Arsenal’s 14-game unbeaten run came to a shocking end at the Goodison Park as a spirited Everton took physical intimidation to another level, thereby undoing the Gunners to earn a deserved victory.
The refereeing was questionable – yes – but that can’t be used as an excuse when you are challenging for titles, not especially when you have yourself had the luxury of snaffling a few points courtesy of the very same.
You can’t always expect the referee to be on the qui vive for all kinds of offences, so it’s better to move on than bleat since it is a part and parcel of the modern game – sadly.
On Tuesday night, Arsenal beat Arsenal more than Everton.
The defending was at some points laughable to watch, a fact further highlighted by the two headed goals that Arsene Wenger’s side let in, while the attacking side of the game was direful because of three reasons in particular – fatigue, Gabriel’s inability to distribute the ball as well as Shkodran Mustafi does and Francis Coquelin’s wistful yearning for sideways passing, something that you can’t really blame him for.
Put it another way, the 2-1 defeat had everything that Wenger wouldn’t have wanted from Arsenal on a Tuesday night, as fixtures like these can often have a big influence come May.
In this case, that influence could show up as soon as Saturday when Chelsea could possibly be nine points clear at the top of the table before Arsenal’s trip to the Etihad Stadium, not to mention the certain scenario which may see the North Londoners drop to fourth spot – one for the pessimists out there.
Come what may, Arsenal mustn’t really be bothered at the moment, not one bit.
The Premier League being as packed as it is around the Christmas period, it’s obvious at that some stage, no matter how good you are, you’ll feel exhausted and struggle in the odd fixture here and there.
It is almost naive to imagine a side not putting in a tired performance, especially when it is also in the Champions League.
Why Liverpool and Chelsea haven’t shown any signs of slowing down is because they don’t have any European duties, Arsenal do and fatigue took its toll on them hence. Whether that could have been avoided by rotating wisely is an interesting question.
The key for Arsenal now is to dust themselves off and prepare both mentally and physically for the big test against Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City on Sunday, for that is one fixture that’ll reassure any doubters of the Gunners’ ability to challenge anyone, if they do manage to win it.
There have been occasions when Arsenal have let one bad defeat eventuate into a potential crisis and it may well be one such occasion if they let their frustration from the Goodison Park possess them when they travel to the Etihad Stadium.
So far, Wenger’s side have been gravid with confidence and toughness of character, so this is where it’ll be tested. The message in that dressing room has got to be very clear: “It was just a bad day at the office and a one-off – it won’t define our season”.
If Arsenal can invoke that kind of a spirit, which there is enough evidence they will, it will all be fine.