Arsenal travel to Everton on Sunday afternoon in what could prove to be an acid test for how serious their top four aspirations are this season. Unai Emery’s side currently lie just inside the top four and significantly have played a game less than the other three sides trying to cram themselves into just two spots in the premiership table. And as has been widely noted, Arsenal have what looks like the most favourable run in of the quartet of teams chasing those sought after third and fourth places. Though, the location of these fixtures rather than the opposition will likely cause Arsenal supporters most cause for concern, as if they do not improve on their inconsistent away form then they could fall infuriatingly short of a target that now seems well within reach.
The Gunners’ trip to Goodison Park perhaps represents, on paper at least, their sternest test left this season, which in itself shows how many hurdles they have already negotiated in Unai Emery’s first season at the club after he replaced the departing enigma that was Arsene Wenger. In fact if a casual observer looked at Arsenal’s current position in the table and their remaining league fixtures (listed below) in comparison to those of the teams around them then they would wonder why so many around English football are still overly lukewarm on their chances of finishing in the top four this season.
Arsenal’s remaining league fixtures:
Though those who have followed Arsenal of late, both under Emery and in the final seasons of Wenger’s reign, know that the majority of the bumps in the road have been on the road. Arsenal, who have won their last ten home league games on the bounce, have continued to struggle for any sort of away form since the winter months. Despite enjoying some excellent away form back in Autumn, December saw Arsenal revert to the type of away form that their supporters have become reluctantly accustomed to. Since the start of that month, the North London outfit have won just two games on the road in all competitions, with these victories coming against Blackpool and Huddersfield.
Damning reading for any team that is trying to hold ground in the top six let alone the top four in the premiership while also attempting claim silverware elsewhere. It is also the manner of Arsenal’s away performances that has infuriated their supporters in recent times, a dismal 5-1 drubbing at Anfield was sandwiched between sloppy defeats at Southampton and West Ham. Heavy defeats when travelling to their rivals have become something of a depressing norm for Arsenal but these performances have been worsened by their inability to produce winning (or even drawing) away performances versus teams they should really beat more times than not, both domestically and in Europe.
The causes of the unwanted return of away day blues for Arsenal are unclear yet it seems evident that the players have created a mental block for themselves that they will have to hurdle when they travel to Merseyside. As after the positive press Emery’s team have had in recent times, which in fairness has included an excellent away performance at Wembley versus Spurs where the usually clinical Pierre Emerick Aubameyang missed an injury time penalty to deny Arsenal what would have been a huge three points. The time is now in regard to Arsenal’s talented team showing that they possess some timely grit alongside the technical ability and talent they showcase in front of their own supporters.
As two upcoming away league games are surrounded by Arsenal’s Europa League quarter final versus Napoli, it seems unlikely that Emery’s side will continue to float under the radar for much longer as the business end of the season truly kicks in. In truth, it’s difficult to predict how happy Arsenal happy fans will be come May as their side seem to be inherently unpredictable. To the point where no one would be too surprised if they won or lost Sunday’s game by three goals to nil versus a Marco Silva Everton side that is eager to build on it’s 2-0 home win versus Chelsea last month.
Even in this early stage of the Emery reign, which looks like it could be potentially a long term one, the travelling Arsenal supporters and beyond will hope that their players can confirm that they are, or very least could be, the real deal. A good performance on Sunday afternoon could be a significant step away from the bitterness that surrounded the club in the dying years of Wenger’s reign and towards a new future for a club that does have the potential to be one the world’s best, after well over a decade of close calls and false hope.
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