Arsene Wenger's side occupy fourth place now, but Everton have a game in hand, a growing sense of belief and the feeling of a team determining their destiny, writes Richard Jolly.
‘Phenomenal’ praise from Martinez after Everton close gap on Arsenal
Everton 3 Arsenal 0
Everton Naismith 14’, Lukaku 34’, Arteta (og) 62’
Man of the match Steven Naismith (Everton)
LIVERPOOL // Two Spaniards both had a European dream. Everton was the problem for one, the solution for another.
In 2011, Mikel Arteta, despairing of ever playing Uefa Champions League football on Merseyside, took a pay cut to join Arsenal.
Two years later, Roberto Martinez swept into Goodison Park, dazzling chairman Bill Kenwright with his vow to take Everton into Europe’s premier competition.
Now he is six games away from realising the most ambitious of aims.
Arsenal are five from taking the precipitous plunge into the Europa League.
It would be a historic low for Arsene Wenger. His side occupy fourth place now, but Everton have a game in hand, a growing sense of belief and the feeling of a team determining their destiny.
This was a glorious demolition, an exhibition in high-intensity attacking football.
“In a group sport it is as good a performance as it gets,” said Martinez. “The players were phenomenal in every area.”
Arsenal were eviscerated. Arteta was devastated.
A buoyant crowd tormented their former player, once Kenwright’s favourite modern-day player, mercilessly.
In added time, a chorus rang around Goodison Park: “Mikel, what’s the score?” they asked innocently. They knew all too well that it was 3-0; that Arteta, scorer of 35 Everton goals in his six years on Merseyside, had added a 36th while wearing the colours of Arsenal.
It was a moment to illustrate the Gunners’ desperate inability to cope with Everton. Kevin Mirallas, normally a reluctant tackler, robbed Bacary Sagna and accelerated into Arsenal territory.
He attempted to find the excellent Steven Naismith and while Wojciech Szczesny blocked, the driven Mirallas powered into the penalty area. Attempting to halt him, Arteta rerouted the rebound into his own net. It was all he could do, too.
It was a sign Everton were stronger and sharper. They were brighter mentally as well, superbly organised by Martinez. He sprung a surprise by asking Naismith and Romelu Lukaku to exchange positions. The Scot, often deployed as a winger, was the closest thing to a centre forward. The Belgian striker began on the right flank.
The switch paid dividends. Naismith, converted the rebound after Szczesny had blocked Lukaku’s initial effort. “Steven Naismith was phenomenal,” added Martinez.
Meanwhile, Lukaku’s predatory instinct was not dimmed by his redeployment and, on an unstoppable solo run, he came infield again to drill in the second. It came in a half when Leon Osman, Ross Barkley and Mirallas threatened to score more.
“A very disappointing result,” conceded Wenger. “Our performance was not convincing: not defensively, not offensively.”
Their only response came far too late, substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain hitting the bar, but it did not conceal the scale of Arsenal’s plight.
“I am absolutely 100 per cent determined to fight to make the top four, but it will be difficult,” Wenger added.
“Our big team defeats away from home have taken something of our charisma. The penetration and incisiveness of our game is missing.”
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