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Arteta returns to drive Everton forward
by Peter Bottomley

Now here’s a trick; beat title challengers Manchester City away and then follow that by winning against sixteenth placed Birmingham City at home. Simple enough it might seem but this has been precisely the problem for Everton all season – clear Becher’s Brook one minute only to stumble over a sod the next.

David Moyes is not short of options as he considers team selection; Mikel Arteta is rested and available again after completing his three match ban; Steven Pienaar has a “chance” of being fit; Leon Osman is back and played well for 75 minutes against City. These pluses are balanced by the injury to Phil Jagielka’s thigh, which makes him a doubt, and the red card which means that Victor Anichebe is suspended. Also in the mix is the fact that Marouane Fellaini and Jack Rodwell have forged an impressive, physically imposing partnership in the centre of midfield, which raises the issue of where to play Arteta, assuming Moyes does not want to disrupt his new-found midfield heart. One solution would be to give Arteta a wide role, free to interchange with Pienaar or Osman or Coleman on the opposite flank. After all, Arteta’s performances in centre-mid this season have been well short of the high standard expected of the Basque. At the back the situation is uncertain. Phil Jagielka has a thigh strain but has not been ruled out yet, while Johnny Heitinga’s knee is making slow progress and it seems unlikely that the Dutchman will be available. Thus Moyes may be faced with having to put out a back four of Neville, Hibbert, Distin and Baines, not ideal, since one of the opposition strikers, Zigic, stands 6ft 7 1/2” against Hibbert’s 5ft 7“. Anichebe’s performance at Eastlands was encouraging enough to ensure he would have started this game, had he not been sent off, in his enforced absence we expect Louis Saha to return to lead the attack.

For Birmingham James McFadden is out but Alexander Hleb returned to training this week and may feature. As Everton know well Birmingham are hard to beat; the Toffees 2-0 win at St Andrews back in October was the first time City had been beaten at home in a year. Alex McLeish deploys a solid, simple, 4-4-2 with Scott Dann and Roger Johnson forming a formidable central-defensive partnership and the experienced, but ageing, Barry Ferguson and Lee Bowyer patrolling centre midfield. We suspect that this game will be won or lost on the flanks; in Pienaar, Baines, Arteta, and Coleman, Everton should possess the skill, penetration and creativity to trouble their Boxing Day visitors.

EVERTON possible XI (4-4-1-1): Howard; Neville ©, Hibbert, Distin, Baines; Arteta, Rodwell, Fellaini, Pienaar; Cahill; Saha

Subs from: Mucha, Bilyaletdinov, Yakubu, Beckford, Duffy, Osman, Coleman, Gueye

BIRMINGHAM CITY possible XI (4-4-2): Foster; Carr, Johnson, Dann, Ridgewell; Larsson, Ferguson, Bowyer, Fahey; Zigic, Jerome

Subs from: Taylor, Doyle, Hleb, Phillips, Derbyshire, Parnaby, Beausejour, Jiranek, Michel,

Referee: Anthony Taylor

Kick off: 1500 GMT, Sunday 26 December, Goodison Park


Written by Peter Bottomley

Blogs for Everton site Dixie's60. First game at Goodison: 5 Nov 1960, EFC 1 - WBA 1...hooked ever since Follow me on Twitter: Follow me on Twitter: @dixies60pete

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