Everton suffered what could only be described as a shock 3-2 defeat against Crystal Palace on Wednesday night at Goodison Park.
The defeat put Arsenal back in the driving seat in the race for the fourth Champions League spot.
First of all Palace put in a superb performance and deserved the victory. That does not make defeat any less frustrating for Everton fans.
Toffees fans are used to ups and downs down the years, but this defeat must be deflating for everybody involved with the club.
Roberto Martinez’s side were big favourites to defeat the Eagles and go move back into fourth place in the Premier League table. Even a draw would have moved Everton into fourth spot.
Martinez has made very few mistakes this season as Everton boss, but his team selection against Palace was one of them. The Toffees success this season has been built on the central midfield partnership of James McCarthy and Gareth Barry.
The pair has been the ones who cover the runs of marauding full-backs Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines. McCarthy was left on the bench for this clash and I dare say the Irishman’s absence from the starting line-up had an effect on the result.
Martinez may have been slightly complacent against Palace by selecting the more attacking line-up and was punished for that complacency.
Everton are now trailing Arsenal by a point in the league and it is advantage Arsenal in the race for fourth spot. The Gunners have by far the easier run-in and looked to have regained some form against West Ham in the second half on Tuesday night.
Arsenal may have the advantage, but Sunday’s visit to Hull is probably the Gunners biggest remaining challenge. The Tigers are still not mathematically safe from the drop and have the capabilities to cause a shock.
A lot will depend on which Arsenal turn up to face the Tigers. If it is the team that showed up in the first half against West Ham then they will struggle. However if it is the Arsenal that showed up in the second half then the Gunners will probably come out on top.
Everton then face a must-win game against Manchester United in the late kick-off. The Toffees cannot afford to drop anymore points if they are to be in with a chance of claiming that fourth spot.
Everton were expected to slip-up at some point this season, but few would have predicted that it would have been at Goodison against Palace. Everton had won the previous eight games on the trot on home soil in all competitions, which made the Palace defeat all the more surprising.
Critics were expecting dropped points against Manchester United or Manchester City, or maybe even at Southampton. However, Palace were the ones to bring Everton crashing back down to earth, ending the Toffees seven match winning run.
In truth, Everton have not been playing that well, especially in the recent victories over Fulham and Sunderland. It was slightly ironic that Everton’s best run of form has come when they have not necessarily been at their best.
Arsenal now have the advantage, both points wise and psychologically wise. The Gunners have the experience of these sorts of situations, having finished in the top four for the last 16 years. Arsene Wenger’s team have specialised in finishing in the top-four.
Their mentality has been questioned at times in recent seasons and at times this season when the Gunners have suffered some poor results against their top-six rivals. However, when it comes to holding on to fourth spot they tend to fend off all challengers, just ask Spurs.
Everton boss Roberto Martinez is an intelligent boss and has talked about the team having a positive mentality. Under David Moyes the Toffees were hard to beat, but tended to shrink under-pressure in big games.
Hopefully in the remaining games the Everton squad can show that they are mentality strong and can achieve positive results. The big test will be if the Toffees can get back to winning ways at home against Manchester United on Sunday.
The race for the Champions League is still on, despite Arsenal now having the advantage. If Everton can bounce back from the Palace defeat, then it could go right down to wire, if not then Everton’s season may just peter out.
Even if Everton miss out on the fourth Champions League spot this season then the Toffees have made progress this season. I think most Evertonians would have accepted a fifth place finish at the start of the season, so that would be the Toffees next target.
The style of football has vastly improved this season and the team have achieved a club-record points total in the Premier League era. Everton are moving in the right direction under Martinez, but fourth place may just be a step too far for the Toffees this season.
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