EPL: Lacklustre Arsenal Leave It Too Late

Andrew BarrySenior Analyst IMay 4, 2008

Arsenal claimed victory in a subdued match against Everton but due to Manchester United's hammering of West Ham, the EPL will not reside in the Emirates.

Their mathematical chances of claiming the title were still intact, but now targets must be readjusted to second place and the automatic Champions League spot.

For 76 minutes, this was a simply dreadful affair. Shorn of the apparently departing Alex Hleb and Mathieu Flamini, as well as the injured Cesc Fàbregas and Tomáš Rosický, Wenger's team laboured against a well-drilled, if unambitious, Everton side.

In the end, the teams were separated by Nicklas Bendtner's bullet header 14 minutes from time, the first chance of note in the second half.

The tired-looking Toffees were unable to muster more than a long-distance effort from Manuel Fernandes, while Theo Walcott was unlucky not to score after losing his footing at the end of a flowing move.

Until the brief final flurry, fans had little to applaud other than the belated introduction of Jens Lehmann, as Arsenal's eccentric German keeper came off the bench to make a valedictory appearance.

The Toffees' midfield triumvirate of Phil Neville, Lee Carsley and Leon Osman largely controlled the game. They conceded territory but not space and, without Fàbregas, Arsenal abandoned their threaded passes and instead looked high and long to Emmanuel Adebayor and Bendtner.

Everton's rivals for the last remaining UEFA Cup spot, Aston Villa's surprise defeat to struggling Wigan gave the visitors some breathing space. David Moyes decided to dispense with his 4-5-1 formation and unleash both Johnson and Yakubu on the frail Arsenal defence.

Everton rarely tested stand-in goalkeeper Fabianski. Their only chance to speak of was an Andy Johnson near-post drive after some neat footwork from Fernandez. Such was their attacking threat that when Arsenal scored, it was game over.

This season has been an achievement based on what they expected at the start but a disappointment based on their readjusted expectations in January.

Arsenal would have fancied their chances of wrestling the title from Old Trafford while Everton would have been quietly confident of breaking into the top four.

Both sides can point to slumps in form just when they needed to kick on. Arsenal's demise began at Old Trafford in a 4-0 trouncing after which they failed to win in five EPL games, dropping an eight-point lead in the process.

Wenger's side will kick themselves especially hard when they look back at the standard of sides they failed to beat.

Everton faltered at key moments in key games, Liverpool, Fulham and Birmingham away are testament to that. They won't see their season in the same light as the Gunners.

A point at Goodison next week against Newcastle will secure a UEFA Cup place.

For Arsenal fans, however, when the title is raised above either Rio Ferdinand's or John Terry's head at either Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge, they will think of "What could have been."