Arsenal rescued a point against Everton at Goodison Park on Saturday afternoon, with Olivier Giroud the hero in a wild 2-2 draw.
Seamus Coleman and Steven Naismith led the charge against a lackluster-looking Arsenal team that seemed to be suffering from a UEFA Champions League hangover, staking Everton to a two goal lead. But Aaron Ramsey sparked a late Arsenal fightback, firing in a goal for the Gunners with six minutes to play. And then, Giroud would slam one in at the stroke of full time to steal a share of the spoils in front of a stunned crowd at Goodison Park
With a must-win game ahead Wednesday at the Emirates against Besiktas, it was no shock that Wenger rotated his squad for the match, deploying Alexis Sanchez as a lone striker and adding the returning World Cup winners Mesut Ozil and Per Mertesacker to the lineup. But despite getting one of their more creative playmakers back, Arsenal looked punchless for much of the match, with Everton bossing the game from the opening whistle, and the Gunners far too casual in possession. And Ozil would make a bad gaffe that directly led to the opening goal.
Coleman got Everton on the board after just 20 minutes, heading home after Ozil blew the offside trap to keep him on at the near post. Sanchez had fouled Coleman moments earlier to set up a free kick that was slotted out wide to Leighton Baines. Gareth Barry received the ball about 25 yards out to loft in a delightful ball that caught the Arsenal backline flat. Intended for the hulking Romelu Lukaku, it was Coleman instead who got to the cross, and Wojciech Szczesny was helpless to keep the strike out from 2 yards.
Arsenal could not respond, with only Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looking up to the challenge. Time and time again, the Gunners would concede possession at midfield, or give the ball away cheaply, or, in the most egregious cases, simply whacking the ball needlessly out of bounds. It was a dire show, with Arsenal looking nothing like the slick-passing side they can be, and more like the team that lost 3-0 here in the same fixture last season.
Everton would double their fun just on the stroke of the half with Arsenal coughing up the ball on an attack deep in the Everton end. Swept upfield to Lukaku, the striker put Mertesacker on the floor at the halfway line, then took Callum Chambers out of the play before slotting a fine ball to Naismith for the score. The finish was clinical, but controversial as well; Naismith was offside when he received the pass and the assistant, seen right in line with last man Mathieu Flamini, simply blew the call. That should take nothing away from the quality of the buildup or the fact that Arsenal were simply ripped apart on the play — but the goal should not have stood.
After the break, Wenger was compelled to throw on a true forward, with Giroud leading the line out, and it almost paid immediate dividends. Oxlade-Chamberlain flipped a cross over to Giroud, alone near left but his volley was awry and Tim Howard never had to make a proper save. In fact, it wasn’t until the game was well settled that Giroud even forced a stop off Howard, with the American denying a snap shot with about 20 minutes to play.
Then, Everton seemed to go to sleep. Seemingly convinced that the game was won, the tempo dropped and Everton stopped making the driving runs into space. And when Santi Cazorla and Joel Campbell made late cameos, Arsenal perked up.
Ramsey’s goal came when Ozil and Cazorla combined well to slot a ball across and through a static Everton back four, allowing the Welshman an easy tap-in at the far post. That set up a grandstand finish with Arsenal showing far more desire in the final five minutes than they had in the previous 85, slamming waves at Howard’s goal.
Arsenal’s tying goal game when Nacho Monreal kept the ball alive on the endline and centered. Giroud rose through the back and headed through a stunned Howard. That silenced the crowd and had Arsenal looking like they might actually go on to win it.
Arsene Wenger will be pleased with his side’s fight-back — but despairing of their performance over all. Still, his side rescued a point and showed the desire that a title hopeful must. He will also probably argue that Naismith’s goal should not have stood. As for Roberto Martinez, he will not be a happy man at all. This is his side’s second straight 2-2 draw, and that’s not where his ambitious Toffees want to be.