Toffees out to keep CL dream aliveComment on this story
Everton's surge towards Champions League qualification reaches a pivotal moment on Sunday when they face rivals Arsenal in a match being billed as the battle for fourth place.
Five consecutive Premier League wins have propelled the Merseyside club to fifth, four points behind Arsenal with a game in hand and victory at Goodison Park would put them in the driving seat to reach Europe's elite club competition.
Arsenal have seen their title challenge falter in the face of a mounting injury toll, having drawn their last two matches following a 6-0 humiliation at Chelsea.
While Everton manager Roberto Martinez was keen to downplay the importance of the match, he acknowledged it was a “significant” clash and that taking three points was vital in retaining the feel-good factor sweeping through the club.
“It could have a huge bearing because internally there is nothing better that carrying on a winning streak, carrying on with that confidence we've developed that allows you to go into the next 18 points with incredible momentum,” the Spaniard told reporters at a news conference on Friday.
“You're fighting with a direct rival that we admire and respect and they've been in this situation every single season, they've found a way to perform in those big games and get into the top four positions.”
Everton have 60 points from 31 matches, their highest total in the Premier League at this stage of the season, and Martinez said it was a “remarkable achievement” to be in the running for a top-four finish.
The Spaniard, in his first season in charge after replacing David Moyes, also hoped there would be no repeat of the last time the sides met, a 4-1 win to Arsenal in the fifth round of the FA Cup.
“We've earned the right of fighting for that position which is a very good season so far, but we are very much focused on the next seven games and trying to get as many points,” he said.
“Arsenal at the weekend is a great opportunity and great occasion but in the same manner winning that game doesn't guarantee you finish in the top four. In the same manner, losing the game, you're not out of the race.
“There is 21 points to fight for and it's how many we can get out of that, it's as simple as that.
“But playing at home we feel the game we played in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup left us with a sour taste and we need to make sure we use Sunday's game in our best way and use the effect of Goodison and perform as well as we can because it's a significant game.”
Everton have never made the group phase of the Champions League, having been knocked out in the third qualification round by Villarreal in 2005-06 having finished in fourth spot in the Premier League the season before.
Reports during the week said that Tottenham Hotspur were interested in taking Romelu Lukaku, on loan from Chelsea, to White Hart Lane next season.
The Belgium international has scored 12 goals in 26 league matches for Everton this term, but is thought not to be in the plans of Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho.
Martinez said it was inevitable there would be talk about his future.
“Romelu has been performing extremely well so you're going to get that,” he said.
“When you've got a player has been on loan and there has been a little bit of uncertainty and he doesn't perform well or doesn't reach certain levels then there is not much to talk (about).
“I think Romelu has been an incredible asset for us in the same way he has been a credit to his parent club and he has been developing as a young man I think he has been fulfilling his potential, which is huge.
“All we want now is for him to concentrate on the next seven games to finish as strong as he can, and what ever happens in the summer will be something good, because with the season he has had, it can only be positive.”
Martinez was hopeful England midfielder Ross Barkley would be available after coming off at halftime in Sunday's 3-1 win over Fulham, while defender Phil Jagielka was highly doubtful, having missed the last six matches with a hamstring injury. – Reuters