When titles have become such a luxury, consecutive seasons of Champions League qualification is the sole moment of glory for Arsene Wenger. Nevertheless, another disastrous performance away from home put their hope for top four, so as Wenger's prospect at the club, in serious doubt.
It was their fourth defeat in their last five away games, which they conceded fifteen goals and only scored two. It was also the sixth out of last seven games that they failed to keep a clean sheet. Down this poor stretch, their only victory was the narrow win at White Hart Lane.
The resilience in defence shown against Manchester City was vanished. Everton's attack, fuelled by the speed of fullbacks Seamus Coleman, Leighton Baines and winger Kevin Mirallas, has torn the Gunners' defence apart. Although Thomas Vermaelen and Per Mertesacker remained relatively deep, Romelu Lukaku is a beast who requires more attention than Edin Dzeko. While they managed to keep the slower and more compact attack of Manchester City in check, Everton beat them with width and pace.
With a game in hand, mathematically Roberto Martinez's side has the advantage over Arsenal in the race for fourth. However, Gunners' supporters still have solid reasons to believe it will be their 17th season in a row to qualify for the Champions League.
|Both Walcott and Ramsey were out injured|
February and March have traditionally been the nightmare months for Arsenal, when injuries and fatigues are their biggest enemies. It is the same old story this year. Three of their best players in 2013 could not bring their forms into 2014. Aaron Ramsey went down in Boxing Day and suffered couple of injury setbacks. Olivier Giroud was simply burnt out as Wenger is short of options on the bench. Mehmet Ozil's impressive Premier League debut gradually fades away amidst the congested fixtures and ultimately is sent to the treatment room. What made the situation worse was Theo Walcott's lengthy absence since early January.
However, don't forget another Gunners' tradition though --- they have the ability to finish the season on a high. The importance of Champions League football is well-understood in the dressing room and Wenger can inspire his side to recover from the poor run mid-season and hold off the challenge, recently by Tottenham, to secure the fourth spot by one point in the past two seasons. The remaining fixtures are as well quite favourable to Arsenal, with the majority of games at home and against teams with limited relegation threat.
On the other hand, the two Manchester giants are yet to line up at Goodison Park and the trips to Southampton and Sunderland are awaiting for the Toffees. The risk of dropping points is apparently higher than Arsenal.
Arsenal is also a far more superior side against weaker teams than top teams. The talent and creativity of their midfield enables them to disjoint opponents backline with the free-flowing attack. Having been able to dominate possession also eases pressure on their defence, who shows solidity but occasionally looks fragile against speedy strikers.
|Lukaku is the key to Everton|
Everton is at their best when playing counter-attack football. No wonder their records against top teams have been remarkable. On contrast, they sometimes struggle against teams who are determined to earn a draw, in particular when playing away from home. Points have already been dropped at Norwich, Cardiff, Crystal Palace, Stoke City and West Brom. Having Lukaku back healthy is a huge boost, but not known as a natural-attacking team, bagging three points could be a tougher task than imagined.
Everything appears to be flowing in the opposite direction for Arsenal at the moment. However, the talents and experience within the squad, as well as the favourable schedule ahead, they still have a good chance to come on top of Everton to grab the remaining Champions League spot.