Arsenal enjoyed a fantastic run earlier this season where they topped the table for a long time – 128 days. However, while every Arsenal fan backed their side to end their trophy drought by winning the Premier League, there were lingering doubts as to whether this side had the tactical discipline, desire and most importantly, the mental fortitude to overcome challenges.
The likes of Michael Owen and Patrick Vieira came out publicly and suggested that Arsene Wenger’s side do not have it in them to win the league.
“When you look at Arsenal, they play fantastic football. But sometimes you need to win games playing badly and I don't think Arsenal are capable of that at the moment,” said the former Arsenal skipper.
This was Arsenal’s best chance to win the title as they were the only side who weren’t in transition given that each of the top seven saw a new manager take charge.
But Wenger failed to address the key issues in the winter transfer market. He brought in Kim Kallstorm when he needed a striker to compete with Olivier Giroud. On the other hand, Jose Mourinho re-signed Nemanja Matic – a player who has improved Chelsea by leaps and bounds.
For the third time this season, their vulnerability on the left was exposed. Roberto Martinez used a 4-3-3 formation and deployed Romelu Lukaku on the right to pit him against Nacho Monreal, something which Brendan Rodgers did by using Luis Suarez in the same position.
Meanwhile, Leighton Baines wreaked havoc down the opposite flank as Santi Cazorla's inability to track back afforded the attacking full-back to bomb forward at will. Indeed, it was the combination of these two weak spots that led to the first goal at Goodison Park as Baines' delivery was met by the diagonal run of Lukaku before Steven Naismith was on hand to feed off the scraps.
The ease with which Everton attacked and most importantly, found spaces without having to make too many tackles, once again brought back the debate as to whether Arsenal’s midfield consists of too many similar players.
If you rate the Arsenal midfield on skill, they would probably be on top with Manchester City. But when push comes to shove or in other words in games where they have to show their grit against the top oppositions, they tend to falter.
It must be noted that Wenger accused Chelsea of coming to the Emirates only “to defend” in the goal-less affair back in December last year. Now would you prefer being defensive, playing on the counter to get a point against your rival or getting thrashed 6-0 and so on in trying to playing ‘beautiful football’?
This is a question every Arsenal loyalist would ponder. One of the major criticisms of Arsenal has been that they use the same tactics in every game and there is literally nothing done to surprise the opposition. Their philosophy of playing beautiful football seems to be a thing of the past as it was Everton who entertained. The pace, power and guile every time they moved forward was a treat to watch.
Mikel Arteta had a forgettable outing on his return to his former side, as mentioned, Santi Cazorla doesn’t do enough when tracking back and the same goes for Tomas Rosicky. Mathieu Flamini seemed to have waged a lone battle but had too much to handle all by himself.
Despite being a good ball-playing side, Arsenal often concede possession or are intercepted by the opposition to launch counter attacks. Case in point were the first two goals scored by Chelsea at the Bridge where Chamberlain and Cazorla gifted the ball away and the same was done by Rosicky for the fifth goal.
Mourinho never gave his side a chance to win the league and Rodgers too has played it down time and again. Wenger and Manuel Pellegrini have stated their intentions of wanting the Premier League title and while one has given his side the best possible chance, the other is left talking about the importance of finishing in the top four.
Arsenal have a relatively easier set of fixtures compared to Everton until the end of the season. If they finish in the top four, they may yet deem it a great achievement and marvel at how they fought against all odds, bounced back from disappointing results and qualified for Europe’s elite competition – the Champions League. But maybe it's time second place should be considered failure at a club like Arsenal, let alone fourth.
Mind you, this isn’t a stinging criticism of the north London club, it is in fact highlighting their issues which have not been ignored, but rather accepted for far too long. Arsenal fans deserve more after being given the hope of winning the title. And perhaps next time, we will know better than to believe them until that trophy is well and truly secured as they invariably get overhauled and ‘outfought’ in the final stretch far too often.