Arsenal in ‘very strange’ territory – outside of the Premier League top four

Arsenal failed to finish in the top four for the first time under Arsene Wenger despite a 3-1 victory over Everton on Sunday’s final league day.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger looks on against Everton. Andrew Couldridge / Reuters
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Arsenal 3-1 Everton

Man of the match: Mesut Ozil (Arsenal)

Arsenal failed to finish in the top four for the first time under Arsene Wenger despite a 3-1 victory over Everton on Sunday's final league day.

Liverpool’s 3-0 win against Middlesbrough saw them end the season in the final Uefa Champions League qualification spot ahead of Arsenal, who kept up their end of the bargain thanks to goals from Hector Bellerin, Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey.

Wenger could not hide his disappointment at his side’s failure to reach Europe’s premier continental competition.

“I think we played well, down to 10 men for such a long time. We have shown what we have shown recently: strength, togetherness, fighting spirit. In the end we won the game, and that’s all we could do,” he said.

“It’s very sad because for 20 years we were in it, and this is the first year we won’t be in it. It’s very strange.”

Arsenal began the game at a high tempo, and Danny Welbeck spurned an excellent chance to open the scoring after just 75 seconds.

The striker was again guilty of fluffing his lines in the eighth minute, but Bellerin was on hand to fire the loose ball past Joel Robles after Welbeck completely scuffed his connection from Mesut Ozil’s cut-back.

Everton had offered little up to that point, but a storming run down the right flank from Enner Valencia significantly altered the dynamics of the match soon after. After surging past Nacho Monreal, the Ecuadorean was hacked down by Laurent Koscielny, whose reckless lunge saw him sent off after just 13 minutes.

Arsenal initially coped well with their numerical disadvantage, and Sanchez doubled the hosts’ lead before the half-hour mark. After his initial effort from 30 yards was blocked, the Chilean was allowed to follow up untracked and tap the ball home with almost comical ease.

Everton finally rallied towards the end of the first half, with Romelu Lukaku, Idrissa Gueye and Valencia all registering attempts on goal, but they had to wait until the 58th minute to pull one back. After Rob Holding was adjudged to have handled the ball, Lukaku stepped up to convert from the penalty spot.

Everton pushed for an equaliser thereafter, but Arsenal stood firm to deny them and then added a third through Ramsey late on. Events at Anfield had long since ended their hopes of a top-four finish, though, which prompted members of the home support to voice their frustrations at majority owner Stan Kroenke, who Wenger defended in his press conference.

“I respect Stan Kroenke a lot. He’s not at fault if we didn’t reach the Champions League. It’s the technical department who’s responsible for that,” the Frenchman said.

“We played since January in a very difficult environment, for very different reasons. Some obviously you know about, some reasons we will talk about another day. But the psychological environment for the group of players was absolutely horrendous.”

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