Club Focus – Everton – Arteta and Everton toil against Arsenal as Toffees struggle with midfield muddle

One of the most telling moments of Everton’s 2-1 defeat at the hands of Arsenal yesterday came in the 69th minute, when Mikel Arteta, the Toffees’ playmaker and hero among the terraces, was substituted. Not carrying an injury, in no danger of picking up a yellow card and suspension, Arteta was withdrawn chiefly for tactical reasons, but the added cause of his own poor performance was doubtless a factor in David Moyes’ decision to send on Yakubu in Arteta’s place.

Even with Everton two goals down and chasing the game, meaning introducing a striker or two was the obvious move for David Moyes, if Arteta had been playing at anything near his best form he would have remained on the field, as he did in similar circumstances against Manchester United, netting a goal in the process. But the Spaniard was withdrawn, after nearly 70 minutes where little went right for one of the most popular players to wear the blue of Everton in some time. Corners either failed to beat the first Arsenal defender or were sent too deep for the Everton attackers to reach, free kicks from decent positions were wasted and the control Arteta seeks to exert on games was missing, replaced by a midfielder making poor decisions and holding on to the ball for too long.

In Arteta’s defence, he has not been helped by the status of most of his midfield colleagues and perhaps with more assistance from the rest of midfield Arteta could play himself back into form. Marouane Fellaini missed a number of games through injury, only to return against Bolton Wanderers, play superbly, and then get himself sent off. John Heitinga’s form has arguably been worse than Arteta’s, to the point the Dutchman was subbed off at half time. Jack Rodwell is still learning and yesterday was his first senior appearance in many months. Leon Osman is also out injured, while Diniyar Bilyaletdinov continues to struggle with the English game. That leaves only Seamus Coleman, Everton’s rampaging but inexperienced winger, and Steven Pienaar. The South African worked hard against the Gunners but could not influence the game from a central position, away from his usual wide berth.

Possession is paramount in football but with Arteta toiling Everton are struggling to make best use of the ball, suicidal against Arsenal in particular but dangerous regardless of the opposition. The performance of Sunderland against Chelsea yesterday, where the Mackems actually had the majority of the ball at the home of the champions, and when they travel to the North East next Monday Everton must starve Steve Bruce’s men in the same manner. But it must be possession with a purpose, as one of the pervading themes of Everton’s season has been neat build-up play with no reward at the end, and in that regard more needs to be produced by Everton’s forward runners, including committing more runners forward. A helping hand from his midfield peers and some lethal finishing from the forwards in front may be all Arteta needs, but Everton certainly need Arteta at his best when they go to the Stadium of Light and beyond.

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