Mikel Arteta’s return to Goodison Park this week will be of tremendous significance to the way in which David Moyes’ team are perceived.

To honour that as an Evertonian, I will write a two-part series specifically concerning the Arsenal game. This, the first, will take the form of a preview of Wednesday’s game – there’ll be details of the second later.

Before I get stuck in, let me give you  a bit of background. Mikel Arteta used to be my favourite Everton player – one that marked a clear departure from the doldrums of Scot Gemmill and Mark Pembridge-era football at Goodison Park.

His ball retention and dead-ball ability, along with the occasional wonder goal and most importantly, his tendency to make the opposition look foolish and often inferior, rendered him a unique weapon in Everton’s previously weak artillery.

But do not let me fool you the same way, I must inform you, you have already been fooled. Arteta’s departure from Goodison was not the widely-reported hammer blow that seems to have been taken as read.

Detrimental influence

In terms of his influence, well waning wouldn’t do it justice; if not non-existent then probably detrimental given his latter years (yes years!) were defined by a chronic inability to clear the first man.

Hand on heart, I was happy to see him go, and certainly for that price. In terms of his destination, I genuinely feared that the big stage would show him up.

Gladly, that has not been the case and I have no problem admitting that.

But as far as I’m concerned, the lynchpin to Everton’s creative dimension was always Steven Pienaar and if not him then Leon Osman.

Arteta was originally brilliant but ultimately lazy, wasteful, weak, frustrating and unreliable, and for a cynic such as this one, the cracked paint that taints a pretty picture has tainted it forever, and no amount of former glory will ever restore it.

On the subject of how the crowd should greet him, I would lend support to Ian Marshall’s call for Arteta to be given a terrific reception. I certainly hope that is the case. All the hours spent cursing his rubbish corners were, on balance, ultimately worth the screamer against Liverpool, the unbelievable 93rd minute equaliser against Manchester United and the early years when he really was fantastic.

Tremendous form

Best not to dwell on the past though so let’s shift swiftly to the present. Arsenal come to Goodison in outstanding form: five consecutive league victories, eighteen goals scored, just four conceded. To make matters worse, even if Everton manage to take the lead, Wenger’s men will remain confident having come from behind to win the last four games.

As an Arsenal sympathiser, not only have I been impressed with them, I have been delighted. On a personal level, I was really disappointed to witness Andrey Arshavin’s poor form and subsequent loan departure – he was my favourite player in the world once.

Also, Arsenal’s failure to get the fourth against AC Milan was sad to see – it was so nearly the sort of YouTube classic performance that could have single-handedly eradicated their reputation as bottlers.

The ‘one man team’ tag is a slightly false one too. Imagine Liverpool without Gerrard, Manchester United without Rooney, City without Silva.

If Arsenal are a ‘one man team’, then so are all the rest, or are Van Persie and co simply their respective teams’ best players and most consistent match-winners?

And besides, isn’t Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain already (easily) one of the best players in the Premier League?

Fantastic opportunity

Wednesday’s game couldn’t be more important. If Arsenal win, they present themselves with a fantastic opportunity, one almost unimaginable during the miserable start to the season. Win would leave Chelsea with the enviable task of requiring victory away at Manchester City to avoid being left six points behind in fifth place.

Not to mention that three points would demand a home victory against Stoke of Spurs to prevent a side whose superiority seemed not only suggested but established letting slip a 12-point gap and third place.

If the will-he-won’t-he-yes-he-obviously-will Harry Redknapp-saga effect continues and Tottenham let Arsenal overtake them, that would represent a phenomenal accomplishment for the Gunners, given they were widely tip to finish fifth whilst Spurs were touted as title candidates.

For Everton, the message couldn’t be simpler: beat Arsenal and cultivate the uniquely Evertonian momentum that just might get us through against an in-form Swansea next week and most crucially, a buoyant Sunderland in the FA Cup quarter-final replay.

All pretensions at objectivity aside, we’ve got a fantastic chance. Arsenal have been brilliant as an attacking force but despite their decent defensive record of late, they have allowed plenty of chances. And now we have Jelavic.

Duncan Ferguson

Rangers are one of my numerous second teams ever since the days of Duncan Ferguson, and to a much, much lesser extent, Ian Durrant.

That is to say I knew what we were getting when we signed the Croatian and I was delighted. Day by day since his arrival, I have suggested to my dad that we have a great player and goalscorer in our midst and Jelavic is really starting to back that up.

I’d really like to see Leon Osman played inside to match the sort of role that Arteta will play for Arsenal. Not in any way a tactic to combat the Spaniard, merely because I believe the best assets to Osman’s game (article coming soon) can be utilised this way.

A night match at Goodison against one of the top four is just about as perfect an opportunity as you could be presented with to transform what has been a miserable week for David Moyes and his men into the sort of spirit-lifting spectacle that defines his reign at Goodison.

Optimism is certainly possible: Pienaar owes us one after the derby, Baines should take it up a notch as a consequence, but more so than anything, what will have me on the edge of my seat is the new man up front.

So you two on the left, Osman and dare I tempt the most curious of fates to include Royston Drenthe, my advice is simple: just give him a decent chance.

Part two will be a reaction to the game and Arteta’s performance in particular. You can expect it early on Thursday.

By Chris Smith

Share Button
  • I hope to god we shut down Arteta, walcott and Chamberlain, not to mention RVP but the way we have been playing we may have a chance against a team that normally beats us. COYB’s

    • I know it’s the most stupid thing for an Evertonian to say given our luck, but I think we’ll win. I expect a really good effort from the boys. There’s never usually a lot in it and like I said, there will definitely be chances. It could be as simple as Jelavic converting two decent opportunities and us winning comfortably.

  • Pingback: Part Two: Arteta’s return to Goodison – Reaction « chrissmithfootballblog()