Everton 3 Arsenal 0 - Match Report

Laurence Griffiths

Everton simply had to deliver on Sunday to keep their Champions League hopes alive and they did so in spades with their most accomplished performance of the season.

It's hard to believe that just a month ago Everton's season appeared to be drifting towards a dour conclusion.

Back at the start of March their FA Cup dreams had just been unceremoniously crushed by Arsenal at the Emirates - a fourth consecutive defeat away from home that had also left them eight points short of fourth place in the race for a Champions League place.

The supporters, conditioned by years of failure and underachievement, appeared to lose hope and awaited the inevitable tail off in results.

But they didn't bank on the motivation skills and forceful positivity of Roberto Martinez, our genius of a manager who has inspired his players to revive their top four hopes once again with a sensational run of victories - their best since 2002.

They certainly haven't been at their fluid best in recent weeks but have still ground out results. Their display on Sunday, though, was something else.

Against a side who only two months ago were two points clear at the top, Everton turned in one of their most scintillating performances of recent times and one that has turned faint hopes into genuine belief that they can do something special this season after all.

The tone was set before kick off, with a packed Goodison Park producing a raucous atmosphere. The supporters certainly fulfilled their brief by getting behind the side and producing the 'bearpit' of a stadium we all hoped for.

Captain Leon Osman had the first shot, firing in a long-range effort that deceived Wojciech Szcesny but looped just over the bar.

Ossie then flew in on Bacary Sagna as the team showed their intent. However, he also picked up a rather ugly-looking eye injury in the challenge and had to go off.

Luckily we had a certain Ross Barkley to come on in his place.

Five minutes later Everton took the lead. Leighton Baines advanced into the Arsenal half before picking out Romelu Lukaku inside the area. The Belgian's low shot was parried by Szcesny put Steven Naismith was on hand to slot home the rebound.

Delirium ensued.

We were waiting for an Arsenal response but instead it was Everton who continued to carve open the Gunners. Kevin Mirallas running onto Barkley's throughball but shooting weakly, before Barkley himself and Mirallas again brought decent saves out of an increasingly over-worked Szcesny.

Lukaku meanwhile had been pushed out onto the right in a 4-3-3 formation in order to put pressure on Nacho Monreal and the plan worked perfectly on 34 minutes.

Mirallas and Naismith combined to set up the Belgian who ran at the Arsenal defence before cutting inside and rifling a shot into the corner.

Lukaku celebrated by running to and hugging Martinez on the touchline, a symbolic image that highlights the team spirit that is flowing through the team and the admiration they have for their manager.

Arsenal briefly rallied before the break but their best effort from Lukas Podolski was tipped over by Tim Howard after the shot had looped up off a defender.

The Gunners did improve in the second half and pushed Everton back to the edge of their penalty area but without creating any real clear-cut openings.

Still, we all needed Everton to get a third to calm the nerves and thankfully we didn't have to wait long to get it.

Just after the hour mark Naismith raced onto a throughball but was blocked by an onrushing Szcesny. The ball then span off Mikel Arteta under pressure from Mirallas and bobbled into the corner.

Game over.

Soon after the 'oles' went up from the crowd as Everton stroked the ball across the park against the side who have set the blueprint for passing football over the past decade.

It wasn't supposed to be this easy, was it?

Arteta, cleared riled by his poor reception as well as the the scoreline got involved in a spat with Barkley in the closing stages. Replays showed Barkley pushing the Spaniard to the ground after what he thought was an flying elbow.

Arteta continued his protests before captain Baines stepped and gave him a mouthful. Much to the delight of the crowd.

Arsenal Substitute Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain hit the bar in the dying embers but it mattered very little as Everton had secured their sixth successive Premier League win long before then.

The result means they are just a point behind Arsenal with a game in hand - against Crystal Palace next week.

Arsenal's kinder run-in means they are still fancied by many, but this performance has made a real statement and suggests our Champions League hopes may well be realised sooner than we had ever dreamed of.

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