Sunday, 7 April 2019

No Xhaka, no party! Elneny flops in another miserable Arsenal away day

The Gunners saw their Champions League hopes suffer a major blow with a 1-0 defeat at Everton on Sunday

This was supposed to be the day when Arsenal showed they had the muscle to go the distance in the race for the top four. Instead, they returned to London with question marks once again surrounding their ability to stay ahead of fellow Champions League-chasers Chelsea and Manchester United.

As good as they have been at the Emirates - where they have won 10 in a row in the Premier League - they have been abject away from the capital and that form continued at Goodison Park on Sunday as Everton took full advantage of Arsenal’s makeshift midfield.

Granit Xhaka has always been a player who has divided opinion in north London, but the Switzerland international has become an increasingly influential figure in Unai Emery’s debut season.

Perhaps the biggest compliment you can pay him is that Arsenal look a far worse side when he is not in the team and that was the case once again on Merseyside as the visitors were comfortably brushed aside by their hosts.

With Xhaka sidelined due to a thigh injury and with Lucas Torreira still suspended, Emery went with a midfield pairing of Mohamed Elneny and Matteo Guendouzi - surprisingly leaving Aaron Ramsey on the bench.

And it was a decision which backfired massively. This was just Elneny’s third Premier League start under Emery and you doubt he will get another chance to impress before surely being sold this summer after an abject 45 minutes here.

The Egyptian is a tidy enough player, but his preference for safety first can be hugely frustrating.

Whereas Xhaka receives the ball and looks to split the midfield line quickly to get the forwards into play, Elneny’s first thought against the intensity of the Everton midfield was to turn back and start again.

And with Guendouzi struggling to get on the ball alongside him, Arsenal found themselves overrun in the first half, with the front three of Mesut Ozil, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alexandre Lacazette left totally isolated.

Phil Jagielka, who was only brought into the starting XI when Michael Keane dropped out ill just before kick-off, poked the home side in front after 10 minutes and they never really looked like surrendering that lead.

Emery changed things at half-time, hauling Elneny off in favour of Ramsey - with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang also coming on for Sead Kolasinac - and there was a slight improvement.

Ramsey had a couple of chances - one which he certainly should have done better with when he volleyed over - but in truth Arsenal did not deserve to return to London with anything to show for their efforts.

Emery’s side have now won just one league game away from the Emirates since November and on the evidence we saw at Goodison Park that run of form does not look like ending anytime soon.

This latest defeat leaves them fourth in the Premier League with six games of the season remaining, so Champions League qualification is still in their own hands.

But with four of their last six games away from home, starting at Watford, a marked improvement is needed if they are to pick up the points needed to keep their place in the top four.

Xhaka is expected to be back in time to face Naopli in the Europa League on Thursday and his return can’t come soon enough.

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