Everton comprehensively defeated Arsenal today, 3-0 at Goodison Park. With the victory, the Toffees move within one point of the Gunners for the final Champions League place, and have a game in hand.
Everton outworked Arsenal all over the pitch. We also had a clear edge in tactics, thanks to our manager, Roberto Martinez.
The Gunners legendary manager, Arsene Wenger, seemed unaware of the threat Everton poses down the left flank, even though we’ve been posing it ever since left back Leighton Baines came into his own five years ago. Wenger deployed no midfielder willing and able to help Arsenal right back Bacary Sagna cope with Baines and winger Kevin Miralles.
As a result, Baines was given more space to operate than I recall him having all season. He thus became a constant outlet. And finding himself in great positions and facing no pressure on the ball, Bainsey was able to pick Arsenal’s defense apart with balls to Steven Naismith (whom Martinez deployed unconventionally at center forward) and Romulu Lukaka (normally a center forward but placed on the right by Martinez)
At half time, I was certain that Wenger would bring on a midfielder capable of helping Sagna cope with Baines and Miralles and, ideally, to pin Baines back by posing a threat of his own down the flank. My pick would have been Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. It’s true that Ox has been playing central midfield this year. But he’s a very capable two-way winger.
Instead, Wenger made no changes at the half. When he finally brought on Oxlade-Chamberlain, along with Aaron Ramsey in the 66th minute, Everton already had an insurmountable lead. Moreover, Ox was deployed centrally.
Does this mean that Piers Morgan was right last year when he declared Wenger a has-been and called on him to resign? No, it does not.
Wenger kept Arsenal in the race for first place deep into the season, until injuries finally caught up with them. The Gunners’ recent struggles look like the direct result of injuries to their very best players — Jack Wilshere, Mesut Ozil, and Laurent Koscielny. They joined stars Theo Walcott and Ramsey (who finally returned to the substitutes bench today), who have been sidelined all year.
Arsenal doesn’t spend enough money to maintain a squad that can overcome such a rash of injuries to key players. These days, therefore, Arsenal looks a lot more like Everton, Tottenham, and Manchester United than they do Manchester City, Liverpool, and Chelsea. The results reflect this reality.
Arsenal still seems a good bet to grab that last Champions League place. The remainder of its schedule is far more favorable than Everton’s.
Arsenal is also in the FA Cup semifinals, having beaten Everton handily in the quarterfinals when the teams met a few weeks ago in North London. The Gunners are significantly better than the three remaining teams in that competition.
A Champions League spot and a FA Cup trophy (and let’s not forget that Arsenal advanced to the round of 16 in the Champions League) would be a decent showing for a side that spends what Arsenal does. In this scenario, the case for dumping Wenger would be weak. But that wouldn’t stop the braying of the likes of Piers Morgan.