Everton piled more misery on Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta as the Toffees moved second in the Premier League with a 2-1 win in front of 2,000 delighted fans at Goodison Park on Saturday.
At the other end of the table, the Gunners remain 15th after just one win in their last 10 league games to leave Arteta’s position under mounting pressure just over four months on from winning the FA Cup.
After red cards undid Arsenal in their previous two games, much of the damage was again self-inflicted as Rob Holding’s own goal opened the scoring.
Nicolas Pepe’s penalty briefly levelled, but Yerry Mina’s header in first-half stoppage time secured a third consecutive win for Carlo Ancelotti’s men to move within five points of Merseyside rivals Liverpool at the top.
Arsenal were dealt a major blow before kick-off as captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang missed out due to a calf injury.
He had just refound his scoring touch with a first goal from open play in the Premier League since September in a 1-1 draw at home to Southampton on Wednesday.
That point briefly stemmed the spiral of decline at the Emirates, but Arsenal, who have been in English football’s top flight since 1919, find themselves in unchartered territory facing a relegation battle.
Should results go against them on Sunday and Monday, Arteta’s men could be just two points above the drop zone with Chelsea to come on Boxing Day.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin was usurped by Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah as the Premier League’s top scorer earlier in the day and while the England international failed to score for the third straight game, he did have a big part to play in the opening goal.
Former Arsenal winger Alex Iwobi’s cross was headed towards goal by Calvert-Lewin, but his effort was going off target until it was turned in by Holding’s thigh.
Arsenal had been thoroughly outplayed in the opening half-hour, but were gifted a route back into the game when Ainsley Maitland-Niles was fouled by Tom Davies inside the area.
In the absence of Aubameyang, Pepe took responsiblity from the spot and sent Jordan Pickford the wrong way.
However, Everton’s power from set-pieces caused problems all night for the visitors and it was from a corner that the winner arrived, as Gylfi Sigurdsson’s wicked delivery to the near post was headed home by Mina.
Arsenal responded with a bright start to the second half and they came close to a second equaliser when Pickford, who returned in goal after being rotated for Wednesday’s 2-0 win at Leicester, dropped a cross into the box and David Luiz’s shot came back off the post.
Thereafter, Everton were happy to let Arsenal have the ball without ever looking capable of getting back into the game until deep into stoppage time when Pickford made amends for his earlier error by saving from Bukayo Saka.
At the start of the campaign, Arsenal’s target was a return to the Champions League next season. Now they hope just not be in the Championship, while it is the Blues who are the contenders for a top-four finish.