The way I see it - Arsenal v Everton

Last updated : 11 May 2005 By Jason Hogan

On Saturday night, the particular dilemma I was faced with was whether I should stick around at home to watch the second half of West Brom's game at Old Trafford or bugger off out for a pint or two down at my local. In the end I was pretty glad that I stayed in.

One or two things may have changed particularly over the last two years where Premiership football is concerned but for me, there is STILL no greater sight than to see Old Purple Nose sporting an expression reminiscent of that of a bulldog chewing a wasp.

That's exactly what his demeanour was like after seeing his team chuck two points away at home to the same West Brom side we had seen off a matter of days earlier at the Hawthorns and. Seeing that and the way he publicly tore a strip off his players in the post match interview was nothing short of priceless.

As a result, a fixture which I have always considered to be one of the truly special fixtures that the Arsenal play every season (screw playing the Phoney Russian Franchise) now took on a more enhanced significance.

This game was always laced with intrigue. In terms of finishing fourth, Liverpool came to Highbury knowing that they were effectively in the last chance saloon whilst we were of course looking to cement second place.

And in a game that proved to be the archetypal game of two halves, I suppose the main difference on the day was that the Arsenal proved to be more clinical when they were on top.

John Arne Riise wasted a very good opportunity early on in the first half with Luis Garcia arguably better placed and that proved costly as the Arsenal not only went on to find their rhythm, they produced a half hour spell of football which was as good as we have produced all season.

Pires put us ahead from a free kick which came about after Vieira had been crudely scythed down by Didi Hammann, who it must be said was lucky to see the whole game out. And Reyes followed that up with a surging run and neat finish to make it two.

Liverpool went into the break shell-shocked but after the break the Arsenal were confronted with a totally different Liverpool side. Benitez decided to shake things up at half time by taking off Riise and Baros and bringing on Kewell and Cissse and both went on to make lively contributions to Liverpool's sudden upsurge in quality.

So did Steven Gerrard. He looked a little lost playing in the hole behind Baros in the first half but, having reverted back to his more accustomed central midfield role as part of a tactical reshuffle, he had far more of an influence on proceedings.

Typically, it was he that dragged Liverpool back into the argument albeit with a deflected shot from a free kick. Although I have to say that the award of the free kick in the first place was a joke. Strong-arm tactics are hardly the forte of Jose Reyes but the way Xabi Alonso went over under Reyes' token challenge you would think that he had been run over by a tank.

The Scousers continued to huff and puff for most of the second half. Lehmann had to make a smart double save from Gerrard's fierce shot and Garcia's follow up, Hyypia maybe could have done better with a free header and Garcia wasn't too far away with a curling shot.

But the beauty of watching the Arsenal for me is that no matter how much we may be under the cosh we always carry a threat on the break and as the second half wore on the Arsenal came back into the game.

And in the end it wasn't that much of surprise that we got a third goal right at the death. Now there is raging debate going on as to whether Dennis Bergkamp will be given a further year. He has obviously lost more than a yard of pace over the years but the way he set up young Fabregas for the third with one little subtle touch - well, there are, quite simply, some things that you cannot replace and any decision on the Dutch master's future cannot be taken lightly.

So, after one or two scares on the way, we had done the job and all but secured that oh so precious second spot and it was no wonder that Arsene was delighted after the game. I thought that he did the right thing when, quite rightly, he praised the youngsters who once again distinguished themselves to a man in the absence of some of our big hitters.

Put this into perspective. Look at some of the youngsters who played on Sunday like Robin Van Persie, Cesc Fabregas, Phillippe Sendoros and Jeremie Aliadiere and then add on the likes of Gael Clichy and Mattheu Flamini. Put together, this lot cost less than the amount that it cost the PRF to take Glen Johnson to Stamford Bridge.

Senderos has already become a full international and you can bet your life that certainly Fabregas, Van Persie, Clichy and maybe Flamini will go on to do the same in the next three years or so. Therein lies the genius of Wenger and that's why he is the best in the business bar none.

It's easy to win things when you don't have to compromise. Whilst Mourinho waltzed into the PRF knowing that he had carte blanche to spend whatever it took on just about whoever he could lay their hands on to turn a jumped-up middle of the road club into genuine winners and whilst ManUre were shelling out £30 million a piece on the likes of Rooney and Ferdinand (players that Wenger freely admitted he would love to have bought if the price was right) the Arsenal boss has, from a financial standpoint, had his hands relatively tied.

And whilst we have failed to win back to back titles or the Champions League, the fact is, ManUre and what is now known as the PRF have spent over £400 million between them in the last four years whilst Wenger has spent just £35 million with half of that going on Jose Reyes.

Yet still, in that time, lest we forget, that Arsenal have won as many titles as those two put together. And, if you take into account that the Worthless Cup isn't called the Worthless Cup for nothing these days, they have won more major trophies than either of those clubs and that's before we take to the pitch in this year's FA Cup final for the fourth time in five years which is unprecedented certainly in my lifetime.

What's more, as manager of Arsenal having to operate on a relative shoestring budget, Wenger is the ONLY manager that can say that he has finished in the top two in each of the last four years (even though he has actually done it in the last seven) and not had to qualify for the Champions League.

In the face of a growing belief that the Arsenal are a club in decline, I feel that it's only right that I point these facts out and for as long as it takes I will continue to do so. And even if that is not enough, then consider this. If I am not mistaken we have played five games now without Henry, our "one-man team" don't you know. We have not lost ONE of those games, we have scored nine goals which happens to be pretty close to par with our overall scoring rate of just over two goals a game in the Premiership and we have also done this largely without calling on the services of Campbell, Ljungberg and Bergkamp either.

So what's my point you may ask? Well, sparking a revolution purely on the back of one man's money, a foreign one to boot, may be something that has caught a lot of people's imaginations. But truly great clubs like the Arsenal have shown that even in these money driven times you can still achieve things through evolution and, more acutely in Wenger's case, by having an unrivalled eye for talents that are not anywhere near as obvious as the ones being purchased by certain other clubs elsewhere in this country.

That, above all, is the thing that makes proud to be an Arsenal fan and as result it will be a cold day in hell before I feel inferior to anyone that pledges their allegiance to any other club - real or in the case of the Phoney Russian Franchise, not.

Now it's time for me to look forward to our final home game of the season against Everton.

When talking about Everton I think there is precious little that I can say about them other than this- they have been, pound for pound, THE biggest success story in the Premiership this season by a country mile and I tell you why.

It isn't so much the fact that they lost Rooney last summer, it goes deeper than that. You see, if you cast your minds back to just under three years, when Rooney was just 16, Everton were in such dire straits as club, the thought of him blossoming into the superstar he has now become was just about the only thing that kept most of the clubs fans going.

Here we are three years on and it's safe to say that Everton Football Club is a totally different place with totally different ambitions and it's not because of some young lad the Evertonians pinned their hopes and dreams on to do the business on the pitch. No, it's all down to a bloke that has done the business for the club from the dugout - David Moyes.

The highest compliment I can pay this bloke is to say that I am genuinely not surprised at what he has done this season at Everton because I rated this guy long before he took over at Goodison Park. I see the same thing in his eyes that I see in the likes of Wenger, Ferguson and I have to admits, even Mourinho - I see a winner and though I don't see him ever acquiring the status of the truly great Scottish managers of the past like Stein, Shankly and Ferguson, I can see him going on one day to achieve things like Dalglish and George Graham did.

To lose the brightest young talent Everton have produced for years and arguably the most influential senior player on the books (Gravesen) in January and STILL go on to finish n the top four - well, there is no other word for it but stunning.

Whichever way you look, Moyes influence is stamped all over the team. When Palace ducked out of a deal to sign Tim Cahill, Moyes wasted no time in stepping in to sign him up. When Gravesen found the lure of Real Madrid too much to resist, Moyes went out and bought Mikael Arteta. Both have gone on to play pivotal roles in Everton's season.

Marcus Bent is another one that has played a crucial part as well. For quite some time, he was a journeyman footballer who had been at Premiership clubs on and off in his career without ever really convincing people that he was good enough to operate at the highest level. Moyes changed all that. Even £6 million man James Beattie has struggled to get look in because of him.

And of course whenever the going got really tough, Moyes always had a certain Duncan Ferguson to call upon. I have to say that I have been a huge fan of the lad ever since he first came down south of the Border from Rangers. The only regret I have is that this boy would have genuine been one of the greatest players in the history of the Premiership if he was able to stay injury free more often.

These factors allied to what has been a generally solid defence have put Everton back on the map. Screw Chelsea, this lot are one of the truly great clubs in this country and personally I think it's great to see them doing so well. Being in and around the top four is where they ought to be.

It's safe to say that both sides will go into this game with reasons to be cheerful about life right now. But this is our final home game of the season and I expect us to go out a high. Sorry, David!!