Everton could haunt Wenger

Sport24 columnist Antoinette Muller (File)
Sport24 columnist Antoinette Muller (File)
Well, this is awkward. After being top of the league at Christmas and all going seemingly well for Arsenal, they’re now left scuppering for fourth place. 

A humiliation at the hands of Chelsea over the weekend and more dropped points at home to Swansea on Tuesday means that the Gunners could wake up to a blue nightmare from Merseyside.

In the wake of stalled contract talks and a looming FA Cup semi-final, Arsene Wenger’s men have far more to ponder than whether he wants to stay on as manager or not. He has to figure out how to keep Arsenal in the specialist fourth place position and in the hunt for Champions League football.

Everton playing Champions League football? It’s not so impossible. The gap between the two teams is currently six and the Toffees have a game in hand. On the weekend, Arsenal face Manchester City at the Emirates and it's difficult to see anything other than a trashing dished out to them.

Everton should easily beat Fulham, meaning the gap narrows to just three points before the Gunners have to travel to Goodison Park.

With mental scarring festering, the pressure on Arsenal and nagging injuries to contend with, Arsenal could choke when they take on the Toffees.

Roberto Martinez mentioned that he envisions one of the top four sides starting to crack, but he probably didn’t envision it to be quite this emphatically catastrophic. For the Toffees’ boss, the ride is something to relish.

Against Swansea on Tuesday night Arsenal played well for about 64 seconds, the time it took them to score two goals. Beyond that, they looked lost, tired and generally woeful. They had previously been able to bounce back from such pitiful humiliations, but even the most resilient teams can only handle so much and the cracks are starting to show for Arsenal.

Following the defeat against Chelsea, communication went into lock-down in North London.

Wenger did not fulfil his post-match duties with the print media. He also cancelled his pre-match press conference ahead of Swansea and even the club’s own social media accounts zipped it.

Rumours were rife that Wenger had told his players this would be his last season. Nothing came of them and they were dismissed as mere tabloid fodder, but there might be more to it.

Wenger has previously stated that he doesn’t have the “staying power” that Alex Ferguson did and when he’s 65, he might move on. He’s now 64 and his birthday is in October.

Considering the trophy drought, the silence on signing a new contract and the downward spiral Arsenal continue to find themselves in, to suggest that Wenger might call it a day isn’t too much of a stretch.

There is a long way to go yet, though, and there is some hope. Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey are two weeks away from returning, possibly just in time for the FA Cup clash against Wigan at Wembley.

If they can manage to squeeze into the final, then there is at least a Cup prospect to cling on to. However, the doomsayers will suggest that their memories of defeat to Birmingham City at Wembley won’t help their cause for the Cup.

The capitulation has been stark, but not unexpected. When Ozil arrived at the Emirates - a record signing - he was supposed to be the marquee player, the Bergkamp moment that would change everything. Instead, he was like buying a Picasso for the bathroom while the lounge was dilapidated.

Much has been made of Wenger’s dual responsibilities and he has previously insisted that, although he accepts help with transfers, the final decisions are made by him.

“I stand up for the results of a team I have chosen. The manager should be responsible for the players who come in,” The Professor said in August last year.

In the league, Arsenal have winnable fixtures coming up in April, too. West Ham and Hull should hand them six points, but by that time, Everton might have narrowed the gap sufficiently already.

If it does come to that, then Wenger will have some serious standing up to do for the squad he has chosen, especially the failed bids for big name players.

That he revolutionised the English game and that he has been the heart of Arsenal for a very long time cannot be disputed.

However, even Wenger is not so obtuse to deny that sometimes, when the heart stops pumping blood, you need a bypass.

Antoinette Muller is a freelance writer who writes mainly about soccer and cricket for The Daily Maverick or anybody else who will have her...

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.
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