Not since August 2004, when Wayne Rooney left in the dying days of the month, have Everton endured such a turbulent end to a transfer window as this year. With Mikel Arteta defecting to Arsenal and strikers Yakubu and Jermaine Beckford allowed to join Blackburn Rovers and Leicester City respectively, David Moyes is left to contend with the loss of a key midfielder and two strikers in an already goal shy team.
The loan arrivals of Real Madrid winger Royston Drenthe and striker Denis Stracqualursi, on loan from Argentina’s Tigre, are at least two more signings than most Evertonians expected. That they were confirmed on the same day as the departure of Arteta, the most talented player the younger generations of Toffees’ supporters have ever had the pleasure of seeing, meant they were largely – understandably – overshadowed. Once the shock of seeing Arteta wearing the red of Arsenal and not the blue of Everton dies down, the main concern now becomes how Moyes can replace him.
Arteta ended his Everton career playing on the left of midfield, moved there late last season after a disappointing campaign that saw the Spaniard toil in a more central role. Switching to the left for the trip to Newcastle United, Arteta was devastating, excelling as Everton took a 2-1 victory back to Merseyside. Inevitably, given the pitfalls that so often follow moments of high Evertonian excess, a season-ending injury followed just days later against Birmingham City, but a fit-again Arteta began the new season in a similar position, suggesting Moyes intended to use Arteta as a narrow left midfielder for the foreseeable future. Drenthe is a more orthodox wide player so the swap is not like-for-like, but Everton are at least prepared positionally to cope.
With Arteta gone a gaping void in creativity opens up, and more responsibility is heaped onto the shoulders of Leon Osman. Six months ago Osman was one of three diminutive, delightful attacking midfielders, together with Arteta and Steven Pienaar. Now he is the last man standing. Osman, and the 17-year-old Ross Barkley, are the more direct, tactical replacements for Arteta, with similar excellent close control and a delicate first touch. Osman started the season in Arteta’s old centre-midfield position, with Barkley either on the right or left wing, and Arteta’s sale means Osman is almost guaranteed to remain there and also opens a path towards the position Moyes has said will be Barkley’s long-term role.
Not only will Everton’s remaining midfielders need to create goal scoring chances, after the loss of Beckford they may need to score them too. While Yakubu had become persona non grata around Goodison Park, Beckford was expected to stay. When the Foxes offered a fee rising to £4m, however, Everton cashed in on a player signed for free 12 months ago. A difficult first – and, it transpires, only – season in the Premier League still produced 10 goals and Stracqualursi will need to match that total, a tall order considering how few strikers have succeeded in England having come straight from Argentina. Diego Forlan, Juan Pablo Angel and Matias Vuoso are among those who struggled, and the 23-year-old needs to break the mould.
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