It has now become a cliché of football fans everywhere to dismiss their chances of relegation on the basis they’re ‘too good’ to go down.
West Ham United are probably the biggest example that quality players doesn’t always amount to Premier League safety.
They were relegated in 2003 despite boasting Paulo Di Canio, Les Ferdinand, David James, Joe Cole and Jermain Defoe amongst their ranks. A 2-2 draw at St. Andrew’s against Birmingham City was enough to see them relegated to the disbelief of most neutral fans.
Fast forward almost a decade and you could be forgiven that Everton could possibly follow suit. Not only have they lost their talismanic playmaker Mikel Arteta, they also crucially failed to swell the already miniscule striking department at Goodison Park.
Arteta has come in for some criticism over the past season from Everton fans, goals against Liverpool and Man Utd not enough to keep some from suggesting that he was below-par for the season.
However, losing him for £10m is not how Moyes would have envisaged his day panning out. Arteta is 30 in April, which makes his move to the youthful Gunners all the more surprising, but once their interest was apparent, he was compelled to put in a transfer request to force the move through. Some fans feel that his best years may well be behind him, but if Arsene Wenger is still interested, there must be something about Arteta that makes him a worthy replacement for Cesc Fabregas.
Everton are actually quite blessed in centre-midfield, in terms of numbers, but now Arteta has gone, it is hard to see who will control the games for them. Dinijar Bilyaletdinov, Tim Cahill, Leon Osman, Marouane Fellaini, and young Ross Barkley can all play in an creative midfield role, but will they be able to play there to Arteta’s standards. Cahill is deemed more of a finisher than a creator of chances, Fellaini is more likely to be deployed as a holding man, Bilyaletdinov has yet to settle properly and Barkley, despite his obvious talent, is too young to take on that kind of role. That leaves Leon Osman as Everton’s biggest creative threat. However, Arteta wasn’t an advanced playmaker and tended to do a lot of his work from a deep-lying role, something Osman isn’t accustomed to.
As if creating chances wasn’t going to be difficult enough, who is going to finish them when they do come along?
Everton started the day with four senior strikers and ended it with one less. James Vaughan was sold to Norwich early in the summer, whilst Jermaine Beckford left to join Sven Goran-Eriksson’s Leicester City revolution.
There is no doubt all Evertonians will be delighted to see the back of Yakubu, a striker they’ve deemed ‘lazy’, a trait barred on Merseyside. However, they may be disappointed to learn he has only been replaced by one other striker. That striker is called (let me make sure I get this right) Denis Stracqualursi, an Argentinian forward signed on loan from Tigres in his homeland. Stracqualursi is a typical ‘English No. 9’ type of player. A tall, strong, battering-ram of a striker, he scored a hat-trick vs Boca Juniors earlier this year – including two stunning headers.
However positive reports of Stracqualursi may seem, Everton fans need to beware that he needs time to settle and may not hit the ground running. Last summer, Wigan signed a striker similar in stature by the name of Mauro Boselli. One League Cup goal later, he was on his way to Genoa and has since gone back to Argentina.
That leaves the physiotherapists nightmares’ Louis Saha and Victor Anichebe as Everton’s strikeforce. Not something you want to be reliant on by any means.
So if Stracqualursi hasn’t settled and Saha is injured, where do Everton’s goals come from?
Even with those that have left, Everton were terrible against Blackburn at the weekend, winning only after Rovers had missed two penalties and Arteta had converted theirs.
Surely it is now only a matter of time before the rest of the crown jewels are sold off? Another season at the same level of last season for Leighton Baines and clubs will be queuing up to sign him. Phil Jagielka was already targeted by Wenger this summer and even an impressive season for Barkley could see the big boys come calling.
But the man Everton fans should fear losing the most from this fallout is their manager. David Moyes continues to work wonders on the shoestring budgets given to him by the board. (I blogged about their finances a month ago here) How much longer will he tolerate the club’s best players being sold off and not replaced before his head is turned? Aston Villa were linked with him before appointing Alex McLeish and Moyes will be top of a lot of club’s wishlists, should they part with their managers.
Moyes has managed to get Everton into the Champions League during his tenure, but this season could be one of his biggest challenges yet. A lack of natural creativity and a gambler’s strike force could see goals dry up and the Merseyside club plummet.
The question remains. Are Everton too good to go down?