of his injured stars back in contention and his side appear to have rediscovered the bite that makes them such a threat. This was so nearly a glorious victory.
ARSENAL VERDICT: Criticising Arsenal generally inspires plenty of abuse from the 'In Arsene We Trust' campaign, but their inability to deal with set-pieces meant Everton always fancied their chances in this game. Title winning sides simply don't have such an obvious weakness in their repertoire.
DONOVAN VERDICT: The American will improve over the course of his loan spell at Everton, but this was a decent first day. He was so nearly part of an historic Everton victory.