The 3-0 defeat suffered by Arsenal at the hands of Everton at Goodison Park yesterday afternoon was the latest in a long line of harrowing 90 minutes for the Gunners. A terrible run of form, culminating in them picking up only 5 points out of the last possible 18, has seen them slip from league leaders on New Year’s Day to the cliff edge of Champions League qualification. This statistic is made all the more remarkable by the fact that for the last four years, the team in Arsenal’s position on New Year’s Day have gone on to lift the trophy.
This is in stark contrast to the blue half of Merseyside who have achieved a magnificent string of results as we approach the climax of the season. 6 wins on the bounce have made them real contenders for the top four, gaining 13 points over Arsenal in that time. The table makes worrying reading for any Gooners out there, as Everton sit only 1 point behind and with a very winnable game against Sunderland in hand.
The only possible saving grace for Arsenal is the remaining fixture list for both teams. Of course, every team plays one another twice during the course of a campaign, but the spread of tough matches can be vital for a team’s ambitions. Arsenal had two very tough runs of matches spanning 3 competitions over February and March and this; along with injuries to key stars such as Ramsey and Walcott, has taken its toll. It has now however left them with a series of fixtures that in theory, they are entirely capable of picking up maximum points from.
Meanwhile, Everton still have to face both Manchester clubs before their fate is decided, although both of these will take place at Goodison. On current form, Everton will prove a stern test for anyone, including Man City. The game between the two on the penultimate weekend of the season will surely have a massive impact on not only fourth place, but the eventual title winners as well.
Furthermore, the Blues do need to travel down to the south coast to match up against Southampton. This may seem at a first glance to be a really difficult game in prospect, but I believe that by this point, Southampton’s potential England stars may well be simply trying to escape each game without injury. It will not be easy that’s for certain, but will probably not pose as stiff a test as many a team will have faced there earlier in the year.
Although Arsenal may well be capable on paper of obtaining 18 more points this season, I simply cannot see it coming to fruition. The demoralising results against Liverpool and Chelsea in recent times has surely severely dampened team spirit and I have noticed a significant lack of fluidity in their play over the past few matches. This is a trait that Arsenal teams of the past; and especially earlier in the season, were renowned for.
The momentum is well and truly with Everton at this point in time and after yesterday’s result, have proven to themselves as much as anyone that they can compete against a perennial ‘big team’ in the Premier League. This had been placed in doubt following a heavy defeat in the derby and by Arsenal themselves in the FA Cup. If Everton’s players continue to walk out at Goodison Park to the cacophony of noise that was present yesterday, then they will need no extra motivation in the run-in. In a similar scenario to their neighbours across Stanley Park, recent form has given their fans belief. If the Gladdis Street End maintain their relentless support, then I see no reason why Arsenal cannot finally be displaced from their 16 year stay in Europe’s elite competition.