An article written by forum contributor RadioFriendlyUnitShifter.
The best little Spaniard we know. Our Basque magician and premier technician. The first name on the fantasy football teamsheet.
Before last season, anyway. Yes, it all went a little bit wrong for Mikel in 10/11. After returning from a horrendous injury early in 2010, he was in sensational form, bagging 6 crucial goals and a couple of assists in just 13 starts. We went into the summer praying heÂ´d sign a new deal. And he did. We celebrated his lengthy contract Â´like a new signingÂ´. We hypothesised how he and Fellaini would form the greatest CM pairing in the league; how the former would dominate the opposition while Arteta orchestrated our incisive, attacking play. This was going to be our year.
It didnÂ´t quite happen though, in the end. We started slowly — some might say we didnÂ´t start at all — and Arteta and Fellaini were asynchronous; the very opposite of the cohesive, complimentary unit we all envisioned. Wishful thinking is definitely part of being a modern day Evertonian, and this looked to be the case again here.
The worst part of it all though, is that it didnÂ´t make sense. It still doesnÂ´t, to be frank. Fellaini is a behemoth in the centre, and one of the most influential defensive players IÂ´ve ever seen. Arteta is similarly influential in an offensive manner. So why didnÂ´t they gel? It always seemed to me that Arteta sat deeper than Fellaini, in a role more akin to that of his old mentor; Pep Guardiola. But surely thatÂ´s a criminal waste of his talents? By playing him so deep he was closer to our goal than the oppositionÂ´s, and itÂ´s not like we didnÂ´t need his vision and incisive passing. We couldnÂ´t score for toffee, so to speak, and seeing our best creative force collecting the ball from defenders before laying it off to someone else at the halfway line, well, it was enough to make you tear your hair out.
Eventually Moyes changed ArtetaÂ´s position; giving him a new role, as our left sided midfielder. We all knew he was capable on the right flank, as he spent a few seasons out there for us earlier in his career, to head-turning effect. And before injury yet again curtailed his season, he was excellent on the left as well. He looked invigorated, with less defensive responsibilities and more freedom to leave an impression on the game, he came to life. The Sunderland victory comes to mind, where he skipped past opposition defenders like they were little more than training cones, before sliding the ball to Beckford to tap home.
So why not just keep him at left midfield, I hear you ask. Well, contrived imaginary voice, IÂ´ll tell you why. His brief but positive performances out wide showed us that he could be influential from a wide position, true. But beyond that, they showed us he could still be influential in general. He hadnÂ´t changed as a player, heÂ´d just seemingly had his role in the team changed. I believe heÂ´s best in the centre, because heÂ´s just a supremely talented footballer, and in the centre he becomes the literal and functional core of our team. He can do so much more damage.
The problem for me is Fellaini. Or rather, their partnership. For Arteta to get back to his best, he needs to be allowed to occupy a more offensive position. He needs to be more advanced than his central partner. In the past this wasnÂ´t a problem, as under David Moyes we have traditionally played with an out and out defensive midfielder. In Marouane Fellaini we have a more complete player. Someone who wants to get forward more. And as useful as he is in the last third of the pitch, heÂ´s not as useful as Arteta. I believe this partnership can flourish, but to do so Fellaini must restrict his offensive role. Arteta needs to be our midfield maestro, and Fellaini our midfield warrior. Last season these roles reversed and I pray this does not persist.
Of course it would be naive to think this was the only problem, or that it will be the only problem. We as a team have glaring flaws; a lack of pace, an over-reliance on our left flank and a questionable strikeforce. But there are things within the team that can change to improve our dynamic. This is one of them. Arguably, itÂ´s the most crucial thing. If we can get Mikel Arteta and Marouane Fellaini to function as one unit, then we will genuinely have the greatest centre midfield pairing in the whole of England. And thatÂ´s without even mentioning Ross Barkley. Holy trinity, anyone?