Ross Barkley's first outstanding Premier League performance was at Arsenal in April. David Moyes gave him his second start of the 2012‑13 campaign in what turned out to be a goalless draw and the youngster was magnificent throughout, competing fiercely in a highly physical contest and coming closest to breaking the deadlock with a long-range curler. Here, under a different manager and in a very different contest, Barkley was again the most impressive performer at the Emirates.
Roberto Martínez named an unchanged side after the historic victory at Old Trafford, with Barkley again deployed in the advanced midfield position. It is a difficult role, especially because Steven Pienaar and Kevin Mirallas play attack-minded roles down the flanks. Barkley has a responsibility to link consistently with Romelu Lukaku but also to provide a simple forward-passing option for Gareth Barry and James McCarthy. "The gaffer told me to get on Mikel Arteta, in between the [opposition] midfield and defence," he said after the game.
Barkley is an interesting hybrid of a player. He is physically impressive beyond his years, reminiscent of the manner Wayne Rooney shrugged off powerful opponents in his Everton days, but his greatest quality is his appreciation of space, and the way he constantly varies his position to drag opponents around.
That was noticeable throughout Everton's 3-3 draw with Liverpool, when Lucas Leiva failed to stop him, and he performed similarly here, darting either side of Arteta. The Spaniard was often left stranded in front of his defence because of Aaron Ramsey's advanced positioning, and found it difficult to cope with both Barkley and Pienaar, who drifted inside from the left.
Everton's first promising moment came after five minutes when Arteta was attracted high up the pitch towards Barry. Barkley adjusted his position to get space away from Arteta, received a pass and drove determinedly at the Arsenal defence – he played in Kevin Mirallas, whose low cross almost found Barkley in a goalscoring position.
Barkley is happy receiving the ball under pressure, too, capable of holding off challenges before playing a simple pass. His work in advanced positions is always purposeful – his clever backheel released Pienaar for a long-range effort before his powerful shot forced Wojciech Szczesny into a fine save.
The one thing missing is the ability to open up opponents with measured through-balls, and Everton's fine first-half performance did not yield a goal because they rarely penetrated the Arsenal defence. Barkley is yet to register a Premier League assist and some of Lukaku's fine runs in behind the defence went unnoticed.
Such creativity might develop with time. For now Barkley is superb at positioning himself to facilitate the passing game Martínez has so impressively instilled. As Everton's passing patterns continue to thrill, Barkley is usually the man finding the space and providing the angles.