LIVERPOOL – Roberto Martinez saluted his Everton players for a “phenomenal” performance as they beat Arsenal 3-0 and said they produced the perfect team display as they try to realise his dream of bringing Champions League football to Goodison Park.
The victory, secured by strikes from Steven Naismith and Romelu Lukaku and an own goal from Mikel Arteta, means Everton are now only a point behind fourth-placed Arsenal with a game in hand, and both managers felt they were deserving winners.
“The performance was very strong from the first minute to the last,” Martinez said in his news conference. “The way we wanted to play we had to be perfect in the way we wanted to defend, the way we wanted to use the counter-attack, the way we wanted to be a threat in the final third and the way we wanted to keep possession.
“The players were phenomenal in every area with their tactical awareness, work rate and discipline. In a group sport, it is as good a performance as it gets from that point of view.”
Everton now have the advantage in the race for fourth place while Arsenal need their rivals to slip up for them to return to the Champions League and Martinez said the implications made their sixth successive win so important.
He added: “It was huge from psychological point of view. I knew three points today would give 63 -- and incredible return at this stage -- but there are still 18 to play for. There is still a long, long way to go. Arsenal from now have 15 points to fight for and it is going to be a really tough battle.”
Everton have not finished in the top four since 2005, when they lost a Champions League playoff to Villarreal, but have not played in Europe’s premier competition since 1970-71.
However, Martinez set them an ambitious target of qualifying for the Champions League at the start of the season and he explained: “What is important, when you are a team, you have to have an aim.
“It can be an easy aim or you can reach high and try and have a dream to follow. I always like to have a dream to follow. When I was at Swansea it was to get into the Premier League, when I was at Wigan it was to get into Europe and at a club with the history and heritage of Everton it is to get into the Champions League.”