In Review

Arsenal title hopes hang in the balance after Everton defeat

Gunners go down at Goodison and defeat sets up Premier League eliminator against Manchester City at the weekend

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Everton 2 Arsenal 1

A late goal from Everton defender Ashley Williams condemned Arsenal to their first league defeat since their 4-3 loss to Liverpool on the opening day of the season, and increased the pressure on Arsene Wenger's side ahead of Sunday's visit to Manchester City. 

That is now a game the Gunners can't afford to lose if they wish to start 2017 as serious title contenders, particularly if Chelsea continue their winning form in the coming days. 

The Blues, already three points clear of Arsenal at the top of the table with a game in hand, travel to Sunderland tonight and Crystal Palace on Saturday. The worst case scenario for Arsenal fans is that come Monday morning they'll be trailing their London rivals by nine points.

Arsenal had only themselves to blame for defeat at Goodison Park. The game was there for the taking after Alexis Sanchez put them one up on 20 minutes when his free-kick took a deflection past Maarten Stekelenburg off Williams. The Gunners looked in control for the rest of the half, until Seamus Coleman rose to head home Leighton Baines' cross on the stroke of half-time.

As the second-half wore on Everton looked the more likely to score, although the best chance fell to Mesut Ozil who, with the goal at his mercy, blazed over from 12 yards. The Toffees punished the German's profligacy on 86 minutes when Williams powered a header past Petr Cech.

The visitors threw everything at their hosts in the final minutes in a desperate attempt to rescue a point but Everton held firm, just, with shots from Nacho Monreal and Alexi Iwobi cleared off the line. It was the 11th game in succession that Arsenal have failed to keep a clean sheet and if the Gunners are to get their hands on the title for the first time in 13 years Wenger may have to dip into the transfer market next month. 

"I don't think we deserved to lose the game but we were caught on two headers," conceded the Frenchman. "Especially on the first one, we were guilty."

Wenger also alluded to the fact that his side were too easily dispossessed by their opponents, a familiar failing for Arsenal sides in recent years. "It was a very physical game and I think we faced many challenges," said Wenger. "We lost some balls that we are not used to and it disturbed our game."

Asked if he feared Arsenal may lack the stomach for a fight as the packed Christmas schedule looms, Wenger said: "We did fight, I cannot fault our fighting spirit tonight. We lost some balls we should not lose but maybe that is down to the intensity of the game. We did fight very hard and we have games like that every three or four days and I cannot fault the attitude."

If Arsenal can get a result at the Etihad on Sunday it will do wonders for their morale. They have one of the easier itineraries over the festive period, hosting West Brom on Boxing Day, Crystal Palace on New Year's Day and then travelling to Bournemouth on 3 January. The best-case scenario is that they are still very much in the title race in early January. But there's always that worse-case scenario.

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