Arsène Wenger had mused that "momentum can be fragile" as he considered Arsenal's recent upturn and the need for another victory to turn the screw on Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur in the race for Champions League qualification.
On a night of wrecking-ball intensity his team duly had theirs checked while David Moyes' mission to break the mould with Everton and win at a big ground came up short.
The margins were suffocatingly tight. In what amounted to a slug-fest, clear-cut chances were at a premium but the Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud had two and a sniff of a third and on each occasion he failed to be decisive. The Frenchman became the symbol of Arsenal's frustrations, almost as much as the neck grab that Jack Wilshere performed on Kevin Mirallas during the tunnel bust-up after a fractious first half.
For Arsenal this was a missed opportunity. Wenger said as much afterwards, when he claimed his team "should have won" and lamented his players relying on "power instead of technique" in front of goal, which neatly summed up Giroud's travails. It seemed as though the initiative had been passed back to Tottenham in fifth place and yet points were always likely to be dropped or shared during the run-in and Everton are hardly the most accommodating of opponents – which meant no shame in the result for Arsenal.
The point pleased Moyes, who knows that a draw at this venue cannot be sniffed at, but it also left him wondering whether his team had run aground in their quest for a top-four finish. He knew that to make a serious statement Everton needed to win and he admitted that he would now sign up for a Europa League finish, even if he and his players refuse to allow their aim to switch from the greater prize. Moyes has still to taste victory at Arsenal, Manchester United or Liverpool.
If the permutations were slightly maddening, the managers' post-match tone was of bitchiness, which chimed neatly with the confrontation and niggle of the 90 minutes. Wenger chuntered about Everton being overly physical while Moyes was almost mocking when he suggested that this is what northern teams do. Football is not for softies was the thrust of his sentiment.
The biggest argument of the evening involved Darron Gibson's continued presence on the field. The Everton midfielder was booked for a challenge on Theo Walcott, although it had seemed that Mirallas, who was also in close attendance, had been the aggressor. But when Gibson checked Walcott hard and cynically in the 34th minute he was a little fortunate to avoid a second yellow card. It was the sort of challenge that tends to merit a first yellow, as was proved moments later when Steven Pienaar checked Walcott to be booked. Wenger raged, as he did on numerous occasions.
Everton had started brightly and Pienaar lifted over the crossbar from Phil Jagielka's pass. Later in the half Ross Barkley, who caught the eye in his roaming role behind the lone striker, forced Wojciech Szczesny into a save while his lovely turn and pass gave Victor Anichebe the flicker of an opportunity – Kieran Gibbs' back tackle was crucial.
Arsenal had offered nothing in front of goal until the 42nd minute but Aaron Ramsey changed that when he laid on Giroud's first gilt-edged chance. His cross was driven low from the right but the Frenchman, having slid with his favoured left foot forward and with Tim Howard advancing, could only divert wide of the near post. Shortly afterwards Jagielka, who epitomised Everton's lion-hearted endeavour, threw himself in front of Santi Cazorla's shot.
The tension was palpable. Mirallas drove at Szczesny after the second-half restart and Cazorla forced Howard into his first save with a well-struck drive shortly afterwards. Arsenal were better after the interval but they continued to struggle for rhythm, Wilshere in particular, as Moyes' street-fighters knocked the battle from them. Moyes singled out Gibson and Marouane Fellaini, all big hair and upper body strength, for special praise afterwards.
Then there was Barkley, who was played in his favourite position and allied steel in the tackle and the ability to rile Wenger with moments of class. His skill and curling blast midway through the second half led to fluttering Arsenal hearts and so nearly commandeered the headlines. The ball fizzed inches wide of the angle of far post and crossbar, with Szczesny beaten.
Arsenal sought a grandstand finish and they almost sneaked it through Giroud. Gibbs' cross from Cazorla's pass was intended for the striker, who looked offside, only for Seamus Coleman to make a dramatic intervention but the other big chance had come on 79 minutes. Giroud, from the substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's ball, worked a yard from Jagielka only to hammer his shot over the crossbar.
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image: © ronnie macdonald