Although still mathematically in the Premier League title race, Arsenal’s recent mediocre form seems to have ended their chance of becoming England’s top team again for the first time since the Invincibles side of 2003-04.
With Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City looking set to fight it out for top spot, the Gunners’ recent trait of looking to secure Champions League qualification at the season’s end is likely to be the realistic priority again.
Although it has been North London rivals Tottenham that Arsène Wenger’s charges have had to see off in recent campaigns to ensure a place in Europe’s top tournament, a new, more dangerous opponent for top-four inclusion has reared its head.
Everton find themselves four points behind fourth-placed Arsenal with a game in hand, with the two sides set to face each other at Goodison Park this Sunday.
When the London side were the form team in England earlier this season it appeared that a place in the Champions League was the least that the Emirates Stadium outfit could expect.
However, realistically if the Gunners are beaten on Merseyside this weekend, the Toffees have every chance of beating them to the fourth and final qualification place.
Everton have been rejuvenated under the stewardship of Roberto Martínez and are a side full of confidence at the moment.
Their performance in the reverse fixture earlier this term was a classic example of how the Merseyside outfit have been transformed from a brave side able to cause an occasional upset to a team good enough to take a place amongst England’s elite.
The Spanish manager has urged his side to get the ball down and play, with some exciting attacking football the consequence. This was epitomised at the Emirates Stadium earlier this season when Everton dominated possession against Arsenal on away soil and fought back from a goal down to secure a deserved 1-1 draw.
A key reason for Everton’s rise to prominence this season has been two very shrewd summer loan acquisitions that have increased the quality of the collective at Goodison.
Gareth Barry has been a reassuring figure in front of the side’s back four, drove the side’s possession game and brought the best out of young stars James McCarthy and Ross Barkley through his experience.
Romelu Lukaku has given Everton a real threat in the final third that has been missing previously. Despite the Toffees having able forwards in the past, inconsistency has been the curse; the powerful Belgian is a player capable of scoring and creating every time he takes to the pitch and Everton are a more dangerous side as a result.
The pair’s inclusion will be a point of contention for Arsène Wenger once more, who has bemoaned the fact that loan players are not able to play against their parent clubs.
Despite this, the game should be a fantastic exhibition for the neutral also, with two excellent footballing sides at loggerheads.
Arsenal have traditionally been the team that has been admired for their attractive brand of football by Premier League spectators, but Martínez’s charges are threatening to take this mantle after a campaign of exhilarating displays.
More importantly, the Toffees have the chance to leapfrog the Gunners into the elusive fourth place if they win this clash and their game in hand.
Looking at the remaining fixtures, Everton have some tough games to play against the likes of Manchester City and Manchester United – but these games are also at Goodison.
The race for fourth looks set to go down to the wire, with Everton able to take a massive step in the right direction with victory on Sunday.
Arsenal, so used to finishing in the Champions League qualification berths, need to avoid defeat to remain in the driving seat.