Premier League: Wenger admits top four finish will be tough

Julian Harris
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ARSENAL manager Arsene Wenger conceded his team face an uphill battle to achieve a 17th straight year of Champions League qualification, after the Gunners were convincingly beaten at Goodison Park yesterday.

Everton are now just one point behind Arsenal with a game in hand. Goals from Steven Naismith, Romelu Lukaku, and an own-goal from Mikel Arteta resulted in the north Londoners’ seventh Premier League defeat of the season.

“The fight [to finish in the top four] is very open and is not depending only on us, it’s depending on Everton who are in a strong position. I’m absolutely 100 per cent determined to fight to make the top four – but it will be difficult,” Wenger said.

“We knew before this game that if we lost, then the race will be very tough for us, and unfortunately we lost it in a very disappointing way.”

Arsenal could have been behind inside two minutes when a Leon Osman half-volley swerved just inches wide of the post, and before a quarter of an hour was up Everton had found the net. A Leighton Baines ball from wide found Lukaku behind the Arsenal back line, and while his shot was saved, Naismith pounced to slot the rebound neatly into the corner.

The lead was doubled before half-time when Mathieu Flamini stumbled in midfield, allowing Naismith to feed Kevin Mirallas who in turn found Lukaku on the right. The Belgian forward cut inside onto his left foot and drilled a fierce shot inside the far post.

Arsenal pushed forward after the break, and nearly got a goal back when Mirallas dawdled in his own penalty area and was caught out by Olivier Giroud, yet Tim Howard smothered the Frenchman’s shot.

But with just over an hour gone Everton effectively tied up all three points with a third goal. Bacary Sagna lost possession, allowing Mirallas to burst forward and find Naismith with a delicate through-ball. Naismith’s effort was blocked but with the ball falling to Mirallas, Arteta’s outstretched leg could only jab it into his own net.

The result means Arsenal have lost four of their last 10 league games. The Gunners went into 2014 one point clear at the top of the table, yet now trail leaders Liverpool by 10 points.