How this unsung hero is leading Everton's fight for fourth spot

Everton Goodison 2

Steven Naismith has enjoyed something of a renaissance this term after enduring a scapegoat status during his maiden campaign at Goodison Park.

It was notable that the majority of the plaudits after Everton's 3-0 win over Arsenal yesterday afternoon arrived at the feet of a man less renowned for his match-winning qualities than a Romelu Lukaku or a Ross Barkley, say.

The Toffees faithful will have left Goodison Park knowing that their comprehensive win over fellow Champions League chasers Arsenal was built fundamentally on one player in particular, despite his less fashionable standing against some of the other more star-studded members in this burgeoning outfit.

Having already dismissed Lukaku and Barkley from the title of Everton's standout man yesterday afternoon, there appears a dearth of candidates left.

To suggest Everton's top four aspirations are built entirely on the foundation of Steven Naismith's performances seems folly and neglects some of the other tremendous performers in Roberto Martinez's finely-tuned side.

It was evident yesterday, however, that players such as Naismith, a hard worker and an industrious individual if lacking in the verve and panache provided by Barkley and Kevin Mirallas, will prove just as important in the final reckoning if the Toffees are to usurp a floundering Gunners side for that crucial fourth spot.

It is the fine form of the Scotland international which has kept Gerard Deulofeu frustrated on the substitutes' bench. Put plainly, Naismith offers the all-round package offensively and defensively, something Deulofeu has been accused of lacking in despite his obvious talents in the offensive third.

Indeed, it is players of Naismith's ilk that Arsene Wenger and his side so sorely lacked in defeat to Everton, who benefited immensely from his inclusion in a surprising central role.

Martinez played his hand perfectly, ushering Lukaku out to the right and liberating Barkley - as he ghosted into attacking areas at will - helping to accommodate the Scot's presence at the forefront of the Toffees attack, with Mirallas also entering central zones to help interchange and bamboozle a deplorable Arsenal defence.

Naismith, who had inspired the Toffees from the bench last week at Fulham, set his side on their way to a famous win by showing the predatory instincts of a seasoned front-man with a composed finish and his constant running allowed Lukaku the space to cut inside and make it 2-0.

He also had a huge hand in the third of the contest too; his run was cut short by Wojciech Szczesny's intervention but it fell perfectly for Mirallas, with Mikel Arteta's attempts to track back in vain as his challenge only helped to inadvertently prod past his own keeper.

Everton fans have been used to Naismith's all-action displays all season, but the fanbase were only able to truly distinguish the qualities he brings in what was one of their biggest games of the season against Wenger's confidence-shot side.

All this, too, from a player who has had to work harder than any other in this Everton side this season.

Not only has Naismith had to work for a first-team spot, he has also managed to alleviate the burden from his back of being just another squad member and the symbol of mediocrity which had been allowed to creep into the Everton ranks under David Moyes' tutelage.

The decline of Manchester United with Moyes at the helm and the respective ascent of Everton with Martinez guiding the ship has overseen a drastic change in league positions for both clubs but Naismith has particularly profited from the change in regime at Goodison and looks revolutionised under the Spaniard.

He has tailored his system to maximise Naismith's various qualities and his work ethic, coupled with some crucial contributions this season - no less than his cameo role in the FA Cup fifth-round win over Swansea - have seen him elevated from Goodison Park also-ran to favourite in no time at all.

You sensed the need for someone to step up for Everton's very own cup final yesterday and stake a true claim for a potential Champions League berth.

Naismith proved the perfect fit for such an occasion as his personal and collective rise at Everton continues apace.

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