Moved to the left of midfield, Arteta dictated the tempo of the game for much of the 90 minutes, creating Everton’s equaliser for Leon Osman and twice setting up Louis Saha only for the Frenchman to first head over the bar and then fail to connect with the Spaniard’s pull back. Playing with real thrust and devilling Newcastle’s stand-in right-back Steven Taylor, Arteta was reminiscent of the departed Steven Pienaar as he linked with left-back Leighton Baines to torture Taylor and cut inside onto his right foot to shoot. Not only did Arteta evoke thoughts of the South African, but he also provided a flashback to the superb performances that so engrained the midfielder into Evertonian hearts.
Arteta, at his best, has always been able to skip away from opposing players, be it in the hustle of midfield or, as seen on Saturday, more advanced positions. For much of this season, however, Arteta has been pedestrian, rarely making an attacking dart and instead content to stroke the ball sideways and backwards, and only seldom forwards. But, in his last two league outings, Arteta has directly created two goals in almost identical fashion. First was his assist for Jermaine Beckford against Sunderland, when Arteta burst past the Mackems’ full-back, reached the bye-line and squared for Beckford to scuff home, and then, more recently, was the aforementioned assist for Osman, which also saw the No 10 trick his way past a helpless defender. Not only did Arteta beat his man, he also maintained the presence of mind both times to choose the right pass, another innate skill that endeared him to the Goodison Park faithful.
Indeed, there was no chance of Arteta simply playing the ball into the famed ‘corridor of uncertainty’. Instead, Arteta kept his cool, fed Osman, and with his midfield colleague showing the same nerveless steel, Everton were level. Two of the team’s most graceful midfielders combined to restore parity minutes after Everton had fallen behind and that, combined with the later excellence that Saha should have capitalised on, lifted Arteta head and shoulders above most other players on the pitch. Such was the quality of Arteta’s performance that Everton may have just found their new left winger, in the short term at least. It may not be the role David Moyes had in mind for Arteta when he signed the player to a new 5-year, £75,000 a week contract in the summer, but the results are impossible to deny.
If Arteta does spend the rest of the season on the left, it will only be a nominal left-side role. Everton’s left-sided midfielders play narrow to give Baines room to raid, which in turn would give Arteta room to roam, and maybe give Everton the impetus to end the season on a high.