FEATURED ARTICLE: Is the School of Science on its way back?

Last Sunday, Everton put in one of their most pleasing performances of the campaign so far in a 1-0 defeat of 4th placed Arsenal. From the first whistle to the last, we had complete control over the Gunners and we should have added many more goals to Phil Jagielka’s 10th minute strike. Nevertheless, Everton were excellent against a vastly superior side and thoroughly deserved the three points. While Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Bernard deserve special mentions with very impressive displays, I would say Andre Gomes particularly stood out as the star man. For me, it is imperative that we sign him up in the summer.

While I was watching the game, I felt like it was the first time in a long time that we had won a game because we were playing better than our opposition rather than the opposition played worse than us, two very different things. And funnily enough, the game I feel that we last did that in celebrated its five-year anniversary the day before Sunday’s game and was a 3-0 victory at Goodison Park over none other than Arsenal Football Club!

It was on a Sunday afternoon, just like last week’s game, and Roberto Martinez’s Everton side were playing the best football us fans had seen us play in decades and we were mounting a serious challenge to a fourth position that Arsenal had seemingly made their own in previous seasons. Champions League football at Goodison beckoned for the first time in nine years when our journey ended after Pierluigi Collina infamously disallowed a perfectly legal Duncan Ferguson goal in Villarreal. The game against Arsenal promised to be vital for our Champions League push; an enormous opportunity was there for the taking.

I remember the week leading up to the game. I was a bundle of nervous energy. I wasn’t exactly confident, you never can be when it comes to Everton, but I just remember anticipating that something special was going to happen on Sunday and that it would be a day to remember. I had been at Craven Cottage the previous weekend when Everton had effortlessly dismantled a fragile Fulham side that would eventually be relegated come the end of the campaign. We were playing so well at that time and I knew we had the ability to beat the Gunners. But as all of us aware, we did have a habit of not making things easy for ourselves.

The day of the match came and there was crisp and expectant atmosphere around Goodison Park. 39,504 made the trip to the game, only the Goodison Derby, a 3-3 draw with that lot over the road, had a higher home attendance that season, and the Old Lady was ready to become a bearpit once again. For the entire 90 minutes, the fans were superb and relentlessly roared the team on to victory.

The game began and after nine minutes, Leon Osman gained a freak injury when he cut open his left eye and had to be taken to hospital to have the wound stitched up. Ross Barkley came on and completed Everton’s four-pronged dangerous attack that terrorised an unconvincing Arsenal defence from start to finish. Within five minutes of Barkley coming onto the pitch, Everton took the lead. Leighton Baines played a cross-field ball to the penalty spot and found Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian pushed it away from Nacho Monreal before firing a shot that hit Wojciech Szczesny’s foot and was pushed out. There to meet the rebound was the effervescent Steven Naismith, who was in the form of his life, and the Scotsman slotted an easy shot away. A roar reverberated around Goodison Park as Naismith raced away to the Park End-Main Stand corner. Meanwhile, I remember jumping up and down in my living room, full of jubilation. We had started brilliantly and had got our reward. We were on our way to winning our most important game in years.

Everton got their second 20 minutes later. Kevin Mirallas came inside and picked out Lukaku with a driving pass along the turf. Lukaku, who was being tried out on the right wing for the one and only time in his Everton career, took control of the ball and began to sprint at Monreal. The Spaniard was backing off and Lukaku was allowed to enter the Arsenal area. Here Thomas Vermaelen, the striker’s international counterpart, came towards him and Lukaku simply shifted the ball further inwards, away from the defender before thumping the ball into Szczesny’s goal. It was a terrific goal and Everton were now in complete control. Lukaku, still on loan at this point, ran straight to Roberto Martinez and leapt upon the gaffer, a clear indication of just how happy he was on Merseyside. The day was getting better and better, but it was still to peak.

And peak it did on the hour mark when Everton completed the 3-0 drubbing. Mirallas tried to slip in Naismith but the Scot was unable to take the ball around Szczesny who pushed the ball out. And as Mirallas desperately lunged to put the ball into the empty net, who should beat him to it but Arsenal midfielder Mikel Arteta. And the Spaniard could do nothing to stop the ball trickling into the net where he had scored so many goals himself while still in the blue shirt. While I hold no ill-feeling to Arteta and think he was a fantastic player as well as a fantastic man, he was not Mr. Popular with many Evertonians at the time and it did seem quite fitting for him to complete the rout.

The final whistle blew, and the last roar of the afternoon sounded around L4. Everton had been simply magnificent, dominating proceedings from start to finish and sending a clear signal of our intent to the Londoners. They knew we were prepared to fight for that 4th spot and with a game in hand on the Gunners, it seemed like we could do no wrong after such a successful afternoon. But in true Everton fashion, we lost three of our last six games including a disappointing 2-3 home defeat against Crystal Palace and finished seven points short of Arsenal. Nevertheless, we mustn’t take anything away from such a formidable performance that included some of the best football we’ve seen this century.

The 1-0 win over Arsenal on the Sunday just gone is, in my opinion, the closest we have come to matching such a performance since. While the performances this season have been inconsistent to say the least, the football played at times has been exceptional and I feel with the right players brought in this summer to add to the potential already in the squad, then the days of beautiful, winning football could be closer to Goodison than some fans seem to think. It could very well be that the School of Science is indeed on its way back. Whether Marco Silva is the man to deliver this, I’m not sure. But I do feel he has delivered the best season we’ve had since Martinez’s debut one in which the 3-0 win took place and I am more than happy to give the manager more time. In Marco we trust.

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