Arsenal unravel once again as Everton eye Champions League
The Gunners' annual collapse is underway and it could see them finish fifth in the league
IT HAS arrived a little later than expected, but Arsenal's annual unravelling is well and truly underway, and 2014 could turn out to be the year that the Gunners' 16-year run of Champions league football comes to an end.
After the 6-0 humiliation by Chelsea, Arsenal were held to a dispiriting 2-2 draw by Swansea at the Emirates on Tuesday night. Afterwards, manager Arsene Wenger was forced to admit that his side were out of the title race and engaged in a battle to hang on to fourth place.
"The title is not our biggest worry at the moment," he said. "We just have to try to be realistic and we have to come back in the next game. We have to look behind us."
Having fallen behind to a Wilfried Bony header, Arsenal appeared on course for victory after two goals from Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud in the space of one second half minute. But a disastrous Mathieu Flamini own goal in the 90th minute, after a Per Mertesacker clearance struck Wojciech Szczesny and richoted into the net off the midfielder, gave Swansea a deserved share of the spoils.
And it could have been worse for the Gunners. The match ended in controversy as referee Lee Probert blew for full time with Swansea midfielder Jonathan de Guzman through on the Arsenal goal.
The result, and Everton's convincing 3-0 win over Newcastle, leaves Arsenal's European hopes hanging by a thread. On paper the situation does not look critical as Arsenal are six points clear of the Toffees, although they have played one game more.
The problem is with the fixture list. Arsenal play Man City this weekend and Everton face bottom side Fulham. If Arsenal lose and Everton win, as looks likely, the gap will be three points. The next fixture for both sides sees Arsenal travel to Goodison Park. An Everton victory would put them level on points with the Gunners with a game in hand.
Wenger had compared the Chelsea result to a car-crash and urged his players had to get back behind the wheel. But his side "performed more like traumatised passengers as their season continued to veer off direction", says Jeremy Wilson of the Daily Telegraph.
The Gunners were top of the league in early February, and even now are only six points behind Chelsea. But, "Arsenal's inability to hold on to a lead against a side who have not won for nine matches is one compelling reason they will not win the league, although they provided plenty of others in a disjointed performance that suggested the humiliation at Stamford Bridge is having a big effect," says Matt Hughes of The Times.
Even before the Swansea game, Evening Standard columnist Patrick Barclay predicted Everton could overhaul Arsenal. "Didn’t Roberto Martinez say that he reckoned one of the top four would crack? He was too polite to name them. But it looks as if he was right," he wrote.