COLUMNIST KEVIN SPARKE
Watching the Newcastle game on Sunday when Arteta crumpled to the floor clutching his knee; a collective groan was distinctly audible from the Everton away support. The best little Spaniard we know has been almost a messiah like presence in the central of midfield. He has controlled the direction and pace of games; he has teased, prodded, taunted opposition and he very rarely makes an unintelligent pass, never mind a wayward one. We will miss him and I’m quite certain that the exciting passing football that has characterised our team over the last few months and to some extent the season before will neither be as crisp nor as easy on the eye for the remainder of the season.
However, in football as in life it is no use planning the future on what you haven’t got. You need to pick yourself up, dust yourself down and do an audit of your strengths and carry on with even more determination. So, what strengths to Everton still have?
Well, firstly we have a fantastic defence. Hibbert, Jag, Lescott and Baines have been resolute for the last couple of months and I expect them to remain so. No place for Joseph Yobo but he’s an able slot in for one of the central midfielders should they get injured or lose form. Our goalkeeper still makes errors I’d rather not see, but he’s the best since Nigel Martin and not far behind ‘Big Nev’ as a shot stopper. We have an emerging World class defensive midfielder in young Jack Rodwell (FEC — future England Captain) — he’s not the finished article yet but still very worthy of his place.
We have Neville as captain courageous who has been at the centre of much that has been good about our recent performances. Neville is a limited midfield player in terms of skill, distribution and surging runs; but he has the heart of a lion, never lets you down for effort and is a rallying point who the youngsters look to, for example when other teams take games to us.
Looking at our attacking options we have Cahill marauding around the box who has not completed his goal tally for the season… make no mistake about that; and we have Gosling who drifts in and out of games but at times looks very assured on the ball and very, very exciting. We have ‘Screech’ who is my bet to take over the Arteta role in the centre of midfield. I’m undecided about him. At times he is the most clever passer of the ball and he does seem turn up in dangerous positions and stands his ground… at other times he looks awkward and out of place. He reminds me of Bambi on speed; all legs and elbows and no direction or control. Peanuts and Osman need to up their game; one strategy would be to try to retain possession by not running into as many blind alleys as they both do so many times a game.
Up front Jo, Saha and Anichebe do provide different options. Jo looked stratospheric against Bolton and very ‘Manchester City’ against Newcastle. Saha is sheer class and given a decent run to match fitness he’ll provide a few assists and hopefully knock even more in. Anichebe… I can only ever see a wide role for him but he too is a very tough player to handle when running at you full pelt.
So, make no mistake about it — I’m gutted we’ve lost Arteta. I miss the little Iberian already and look forward to seeing more of his rich skills next season. But we have to put his loss behind us. As the last couple of months have proven Everton are not a ‘one man team’ — we have much more about us than that. The football for the rest of the season might not be as pure and as mouth-watering. We’ve lost some of our ‘silk’ but we’ve still got our ‘cold steel’ and if we can’t ‘play’ our way to Wembley and Europe — we can battle our way there.
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