Everton 3 Arsenal 0: Gunners' woeful defence allows slick Toffees to move within a point of fourth place
Premier League match report from Goodison park
It may be too soon to hail Everton's 3-0 victory over Arsenal as a changing of the guard, but one thing it does do is put the Gunners' proud Champions League status in serious doubt.
For 16 successive years Arsene Wenger's side have taken their place alongside Europe's elite, but this season there is a new kid on the block.
And Everton could easily be the new Arsenal in more ways than one.
Their Champions League challenge got all the more real after strikes from Steven Naismith, Romelu Lukaku and a Mikel Arteta own goal put them just a point behind the Londoners with a match in hand.
The way they played their visitors off the park was an example of manager Roberto Martinez's passing game in full effect and was reminiscent of the lessons Wenger's side used to hand out to opponents.
But Arsenal's weak spot has always been their soft underbelly and it was brilliantly exploited at Goodison Park as Everton were tenacious, incisive and just plainly better in every department.
Goalkeeper Tim Howard is Mr Reliable, ageless centre-back Sylvain Distin continues to churn out classy performances, Gareth Barry bestrides central midfield with a simplicity and calmness which allows young tyro Ross Barkley to terrorise further forward while the Lukaku provides a cutting edge up front.
That two of those players are only on loan is a debate for another day. After this performance it is difficult not to talk up Everton's chances of qualifying for the Champions League for only the second time in their history.
It was difficult to argue with Martinez's tactics, which saw him switch to 4-3-3 with Lukaku unusually stationed on the right wing to target Nacho Monreal, who was replacing injured left-back Kieran Gibbs.
However, even the best managers need a stroke of luck.
Leon Osman, who had looped Everton's first shot of the match just past Wojciech Szczesny's left-hand post, got in a tangle with Bacary Sagna, resulting in a gash that opened up after appearing to catch a boot in the face.
It forced Osman's immediate exit down the tunnel after just nine minutes, but brought Barkley to the fore in a more disciplined role on the left than he has been used to playing under Martinez.
However, with Barry providing support behind, the 20-year-old was still able to express himself and was instantly installed as the focal point of Everton's attacking play.
The goal, however, came from Arsenal's inability - or unwillingness - to engage opponents.
Leighton Baines was allowed to carry the ball 30 yards into enemy territory unchallenged and with that amount of time he picked out Lukaku with a low cross. Although the Belgium striker was denied by Szczesny, Naismith - who seems to have become Martinez's lucky charm - was in the right place at the right time to ram home the rebound.
One Barkley through-ball caused panic in Arsenal's defence but Kevin Mirallas could only shoot weakly while another sent Baines away down the left to create a chance for James McCarthy.
Martinez's ploy to expose Monreal down the other flank saw the Gunners defender give up the chase with Lukaku and call for Szczesny to race out of his area and clear.
Barkley continued to torment the visitors and after numerous step-overs hit an angled shot that was kept out by the goalkeeper's legs, with Mirallas also forcing a save near down at the same right-hand post.
Arsenal were cut open again just after the half-hour when Everton sliced their way through central midfield, with Naismith and Mirallas combining to release Lukaku on the right. Again Monreal, Thomas Vermaelen and Per Mertesacker stood off as he cut inside and the striker took full advantage to smash home left-footed.
Lukaku's celebration with Martinez on the touchline spoke volumes about the way the players have so wholeheartedly embraced the Spaniard's change in philosophy since replacing David Moyes in the summer.
The closest Arsenal came to a first-half reply saw Howard superbly tip over Lukas Podolski's dipping half-volley, but there was little else to enthuse over.
Everton, on the other hand, were rampant and midway through the second half applied the killer blow.
Mirallas broke from deep and although Szczesny just got to the ball before Naismith, it rebounded back in front of goal where former Toffees midfielder Arteta, under pressure from Mirallas, turned it into his own net.
Substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's shot against the crossbar late on seemed merely like Arsenal raging against the dying of the light.
EVERTON V ARSENAL PLAYER RATINGS
TIM HOWARD: Had only one real save to make from Podolski in the first half but was up to the task. 7
SEAMUS COLEMAN: Not as attacking as he has been in the past but a solid job. 7
SYLVAIN DISTIN: Imperious at the back, hardly put a foot wrong. 7
JOHN STONES: One or two moments of indecision but recovered composure well. 6
LEIGHTON BAINES: Excellent first half, more restrained in the second with a lead to hold on to. 7
GARETH BARRY: Controlled midfield but was hardly put under any pressure. 8
JAMES McCARTHY: Another busy, energetic and productive display. 7
KEVIN MIRALLAS: Pace kept Arsenal on their toes and contributed in attack. 7
STEVEN NAISMITH (replaced by McGeady, 81): Right place, right time again for the goal. Intelligent running. 7
LEON OSMAN (replaced by Barkley, 9): Had an early shot loop just wide of post before a head injury forced his exit. 6
ROMELU LUKAKU (replaced by Deulofeu, 86): Unfamiliar position wide on the right but did not prevent him from scoring and remaining a threat. 7
ROSS BARKLEY (on for Osman, 9): Introduced much earlier than expected but provided Everton with a spark and was instrumental in most good work going forward. 9
AIDEN McGEADY (on for Naismith, 81): Given a late run out with the game won. 5
GERARD DEULOFEU (on for Lukaku, 86): Sent on to give the striker a rest. 5
WOJCIECH SZCZESNY: Should have done better in preventing the third goal. No chance with the other two. 6
BACARY SAGNA: Provided little support going forward and was often overloaded by Baines overlapping. 5
PER MERTESACKER: Struggled to cope with Naismith's movement. 4
THOMAS VERMAELEN: Timid performance from Arsenal's captain. 5
NACHO MONREAL: Never looked comfortable up against Lukaku. 4
MIKEL ARTETA: Totally overwhelmed in central midfield. Spent more time arguing and complaining. 4
MATHIEU FLAMINI (replaced by Ramsey, 66): Was supposed to control space in front of back four but failed with two goals coming straight through his area. 4
TOMAS ROSICKY: Drifted in and out of the game. 5
SANTI CAZORLA: Looked to get on the ball but did not do enough with it. 5
LUKAS PODOLSKI (replaced by Oxlade-Chamberlain, 66): Had Arsenal's best chance of the first half but that was a half-volley from 16 yards. 5
OLIVIER GIROUD (replaced by Sanogo, 71): Barely given a chance. Anonymous for much of the game. 5
ALEX OXLADE-CHAMBERLAIN (on for Podolski, 66): Hit the crossbar late on but it would not have made a difference. 7
AARON RAMSEY (on for Flamini, 66): Sent on to rescue a lost cause. 5
YAYA SANOGO (on for Giroud, 71): Asked to do what first-choice striker had failed to and could not. 5
NAISMITH SALUTES SLICK EVERTON
Steven Naismith was delighted as Everton kept the pressure on the top four in the battle for the Champions League with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Arsenal, their sixth-straight Barclays Premier League win.
Naismith handed the home side the lead after 14 minutes, smartly converting the rebound after Romelu Lukaku's close-range effort was kept out by goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.
Lukaku scored his fourth goal from his last six appearances after 34 minutes, collecting the ball from Kevin Mirallas outside the 18-yard box and taking on the Gunners defence before firing past Szczesny into the bottom left corner.
Everton's third goal came just after the hour mark as Mikel Arteta turned the ball into his own net as he attempted to stop Mirallas from having an easy tap-in.
Man of the match Naismith told Sky Sports 1: "We played very well. We then let them settle and get a lot of possession.
"Throughout the match, I thought we got the better of possession, starting all the way from the back. James (McCarthy) and Gaz (Gareth Barry) in centre-mid dictated play quite a lot and they created many chances, so it worked well."
Naismith has made just eight league starts and 17 substitute appearances this season, but has scored four goals and every one has been in an Everton victory.
In 34 appearances last season he scored only four goals in total and in 29 games in all competitions this campaign he has seven, but it is all-round influence which has been impressive.
Roberto Martinez made a couple of changes, putting Lukaku out on the right, with Naismith playing a more central role and the Scot said it was a success.
He added: "It worked very well, we've worked on it this week.
"It was more about trying to occupy the Arsenal defence and I thought Rom and Kev led by example doing that. They created space for me in the middle to link up and make runs through and I think for Kev's goal (the Arteta own goal) it worked perfectly.
"Kev's got on the ball and played me through and he's managed to get on the end it."
The win moved Everton to within a point of their fourth-placed opponents with a game in hand, leaving their chances for Champions League qualification in their own hands.
Victory was a significant boost for Everton, having drawn 1-1 at the Emirates Stadium in the league back in December before losing an FA Cup quarter-final 4-1 there last month.
And Naismith believes finishing in the top four would mean the world to the club and their fans but they must take it one game at a time, starting with next weekend's clash at Sunderland.
He said: "It would mean everything.
"We've believed from the start of the season and it just shows in these performances so we just need to concentrate on next week and hopefully get the points in."
Goalkeeper Tim Howard echoed his team-mate's confidence of a top-four end to the season and said: "We have to believe that (we'll finish top four) as we run out of games. We'd like to think we can."
The American was pleased with his side's performance and delighted to give the home support a great show against the Londoners.
He said: "That was certainly one of our signature performances since I've been here at Everton.
"The way we controlled the game, scored the goals and kept it clean at the back - I thought it was a brilliant performance.
"They were up for it. They know what it meant coming to the game and if we could take three points then we'd be hot on their (Arsenal's) tails.
"They've waited all season for a blockbuster performance like this and they'll feel like this was definitely the one."
Belfast Telegraph Digital