Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Lack of Fight Tells Wenger All He Needs to Know; Arsenal Boss Won't Sign Deal Unless He's Confident Team Are Still Progressing but Big Defeat Bears Hallmarks of Past Failures

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Lack of Fight Tells Wenger All He Needs to Know; Arsenal Boss Won't Sign Deal Unless He's Confident Team Are Still Progressing but Big Defeat Bears Hallmarks of Past Failures

Article excerpt

Byline: James Olley Chief Football Correspondent

EVERTON 3 ARSENAL 0

WITH Arsene Wenger examining how Arsenal finish the season before deciding whether to sign a new contract, dreadful displays such as this lead only to the conclusion that his future is firmly in the balance.

The Frenchman is seeking public validation of his methods and an enduring belief in this squad through a strong finish to the season but at Goodison Park he witnessed a capitulation bearing hallmarks of past failures.

Arsenal have taken seven points from 10 matches against fellow members of the top six this season and lost all five away from home. There was only a three-goal margin here but Everton began to showboat in the final 20 minutes, to the delight of the home crowd and the chagrin of a manager who looked utterly dejected while fulfilling his post-match media commitments.

Everton were excellent but the absence of any real cohesion or fight from Arsenal was perhaps the most alarming aspect of their performance, especially given the proximity of their opponents in the table.

Wenger's mantra, repeated in a series of short interviews with various television, radio and written press journalists, was of going "back to basics".

The sight of Per Mertesacker, so strong for the majority of this season, being caught out positionally by a simple long ball on more than one occasion underlined the depth of uncertainty permeating this team at present.

Former Arsenal winger Robert Pires told Standard Sport last month that it was possible the ambiguity over Wenger's future was affecting the squad. Pires, who has trained with the first-team regularly this season, confirmed the players have discussed it among themselves.

Yesterday, the Arsenal team played without purpose or direction, not as a side still fighting on two fronts. Saturday's FA Cup semi-final against Wigan assumes phenomenal importance now in terms of Wenger's introspection into his own worth.

Wigan surely have to be overcome and the FA Cup secured next month, alongside a top-four finish, for Wenger to believe the club are still progressing under his guidance.

It is impossible to ignore the mark Wenger has left on Arsenal but the familiarity of these failings in big games breeds only contempt in many quarters.

Wenger is an idealist. He sincerely believes his team are good enough to play their own football irrespective of the qualities of Arsenal's opponents and a rigid adherence to that philosophy is in one sense admirably defiant and in another impossibly stubborn.

Roberto Martinez had a simple tactic in deploying Romelu Lukaku on the right flank to exploit the weakness of Nacho Monreal and the lack of cover provided by Lukas Podolski.

It was from that position that Lukaku drifted infield to strike an effort Wojciech Szczesny could only rebound into Steven Naismith's path for the opening goal. …

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