Everton Club Focus – Arteta returns to Goodison for the first time as an Arsenal player

Everton fans will see a strange sight on Wednesday evening when one of their favourite sons returns to Goodison Park for the first time since August wearing the colours of another club. Mikel Arteta is likely to be part of the Arsenal side that faces the Toffees in the Spanish midfielder’s first appearance at his old home against his former club.

Arteta appeared nearly 200 times for Everton between January 2005 and August 2011, originally joining on loan after Thomas Gravesen was sold to Real Madrid and signing permanently in summer 2005. The £2m spent by David Moyes for the services of Arteta must rank up there with the better transfer deals of recent times, at least at Everton, where only similar amounts paid for Tim Cahill and Steven Pienaar can really compete. In his time on Merseyside, Arteta scored 34 times but the statistics do not tell the true story of what the midfielder meant to Everton and why he was so popular amongst Evertonians.

There was a connection between Arteta and Everton that is not always present between player and club, and certainly not between player and supporters. Only a handful of current Everton players can claim to hold such a bond. Arteta’s was earned not only by his impressive skills – sublime first touch and vision to match – but the hard work it was allied to. After a slow start that saw Arteta moved out of the centre of midfield to a wide berth, the former Rangers player became Everton’s pivotal central midfielder once he had better adapted to life in the Premier League. Arteta, at his best, held the influence over Everton’s play and could inspire team and crowd alike.

Arguably the most memorable Arteta moment came in a losing effort, on one of those European nights that lives long in the memory and brings shivers to the spine when it is recalled. In March 2008 Everton played Fiorentina at Goodison in the UEFA Cup second-leg, having lost the first-leg 2-0 in Italy. Andy Johnson pulled a goal back early but it was the impact of Arteta that resonates. Just after the hour mark Arteta strode through midfield in his distinctive head-up style and, from 25 yards, struck a delicious shot that evaded Fiorentina goalkeeper Sebastian Frey. Frey, until that point had been almost unbeatable, Johnson’s bundled effort aside, but Arteta’s sumptuous effort bested the Frenchman and Goodison exploded, only to be disappointed when the Italians won out on penalties.

A serious knee injury sustained in February 2009 caused Arteta to miss the 2009 FA Cup final, and the road back was a long one. Form was slow to return but there were bright sparks during Arteta’s latter years at Everton. The style he brought at his best, the delightful passes and more than a few spectacular goals earned Arteta his place in Everton’s recent folklore. This made the August separation all the more difficult. Yet the depth of the relationship between player and supporters was shown when the majority of Evertonians wished Arteta well, ensuring a warm reception upon his return on Wednesday.

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