Failing to beat Everton would complete Arsenal’s week of woe
LONDON (AP) — Out of the Champions League. Out of the FA Cup. Out of the Premier League title race?
A miserable week for Arsenal would be capped on Saturday if the team fails to beat Everton.
The Premier League trophy, which the Gunners haven’t won since 2004, will become increasingly unobtainable if their three-game winless league run continues.
At the start of the year, Arsenal was two points in front of Leicester in first place and in contention for three trophies.
Three months later, Arsenal trails Leicester by 11 points and is sitting third. Arsenal’s FA Cup defense was surprisingly ended by Watford at home on Sunday before Barcelona beat the Gunners in the Champions League.
As so often, barring a collapse by Leicester, Arsenal’s season could come down to securing a top-four place and Champions League qualification. That’s not enough for some Arsenal fans, who expect more from their wealthy team.
But as Everton manager Roberto Martinez prepares to host counterpart Arsene Wenger, he is amazed that a vocal section of Arsenal fans is calling for the Frenchman to leave after 20 years in charge.
“It seems it doesn’t matter what you’ve done in a football club, how you’ve built it or if you’ve been the best manager in the last 20 years in European football, the modern game is ruthless,” Martinez said Thursday. “On the back of a defeat you are going to get criticized. Everyone has got an opinion, everyone knows better than you and that’s disappointing.”
Martinez was playing for Wigan when Wenger took charge of Arsenal in 1996 and two years later led them to the first of three Premier League titles.
“The management that he brought into the British game has changed British football,” said Martinez, who has also coached Swansea and Wigan. “What he has achieved at Arsenal is a model that many, many football people have been inspired by. The short-term situation of one or two results sometimes overshadows the incredible work over the years.
“The style that Arsene Wenger represents shouldn’t just be put aside. It’s just a reflection of the modern times when we are easily led to criticize a manager who has done incredible things in the game.”
Arsenal will be hoping Tottenham slips up at home to Bournemouth, given that its London rival is six points ahead and has played a game more.
Leicester, which is five points ahead of Tottenham, faces a Crystal Palace team which has dropped from sixth in December to 15th by winning only one in 16 games.
Here are some things to know about this weekend’s games:
WEEKEND OF DERBIES
Sunday sees two sets of neighbors playing derbies, with differing objectives for the teams.
The Manchester derby between United and City is a tussle for Champions League qualification. Newcastle and Sunderland meet at St. James’ Park earlier in the day with the northeast rivals trying to avoid being relegated to the League Championship.
Newcastle, which lost its opening game under Rafa Benitez on Monday at Leicester, is in the relegation zone — a point behind Sunderland, which is only out of danger because of its superior goal difference.
At the top, City’s grip on fourth place was loosened further by a 0-0 draw with Norwich last weekend. City has failed to earn back-to-back league wins since October.
City, though, has already won the League Cup and is in the quarterfinals of the Champions League for the first time.
United is four points behind City in sixth place in the league, and is looking to bounce back from exiting the Europa League at the last-16 stage on Thursday.
West Ham is sandwiched between City and United, and travels across London to play ailing champion Chelsea on Saturday.
Aston Villa’s relegation is inevitable.
The team is stranded at the bottom, nine points from safety, as it prepares to travel to Swansea on Saturday.
“We still have the obligation to believe,” Villa manager Remi Garde said. “It’s something we should have inside every player, inside myself.”
A shake-up of the backroom staff is already underway, with chief executive Tom Fox resigning on Thursday, two days after sporting director Hendrik Almstadt also left.