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Fellaini cancels out Walcott opener as Arsenal and Everton forced to share the points

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theo_walcott2Everton a point and place above Arsenal in the Premier League table played host to the Gunners at Goodison Park in what was a crucial game for both side's top 4 ambitions. Arsenal got off to an incredible start with Theo Walcott scoring the opener inside the first minute to put Arsenal on their way. Sadly for the Arsenal fans the game was largely downhill from there as the Gunners were decidedly second best in the first half, and Everton eventually drew level through their talismanic midfielder Marouane Fellaini just before the half hour mark. Everton battered the Arsenal goal for large periods and created the far better chances, but the Gunners held on to leave Goodison Park with what Arsene Wenger will probably see as a good point.

Everton predictably welcomed back Marouane Fellaini into the starting line-up with the big Belgian having served his one-match ban in the game against Norwich at the weekend. The team lined up in a predictable manner with Sylvain Distin partnering Phil Jagielka at center-back with Everton also buoyed by the return of veteran Tony Hibbert at right back. Darron Gibson came in for Thomas Hitzlsperger in the middle of the park, to line-up alongside England international Leon Osman. An in-form Steven Naismith provided an added goal threat, as did Croatian striker Nikica Jelavic.

Arsenal also had a host of changes from the side that drew blanks at Villa Park at the weekend with Theo Walcott being drafted straight back into the starting eleven after recovering from his shoulder injury, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain disappointingly dropping to the bench. Aaron Ramsey got a second straight start, despite Jack Wilshere returning to the side as Lukas Podolski missed the match altogether, presumably through illness. Olivier Giroud continued to lead the line with skipper Thomas Vermaelen also coming back in at left-back with Kieran Gibbs making way. Tomas Rosicky was a welcome presence on the Arsenal bench for the first time this season.

It took Theo Walcott barely a minute to celebrate this return to action, as he started this game the way he finished his last game against Tottenham, with a goal. The England international played a good give and go with Aaron Ramsey on the left edge of the Everton area, before squeezing the ball home from a tight angle courtesy a huge deflection to set the travelling fans singing. Their demand predictably was for a new contract for Walcott.

Arsenal though weren't celebrating a few minutes later as Laurent Koscielny hobbled off with what they will hope is just a strain and not a tear, with Gibbs making an entry into the game much earlier than he would have been expecting.

Everton were predictably shaken but soon found their stride with Wojciech Szczesny soon called into action to deny Fellaini from a Leighton Baines corner. The Toffees were beginning to enjoy some considerable spells of possession, but lacked penetration with Fellaini appearing to be their only route to goal.

The powerful Belgian looked set to do just that only to be denied by Jack Wilshere, who made an excellent tackle to deny Fellaini as he wound up for a shot after being played through in the Arsenal area. Moments later though Everton were level with Fellaini showing his allround skill, curling the ball home from distance with his weaker left foot after a rushed clearance from Bacary Sagna. The shot didn't appear to have a lot of pace on it, but was beautifully squeezed through behind Vermaelen, and comfortably beat Szczesny.

Everton continued to play the better football as the half wore on with Jelavic blazing an effort over the crossbar after having got the better of Per Mertesacker. The striker though showed some poor footballing intelligence moments later, selfishly trying to pick up a ball from an offside position when Lieghton Baines, who was charging on to it, would have been through on goal, had the Croatian not interfered.

Arsenal would have been happy to hear the half-time whistle, having looked rather poor in the final third once again, managing just 3 shots in the first 45 minutes. An injection of pace was definitely needed again from the Gunners, and perhaps just a matter of time before 'The Ox' would be unleashed.

The second half had a slow start, but Steven Pienaar looked to change that by powering forward from the left, but Szczesny was on hand to prevent Arsenal from falling behind.

Pienaar soon found himself on the turf in the Arsenal penalty area after a coming together with former teammate Mikel Arteta, but much to the disappointment of the home support, there was no penalty forthcoming.

Despite having found themselves chasing the ball for the better part of the second half, the Gunners did have a half-chance to go ahead once again, Giroud rose well to meet Theo Walcott's cross from the left wing, but could not get his dipping header on target.

The pace of the game though was picking up with space opening up for both sides, and the two goalkeepers were soon called into action with Tim Howard denying Santi Cazorla from distance before substitute Thomas Hitzlsperger fired a warning shot for Szczesny.

Both teams gave it a go towards the end despite tiring legs as a win was there for the taking. Jelavic put in some delicious crosses late in the game, but surprisingly found no takers in the box.

Arsenal threw on Gervinho for Ramsey with 10 minutes to go, but the Ivorian continued to look short of game time and failed to make an impact. Wenger continued to take decisions which would no doubt anger the Arsenal fans by bringing on Francis Coquelin in injury time to shore things up at the back, showing his willingness to take away a point from Goodison Park, and it was what he got as neither side found a late winner, and ended up having to share the spoils.

A 2-1 win for Tottenham against Liverpool in an exceptionally entertaining contest at White Hart Lane saw Spurs leapfrog both these sides in the Premier League table.

The games will continue to come thick and fast for both sides with Arsenal hosting Swansea (who shocked high-flying West Brom 3-1) on Saturday, while Everton are away to the Champions Manchester City.

Teams:

Everton: Howard, Hibbert, Jagielka, Distin, Baines, Naismith (Oviedo 62'), Gibson (Hitzlsperger 73'), Osman, Pienaar, Fellaini, Jelavic.

Subs: Mucha, Heitinga, Oviedo, Hitzlsperger, Gueye, Barkley, Vellios.

Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny (Gibbs 4'), Vermaelen, Walcott, Ramsey (Gervinho 80'), Arteta, Wilshere, Cazorla (Coquelin 91'), Giroud.

Subs: Mannone, Rosicky, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Coquelin, Jenkinson, Gervinho, Gibbs.

Final Score: Everton 1-1 Arsenal (Walcott 1', Fellaini 28')

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File Photograph Copyright: Ryu Voelkel