LONDON: Arsenal’s inability to win the matches which matter was further exposed as they lost 3-0 to an Everton side who now sit only one point behind them and the fourth and last Champions League slot with a game in hand; Everton also have a better goal difference.
Now fewer than 20 of the 40 Premier League goals Arsenal have conceded this season have come away at Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool and Everton. If the Gunners do miss out on a place among Europe’s elite next season – for the first time in 15 years – then those games will have played a major part.
Arsenal’s season has been a roller-coaster. The doom and gloom of the opening defeat by Aston Villa was dispelled by their recovery after the much-hyped arrival of Mesut Ozil. But now they have faded again. It is questionable whether even winning the FA Cup would appease fans if they miss out on fourth place.
A side issue in the title race is whether Chelsea would have forged way out ahead if they had kept Romelu Lukaku instead of allowing him out on loan to Everton. He set up the 14th-minute first goal – his shot was only kicked clear by Wojciech Szczesny to the waiting Steven Naismith – and scored the second himself in the 34th.
Initially Everton fans may have wondered why manager Roberto Martinez had stationed Lukaku out on the right but the way he bullied Arsenal leftback Nacho Monreal illustrated just how intelligently Everton had done their homework on Arsenal.
The Belgian is the first Everton player to reach 13 league goals in a season since Yakubu scored 15 in 2007-08.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger brought on substitutes Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (for the anonymous Lukas Podolski) and Aaron Ramsey in the second half but to little effect. Everton secured a magnificent victory after a fine all-round performance with an own goal from Mikel Arteta just after the hour.
Wenger stands accused of not spending serious money on a top-class striker either last summer on in January. Arsenal’s weakeness in the position was exposed when the poor Olivier Giroud was substituted by the raw and inexperienced Yaya Sanogo.
In fact Sanogo had a ‘goal’ disallowed wrongly for offside but Arsenal did not deserve it. They have won only once in their last games while Everton have won six in a row. As Naismith said: “We never let them settle.”
Next Saturday Arsenal play Uwe Rosler’s second division Wigan in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley. Wigan will play with the pride of holders. If Arsenal play as they did at Goodison then they will lose again . . . to Roberto Martinez’s old club.