Everton's UEFA Champions League hopes are in their own hands after a 3-0 win over top-four rivals Arsenal at Goodison Park on Sunday.
First-half strikes from Steven Naismith and Romelu Lukaku, along with an own goal from Mikel Arteta, put the hosts on course for a first appearance in Europe's premier club competition since 2005-06, when they failed to make it past the qualifying rounds.
After winning six Premier League matches in a row, Everton are now a solitary point behind fourth-placed Arsenal with a game in hand and have a great chance to secure European football in their first season under Roberto Martinez.
Naismith gave Everton a great start when he opened the scoring after 14 minutes - tucking the ball home after Wojciech Szczesny had done well to deny Lukaku.
Lukaku, a threat to Arsenal's backline for much of the game, doubled the lead when he cut in from the right before evading the attentions of Nacho Monreal and Thomas Vermaelen.
The Belgian then fired past Szczesny, who was again left helpless thanks to more feeble Arsenal defending, before Everton old-boy Arteta put through his own net in the second half under pressure from Kevin Mirallas.
Arsene Wenger's men must reflect on another damaging defeat, which extends their winless run in the top flight to four matches, and face an uphill task to secure a 17th successive season in the Champions League.
In a lively opening, Leon Osman went close after two minutes with a dipping effort that sailed marginally wide of Szczesny's left-hand post, while Lukas Podolski's shot veered just off target at the other end.
Osman was then forced off after suffering a cut to the head when challenging Bacary Sagna, with Ross Barkley introduced in his place, but the switch did not harm Everton as Naismith pounced on a loose ball to find the net.
Lukaku had brought a smart save from Szczesny but Naismith kept cool to slide home the rebound as Everton were rewarded for their positive start.
Arsenal went in search of an equaliser but were kept at bay by an Everton side who looked threatening on the break and assured at the back.
The hosts moved further clear when Lukaku produced a stunning solo effort to register his 13th league goal of the season just after the half-hour mark.
It was no more than Everton deserved as they put themselves in control at the break before starting the second half brightly.
Aside from a moment of madness that saw Mirallas lose possession to Olivier Giroud inside his own area, the hosts looked comfortable in protecting their lead.
Mirallas then played a key role in Everton's third, setting a counter-attack in motion and releasing Naismith. The Scot was denied by Szczesny but Arteta turned the ball home under pressure from Mirallas.
Aaron Ramsey made his first appearance since December 26 as a substitute for Arsenal, having been out with a thigh injury, but the Welshman's return only proved a minor consolation for Wenger on an otherwise gloomy day, which ended with Yaya Sanogo having a goal ruled out for offside.
|Coach: Roberto Martínez|
for L. Osman 10'
for S. Naismith 81'
for R. Lukaku 86'
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