Admiring Arsenal does not come readily to a former Manchester United man but Phil Neville believes they may have acquired the resilience to sustain a title challenge. Everton's captain has cited his team's inability to "rough them up" on Sunday as evidence of an improved mettle.
Neville said Everton planned to unsettle Arsenal only to meet committed, united opponents who deservedly ended their seven-game unbeaten run. "We have caused them problems before with our energy and they've not been able to cope, but this time they were deserved winners.
"They seem a little more resilient now. They're always going to play fantastic football, that's never going to change, but at the end they were getting men behind the ball. There is maybe still a bit to go before they have a real title-winning team, because you always fancy yourself to rough them up. But we couldn't do it and that is where they have improved."
Neville also believes that, 5½ years after Arsenal last won a trophy, Arsène Wenger's young players are finally starting to mature into a team who know how to grind out results. He added: "They have developed with each year. They've got more experience and now maybe they're getting the things you need to win at places like Everton, Stoke and Bolton, where it's not perfect conditions and they have been beaten up in the past. They have a great manager and you know in years to come that these youngsters will come to fruition. But they're getting more experience each year, so you never know.
"They are getting that experience to maybe not always play pretty football and score the perfect goal, but to come away and win in the way people aren't used to. Chelsea and Manchester United don't always win playing pretty football. You have to do it when you're not playing well, and Arsenal are learning that now."
In contrast to his praise for Arsenal, however, Neville conceded Sunday's defeat showed how much Everton need to improve to realise pre-season expectations of competing for a European place. David Moyes's\ side are now only two points clear of the relegation zone having won only one of their past five games, and three Premier League matches all season.
"It's been one of those seasons where we have done OK so far but not outstanding," he admitted. "We are a six or a seven out of 10 and need to be a nine or a 10 to be beating the likes of Arsenal and getting into the top four. That's where we all aspire to be, but we have to raise our game. The spirit is there, but maybe we just need to relax and be more ruthless."