Everton's UEFA Champions League hopes are in their own hands after a 3-0 win over top-four rivals Arsenal at Goodison Park.
First-half strikes from Steven Naismith and Romelu Lukaku, along with an own goal from Mikel Arteta, put the hosts on course for a first appearance in Europe's premier club competition since 2005/06, when they failed to make it past the qualifying rounds.
After winning six top-flight matches in a row, Everton are a point behind fourth-placed Arsenal with a match in hand and have a great chance to secure European football in their first season under Roberto Martinez.
Naismith gave Everton a great start when he opened the scoring after 14 minutes, tucking the ball home after Wojciech Szczesny had done well to deny Lukaku. The Belgium striker, who was a threat to Arsenal's backline for much of the half, doubled the lead when he cut in from the right before evading the attentions of Nacho Monreal and Thomas Vermaelen and firing past Szczesny. After the break former Everton player Arteta put through his own net under pressure from Kevin Mirallas to seal the result.
Arsene Wenger's men must reflect on another damaging defeat, which extends their winless run in the top flight to four matches, and face an uphill task to secure a 17th successive season in the UEFA Champions League.
In a lively opening, Leon Osman went close after two minutes with a dipping effort that sailed marginally wide of Szczesny's left post, while Lukas Podolski's shot veered just off target at the other end. Osman was forced off after suffering a cut to the head when challenging Bacary Sagna, with Ross Barkley introduced in his place, but the switch did not harm Everton as Naismith pounced on a loose ball to find the net.
Lukaku had brought a smart save from Szczesny but Naismith kept cool to slide home the rebound as Everton were rewarded for their positive start.
Arsenal went in search of an equaliser but were kept at bay by an Everton side who looked threatening on the break and assured at the back. The hosts moved further clear when Lukaku produced a stunning solo effort to register his 13th league goal of the season just after the half-hour.
Aside from a moment when Mirallas lost possession to Olivier Giroud inside his own area, the hosts looked comfortable in protecting their lead after the break. Mirallas played a key role in Everton's third, setting a counter-attack in motion and releasing Naismith. The Scot was denied by Szczesny but Arteta turned the ball home under pressure from the Belgian.
Aaron Ramsey made his first appearance since December 26 as a substitute for Arsenal, having been out with a thigh injury, but the Welshman's return only proved a minor consolation for Wenger on an otherwise gloomy day, which ended with Yaya Sanogo, another substitute, having a goal ruled out for offside.
Everton manager Roberto Martinez: "We knew if got three points today then it would leave us with 63 points, but we have still got another 18 points to play for. If from here we don't pick up any points then we won't achieve our aim. Yes it was a great win and a great psychological boost, but the nature of this league is to be ready from game to game. But today is a good memory for Everton and we're very proud of that performance.
"Yes, it was a great performance and they were three huge points from a psychological point of view but we face Sunderland at the weekend and if we're not perfect in that game we are not going to get three points."
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger: " Everton were better than us. We were not at a good level and have to come back to basics. We gave away an early goal and then a second that was very easy to avoid. In the second half when we looked like we were coming back into the game we gave the third goal away. It is a very disappointing performance overall."
"It is my job [to pick up the players up]. We go into an FA Cup semi-final and that is the target. We have to pick ourselves up and come back with a different spirit. I'm absolutely 100 per cent determined to fight to make the top four. It will be difficult but we still have a programme that is feasible," he said.
"Our performance was not convincing, either offensively or defensively. Everton were better than us and deserved to win and it's a very disappointing result and a very disappointing performance - the two go together. We have to regroup and come back to basics."
"The fight is very open and not dependent only on us. Everton is in a strong position but we have been confronted with that before and it's down to how we respond to such a disappointing performance. I still feel we had a lot of the ball but were not really dangerous. Everton defended well and at the moment we lack the confidence to be really dangerous and lack penetration as well.
"The penetration and the incisiveness of our game is missing through the runs and through the passes. Those together make it difficult."
|03 May 2014||v Man City (H)|
|26 Apr 2014||v Southampton (A)|
|20 Apr 2014||v Man Utd (H)|
|11 May 2014||v Hull (A)|
|16 Apr 2014||v Crystal Palace (H)|
|12 Apr 2014||v Sunderland (A)|