Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

Wenger fears for Arsenal mindset after Everton horror show

Sinking feeling: Thomas Vermaelen retrieves the ball from the back of the net as Arsenal go 3-0 down at Goodison yesterday

Arsène Wenger is concerned that Arsenal's string of punishingly poor away performances, including a 3-0 defeat at Everton yesterday, has left his side fearful of not qualifying for next season's Champions League.

Not since Wenger's first part-season in north London, 1996-97, have Arsenal not reached the European elite, but the loss at Goodison Park means Roberto Martinez's side can leapfrog them into fourth spot in the Premier League if they win their game in hand at struggling Sunderland on Saturday.

The Frenchman did not try to hide the psychological fragility.

Arsenal have now shipped a total of 20 goals against the other sides in the Premier League top five, including yesterday's strikes by Steven Naismith, Romelu Lukaku and a Mikel Arteta own goal, leading Wenger to admit he could not answer a question about his players' fear of dropping into the Europa League.

"I don't know," he said. "The heavy defeats away from home have taken away a little of our charisma. It is very difficult to identify that it is fear. Our big-team defeats away from home have taken something of our charisma from the team. Is that belief? Is it fear? Is it confidence?"

Wenger said the fight for fourth place "is very open" and that his own side have the benefit of having been in the fight for it before. But he did not deny that the pattern of away humiliations was disturbing for a side who arrived at Anfield two months ago top of the league and confident before their 5-1 defeat by Liverpool.

"Until then we were very strong away from home," he said. "Psychologically we have lost a bit of confidence. We were behind early [today] and Everton were very good on the counter-attack. We had a lot of the ball but were not really dangerous. Everton defended well and we lack a bit of confidence and penetration.

"I am absolutely 100 per cent determined to fight to make the top four but it will be difficult. We have still a programme that is feasible. We must think of the quality of performances before we dream of places."

Martinez, whose side's six successive wins are cementing the impression that he is becoming one of Europe's most sought-after managers, said the manner of the victory was as "good as it gets". He refused to declare this was Everton's best display since he took over last summer.

"Playing a top-four team at this stage of season we have never had this demand, so can't compare the performance to another," Martinez said. "We have never been in a position [like this] hoping for a result, but what was needed today was breaking many barriers."

Martinez said Everton's aim had to be Champions League qualification. "What's important is you need to have an aim," he said. "I always like to have a team when you have a dream to follow.

"With Swansea it was reaching the Premier League. With Wigan it was European football and the history of Everton means it should be getting into the Champions League.

"Obviously it's not going to be easy but the group feel they can face anyone and with that mentality it helps that aim."

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