Phil Jagielka believes Everton must prove they possess a big-game mentality at Arsenal to preserve their hopes of a Champions League qualification spot that would "quadruple" the potential of the club.
Everton, with four wins from five league games, are only four points adrift of third-placed Arsenal ahead of Tuesday's match at the Emirates Stadium. David Moyes is yet to record a victory at Arsenal – he has nine defeats and two draws from 11 Premier League visits there – and Joe Royle was the last Everton manager to beat Arsenal on their own ground, in January 1996. Everton have also not won at Liverpool or Chelsea under Moyes, and trips to Anfield and Stamford Bridge await a club that has sustained a European challenge this season amid competition from far wealthier rivals.
"I've told the players we will have to win one of these big games away from home if we are going to get into Europe," said Moyes. "For the Champions League it may have to be more than one. We are trying to break new ground."
Everton have folded under expectation several times in recent years, with the FA Cup semi-final against Liverpool last season and this campaign's quarter-final at home to Wigan Athletic strengthening a criticism that Jagielka admits the players have to accept. But the England international insists Moyes's improving team can demolish that theory at Arsenal and enhance their top-four claims.
Jagielka said: "We didn't crack on last year in the semi-final and we probably had one of our worst performances against Wigan, so you can see why there is scope for people to come at us and say that. Results speak for themselves.
"You couldn't argue against that and say they are wrong because unfortunately we haven't turned up in some really big games. That's the challenge now. There is only one way to change that. But if we don't come away from Arsenal with a win we still can't regard it as a negative. We are going to keep kicking on and kicking on.
"I watched the Wigan game [while injured] and the boys were not horrific, but for five minutes of the game we were absolutely blown away. Then we couldn't find a goal that would have got us back in it. You have these sorts of games unfortunately. It has happened in a few of our bigger games in the last couple of years and we would like nothing better than to lay that to rest at the Emirates. But it is not always as easy as that."
Moyes rates Everton's chances of qualifying for the Champions League at "only 15%". He said: "We are probably not realistic challengers but we are in with an outside chance and there are not too many teams who can say that. We have missed someone who has got us 15 to 20 goals. If we'd had that we would be genuine contenders for the top spots."
But with Victor Anichebe again impressing in the win over Queens Park Rangers on Saturday and Everton unbeaten since their FA Cup exit, Moyes believes the Arsenal record will have no bearing on their approach to Tuesday's game. The manager added: "I am quite confident because I feel the players are in good fettle. I am in good fettle. I feel good about the team. There are a lot of good things about them right now. We came through a difficult period where we had suspensions and injuries and that was important for us, for me and the staff."
Moyes insists he has not considered the potential importance of the Arsenal game for Everton, should it ultimately lead to Champions League qualification, but the man who will replace Phil Neville as club captain this summer admits the ramifications for investment would be transformational.
Jagielka said: "We as players can't afford to look that far down the line but if you look at the potential of the club, it could be doubled, tripled or quadrupled if we got into the Champions League. We know that if we can get in the group stage it would put us more on a level playing field in terms of transfers, keeping players and potentially even keeping the manager due to the financial gain. We can't look forward and put too much pressure on ourselves but for this club to go forward, we need to finish fourth. We are not doing a bad job as it is but we know to finish in the top four would be such a massive boost."
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