From the opening kick to the final whistle, Everton were the better side and it showed as they downed Arsenal 3-0 at Goodison Park.
Their biggest win over Arsenal in 25 years puts Everton just a point behind the Gunners for the fourth position with a game in hand, meaning Everton will be dancing in the Champions League should they win out.
Arsenal’s loss continues a late-season collapse that sees the Gunners in danger of missing out on Champions League play for the first time in 18 years. They’ve now failed to win in four straight matches, and have just five points from their last five matches.
Everton, meanwhile, have now won six matches in a row, a blistering run of form that has seen the Toffees outscore their opponents 15-4 and score at least three goals in three straight matches.
The home side began the match the brighter of the two at the start, with a number of crosses and shots pumped in early with Arsenal on their heels.
Unfortunately, Leon Osman was forced off after just nine minutes with a cut on his forehead after punishing Bacary Sagna with a yellow-card challenge, and Ross Barkley came on earlier than Roberto Martinez had planned.
After the initial Toffees spell, Arsenal put together their first chance on 10 minutes as Mathieu Flamini flew just wide of the mark.
But it would be the home side on the scoresheet first, as Baines put through a beautiful ball up front for Romelu Lukaku, and while the Belgian’s shot was saved, the rebound came right to Steven Naismith who buried the second chance.
The initial ball from the Everton left-back was utterly brilliant, threading a seemingly non-existent needle to find Lukaku behind the Arsenal back line.
The home side nearly doubled up on another spell of pressure, but Naismith’s redirect was directly at Wojciech Szezesny. But Arsenal could do nothing to prevent an eventual second, as Lukaku was the man to put the Toffees in control.
A bouncing ball in the midfield on 34 minutes fell to Kevin Mirallas who cut across the pitch for a wide-open Lukaku on the right side. The Belgian youngster took Nacho Monreal on with ease, entering the box and cutting back to the center before firing low past Szczesny.
Arsenal looked to pull one back before halftime, and Lukas Podolski saw his dipping effort from distance saved well by Tim Howard five minutes from halftime.
The second half was more of the same – Arsenal possession with little on the back end, and another dangerous counter gave Everton a third.
Technically down as a Mikel Arteta own goal, Mirallas won the ball in Everton’s half and charged down the center, feeding Naismith in the box. The striker was unable to get a shot off under a tackle by Szczesny, but the ball popped back to Mirallas who hit towards goal and Arteta’s tackle saw the ball into the net.
Everton’s third finally forced Arsene Wenger to make a change in the 66th minute, bringing on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Aaron Ramsey, but it was far too late. The hosts easily took the air out of the ball and saw the match out, the only threat a chance by the Ox four minutes from full time as he burst across the top of the box and banged the crossbar.
The race for fourth place is by no means over, with the Toffees still required to play both Manchester clubs, but the Champions League is within their sights. The Gunners, meanwhile, have a much easier stretch run, but still must pick up the pieces if they are to avoid any disappointing end-of-season upsets.
Everton – Howard; Baines, Distin, Stones, Coleman; McCarthy, Barry, Osman (Barkley 10′), Naismith (McGeady 81′); Mirallas, Lukaku (Deulofeu 86′).
Goals: Naismith 14′, Lukaku 34′, Arteta 62′ (og)
Arsenal – Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Monreal; Arteta, Flamini (Ramsey 66′), Rosicky, Cazorla; Podolski (Oxlade-Chamberlain 66′), Giroud (Sanogo 71′).