Club Focus – Everton – Arteta injury leaves Toffees struggling for flair

Everton’s draw with Birmingham City might not have brought the Toffees’ momentum to a shuddering halt in the same way defeat by Reading did a week earlier, but dropping two points at home so soon after taking all three away at Newcastle United was nevertheless a disappointing follow-up to the weekend’s excellent result. With David Moyes’ side not in action until March 19, there is little for Evertonians to do but dissect what went wrong against Alex McLeish’s Blues.

The starting XI was as close as it could be to the one that triumphed over the Magpies – the only change, John Heitinga for Phil Neville, was enforced by the captain’s injury suffered on Tyneside. But the greatest disruption came after the match had started, when Mikel Arteta pulled up on a sprint and had to be replaced by Seamus Coleman. The Spaniard is now likely to miss the rest of the month but his absence has already been most keenly felt as Everton toiled away against Birmingham but, lacking the midfielder’s guile, struggled to break down a packed City defence. There is no guarantee that Everton would have won the game had Arteta been on the field – his form has been patchy at best this season – but on the heels of his most influential display of the campaign against Newcastle he was odds-on to continue that good form.

With Arteta missing the creative burden had to fall elsewhere and Leon Osman rose to the challenge admirably. The midfielder was described by one commentator over the weekend as “the most underrated midfielder in the Premier League – apart from at Goodison Park,” with the obvious inference being his value is only appreciated fully at his home ground, but Osman is often a target for Everton’s disgruntled supporters. A lack of pace is the usual stick used to beat the graceful 29-year-old, but the delicate touch and calm head he brings to the fold should outweigh his negatives. Those skills were on show against Birmingham as Osman, moved to the left when Arteta went off, was Everton’s brightest attacking force, stinging the palms of Ben Foster late on but, together with Leighton Baines and Jack Rodwell, Everton’s other driving forces on Wednesday night, a dearth of movement from their colleagues meant the trio’s good work was ultimately wasted.

On a frustrating night for Everton it was an old bug-bear that reared its head once again. Everton are short in the strikers department, both in terms of numbers and quality. Indeed, the most potent players for Everton on Wednesday were a left-back and two midfielders, one only 19. Meanwhile, James Vaughn and Yakubu, on loan at Crystal Palace and Leicester City respectively, have had their reputations enhanced by their absence by almost becoming the answers to Everton’s problems despite the evidence to the contrary from their recent time on Merseyside. The strikers who remain are either enigmatic or inexperienced and with Arteta, Tim Cahill and Marouane Fellaini injured, disappointments such as the Birmingham draw are likely to continue until a solution is found.

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