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Football: Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger seeking a lifeline

After the Gunners were defeated in the FA Cup and Champions League, Arsene Wenger faces the rare prospect of his side surrendering in three separate competitions in just seven days. Today's match against Everton will define their slender prospects in
After the Gunners were defeated in the FA Cup and Champions League, Arsene Wenger faces the rare prospect of his side surrendering in three separate competitions in just seven days. Today's match against Everton will define their slender prospects in the Premier League.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Everton game offers prospect of redemption as losing streak heaps pressure on manager

After almost 20 years of consistency and continuity, Arsene Wenger rarely reaches the extremes, in either direction.

Yet should Arsenal lose at Everton today, there is a case for calling this the worst week of his long reign while it is certain fans will call for his head.

Arsenal have achieved much under the Frenchman and performed creditably in defeat by Barcelona but they have rarely exited three competitions in seven days before. But, after departing the FA Cup and the Champions League, their slim interest in the Premier League title race could be ended.

Even nine wins from their final nine matches might not be enough to render them champions; as Arsenal have won just once in nine attempts in all competitions, that is unlikely in the extreme. Lose and they could be 14 points behind leaders Leicester.

 

So Wenger finds himself in familiar territory. Not just Goodison Park, though it is his 21st visit, but the point in the season when Arsenal's title hopes have faded to the extent that their aim becomes securing fourth place.

Two years ago, their destiny was taken out of their hands when they lost 0-3 to fifth-placed Everton in April. Inevitably, though, they rallied to clinch a Champions League spot.

Now there are questions if the certainties of old remain. This season, which promised to be Arsenal's best since 2004, is instead shaping up to be their worst. Wenger's team have specialised in alleviating pressure at key points in the past, but they have to illustrate that their psychological frailties are not too pronounced now.

Perhaps Everton are ideal opponents, perhaps awful ones. In one sense, something has to give. Arsenal have won only one of their last six away league games, drawing three. Everton have suffered seven home league defeats, conceding more goals on their own turf than even Aston Villa.

Roberto Martinez's men have yet to defeat top-six opponents and have their own self-destructive streak. Their usual adventurousness may suit Arsenal, who created more chances against Barcelona than a compact, narrow Watford team in Sunday's setback, but Everton showed more solidity when they overcame Chelsea in the FA Cup. The danger for Arsenal, and everyone else, is that they possess the talent to defeat anyone.

Certainly Romelu Lukaku's blend of pace, power and potent finishing makes him a threat to a fragile Arsenal defence.

In Ross Barkley and Aaron Lennon, he has eager, in-form attacking accomplices while Wenger's hopes may rest with raw talents such as Mohamed Elneny, Alex Iwobi and Danny Welbeck, who impressed against Barcelona.

Arsenal have shown spirit at Goodison before - coming from 0-2 down after 82 minutes to draw last season - and quality, thrashing Everton 6-1, in 2009. Wenger requires evidence of both now if his problems are not to multiply.

EVERTON V ARSENAL

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 19, 2016, with the headline 'Wenger seeking lifeline'. Print Edition | Subscribe