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v Wolfsburg

Thursday 18 September K.O. 20:05



Goodison Park | 6th April 2014 13:30 | Attendance - 39504

Everton v Arsenal

Everton produced one of the performances of the season to crush Arsenal and move to within a single point of the fourth-placed Gunners in the race for Champions League qualification.

On an afternoon that was always going to test just how much Roberto Martinez's men were up for the fight, they made their intentions crystal clear.

Steven Naismith, a thorn in the visitors' side throughout, got the ball rolling on 14 minutes, the Scot following up and slotting home after Romelu Lukaku's initial effort had been parried by Wojciech Szczesny.

The Belgian then got on the scoresheet himself, a wonderful solo run and shot giving the Blues a comfortable half-time cushion.

And when the lively Kevin Mirallas forced Mikel Arteta to dink the ball into his own net on the hour mark, this particular battle in an ongoing war was over.

As well as closing the gap, the Blues swung goal difference in their favour; a deficit of one before kick off became an advantage of five at the full-time whistle.

Martinez's charges also have a game in-hand - at home to Crystal Palace - a scenario which puts the destiny of their continental quest in their own hands.


With fixtures at home to Manchester United and Manchester City and away at Southampton among those to come, the path is far from unobstructed.

But should they win each of their last six games, Everton will qualify for the Champions League for only the second time in their history.

As an impressive aside, the victory was also a ninth in a row at Goodison - the current run now the Club's equal best at home since 1969.

Martinez was able to name Ross Barkley on the bench, the 20-year-old having shaken off the calf complaint that saw him substituted at half-time during the 3-1 win over Fulham.

His omission from the starting 11 forced one of two changes however, with Leon Osman replacing Barkley and Naismith - so influential as a substitute at Craven Cottage - taking over from teenager Gerard Deulofeu.

The noise around Goodison Park before kick off was palpable and the timber of the Old Lady shook in a way that might have befitted one of the great nights in Europe. Given that the outcome of the 90 minutes would potentially take the Blues a giant stride towards manufacturing a return to the continent for the first time since 2010, the air of excitement and anticipation was understandable.

And the players responded with an energetic opening. Indeed, the game was barely 60 seconds old when Osman unleashed a dipping half volley from the angle of the penalty area that sailed only inches wide of Szczesny's left-hand upright.

Sadly for the midfielder, it was to be his last meaningful action. A blow just above the left eye, sustained in a challenge with Bacary Sagna, forced his departure from the field with only six minutes played, and with the injury requiring five stitches, Barkley was sent on in his place. On a joyous afternoon, it was a miserable way for Osman to mark the earlier announcement of his planned summer testimonial.

Despite the enforced switch, Everton continued to march forward in much the same vein as which they had started. And they got the breakthrough their bright beginning merited with just under a quarter of an hour played.

Picking up the ball on the left wing, Leighton Baines drilled a low centre into the feet of Lukaku. The Belgian held off his marker, and though Szczesny managed to push away the initial shot, Naismith was on hand to roll the rebound into an empty Park End net.

A goal to the good, there was little need for Martinez's men to alter their approach. Naismith might have grabbed a lucky second when James McCarthy's driven effort kicked up off his heels, while Mirallas had a pot shot from the left-hand edge of the box. Szecesny stood tall to both.

The Blues were keeping the Pole busy and he again had to save - this time with his feet - after Barkley had jinked his way to the byline and craftily angled a shot on target.

Mirallas, too, wormed his way into a shooting position; a smart reaction stop prevented his effort from nestling into the bottom corner.


Then, on 34 minutes, the Belgian wandered in from the wing and picked up possession in the centre circle. He fed the ball out to Lukaku - and his compatriot did the rest.

It was far from easy. After cutting inside, the striker first had to get past Nacho Monreal, he then eased away from Thomas Vermaelen - and his shot simply flew past Szecesny. Cue another Goodison Park eruption.

Lukaku ran to Martinez in celebration and gave a hug to the man who only two days before had backed him to prove himself as the undisputed number one choice to lead his nation's World Cup charge in place of the injured Christian Benteke. It was a decent start.

Arsenal weren't without their chances and Tim Howard was called upon before the half was out to claw away a speculative swirling effort from Lukas Podolski.

A Mirallas error caused another nervous moment seven minutes after the restart, but John Stones got his foot on the ball, waltzed out towards safety and eventually drew a frustrated foul from Sagna.

And it was the Frenchman who gifted up possession to Mirallas on the hour mark and allowed the winger to carve out Everton's game-ending third.

Losing the ball on the half-way line, Sagna couldn't have imagined the damage his slip would cause. But Mirallas just ran. And ran. And when his threaded through ball to Naismith deflected off Szczesny's legs and back towards the penalty spot, he somehow found the energy for one final lunge, his efforts causing Arteta to toe the ball into his own net and end any lingering threat of an Arsenal comeback.

The full-time whistle confirmed Everton's first win over the Gunners in 15 attempts - an unwanted sequence stretching back to March 2007.

If all now goes to plan, it might just have been worth the wait.

By Adam Clark




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