After having the wind knocked out of their sails can Everton finish this tough season with anything to show for it, or will a lack of creative flair take its toll?
The creative spark is something of a holy grail in football. And often its possession for a team can be attributed to one single player, that mercurial genius who can spin 24 carat gold from straw. It’s something that all the great sides have needed to possess.
But even for lesser sides the presence of a playmaker can be the difference between a poor performance and a good one, as this key player manages to spin something vaguely goldish from s**t.
In Everton’s case the spark of creativity for much of the Moyes era was Mikel Arteta. There’s no way he can sit comfortably with the creative greats of modern football, but he was still pretty good and for a transfer fee of £2 million, a bargain to boot.
He played a key role in much of Everton’s attacking play over the past few seasons and his loss has been keenly felt since he buggered off down South last summer. Much is made of Everton’s lack of firepower up front and it’s certainly true that we have been displaying a certain resistance to scoring this season. But you to have to make chances to finish them and it’s been plainly evident this season that the team has been largely devoid of creativity.
This was perfectly illustrated last Saturday when we totally dominated possession against Sunderland in the second-half without really testing their keeper. A performance like that screams a lack of creativity.
And so for me, Arteta’s return to Goodison last night was greeted with a sense of envy; an emotion that perfectly complemented my additional feeling of dread. Although plenty has been written about our ability to take big scalps this season, before the games against Man City, Chelsea and Spurs I fancied our chances, largely because the opposition was not enjoying the kind of form that their league position suggested. The opposite is true of Arsenal. Here is a team who on current form are arguably the most formidable that we could face, not exactly an enticing prospect.
And the opening thirty minutes of the game certainly bore this out. Arsenal began with a sense of urgency that was in stark contrast to Everton’s tired and laboured performance. And it was an approach that provided the visitors with the only goal of the game, courtesy of Thomas Vermaelen; the centre half managing to out-jump his international team-mate Marouane Fellaini to glance a header beyond a helpless Tim Howard.
In truth the goal had been on the cards from the off and before the half-hour mark Arsenal were so dominant they could have been three up; with efforts by Van Persie and Ramsey coming very close to increasing their tally.
This all felt depressingly similar to the Sunderland match at the weekend when Everton began the game on the backfoot, only rousing themselves once the opposition had scored. This time round it took the team half-an-hour to really get into the game, as players like Drenthe came to life and our central midfield slowly began to deal with the creative talents of Arteta and Song.
But once again we seemed unable to turn possession into goals.
From the half-hour mark on, Everton were a side transformed, giving the opposition more of a game and by the end of the ninety minutes Arsenal were hanging on. But once again we seemed unable to turn possession into goals; although really this statement should come with a caveat because Everton did score one goal, courtesy of Royston Drenthe. Sadly this was ruled offside, a decision that was subsequently revealed to be a mistake. It was one of several errors made by the linesman (assistant referee to our younger readers) John Flynn.
That officials make mistakes is simply part of the game and as unbelievably s**t as Flynn was there’s no point moaning about it. We once again lacked genuine creativity and the killer instinct. David Moyes must have been wishing that Mikel Arteta was wearing a different coloured shirt last night.
Ultimately, Everton should have been able to craft something else from the possession they had. But they didn’t and so another three points have been lost and another dent to the team’s confidence sustained.
Before the Anfield derby there was a growing sense of confidence amongst Evertonians. Our form since the New Year, combined with the big scalps we had taken at Goodison gave us a feeling that there was a very real possibility of a top seven finish combined with a cup run that might take us all the way.
That has slowly dissipated over the course of the last few weeks. The resting of several key players before that derby was an understandable decision by Moyes. The squad is not packed with quality and an injury sustained in that game might have weakened the team that faced Sunderland.
But with hindsight the decision now appears more questionable. The scale of the defeat against Liverpool seems to have taken the wind out of Everton’s sails. Had we won at Anfield I believe we would have also gone through against Sunderland last weekend and then entered the Arsenal fixture filled with a greater level of confidence.
But we didn’t and so find ourselves with little to play for in the league, unfancied in the Quarter-final replay and the losing side in both of this season’s derbies. We all knew that this season was going to be tough. But to have come so close to challenging our limitations only to have needlessly squandered the momentum we had built up is particularly disappointing.
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