Everton boss David Moyes has been handed further blows as Mikel Arteta has suffered a setback in his comeback from injury and defender Phil Jagielka has had to have a second knee operation.
The Spaniard heads a long list of casualties at Goodison Park that includes the likes of Jagielka, Steven Pienaar, Phil Neville and James Vaughan.
Arteta sustained a cruciate knee ligament injury back in February and was on course to return to first team action by the end of this year. However, doctors have since found an infection in his knee and he will require a ‘wash out’ that looks set to further prolong his much needed return.
The 27-year-old scored seven goals in 31 appearances last season and Everton have struggled to find form without him, with the Merseyside outfit lying 13th in the Premier League.
Jagielka, who damaged knee ligaments against Manchester City in April, is not expected to play again before Christmas. Moyes said: "We think it has set him back four to six weeks. He was down initially but he's on the road to recovery now."
In the absence of Arteta, much of the Blues' creativity has come from Steven Pienaar. The South African has really stepped up to the plate since Arteta’s injury. However, he has spent the last few weeks on the sidelines due to a knee injury leaving Moyes short of creative options.
Since his arrival, the Scotsman has based his success on building a mean defence and in the season of 2007/08, goalkeeper Tim Howard was one clean sheet short of breaking Neville Southall’s record of 15 in a season. With Phil Jagielka a long term casualty, the Blues defence has looked shaky to say the least and has leaked a disappointing 16 goals in ten league games so far.
Much has been said of Everton’s stuttering start to the campaign and how it is only a matter of time until the defeats turn to draws, and draws turn to victories. After all, Moyes and his team are only two points worse off than they were after ten games last season. It is worth noting however, that at this stage last season they had come up against Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal. After being resoundingly beaten by the Gunners 6-1 on the opening day of this season, Everton haven’t played anyone else from the ‘Big Four’ yet.
Five of the remaining nine teams that the Toffees have faced so far this season finished in the bottom half of the league last season and a further two of them are newcomers to the Premier League.
These statistics don’t read well for Evertonians who cannot hide from the fact that over a quarter of the season has passed now and their poor start could soon become a poor campaign.
It was around this time last year that the Blues started to click and results started going in their favour. The next few weeks could well shape the remainder of the season for Moyes. This Premier League season is one of the most open in recent times which could benefit Everton. Despite only managing three victories so far, they only find themselves six points behind Aston Villa, who are right in the mix up for a European spot.
The European campaign so far has been a tale of mixed emotions. After a convincing 4-0 drubbing of AEK Athens at Goodison Park and a well earned 2-1 victory away at FC BATE Borisov, Everton seemed to be heading into the next phase of the Europa League without much fuss. Moyes, with 11 senior players missing, sent his depleted squad to Lisbon for the showdown with European giants Benfica. The Blues were thumped 5-0 in Lisbon and lost the return fixture against Benfica at Goodison 2-0.
It remains to be seen whether the Toffees are equipped to climb the table and become serious contenders for a European spot. It is important that they don’t fall too much further behind their rivals as they await the return of some star players, although the brilliance of Arteta is going to be missing for a while longer yet.
By Gary Maiden, Sports Reporter
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Arteta training (TorontoBlue, Flickr); A frustrated Moyes (coolblue007, Flickr); YouTube: Arteta in Europe