Arsenal players were deflated by Manchester City’s win at Everton and the experienced players did not step up when needed, says Gary Neville.
The Gunners succumbed to a 3-0 home defeat to Brighton to leave City requiring only one win from their final three matches to be assured of retaining a title that Arsenal had been favourites to claim just last month.
Neville believes City’s win just before Mikel Arteta’s team took to the field at the Emirates Stadium was a factor in what followed.
“I just wonder the impact, the more I think about, that this would have had on those Arsenal players’ legs,” he told The Gary Neville Podcast.
“I think what we saw today was an Arsenal team that might have just got their hopes up with Everton after that performance against Brighton, at Goodison Park with City leaving a few players out. Maybe they thought they could just get back into the title race today.
“When City have gone and won 3-0 that has obviously filtered through to the Arsenal players and had the impact on their legs that sometimes it does have. They have just been a bit deflated.
“Today, I think the reality of City winning at Everton has just hit them like a tonne of bricks.”
Some have pointed to the loss through injury of William Saliba being a significant reason for the downturn in results that has seen Arsenal lose their lead. Neville is unsympathetic.
“In the end, the title race has just been too much. People will point towards an injury to one player: Saliba. I can’t listen to that, I’m sorry. With 20-odd players in your squad, I can’t listen to that.
“City have had players missing over the years, Liverpool have had players missing. Every team in a title race has a player missing. If they had five or six players missing, I would have said that was really unlucky. They have not had to experience that.
“Even today, [Gabriel] Martinelli goes off and [Leandro] Trossard comes on. [Oleksandr] Zinchenko is not playing, [Kieran] Tierney is on. It is not as if you are talking about massive drop offs. I know Martinelli is definitely a better player than Trossard but Trossard is more than capable.
“Arsenal just could not cope and in the end they did not have the energy. I think that was as much about energy and mentality as it was about quality today. They just lost their legs at the vital moment.
“City have put them under pressure but City were always going to squeeze them. That is what happens in every title race. You never win your first title easily. It may have happened but you just don’t. It is a struggle. It is a massive struggle.
“You need vast experience to come through that and I always wondered whether Arsenal had that experience, I always doubted it. I always doubted their experience at the end to cope when the young players would feel the pressure.
“I think we have seen Gabriel, [Thomas] Partey, [Granit] Xhaka and a couple of others, their weakest time of the season. They have lost their form and the older players have not been able to settle the younger players who were inevitably always going to struggle in this moment through pressure.
“The experienced players have just not been quite there for them.
“I have repeated it for 25 years, the Class of ’92 did not win that first league because of the Class of ’92. We won it because of Roy Keane, because of Steve Bruce, because of Gary Pallister, because of Eric Cantona and because of Peter Schmeichel.
“We had a spine running through that team that was absolutely rock solid. They were brick. You could not break them. They were unbelievable. And around them you had Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Phil Neville, Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs and Nicky Butt. Lots of young players scattered around them.
“We were finding it tough, really tough. The legs start to go. You are under pressure a little bit because you are reading the media. Sky Sports are doing promos every 10 seconds saying the title race is on, the run-in is coming, watch the big Super Sunday and you are thinking, ‘That is us!’
“It consumes you like you would not believe. You cannot get away from it and these Arsenal players are walking down the street and every Arsenal fan is saying, ‘You’re going to do it, you’re going to do it!’ That just hits you like a tonne of bricks.
“Experienced players stay still, they stay calm, they settle everything down and make sure they get you through difficult moments. That is what I always doubted. The Arsenal spine has wobbled at the most difficult time. They were never capable in my mind of holding it together.
“But that is not to say they can’t in the future. They can develop that experience, they can add a couple of players, Mikel Arteta is a young manager. So all is not lost here.
“But today, I think the hammer blow of the City victory has just hit them, aligned with the most sensational away performance from Brighton.”