An Arsenal team that went to Anfield as league leaders in early February have now only managed to take nine points from their last nine games and are in real danger of a complete collapse. The team showed little fight against Everton and their effort in such an important game was completely unacceptable. It's hard to understand how the team could have put in such an inept performance in a game they didn't seem to understand the significance of.
The players that are injured have been a big loss of course but the lack of investment in the squad and poor team selection have played a part too. I can't remember seeing an Arsenal team under Arsene Wenger so devoid of pace as the current team, but the only player with that pace was sitting on the bench again yesterday. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain hasn't had the easiest of times in the last couple of weeks, but omitting him from the team makes it too easy for opponents to defend against Arsenal.
Everton are a good attacking team, but for me their two full backs can be taken advantage of. Instead Arsenal didn't play anybody in a wide right role which meant Bacary Sagna was the only player getting forward into that position. It also meant Sagna had no help when Leighton Baines got forward and Arsenal were vulnerable on the right side of their defence which is something which doesn't usually happen.
The absence of Laurent Koscielny was shown for the first Everton goal as Thomas Vermaelen was caught ball watching twice when Steven Naismith scored. For the second goal both Nacho Monreal and Vermaelen should have done an awful lot better and Per Mertesacker didn't exactly cover himself in glory either. The less said about their third goal the better, but suffice it to say it ended up with Mikel Arteta putting the ball into his own net.
Arsenal have lost all of their attacking flair at the same time as the defence has being giving goals away far too easily. The excuse of the injured players is wearing thin and the players who are available are better than the results they have being getting. It's hard to understand why or how they are playing so badly and how they are unable to react to events as they happen on the pitch.
It has become too easy to play against Arsenal and the manager is being out thought by opposing managers week after week. It's hard to see what Arsenal's game plan was yesterday and what instructions the players were given before the game. It looked like they were told to go out there and play their own game and see what happened.
Everton went out to close Arsenal down in possession and push them as far back as they could with their full backs advancing. It was an easy tactic for them to implement with no pace in the Arsenal attack and only Lukas Podolski prepared to have a shot from outside the box. Everton allowed Arsenal to play the ball in front of them knowing they were incapable of getting behind them and then broke at pace against a disorganised defence.
It was all too easy for them but Arsenal did nothing to counter it at any stage as they continued with the tactics which had not worked. By the time the bench was used Arsenal were 3-0 down and it was too late, but even then it was more likely that Everton would add to their lead. Yaya Sanogo did put the ball in the net very late on and he was mistakenly given offside and Chamberlain hit the bar too, but it was too little too late.
The refereeing didn't help and Everton's second goal should have been disallowed as Naismith was clearly in an offside position and blocking Wojciech Szczesny's view of the ball when Romelu Lukaku scored. He was also far too lenient on a couple of occasions with poor Everton tackles early on as they put the boot in to put Arsenal off their game. The result was not down to the referee though and the outcome was all Arsenal's own doing.
There are five league games left and all of those games are winnable even for this depleted Arsenal side. If they win all five games they will finish on 79 points and I cannot believe that won't be enough for a top four finish. For them to win those games they are going to have to play an awful lot better than they did yesterday and at this stage I'm not so sure that will happen.
By the time they play their FA Cup semi final against Wigan next week Everton will have played away to Sunderland and a point will be enough to move them ahead of Arsenal. The FA Cup has now become an absolute must for Arsenal to win to rescue something from a season which has fallen apart, but the players are at a low ebb heading into that semi final. The blow of dropping to fifth place just before they kick off could be bad for them and they have been unable to react well to setbacks recently.
Wigan are no mugs and have done very well to get this far in their defence of the trophy they won last season, but they are a Championship side and Arsenal have to beat them. The alternative doesn't bear thinking about but it's a very real prospect with Wigan having the blueprint of how to play Arsenal shown to them week after week at the moment. If the Arsenal players put as little effort into that game as they did yesterday they will be beaten.
The only real positive to take from yesterday's game was the return of Aaron Ramsey after a three month injury absence and he has to play next week as does Chamberlain. They at least offer an attacking threat which was virtually non existant for far too much of yesterday's game. I don't know if Mesut Ozil or Koscielny will be back by next Saturday, but the team could do with the quality they offer too.
As for Olivier Giroud the chances are he will play in that game as there is no real alternative, but he's just not good enough at the level Arsenal want to play. Arsene Wenger has seldom had a striker in his Arsenal teams with his lack of pace and he is an ordinary finisher at best. His hold up and link play are ordinary at best too and a striker can't be kept in the team just because he defends set pieces well. If Giroud doesn't play then it's a choice between Sanogo, Nicklas Bendtner and Podolski and none of them really offer what Arsenal want or need.
The team need to get through what's left of this season and somehow manage to win the FA Cup and finish fourth too. There then has to be real investment in the squad and the first priority has to be a top class striker. The team cannot go into next season with such a hopelessly inept set of options up front.
If Arsenal don't win the FA Cup and finish outside the top four I really think the manager has to pay the price. Despite all the injured players he is still picking the team and choosing the tactics which are proving to be wrong week after week at the moment. If he can't raise their spirits and get the best from them then somebody else has to be found who can do that. I would hate to see Arsene leave under such circumstances and I would love to see him bring the glory days back, but I am no longer sure he will.
This time next week we should have a much clearer picture of whether this team are still playing for the manager or not. If they lose to Wigan I can't see them recovering to finish fourth and it's not something I want to see happen. It's hard to be upbeat about the team's chances when they continue to play so poorly week after week, but all hope is not lost yet.
That's it for today.
See you tomorrow.