Everton's comprehensive 3-0 win over Arsenal showed their power and revealed Arsène Wenger's insistence on being too intricate
The Europa League could now beckon for Arsenal. This doomsday scenario is a reality because with this win Everton confirmed Arsène Wenger's team are in a potentially fatal late-season tailspin.
The record shows no win since 16 March and only two points from four outings for the Gunners, who have never failed to qualify for the Champions League in every full season of Wenger's 16-year reign.
The momentum is with Everton who are a point a behind and have a match in hand. If Roberto Martínez's bright, attacking side defeat Sunderland next Saturday they will move ahead of Arsenal, who are at Wembley to take on Wigan Athletic in an FA Cup semi-final.
The 90 minutes here belied the Frenchman's description of the contest. Arsenal's manager had branded it a six-pointer. It suggested the spoils could go either way. In truth, Everton schooled Arsenal with a lesson that made Wenger appear the student manager and Martínez the man with a 1,003 games on his club CV.
The move that created the opener was an illustration of many of the telling differences between the philosophies espoused by the Spaniard and Wenger. From a left channel where he wreaked havoc all day, Leighton Baines hit an instant pass behind the visiting defence. Romelu Lukaku's shot at Wojciech Szczesny rebounded to Steven Naismith, and the Scotland forwward rolled the finish home. The pace of this sequence was what killed Arsenal. Martínez may like the slick and pretty stuff but it comes with power and an end-product.
Wenger's ethos remains to over-complicate. When Lukas Podolski and Mathieu Flamini were not taking 20-yard pot-shots at Tim Howard, one of Wenger's men was turning yet again into traffic to stymie any openings.
Lukaku's goal was all of this in microcosm. The Belgian forward, playing on the right of Everton's 4-3-3, collected possession near halfway. No second thought fogged intent as he set off on a buccaneering run that removed Nacho Monreal before cutting inside towards the area to lash home a memorable 13th of the season.
Time and again Everton undid Arsenal by spinning the ball out wide to reach the last third with dizzying speed.
On this display, why David Moyes was so keen to take Baines to Manchester United is evident. The left-back was the focus of much of Everton's attack, as when Ross Barkley sliced open Arsenal's defence with a pass that put his fellow England man in and – once more – the ball was whipped over instantly.
Before Lukaku's goal a quick pass from Bacary Sagna on the right that Olivier Giroud might have profited from was a rare instance of Arsenal posing Everton a serious question.
Martínez's men came into the match having won their previous five league games. The manager said: "We have worked really hard all season to be able to get ourselves in this position and now we are facing the final seven games with a real desire to get as many points as we can. We all know that to beat a team like Arsenal we will have to be perfect in what we want to do."
After the interval the early signs were that Wenger had informed his charges to step it up, as Monreal galloped into space left by Seamus Coleman, who had been dragged inside, but the cross found no one.
This proved false hope for Arsenal as they faded into the role of patsies again. The hunger that drove Kevin Mirallas towards the loose ball and caused Mikel Arteta to turn past Szczesny for the Everton third encapsulated the gulf in quality – and desire – on show.
Martínez has all of his players singing the same tune. At 36 and on an eighth club Sylvain Distin, who was barely troubled, is enjoying this new song. "For a player like me who is used to being more of a stopper it wasn't enjoyable for the first few months and I was a bit scared at first," the defender said. "The manager would be telling me I had to get the ball here and there instead of being a bit more old-fashioned. But it is enjoyable now because it works. We are in a good position and it is very easy. I enjoy it at the moment."
Arsenal's closing fixtures comprise West Ham United, Hull City, Newcastle United, West Bromwich Albion and Norwich City, none of whom are the division's big guns. Everton have still to host Manchester United and Manchester City.
This run-in could yet save the Gunners. But do not count on it.