LIVERPOOL, England— Everton continued its superb attacking form to thrash a poor Arsenal side 3-0 in the Premier League and cut its deficit to the Gunners to one point in the race for the final Champions League spot.
Everton, which has scored 12 goals in its last four games, dominated from the start and made the Gunners pay for their poor defending with strikes from Steven Naismith and Romelu Lukaku as well as an own goal from Mikel Arteta.
Everton claimed a sixth consecutive league win while Arsenal has secured only two points from its last four matches. The London club remained in fourth place in the standings, one point above Everton but has played one more game than Roberto Martinez’s side.
“It would mean everything,” Naismith said about his team’s possible top-four finish. “But we have believed from the start of the season and we have shown that in these recent performances.”
The defeat piled pressure on Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, who is chasing a first trophy with the Gunners since 2005 and has guided them to Champions League football in each of his 16 full seasons in charge.
Everton had beaten Arsenal just once in their last 15 league meetings but looked the superior team on Sunday.
Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey started on the bench, returning to the squad for the first time since Boxing Day after recovering from a thigh injury while Everton made two changes from last weekend’s 3-1 win at Fulham, with Naismith and Kevin Mirallas in the starting lineup as a reward for their fine display in South London.
Naismith was decisive again as he opened the scoring in the 14th minute from inside the box after Leighton Baines picked Romelu Lukaku with a low ball. The Belgium international forced Wojciech Szczesny into a save but the Arsenal keeper could not hold the ball and Naismith fired home the rebound.
The Gunners struggled to create chances, and when they did they squandered them. Olivier Giroud was among the culprits, sending his effort just wide in the 21st from Bacary Sagna’s accurate cross.
Arsenal’s defense buckled again with Lukaku hardly challenged when he doubled the Merseyside team’s lead in the 34th minute following a good collective move. The powerful forward collected a through ball from Mirallas then cut inside and fired a low shot past Szczesny.
Wenger’s team improved after the interval, enjoying more possession but things went from bad to worse for the Gunners when Sagna lost the ball to allow Mirallas to launch a quick counterattack. The Belgin slipped the ball to Naismith who could not round Szczesny but the loose ball came into Mirallas’ path before rebounding into the net following a challenge from Arteta.
Arsenal made a double change with Ramsey and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain coming on for Lukas Podolski and Mathieu Flamini but the move had no effect on Everton’s tactics, with the home side remaining a threat on the break until the final whistle.
Oxlade-Chamberlain announced himself with four minutes remaining but his powerful strike was diverted by Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard onto the bar.