Everton have enjoyed a great run of form in 2014 and over the entire season as a whole. In fact, only league leaders Chelsea have lost fewer games than the blue half of Merseyside.
Far from losing the tough-to-beat tag that was a hallmark of the previous manager's Everton side, Roberto Martinez has made his team into a fluid, attack-minded side that is easy on the eye and still difficult opposition to best.
It's put Everton on the verge of a serious challenge for a top-four finish, which is both a huge credit to the new boss and a fact that should cause some difficult questioning for two of the Premier League's more established managerial names.
Midfielder Leon Osman admits Everton are "outsiders," as per The Independent, but that they certainly shouldn't be discounted from the top-four race. He's far more right than he actually cares to admit at this point.
When he left Wigan Athletic in the summer, relegated to the Championship but victorious in the FA Cup, question marks inevitably surrounded the Spanish boss: Could his style of football work for a team who wanted to challenge in the upper echelons of the league? Would his new squad not share Wigan's propensity to concede daft goals aplenty?
Martinez himself certainly thought so. Everton chairman Bill Kenwright told BBC Sport the following:
When David [Moyes] first came to see me, he sat down 11 years ago and we were in a bad state, and he said 'we're not going down.' ... Roberto's first words were 'I'll get you in the Champions League.'
Some difference in ambition, perhaps.
Different preseason training, different tactical set-ups during matches and certainly a different emphasis on how to attack opponents; it's all made for some excellent results for Everton, and their fifth-place position in the table at present is a testament to the Spaniard's early work.
But Stability is Key...
For years, Premier League viewers have been pummelled with the "fact" that David Moyes has kept Everton "punching above their weight," getting every last ounce of ability and results out of his low-cost squad of players to finish far higher than logic should allow.
Ok, even supposing we look past the "low-cost" signings of Marouane Fellaini (£19 million), Yakubu Aiyegbeni (£15m), Diniyar Bilyaletdinov (£9m) and so on, what now of Martinez guiding Everton to a genuine top-four finish with a negative net-spend of £12.5 million or so? Is he now climbing even further above Everton's realistic ambitions?
Or is he just delivering on a promise he knew was genuinely attainable and that his predecessor had failed to manage more than once?
Given that Moyes only once managed to secure a top-four finish in over a decade at the club, given that he failed to win at any of the big stadiums—Anfield, Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge, the Emirates—during his time at Everton, is it possible that Moyes didn't make Everton punch above their weight but simply elevated them to a position from which he was incapable of improving?
If so, is that the level his new club Manchester United should be expecting him to soar above and beyond in time?
David Moyes United - Everton Close Enough? pic.twitter.com/x7bq3YcIsh— Football Trolls (@Footballltrolls) March 19, 2014
What Happened, Wenger?
Let's cast our minds back two months, to near the end of January and the Premier League table.
Fast-forward to today, nine games later, a span in which Arsenal have only picked up another 12 points. They went from first to fourth place in nine weeks, and unless Wenger can turn things around extremely quickly—something their recent form does not indicate—even a top-four finish, so long a staple of his, will be in jeopardy.
Which brings us back to Everton.
The Toffees are currently six points behind the Gunners but have a game in hand. They travel to bottom-of-the-table Fulham while Arsenal host title challengers Manchester City. If results follow recent form, Martinez and his men will host Arsenal themselves on April 6 with just three points between the sides.
And with a game in hand.
And with goal difference extremely close—it's currently plus-19 to plus-16 in Arsenal's favour.
This season, perhaps more than at any other time, Wenger's Arsenal are in danger of missing out on the top four. Not simply because he and his side appear to be bottling the run-in to the season big time, but also because Everton have a manager in Roberto Martinez willing to aim high, attack each game in turn and be confident enough in his side's abilities that success can be achieved.
Eight games to go for Everton, for Martinez and for his Champions League promise to be made good on.
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