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The Arteta Dilemma

By Graham Holliday :  06/12/2010 :  Comments (30) :
There is little dispute amongst Evertonians that Mikel Arteta, despite his lack of form this season, remains our most gifted technical player. Some commentators on these pages have argued that his being deployed in a deep role this season has hindered both him and the side as a whole. This is a sentiment with which I agree, though I can understand David Moyes?s reasoning in playing him so deep.

One criticism that was prevalent last season was that a little less ?hoof-ball? and a little more ?keep-ball? would help the side in that (a) it would prevent us from gifting the ball back to the opposition so frequently and (b) would allow us to create more goalscoring opportunities ourselves. Also, it has been put forward that, from an aesthetic point of view, fans would prefer not to be exposed to such tactics.

I think Arteta?s redployment this season proves that Moyes himself agrees with us on the need to maintain possession better than we had been ? yet, I do think that his continued use of the Best Little Spaniard as almost a third centre-back at times(!) is proof that the Scotsman suffers from an inability to change things quickly when they are clearly not working.

In playing Arteta so deep, Moyes clearly hoped to aid the team in playing more joined-up football ? and I actually think this has been successful. We now see less aimless thumps upfield from the likes of Jagielka and Neville, and this can largely be attributed to the fact that Arteta is rarely further than 5 or 10 yards away from them.

Despite our stuttering form, there has not been many matches in which us fans have genuinely believed that we have dropped points due to giving the ball away too often. Indeed, we have largely dominated games without creating much in the way of goalscoring opportunities.

And herein lies the problem ? in withdrawing Arteta from the final third of the pitch (I?m aware that he was hardly an attacking midfielder last season, but he has been playing noticeably deeper this term, getting in and around the opposition penalty area far less), Moyes has deprived the team of its most profitable source of goalscoring opportunities. Yes, we are keeping the ball better. And yes, we are seeing less hoofball and better possession. But to what end?

If we want to buck the recent trend that is our lack of goals, we need our best creative players further up the pitch. Furthermore, Rodwell and Fellaini have shown against one of the best sides in the division (albeit an out-of-form Chelsea) that they are more than capable of playing in the two deeper roles ? with Fellaini in front of the box, breaking up attacks and distributing short and quickly and Rodwell using his athleticism to get up and down the pitch as a box-to-box midfielder.

I hope Moyes is able to spot this in the next couple of matches Arteta will be absent for ? he is clearly not a proactive manager tactically, but historically he has been quite good at stumbling across something that works and exploiting it ? let?s hope for this season?s sake that this might happen again! COYB


On a side-note, I recognise that some will question where this leaves Tim Cahill ? the only player in the side to have notched more than a couple of goals this season. The answer to which is... I?m not sure.

Maybe, the answer is to let Arteta fight his way back into the side ? with Fellaini, Rodwell and Cahill occupying the three central midfield berths. Against Chelsea, this combination proved fruitful, so there is a clear argument for this.

Another option would be to accommodate Mikel in the position Seamus Coleman has been playing in of late ? the problematic right-wing slot. This would allow Arteta to be involved in the business end of the pitch.

Or possibly, the Australian could be used as an out-and-out centre-forward ? a position in which he has thrived previously, and with none of the current forward line staking much of a claim to be first choice, could be a decent option.

Personally, I believe that a manager needs a multiplicity of options, and these are the best available to Moyes. And anyway, with Cahill soon to leave for the Asia Cup, a method of getting goals without relying on him to bail us out must be found!

Reader Comments

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Ste Boyle
1   Posted 06/12/2010 at 15:51:47

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Stick Arteta at Left Back and drop Baines. Probably something Davey has drawn up on the board at Finch Farm this week.
Michael Kenrick
2   Posted 06/12/2010 at 15:49:47

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Interesting and thoughtful piece, Graham. Moyes will not have to worry about it for a couple more weeks, and it would be tremendous if Fellaini and Rodwell develop into a strong central spine, as they appeared to be doing in the second half on Saturday.

On a related note, NSNO are suggesting that Saha is limping around and looking for another couple of months off... which should stop Moyes from putting him in the starting line-up and perhaps give Beckford a chance. We played most of the final third of the game strongly with this line-up and seems an obvious selection for the next two games... but we'll have to wait and see!
Julian Wait
3   Posted 06/12/2010 at 15:54:32

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My vote from afar: Push Arteta forward in front of Rodwell and Fellaini, and play Cahill as a proper striker. In a pinch bring on Beckford for Neville / Hibbert and play a three man defence 3-5-1 with Rodwell or Fellaini dropping deep as required .
Michael Coville
4   Posted 06/12/2010 at 16:26:34

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I believe we are going to lose Cahill for over a month in January so Julian's suggestion is not going to work in the short term. Beckford has to play from the start and I hope Moyes starts the same team against Wigan that finished the game against Chelsea. Arteta has not played well this year and has to improve if he wants to get back into the team. When he gets back, I also would like to see him playing in a more forward role.
Brian Lloyd
5   Posted 06/12/2010 at 16:38:13

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If Fellaini and Rodwell in midfield continues to gel, I would like to see Pienaar stay in front of Baines with Arteta on the right in front of Coleman, allowing us to play Beckford and Cahill up front.

Then I might wake up and realise it was all a dream.

Jon Ferguson
6   Posted 06/12/2010 at 16:45:03

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When Cahill leaves us for a month I would like to see an attacking midfield of Pienaar, Arteta, Coleman with Rodwell and Fellaini in centre midfield. There is no doubt that Cahill has been our most prolific player and a shining light in a miserable season; I do however think that, given a run of games, this midfield would create a lot more chances than we do currently.

I was surprised and disappointed that, after Yakubu had played a few good games and then got on the score sheet (I thought he?d go on a scoring run), Moyes decided to drop him. I also think that given a run Beckford could still become a Premier League goalscorer. I think either of them, given a run in front of this midfield, could prove to be successful. I think they?d create plenty of chances that an in-form striker would relish.
Stephen Kenny
7   Posted 06/12/2010 at 16:47:43

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If we can get anywhere near £10-15M, sell Arteta and let the two best young midfield prospects in the Premier League start to forge an understanding in what is already to me a written-off season.

Arteta has certainly lost some mobility and it has been a long time since he glided past a player. Also, in the past, he was also willing to stick his foot in when it mattered. I haven't seen this at all this season and I wonder if there's something deeper than a lack of form?

Before anybody jumps on me, I would like to say that Mikel is the best player I have ever seen play regularly for Everton and it would be a sad day for me when he walks out of Goodison for the last time.

Great managers like Alex Ferguson and to a degree Wenger have shown there is no room for sentimentality in all but the rarest of cases in football. If Fellaini and Rodwell are to realise the potential virtually every coach, manager and pundit in football says they have then they need to be playing week-in, week-out. Neither of them are kids, they are young men in their athletic prime who still have things to learn at the highest level, things that can only be learnt on the pitch.

I realise what a bold and potentially risky move this would be considering our current position but the fact is we are in a sell to buy situation that will not be changing anytime soon. Add in that Mikel is now nearing the autumn of his career and is off the back of a serious injury in the most physical league in the world.

Highly valuable players around 29-30 are few and far between and we cannot allow players to see their career out or leave on a free when their talents have faded. To maintain a squad of similar quality and depth we will have to accept that, when there is a chance to sell a player for big money, we do so and trust the manager to replace them with a player of equal quality for less. Sad but true.
Peter Warren
8   Posted 06/12/2010 at 17:10:00

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I don't see the dilemna. Class is permanent and he will come good.

My philosophy is simply to play people in form in a formation which has best chance of winning. To me, Arteta does not get into starting line up at present, unless you put Coleman at right back and play him on the wing. I would certainty consider doing this on Saturday.
Amit Vithlani
9   Posted 06/12/2010 at 19:36:25

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The problem with Mikel this season is that when he is off colour, as he so patently is at present, he does hide ? playing sideways and backwards.

People talk about starting him on the right side and dropping Coleman to RB pushing Neville out of the team.

One thing for sure, Neville has had some atrocious games, but this is a player who does not hide. He was vocal and vociferous on Saturday despite an appalling mistake and I think Coleman benefits from playing in-front of him.

A quiet word on Jack Rodwell. He got into the box on several occasions and was desperately unlucky not to score. I say quiet because without a doubt the lad has the potential to be a legend.
Martin Faulkner
10   Posted 06/12/2010 at 19:41:27

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It's easy, if he's off-form then he doesn't get in the team. Don't play him where he doesn't belong. Let him bugger off back to Spain for a holiday and come back in refreshed. He should be made to challenge Bily for Cahill's spot in Jan.

I think we need to give Bily a run between now and the end of Jan and see if he's gonna cut it. Should start getting more time from the bench, coming on earlier for Pienaar who tires after 70mins. Then give him a few starts as Cahill's replacement in January. If he doesn't cut it, we should cut our losses before the end of the window, Mikel can then fill in.

Jon Cox
11   Posted 06/12/2010 at 19:55:46

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At one point in the past, it was obvious that the team was to be built around Arteta. For a while, it was working... but now it seems those days are gone.

There's something wrong with Arteta and I'm not sure what. Could be injury, lack of form, or just general lack of interest.

We need to look forward and see the team now needs to revolve around Fellaini and Rodwell. These two need to be the beginning of a new Everton team. It may take a while and we may not do well in the short term but I think Moyes needs to get his head around this one, and quick.
Howard Don
12   Posted 06/12/2010 at 20:01:27

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A good piece, Graham about something that's been bothering me for a while. Arteta has been spending too much time playing deep for my liking. I've been thinking back to where he was playing before disaster struck at Newcastle two years ago. Then he was superb, controlling things but definitely further up the park where I agree he is much more effective.

Your analysis on the theory behind him playing a deeper role makes sense to me. We do need someone deeper who can take and retain possession and pass the ball on accurately. I wonder if the situation would ever have arisen had Fellaini been available more; that he belongs in that deeper role is virtually beyond dispute, He and Arteta have hardly played in the side together this year, which I think is the crux of the problem. Fellaini deep with Arteta further forward and I think we'd see him dictating play again.

Where does that leave Jack? Well, he has the chance to make that role his in the next two games. If it goes well, I'd leave him in for a while.

Matthew Lovekin
13   Posted 06/12/2010 at 21:14:03

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I've mentioned this in a few threads before, and you beat me to writing an article on it. I believe this season, our problem has been the final ball. Saha and Yak have not been getting the chances to score, whether they look interested or not.

I've suggested putting Arteta into the playmaker's role, a la Ozil, Kaka, Sneijder. Arteta has the ability to create and score goals against the best teams but Moyes has been playing him far too deep. Play Fellaini and Rodwell in the centre and put Arteta into Cahill's position.

However, make Arteta wait and fight for his place. Wait until Cahill goes off to play in the Asia Cup and then bring Arteta back into the team. After the Asia Cup, play Cahill as a striker or otherwise Moyes has a positive headache!
Dick Fearon
14   Posted 06/12/2010 at 22:14:38

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No headache at all, just play the in form players in any case our biggest problem is the coward in the dug out.

I hate to say it but over the park against Villa, Hodgson showed himself to be streets ahead of Moyes in tactics and bravery.
When if ever under Moyes will Everton start a game with twin strikers, as did the RS?

Jay Harris
15   Posted 06/12/2010 at 22:45:38

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The problem with playing Arteta as the player to hold the ball is he just didn't.

IMO he was responsible for 3 goals against by dithering on the ball and getting caught in possession, something that never would have happened before his injury.

Add to that, he can't score nor defend nor take free-kicks or corners and I believe Rodwell and Fellaini (two box-to-box MF players who CAN tackle and score) should stay in the side.

I don't know whether Mikky is suffering "just married" syndrome, "post injury" syndrome or "weight on his shoulders"/"record pay deal" syndrome but, whatever it is, he has never played so badly.
Mike Gaynes
16   Posted 07/12/2010 at 00:12:42

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I'd like to bring up a word I haven't seen here yet... confidence. Arteta has lost his, probably due to the knee injury. The first major injury of a player's career can be pretty traumatic, and some take longer to get their feet back under them than others. Stephen mentioned that he hasn't glided past a defender in quite a while, but what's more significant is that I haven't even seen him try. He's timid, which is something we've never seen from Arteta before.

Personally, I like the idea of putting him wide on the right, where he'll get more touches in more space with less pressure, and have a chance to get his game back. But I agree that he should have to earn his place by beating out Coleman for it, and I don't think he can right now.
Richard Dodd
17   Posted 07/12/2010 at 09:59:09

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Thankfully, we shall have the fit again Osman back for the Wigan game. I suspect that he will replace the inconsistent Coleman with Cahill again up front but with Yakubu.
Anthony Hawkins
18   Posted 07/12/2010 at 10:09:02

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Pre-season, I was toying with getting the new Everton home shirt with Number 10 Arteta on the back and in my impatience to hold off until the new season started and Arteta signed, I decided to go with just the PL badges and no number etc. I hate to admit it but so far this season it has been one of the best decisions I've made as Arteta simply has not turned up.

It shames me to say it but Arteta has not been anywhere near good enough; whilst he has played an important part in certain games, mostly he has been like a +1. I liken him to Berbatov (although that might be harsh on Berbatov since his last 5-goal thriller!!). He SHOULD be great and on paper he's got the quality but in practise it just doesn't work.

This season, few players have performed to the dizzy heights we have come to expect. Cahill, who always gives 100%, Baines, Coleman and Pienaar who's playing for a contract elsewhere. Dare I mention Osman in the same paragraph?

Distin has been getting better and Jagielka has suddenly begun to get his ability (confidence?) back. When he's played, Fellaini has looked very good BUT he needs to keep a lid on it or he'll end up only playing 1 in 4 games. Rodwell appears to be overcoming his injury.

Our strikers have been woeful and something needs to be done desperately. Are the training staff lacking a proper forward coach?

All-in-all, most of the team has underperformed and Arteta shines like a beacon in part because of the expectation on his shoulders but also the amount of cash the club are now playing him to be that shining example and he's now not doing it.
Oliver Molloy
19   Posted 07/12/2010 at 10:16:59

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Stephen @ 7
I really don't believe that Arteta would command a fee of £10-15 million, I reckon we would be lucky to get £7-8 million and, as I have said many times, the guy is not worth £75k a week... that's a complete joke. For £75 grand a week you need to be scoring 20 odd goals a season. No excuses ? £75k was madness.
Paul Gladwell
20   Posted 07/12/2010 at 10:40:03

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Put him wide right.
Andrew Ellams
21   Posted 07/12/2010 at 10:51:24

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To me, it makes sense to play 4-2-3-1 with Fellaini and Rodwell as the two, Arteta, Cahill and Pienaar in front of them.

That way, Cahill can play his normal game and Pienaar and Arteta have license to either come through the middle or drop wide to support the full backs.

Might cost Coleman his place for a while but I do believe it would make us a stronger team going forward and in defence.
Denis Richardson
22   Posted 07/12/2010 at 12:57:29

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Arteta won't be playing again until Boxing Day and a lot can change 'till then. Fellaini has plenty of opportunity to get himself another red.

However, if everyone is fit, I would still like to see him in the side, as an attacking central midfielder and not defensive, infront of Fellaini. Arteta has not been his best this season but no one can say how much of that is due to the fact he has been playing as defender for most of the games.

Come January, there will be room for all three...
Trevor Lynes
23   Posted 07/12/2010 at 16:29:44

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My opinion is... Arteta needed a break and the suspension will do him good. I also feel that Arteta has been played deeper to try and make a Scholes-type midfielder out of him... BUT, he does not hit the accurate long passes that Scholes does and tends to play short easy balls which, while keeping possession, do not hurt the opposition. He must be played further forward and take defenders on (as he used to); this will increase our goal-scoring chances and put him in a position to score more often himself.

When utilised to his maximum, he is still our most creative forward player, but at present he is being overshadowed by Pienaar's industry.

Ciarán McGlone
24   Posted 07/12/2010 at 17:24:24

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I think those who have criticised Arteta have been judging him by what they expect of him, rather than what he's been told to do...

You're quite right to suggest that his creative input has been stiffled by Moyes using him as a holding player. However, I'm not so sure he's been quite as bad as everyone has been suggesting ? he has done the job asked of him, and done it without stepping out of his relative comfort zone ? If it was Carsley putting in the performances that Arteta has of late ? would we be castigating him? I doubt it.

Players are judged by what their fans know they can do and what they expect of them ? however the fans should realise that they cannot always do this when given a specific job.

The problem is Moyes playing his personnel out of position ? and not being able to adapt to the changes forced upon him... a problem that appears time and time again.

Arteta is wasted as a holder... personally I'd put him on the right wing and dump Pienaar ? but, then again, I doubt many on here would have that... and I doubt Moyes would be so brave.

Al Reddish
25   Posted 07/12/2010 at 21:30:38

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I sometimes can't understand people who say so and so should challenge for Cahill's spot in the team... at the moment, he would be the first name on the team sheet, with Baines a very close second. He is an example to Arteta on how a new contract should be honoured.

As for the Spaniard, he should stay on the bench until he can force his way back in, even if it means taking Pienaar's place when he goes and leaving Fellaini with Rodwell in the middle.

Ian Bennett
26   Posted 07/12/2010 at 20:35:49

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Brian (#5) ? I agree... have been saying it all season: play your best players first. Okay, Beckford probably isn't the best but at least puts a shift in.
David Edwards
27   Posted 09/12/2010 at 00:27:04

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Ciaran ? I don't always agree with you... but getting Arteta further upfield and getting used to life without Pienaar is a sensible approach. If people think Mikel is connecting our defence to midfield better of late, then fair enough... but I want to see him getting the midfield and attack linked better still ? FORWARD PLEASE!

As for Piennar... Commit or sling your hook now!

Joseph Strumm
28   Posted 10/12/2010 at 11:13:44

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Leave Fellaini and Rodwell in the middle and, when he's back from suspension, push Arteta wide right for a bit, it'll take the weight off the Baines-Pienaar combo and maybe give Arteta a chance to regain some confidence. Otherwise he's got to play right up behind the forward(s), he's been p[laying far to deep and has been a virtual passenger.
Ernie McAllister
29   Posted 11/12/2010 at 01:49:38

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You must be the only fan that can understand David Moyes's reasoning... full stop. lol
Ernie McAllister
30   Posted 11/12/2010 at 01:51:16

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Graham ? not to nit pick your post. But you say that both Jags and Neville have hoofed the ball upfield less often this season? ? Every time I see Jags, the first thing that comes to mind is hoof it anywhere into the crowd, job down. And largely for me that's exactly what he has done.

I'll be honest, I have no idea if Jags possess any ability to play football on the deck, such as his ability to make passes at x amount of yards to another player for example. Since he has been at Goodison, all I have ever seen of the lad is to hit it into the stands or hoof it back to them... so, for me, I disagree he has been doing this less this season. For me I think he has been rather poor at times like some of the others.

The other thing is, about Pip. The lad is incapable of passing more than 5 yards without giving it away, or playing sideways and backwards, usually in many cases giving the ball away in the process. His shooting when he gets his chance is wilder than a Canadian caribou!

I'd sack Round and get Neville in as second coach. He is a good lad, at times inspires confidence, but he should never be allowed on the field again. Both these players are known for the hit and hope to god it lands at one of our players' chest or feet, but in many cases it doesn't.

I really honestly don't think Jags and Heit can play together, and maybe that's why he shoved the Heit up into midfield where he can't play at all? Which in turn has forced Fella almost off the front two, again a position the lad can't play in.

There is a lot of imbalance in the team at the moment, with people playing out of position all over the park... this is Moyes's doing and he has got it abysmally wrong.

Arteta has been very poor by his own standards, whether it's because he is played out of position or not. He is earning a shed load of dough to play in it.

Get Heit out the team, get Fella just in front of the back 4, and put Arteta back to his normal position ? this will help matters more than they do now.

Also, he needs to stop with the bewildering changes he makes... for example, keeping Coleman on the bench for Anichebe? Sorry, Anichebe isn't fit to clean Coleman's boots ? not even in the same class!

Also give Beckford more match time instead of keeping him on the bench, he will never get experience there... I mean, seriously, how can the most useless sicknote in the game in Saha get a starting place ahead of Beckford? At least Beckford actually tries to do the right things, get into the right positions.

Until Moyes stops playing people in wrong positions, this can only get worse. He has no ability to change things on the fly, and, when something does go our way, it's because of luck rather than anything this man as done.

There, keep people in their positions, and keep Heit off the pitch, and we are kind of sorted... along with Beckford playing more ? not less!

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