Arsenal on the brink as Everton win leaves Wenger broken
After yet another humiliation, is it time for Gunners' manager to admit defeat and quit?
Everton 3 Arsenal 0. At the end even the Everton faithful couldn't believe how easy it had been. What was supposed to be a bitter battle for the all-important fourth spot turned into a walk in the Goodison Park for Everton.
Rampant in the first-half, Everton went into the break 2-0 up thanks to goals from Steven Naismith and Romelu Lukaku, and when Mikel Arteta put the ball into his own net on the hour mark it was game over for Arsenal.
It could also mean game over for Arsene Wenger a few weeks from now. There are growing rumours that the Frenchman will only sign a new contract at the Emirates if he believes he is up to the task, and after seeing his side beaten so comprehensively few people would agree that he is.
When it came to the crunch, against a team with belief, the Gunners were once again shambolic: disinterested, disjointed and dismantled by an Everton side which, in contrast, bristled with determination.
The result means that the Merseyside club now have their fate in their own hands: one point behind fourth-place Arsenal, but with a game in hand, all Everton have to do is win their remaining six matches to finish fourth and qualify for the Champions League for the first time since 2005.
Arsenal, on the other hand, face the very real possibility of failing to qualify for Europe's showpiece competition for the first time in 18 seasons. Having said that, the Gunners have the easier run-in, facing no club higher than ninth-placed Newcastle (at home), while Everton must host the two Manchester clubs and travel to Southampton. But with the Toffees now on a six-game winning streak it will take something special to stop their momentum.
As for the Gunners, for the first time this season – a season, remember, that has encompassed humiliating defeats to Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea – Wenger had the air of a broken man at the end of this latest embarrassment. "Everton were better, sharper and deserved to win," admitted the Arsenal manager. "I wouldn't question the spirit of this team but we have lost something on the confidence front. We looked disjointed when we had to run after the score. The other big defeats away from home have taken some of the charisma from this team."
Asked if his squad lacked fight, Wenger's reply was devoid of his usual stubborn defence of his players. "You could say that. It is a massive worry to lose a game like that."
Arsenal now have to hope the pressure gets to Everton in the final weeks of the season, while at the same time dredging their souls in search of some self-belief. "It will be difficult to finish in the top four but first we have to focus on the quality of our performances," conceded Wenger. "We have to analyse it well and come back with a different attitude, with more personality and stronger challenges. We have to go back to basics."
Meanwhile Everton manager Roberto Martinez mixed satisfaction with circumspection. "Yes it was a great win and a great psychological boost, but the nature of this league is to be ready from game to game," he said. "We knew if got three points today then it would leave us with 63 points, but we have still got another 18 points to play for.