By Richard Clarke
Tomas Rosicky grabbed an injury-time equaliser as Arsenal twice came from behind to draw 2-2 with Everton in a thunderous affair at Emirates Stadium.
It seemed for much of this afternoon that Arsène Wenger's side were about to fall to their fifth Premier League defeat of the campaign.
On a freezing North London day, Arsenal were caught cold in the ninth minute when Leon Osman powered home a header from Landon Donovan's corner.
The home side gradually roused themselves and equalised just before the half-hour when Denilson's drive deflected past Tim Howard.
In the second half, both sides threw all their resources at the task of grabbing the three points as a snowstorm enveloped Emirates Stadium. With nine minutes left, Everton appeared to have won the game when Steve Pienaar burst clear and produced the cheekiest of finishes to beat Almunia.
However, in the second minute of stoppage time, Rosicky's drive clipped Lucas Neill and flew past Howard.
The point keeps Arsenal third whereas a win would have taken them second and within touching distance of leaders Chelsea.
However, whatever your perspective, you cannot deny that Everton were well worth their draw this afternoon.
Meanwhile the critics will argue Arsenal slipped up in the snow today.
Certainly this was an opportunity missed. Yet when the performance is off-key, a team rely on guts and spirit to pull them through in adverse conditions. That is what Arsenal did today.
They are still in thick of the title race.
Wenger made six changes from the side that had come from behind to beat West Ham last Sunday.
Manuel Almunia, Armand Traore, Denilson, Samir Nasri, Abou Diaby, Andrey Arshavin all returned. Lukasz Fabianski, Alex Song, Mikael Silvestre, Jack Wilshere, Fran Merida and Carlos Vela made way. Rosicky was on the bench having recovered from his hamstring injury.
The snow that had caused the midweek postponement had not shifted in the intervening days. The temperature had not changed, so it was never going to.
As a result, the Club had employed people with blowtorches to melt stubborn ice around the stadium area. It was still bitterly cold however and, as if to prove a point, a snow storm blew up just before kick-off.
Arsenal were the form side but Everton settled the quicker. Louis Saha nodded the ball into the net in the opening minutes but was rightly flagged offside. Shortly afterwards he collected a raking pass from Pienaar, shook off the stumbling Thomas Vermaelen but fired wildly over the bar.
Apart from Diaby's wayward cross-shot the home side had been caught napping early on.
And, in the 13th minute, they were caught cold.
Donovan swung a corner into the middle of the area and the diminutive Osman stole in front of William Gallas to thunder in a header. Denilson was stationed on the far post but could not prevent the ball going in.
The goal enlivened the crowd and they did their best to impart that urgency on their team.
It started to work.
Diaby lofted a ball over the defence to Gallas at the far post. The centre back clipped the ball past Howard but Leighton Baines hooked clear.
By the midway point of the first half, Arsenal were starting to stir. They had begun creating pressure but, when the equaliser came, it was more luck than judgement.
In the 28th minute, Nasri curled in a cross from the right. Arshavin and Eduardo then set up Denilson to fire goalwards. The Brazilian obliged and his effort deflected off Osman to leave Howard flat-footed.
Arsenal were now in the ascent. Eduardo had claims for a penalty after playing hopscotch through the middle of the Everton defence. The striker then saw a sliding effort hit Howard's legs. It was flagged offside, wrongly according to replays.
Everton had gone into their shell since the equaliser but they nearly regained the lead in the 36th minute when Almunia misjudged a right-wing hanging cross from Phil Neville and Tim Cahill's header bobbled dangerously across the area before being hacked to safety.
This was turning into a blood-and-thunder affair. Both sides had an admirable effervescence given the conditions.
After half time, the snow became thicker and the pace became faster.
Eduardo tried to weave his way through again and poke the ball through to Ramsey inside the area. His touch beat Howard but took him wide. By the time his cross came in the keeper had recovered.
Meanwhile at the other end, Saha was still Everton's cutting edge. The French striker darted past Traore and Gallas in the 62nd minute but his deflected shot curled inches wide of the far post.
Three minutes later, Wenger brought Rosicky on for Ramsey and the Czech international nearly made an instant impact. Sagna sent over a deep cross from the right and Howard batted the ball away from Rosicky's head.
Arsenal were now stepping up their game. Traore's low-cross fizzed across the area and, from the resulting corner, Rosicky's drive fell to Vermaelen, who saw a fierce goalbound shot blocked. Then, after firing narrowly over, Denilson claimed a penalty when he was clattered in the area.
By now the crowd were singing ‘jump up if you love Arsenal'. It was 50 per cent devotion and 50 per cent necessity.
With 15 minutes left, Cahill reached the byline and cut inside only for Diaby to intervene. Arshavin did likewise at the other end, only this time his cross was scrambled away for a corner.
This was a toe-to-toe scrap now. Both sides were going for three points without flinching. The only ‘settling' being done was by the snow on the pitch.
With nine minutes left, Everton grabbed a second. Cahill spotted Pienaar streaking through the middle and the South African raced half the length of the pitch to go one-on-one with Almunia.
The Spaniard has just ‘set' himself when Pienaar made his move. The midfielder lifted his effort over the crouching keeper and into the net. An exquisite finish.
From the kick-off, it was nearly 3-1. Under challenge from no-one, Denilson collapsed in the centre circle and James Vaughan raced through. This time Almunia stood up to make a crucial stop.
The Brazilian was stretchered off and replaced by Fran Merida. Seconds later, Pienaar fired inches over the bar.
The injury precipitated five minutes of stoppage time. In the second of those they grabbed the leveller when Rosicky's drive clipped Lucas Neill and flew past Howard. It set up a grandstand finish.
A nasty collision between Traore and Almunia took the steam out of the finale.
But, at full time, Arsenal had to be happy with the point they had obtained.
- Almunia (C)
- Sagna Yellow Card
- Denilson 84
- Ramsey 65
- Eduardo 75
- Merida 84
- Rosicky 65 Goal!
- Vela 75
- Neville (C)
- Osman Goal!
- Pienaar Goal! Yellow Card
- Donovan 69
- Saha 75
- Donny Mustafi
- Bilyaletdinov 69
- Vaughan 75