Leighton Baines believes Champions League qualification would mean “great things” for Everton and enable them to be more ambitious in the transfer market.
Everton beat fourth-placed Arsenal 3-0 on Sunday are now only one point behind Arsene Wenger’s team and with a game in hand.
They have not finished in the top four since 2005 and have never played in the Champions League group stages and left-back Baines feels participation in Europe’s premier club competition, which would bring in at least 20 million pounds, would help transform Everton.
“We all know what it means to any club, particularly one who hasn't been competing in those circles for a long time,” he told reporters. “It would mean great things but we don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves at this point.
“It raises the bar a little bit and makes the club more appealing to potential signings and gives the manager, the chairman and the board a little more scope financially to push themselves in the market. There are a lot of things that qualifying for a competition like that can do but there is still a lot of work to be done for us to get there.”
Everton have much the lowest budget, both in terms of wages and transfer fees of the Premier League’s top seven, and England international Baines said that the revenues from playing in the Champions League would help them compete on a more level playing field.
He added: “We will try to work our way in among that pack if we can but it has always been difficult because we haven't always had the funds to go and spend but if we could get into a competition like the Champions League then it would help in that aspect.”
Everton face a difficult run in with title-chasing Manchester City and former champions Manchester United still to visit Goodison Park.
But Baines takes heart from their recent record against the major clubs, with Arsenal joining Chelsea and United on the list of their victims this season.
He said: “When you get a couple of good results it just breeds confidence and you just feel you can go into those games and win and that is what we did against Arsenal.
“We have done well against a lot of the big sides. We have done well against Arsenal in the league, done well at United and played well at Goodison against Chelsea and Tottenham so we have held our own in that group against what you consider the top sides. We have a few games left to try to push on and the fact we are in this position is great for us.”
Baines said Arsenal feel the favourites to finish in fourth place as long as Everton remain in fifth, but welcomes the extra pressure on Roberto Martinez’s side.
He said: “We are perfectly comfortable being underdogs or having the expectation -- it is probably nice to have that little bit of expectation to drive us on.
“We have a game in hand coming up and until we get to that point where we have played the same amount of games and have worked ourselves above Arsenal then it probably still feels like we are playing catch-up.”