Everton 3 Arsenal 0: Four talking points as Toffees cruise to victory
Everton 3 Arsenal 0: Four talking points as the Gunners suffer a heavy blow to their Champions League ambitions
The battle for fourth
Despite Arsenal’s fantastic early-season form, it looks increasingly likely that they’ll have to settle for yet another battle to qualify for the Champions League, but this season their closest rivals aren’t their north London rivals Tottenham, instead the danger is coming from 209 miles away in the form of Everton. With the Toffees having a game in hand and sitting just four points behind the Gunners this game took on an even greater significance than usual, with a win for Everton taking them tantalisingly close to that elusive fourth place and a win for Arsenal giving them a bit of daylight between the two sides. As the teams sparred in the early stages it looked as if Everton were the only side who turned up for battle with Steven Naismith the first person to respond to Romelu Lukaku’s saved effort, slotting home from close range. Arsenal, noticeably wounded, struggled to hit back and found themselves under more pressure before the halfway point of the first half. Lukaku’s goal was special and with the Arsenal back line backing off and backing off the Belgian took his time and found his spot in the corner. Mikel Arteta’s own goal was the final nail in the Arsenal coffin. On this evidence the Gunners have to pick up their game if they are to qualify for the Champions League and cross their fingers that this Everton side slip up along the way.
Arsenal not with it
There was something not quite right about Arsenal’s performance today – they looked fatigued. They struggled to find the passes when getting forward and they quickly found themselves overran by the Everton midfield. Their main attacking outlet came from their fullbacks, but even then their only target was the towering Olivier Giroud who struggled to get on the end of any crosses and was bossed by Sylvain Distain. Arsene Wenger cut the figure of a frustrated man on the bench and it’s easy to see why, his side looked like they were running on fumes and it was only a mis-hit shot by Lukas Podolski that forced a fine save from Tim Howard in the opening 45 minutes. It looked like they missed the attacking impetus of Theo Walcott as no one looked brave enough to run at the defence and cause them problems. It’s not often that you can pick faults with Santi Carzola but today he was guilty of too many sideways passes. Their defence was lightweight at its best and hopeless its at worst with only Nacho Monreal doing his duties sufficiently. The Gunners need new blood and a player like Patrick Viera if they are to improve next season.
This is a man who has come in to manage a side that had been controlled by David Moyes for 11 years and has already managed to stomp his authority and style on them. They are more competitive than they ever were under the under-fire Manchester United manager and their play style is significantly different. A Moyes team of old would shut up shop against a team like Arsenal and then catch them, mercilessly, on the counter, yet Martinez’s team oozes attacking fluency, they have a go and they exploit weaknesses. Arsenal’s right-hand side had some gaping holes in it today and the Toffees were brave enough to take control of the wing and throw bodies forward. Leighton Baines could get into the final third of the pitch without an Arsenal player in sight, and as a result of this there was no one there to pick up on his overlaps. Lukaku was a quality player at West Brom last season, there’s no doubt about that, but the Chelsea loanee has come on leaps and bounds this season under the tutorage of the Spanish manager. He operated across the frontline, holding the ball up and using his speed and strength to blast through the slow Arsenal defence. Martinez’s real challenge will come next season when he has to replace his loanees, but it’s just possible that the lure of European football could be enough to make some of them stay.
A quick look on Twitter will tell you that there’s a very vocal bunch of Arsenal fans who want to see the back of Wenger after all these years, especially after performances like this. A more ‘modern’ manager like Jose Mourinho would have made changes in the first half had his side have been dominated as much as the Gunners were today, yet Wenger didn’t even make changes at half time and they were 3-0 down before he had a chance to. Had he have acted on what he was witnessing he may have been able to influence the result in a positive manner for his side. His philosophy has not changed to suit the style of his team, he is still trying to play the tiki-taka style that his Invincibles of 10 years ago executed with perfection but his players can’t provide it. The signing of Mesut Ozil represents how the Arsenal name and brand still has the power to pull in big names but they are going to need more than just him. They need more strength in the centre of the park and Wenger will have to prove to the fans that he is capable of luring these players to the club and that he can utilise them to their strengths. If Wenger can adjust his tactics he might still have a job this time next year but if he finishes this season trophy-less and without a spot in the Champions League he will find it hard to attract the quality that his squad needs. If he were to leave the club tomorrow his legacy will not be judged on his invincible side but on his ninth trophy-less season in a row.