By Richard Clarke
In the build-up to this game Arsène Wenger had suggested that the result would depend on how well Arsenal kept Andy Johnson quiet. He was right.
In fairness the visiting defence did smother the in-form England striker for a full 90 minutes. Unfortunately the goal he struck came just as the fourth official indicated the amount of extra time.
A corner flew over from the right and the ball rebounded out to Johnson eight yards. He fired in a low shot through a thicket of legs to consign Arsenal to only their sixth loss of the Premiership season.
Defeat was harsh on Arsène Wenger's side. Neither team deserved to win a poor Premiership encounter. Lee Carsley hammered a long-range effort against the post midway through the first half while Cesc Fabregas and Julio Baptista both should have scored before the break for the visitors. However these were isolated incidents. The game livened up after the break but neither side possessed much cutting edge.
It seemed to be the stalest of stalemates until Johnson struck late on.
At the final whistle, Goodison Park was deluged by a thunderous hailstorm. Arsenal's hopes of finishing second are under similar pressure now.
Wenger made two changes from the side that had pulled off a backs-against-the-wall 1-0 victory at Aston Villa on Wednesday. Tomas Rosicky came in for Denilson and Kolo Toure replaced Johan Djourou. The Ivorian slotted in at right back as Wenger retained Gilberto and William Gallas as his centre back pairing.
Abou Diaby had scored the winner at Villa Park from the left side of midfield. But Rosicky's return meant the 19-year-old Frenchman moved back to his more familiar role in the centre.
It was a bitterly cold afternoon on Merseyside and the football in the first half-hour did nothing to warm up the crowd.
After 10 minutes, Gilberto flicked the ball away from Johnson as the Everton striker went through. It looped high in the six-yard box with Jens Lehmann in pursuit. He managed to swat the ball away from Johnson just as the England front man reached the ball.
In the 26th minute Leon Osman's knockdown fell the Carsley 30 yards out. He swung a foot at the ball and it flew past the diving Lehmann before bouncing back off the woodwork.
However these were isolated chances in a midfield mash of a game. Everton knocked the ball long in order to get the Arsenal defenders turning while the visitors were struggling to get the passing anywhere near precise enough to break.
It was far from entertaining.
Arsenal did perk up just before the interval. Aliadiere's shot on the turn was palmed aside by Tim Howard then Julio Baptista's free-kick went just wide.
The Brazilian and the Frenchman would combine cutely two minutes before the break for Fabregas to fire goalwards. Howard kicked the ball away but it represented the first free-flowing moment of the match.
It continued to rain Arsenal chances before half time. Diaby fired over from distance then, in injury time, he flicked on a Fabregas corner and an unmarked Baptista nodded over when he should have hit the target.
There was more life about the game at the start of the second half. Joseph Yobo's backflicked header worried Lehmann for a second before drifting onto the top of the net.
Just before the hour at the other end, Rosicky cut the ball back for the unmarked Aliadiere on the corner of the six-yard box. He slashed the ball horribly over the bar.
Ljungberg did likewise soon afterwards and the Toure nodded wide from a corner.
However Johnson continued to be a consistent irritant to the Arsenal defence. The visitors always just managed to do enough to stop him getting a clear sight of goal. In fact Osman came closer when he floated a header against the outside of the post.
Wenger brought on Alex Hleb and Theo Walcott in a bid to change things. Fabregas fired straight at Howard in the 76th minute and again, with a little more power, two minutes later. In reponse, Osman nodded wide at the far post for Everton in the 83rd minute.
To their credit both sides were at least going for the winner. It is just that neither seemed to have the final pass or the finishing finesse to score.
In injury time, an isolated moment of Johnson class made the difference.
- Rosicky 68
- Julio Baptista 84
- Aliadiere 75
- Walcott 75
- Denilson 84
- Hleb 68
- Stubbs Yellow Card
- Lescott Yellow Card
- Fernandes Yellow Card
- Johnson Goal! Yellow Card
- Vaughan 86 Yellow Card
- Anichebe 86 Yellow Card