Everton: Ten best post war players part 5

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I continue the breakdown of my ten best Everton players since WW2. Today we look at my final two selections.

There are several candidates I have considered such as Steven Pienaar and Tim Howard, both of whom gave good service to Everton. But in the end neither made the cut.

So my next pick is an individual who will go down as one of the most genuinely talented players seen at Goodison Park in recent years; Mikel Arteta.

Arteta came to the Toffees in another of David Moyes shrewd transfer dealings. The Spaniard had briefly played in Scotland for Rangers before returning to Spain and was at Real Sociedad when Moyes brought him to Everton, initially on loan, in January 2005.

He joined his compatriot and former Sociedad team-mate Xabi Alonso on Merseyside. And while of course, he was certainly not the headline grabbing signing that Alonso was, he settled in quickly at Goodison Park and it was soon clear that Moyes had got himself another real bargain.

Arteta was able to slot in and play his part in sustaining Everton’s unlikely charge to Champions League qualification during the second half of the 2004-05 season, as they defied all the naysayers and finished fourth.

That summer Arteta was rewarded for how well he had settled in and he signed a permanent five-year deal with the Toffees, giving Moyes another piece in his emerging jigsaw. The talented Basque midfielder gave added craft and class to what was a hard-working and gritty team, but one perhaps lacking genuine creativity until then.

The following campaign saw Arteta cement himself as a key performer for his new club. His creative ability, technical skill and goals proved central to the Blues efforts and he was voted the club’s Player of The Season.

He was quickly becoming one of the most effective and consistent attacking, playmakers in the Premier League, and he was producing performances for Everton as significant and effective as many other much higher profile players.

Like Tim Cahill, Arteta was an almost criminally underrated player who was probably passed over by many clubs. But Moyes had astutely recognised he was much better than many thought, and was the perfect type of player for what he needed.

In addition to his creative gifts, although the Spaniard wasn’t a natural ball-winner, he was always prepared to work hard and contribute to his team’s defensive efforts, he wouldn’t have played for Moyes if he didn’t! But this combination of craft and grit made him an indispensable and highly-valued player in Moyes’ side.

As an aside, although its perhaps fashionable now to decry Moyes for his limitations and the failure of his teams to secure another top-four place or win a trophy, he did build an excellent team on very limited resources that consistently defied expectations.

In the 2006-07 campaign Arteta netted nine times, his best season return, and was becoming recognised as one of the very best players in English football.

During this period Everton were regularly competing for the European places and were consistently punching above their weight, season after season.

Arteta could play in central midfield or wide where he often enjoyed a bit more space and freedom to dictate the play. He also struck up a good understanding with Tony Hibbert or Phil Neville the Blues right-backs, just as Steven Pienaar did with Leighton Baines on the left.

One downside for Arteta was injury problems. These became more of an issue over the following seasons and restricted his appearances. But his creativity was still critical to the Blues team, he was always the go-to-man whenever Everton needed a player to produce something special.

However in 2011, after six years at Goodison Park, Arteta departed to join Arsenal, whose manager Arsene Wenger, had been a long-time admirer of the Spaniard. It was perhaps inevitable, given the allure of regular Champions League football on offer at the Emirates.

This move left a bad taste in the mouth for many Evertonians, but I think on reflection most Toffees fans will look back fondly on his time at Everton and recognise his contribution. As we used to sing: ‘There’s nobody better than Mikel Arteta, the best little Spaniard I know!’

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