Saturday, 19 March 2016

Arsenal Try To Keep Their Slim Hopes Alive At Everton

It's been a bad week for Arsenal with their FA Cup exit followed by their Champions League demise. Their hopes of winning the Premier League are all but gone too and those hopes will disappear unless they win away to Everton today. At the moment they're 11 points behind Leicester with a game in hand and only nine games left to play.

If they are to have any hope of making up that gap they will probably have to win every single one of those nine games. It's not an impossible task of course, but the way Arsenal have played this season and for the last few months in particular it's about as unlikely a scenario as you can imagine. When the chips were down they folded and the criticism of the manager and players from almost every direction has been stinging.

That criticism has been completely justified in my opinion as Arsenal were in a perfect position to win the league in early Janurary. Since then they have only won twice in their last nine league games though as well as relinquishing their hold on the FA Cup and making their annual last 16 exit from the Champions League. From the position they were in it's a complete collapse and they are living up to their tag as serial bottlers.

The performance away to Barcelona on Wednesday night was at least promising with Arsenal showing real determination and adventure in their attacking. The continual stupid mistakes in defence and lack of a top class finisher cost them yet again though and Arsene Wenger has a lot to answer for on both counts. If he takes credit when the team do well he has to be criticised for his inability to teach his team how to defend properly and for not using the money at his disposal to strengthen the squad from a position of strength last summer.

He can't add to his squad for the rest of this season though and he has to make do with the players who have failed so abjectly in the last few months. We could well see the returns of Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla in the next few weeks, but we can't expect too much from Wilshere after so long on the treatment table yet again. If the team are still fighting for the title maybe Cazorla's return might just give them some of the impetus they need. 

The first step for them is the trip to Everton today and it's the first of nine must win games. Everton have had a week to bask in the glory of knocking Chelsea out of the cup last week and prepare themselves for this game while Arsenal will have had little time to recover from their energy sapping game on Wednesday night. 

That team and performance on Wednesday night surely has to be a pointer for today. Both Mohamed El Neny and Alex Iwobi played wel in that game and maybe their freshness in the team could be just what is needed. As others have been affected by the usual failings maybe those two might not be in the same mindset.

If all of the players are fit and have recovered from that energy sapping game I wouldn't be surprised to see the same team start today. They showed real invention in attack and with better finishing they would surely have got at least a draw. Alexis Sanchez did get the assist on Arsenal's only goal, but otherwise he again had a night to forget. Despite his terrible form at the moment he is still undroppable and I have no doubt he will be in the team today.

Everton may have had a week to prepare for the game, but they have a pretty awful record at home this season. They have only won four games at home and only Villa have managed less wins on their own patch. They have the worst defensive record at home in the league too and those statistics have to give Arsenal some real hope.

I don't think Everton have it in them to put in a tight defensive display and look for a narrow victory. They are more likely to attack Arsenal from the off and if our players can rise to that challenge I think the game is theirs for the taking. Arsenal's inability to score is more pronounced at home and I think they will create enough chances today to score a few goals.

If they can do that it's a matter of whether they can get the better of Romelu Lukaku, Ross Barkley and to a lesser extent Aaron Lennon. Recent games between the two teams have been open affairs which could have gone either way and I think today will be the same. It could well come down to desire to win and belief that they are still in the title race. 

If the players have those two components today I think they can win and maybe keep their slim hopes alive for another while. They cannot forget that they are only two points behind Spurs and they have to finish above them even if they fail to catch Leicester. There will be no more competitions to distract them between now and the end of the season and it's time for every one of them to concentrate on the job in hand for the next nine games or at least until they lose a game and we can put the final nail in the coffin. That may well be today, but I have a feeling they might just keep their slim hopes alive for a little longer.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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