Ironically, the most impressive aspect of Fellaini’s game against Bolton was the composure with which he controlled the midfield. It was a composure that completely deserted him, however, when challenged by Paul Robinson, a rough challenge to be sure but just on the legal side of the line, and, doubtless frustrated at Everton falling behind despite edging the tie overall, the 22-year-old lashed out under the nose of the referee. Not even appealing to Phil Dowd’s sympathetic side could save Fellaini, who was dismissed while still writhing in pain on the Goodison Park turf. As Fellaini eventually trudged off it seemed Everton’s hopes of taking anything from the game went with him – that was until Jermaine Beckford intervened with that magnificent goal – but being without the midfielder for the visit of Arsene Wenger’s side has dealt a hammer blow to David Moyes’ preparations.
Possession is paramount when faced with the Gunners, and surrendering it easily against such a technically proficient side is footballing suicide. Fellaini’s elegance would have contributed a great deal towards Everton winning the forthcoming midfield battle, with the strength to stand up to Alex Song and the skill to challenge Cesc Fabregas, who himself is fortunate to be available for the Sunday fixture after a poor challenge against Wolverhampton Wanderers. Without Fellaini Jack Rodwell may move to the starting XI after making the bench for the last few games, Phil Neville could shift from right-back into a midfield role or John Heitinga returned to midfield after missing out in favour of Fellaini on Wednesday. Each of the trio of options Moyes is weighing up has plusses and minuses, but none have shown they can reach the level Fellaini did for 85 minutes against Bolton.
Heitinga impressed last season but this year’s form has been poor, perhaps suffering the after-effects of a long World Cup summer, while Neville’s leadership cannot always make up for his technical deficiencies in the centre of midfield as at full-back. That leaves Rodwell as perhaps Moyes’ best option, but the youngster’s best performances of the last campaign came with a more attacking bent whereas Fellaini excels in front of his own defence, and the 19-year-old Rodwell has struggled with the responsibility such a position brings. But if Rodwell is to fulfil his billing as one of the finest young midfielders in the country he will have to perform against such talented midfields as Arsenal’s one day, and that day could well be Sunday. Whoever gets the nod from Moyes will have to play with the same grace Fellaini offered against Bolton, but with the added bonus of keeping their temper in check should matters go awry, which Fellaini failed to do, and will be vital if Rodwell is to pass the hardest test of his fledgling career.