Why the top four is out of Arsenal’s hands

The finer details of what happened away to Everton at Goodison Park shouldn’t matter too much. What is important is that it happened again.

Arsenal’s weaknesses that were clear as day in the away win at Tottenham were exposed and brought home the following week against Chelsea. The team and the manager evidently hadn’t learned from what happened against Manchester City and Liverpool.

We were told that there was a team meeting – of the kind reserved for times of crises – after the annihilation at Stamford Bridge. It was excused as a mistake, one that wouldn’t be made again.

Since winning away at White Hart Lane, Arsenal are yet to pick up a win. They’ve played one half of convincing football since then, taking a point from Manchester City at the Emirates.

A 3-0 loss at Everton may not be to the magnitude of what has come before, but it’s a crisis all the same. It’s a disastrous result considering what’s at stake and that Everton are the team Arsenal are currently battling against for fourth place.

What is worrying is that it really didn’t take much for Roberto Martinez to outsmart Arsene Wenger. Everton toyed with Arsenal for much of the game. They were fantastic, and yet they weren’t even at their best; the 1-1 draw at the Emirates earlier in the season was a far more impressive performance.

What is true is that any team with a decent game plan and a little conviction will take something from Arsenal at this time. It was true of Chelsea and Liverpool, two teams in contention for the Premier League title, and it was true of Swansea, who went into the 2-2 draw with a horrendous run of form this season.

Yet again it was same old, same old from Arsenal. When Martinez was standing on the edge of his technical area while being ahead on the score sheet, Wenger remained seated. Should we assume that it was that stubborn streak once again getting the better of him? Was he in the assumption that his team selection would simply turn the game around eventually once they found their rhythm? Or was the reality far more troubling? Was Wenger’s inaction an admission that he had no answer for what was playing out on the pitch?

Arsenal haven’t won a game convincingly in what seems an eternity. What has changed in that space of time? Absolutely nothing. A lack of options due to injury is one thing, but there can be no excuse for not even tinkering with the team setup in order to force a different outcome.

No change in formation – would playing Lukas Podolski alongside Olivier Giroud really hurt Wenger’s pride that much? What about removing Giroud altogether with Podolski as the point of the attack? At the very least the German is mobile. There has been no intention whatsoever to flood the midfield. What is the point of Kim Kallstrom when Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini are so ineffective in the middle of the pitch?

Martinez, a tactically progressive manager, tweaked his team setup to counter the most glaring weaknesses of this Arsenal team. Romelu Lukaku has pace and strength in abundance. The Everton manager rightly positioned him on Arsenal’s left side, where Nacho Monreal and Thomas Vermaelen offered little resistance.

Little threat came from Arsenal’s attack. It was shocking to see such little invention, but at the same time completely expected. We’ve seen this game from Arsenal before. We’ve seen this season before, too.

Even if Arsenal do somehow miraculously win the FA Cup and finish fourth, it shouldn’t be enough. It shouldn’t be enough because Arsenal’s weak mentality, lack of ideas and general stagnation isn’t a product of this season alone. There are no ideas on the pitch, there are no ideas or instructions from the manager – at least not to an extent which we can see – and there are no ideas during the transfer windows.

It’s extremely telling of the mood around Arsenal that despite currently holding the fourth place in the league, the fear is very much present that fifth will be the outcome of this season.


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