Everton 1 Arsenal 0: Mediocre will not cut it for Gunners in top four battle

It’s almost certainly true that you can’t get it right every time and that was quite simply the case for Unai Emery and Arsenal on Sunday.

The Gunners had been on an excellent run of form that had seen them go unbeaten in the league for almost two months, manoeuvring themselves into third place in the Premier League ahead of this week’s round of fixtures.

But, despite the huge opportunity that presented itself at Goodison Park, it was a match that Arsenal simply weren’t at the races for. The tactics were wrong, the application was wrong, and, inevitably, the result was wrong.

Whatever team Emery picks attracts criticism, confoundment, and derision in equal measure but that typically dissipates with a good performance or a positive result.

Against Everton, however, things simply didn’t work out for the Spaniard, with the team looking one-dimensional and disjointed for large parts of the match.

It’s almost as if he lost this one on the team sheet, before a ball was kicked.

It took for a half-time change to add some energy and purpose into the Gunners but, by that point, they were already chasing the match and, typically, left themselves wide open in defence to the threat of the Toffees’ counter attack.

As frustrating as the result was – and it was enormously so – you have to put it down as a bad day at the office, a gamble that didn’t pay off.

Injuries and suspensions forced Emery’s hand in many respects, with Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torriera sidelined – leaving him with a delicate balance to find in midfield given the midweek fixture against Napoli.

To that end, Emery plumped for Mohamed Elneny and Matteo Guendouzi – a selection that immediately had Gunners’ fans clutching at their collective pearls.

Aaron Ramsey, Alex Iwobi and Denis Suarez, meanwhile, were confined to the bench, presumably with one eye on the Europa League first leg on Thursday.

The selection screamed stolid and it was exactly that. Neither Guendouzi or Elneny set the world alight with the ball at their feet and, quite frankly, both were careless and regressive in possession.

And, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Mesut Ozil occupied in the wide areas, it left Alexandre Lacazette isolated and without service, as has so often been the way when the manager opts to play him alone up top.

Ironically, the Everton goal came from their worst attacking move of the day: a low-tech long throw hurled into the penalty area that bounced fortuitously into the path of Phil Jagielka. It was a crappy way to concede that evoked the nightmares of the 2005-2010 Bolton and Stoke era. I had hoped never to see such utter shit on a Premier League pitch again.

There was barely a response from Arsenal, though, as they found themselves tied up with defending and unable to create much when they did get hold of the ball.

All in all, the performance was lacking.

The second half brought a badly-needed and inevitable change, with Ramsey and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang introduced at the expense of Sead Kolasinac and Elneny.

While it provided something of a lift in impetus, it failed to force the way back into the match that Arsenal needed.

As the minutes ticked by, and the desperation increased, large gaps started to appear at the back and these were all-too-easily exploited by the home side. It’s always to be expected when you’re chasing the game but what frustrates is that, despite throwing the kitchen sink at this one, it was Everton who looked like scoring the second goal and not Arsenal.

So, instead of having a nice five-point buffer and a spot in comfortable third place, Arsenal find themselves sucked back into the top four mire, with Manchester United and Chelsea breathing a sigh of relief.

Though we don’t have any more top six clashes to come, we have plenty of away fixtures at sides just like Everton – the likes of Burnley, Leicester, and Wolverhampton. While we are unlikely to win all of our remaining six fixtures, we cannot afford to perform as we did against Everton.

Mediocre simply isn’t going to cut it from here, and that goes for the manager as well as the players.

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