It was as these sides left the pitch at the interval, one bruised and frustrated, the other sensing vulnerability, that tempers finally boiled over. Kevin Mirallas squirted a water bottle under his arm and back into Jack Wilshere's face, childish behaviour that provoked the England midfielder's predictably livid response. The mêlée that ensued as others rushed in bulged the tunnel tarpaulin, though the reality is Arsenal had long since been rattled.
Everton's performance was not one of a side prone to choke on the major occasion or that of a team who shrink too often when the expectation weighs more heavily upon them. Their wretched record against those established in the elite may have been maintained, visits to Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United under David Moyes having now yielded 17 draws and 27 defeats, but the impression left at the end was of their power not their fragility.
They wounded Arsenal, thrusting the initiative back with Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea in the pursuit of a top-four finish in the process, but with Moyes, if only privately, still sensing that his own charges retain some hope in that race.
The gap from third remains at four points in the aftermath of this furious occasion but Everton left invigorated even after a stalemate. "The players knew what was at stake and went at full tilt to get a result," said Moyes. "[The draw] wasn't for a lack of effort. I don't think we're out of place where we are. It's hard. It's a different playing field for us compared to clubs like Arsenal, but we go out on the pitch and do everything we can to beat them, make sure they don't beat us. Everton, as a team, played really well tonight."
They must be a horrible side to confront, so awkward and aggressive in their approach but with that tantalising injection of slick quality and streetwise know-how also coursing through their approach. Marouane Fellaini strode around midfield as a man possessed, a looming presence at either end, with his team-mates a blur of feverish work-rate around him. Darron Gibson at the Belgian's side may have been rather too eager to stamp authority – harsh as his first booking may have been, he surely warranted a second from Neil Swarbrick for a shoulder-charge on Theo Walcott 11 minutes from the interval – but Everton's strength was all too evident and, generally, utterly admirable.
The centre-halves are committed and tireless, their ability to summon last-ditch tackles staggering. Ross Barkley, the evening's bold inclusion, was unpredictable but capable of brilliance, as his shot just wide of the angle just after the hour-mark proved. In truth, it was the visitors' furious opening that should have yielded a lead when Phil Jagielka's diagonal pass reached Steven Pienaar behind Per Mertesacker, only for the South African to blaze high over the bar. Victor Anichebe, too, might have scored before the interval but was choked by Kieran Gibbs' tackle, while Mirallas and Seamus Coleman, and Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar, were irrepressible on the flanks adding flashes of finesse to the industry.
It must swell Moyes with pride to behold his line-up, particularly when they hold their own in arenas like this. These clubs have stared out at each other over a chasm in recent years. The gap has been 41 points between them – back in 2004 – and as narrow as nine four years ago, but it has rarely seemed bridgeable.
Now the sheer quality of Everton's first XI suggests things are tighter, even if all it took was a glance from one dugout to the other for the visiting manager to spot the difference between the set-ups. "I feared to look at their bench," Moyes shuddered. "They were terrific, the players they had available to them."
It is in depth of squad where the gap opens up. Everton remain shallow, Leon Osman's absence with a groin injury a reminder that one strain or pull can throw an entire selection out of kilter. Arsenal could fling on Lukas Podolski, capped 108 times by Germany, and England's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and still hold Tomas Rosicky (90 caps for the Czech Republic) and Thomas Vermaelen (41 with Belgium) in reserve. An injection of such quality against tiring opponents can sway contests such as this. Everton heaved to contain the threat, benefited from Olivier Giroud's profligacy late on and emerged with their point but such is life effectively punching above your weight.
They will still believe something miraculous is possible this term, even if they continue to douse expectations publicly. "You might slightly mention us with the Champions League at about 'that' size," added Moyes, pinching his forefinger and thumb together. "But are we really going to overhaul Tottenham, Arsenal, Chelsea? If we'd won, you might have mentioned us a bit bigger. But it keeps us in with a chance for the Europa League."
That is underplaying their class. This team, with a trip to Stamford Bridge to come, just about remain in contention.