By Chris Harris
No strikers? No problem. Everton may have lost Yakubu, Louis Saha and James Vaughan to injury in recent months but they are flying, not floundering.
David Moyes' side are unbeaten in eight games thanks largely to a defence which has conceded just twice in that period and the wit, invention and scoring knack of Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta.
Two gutsy performances at Liverpool in six days kept Everton on course for a European berth via the Premier League or the FA Cup. But the next eight days could define their season with that all-Merseyside Cup replay sandwiched by League fixtures against Arsenal and Manchester United.
We asked Dominic King of the Liverpool Echo for an Everton perspective ahead of Arsenal's visit to Goodison Park. Read on for his take on the season so far, the 'never-say-die' attitude of Cahill and his team-mates, Everton's unsung hero and Moyes' likely approach to Wednesday night's game.
THE STORY SO FAR
"The last three months or so have been outstanding. It was a bit of a shaky start with only two wins in their first nine in the Premier League but all of a sudden they’ve clicked since October and it has been very encouraging. They might need to finish fifth to get into Europe but I don’t think it’s beyond the realms of reality. They’re going into this game off the back of an eight-match unbeaten run so they are one of the form sides in the league."
THE ONES TO WATCH
"Basically you cannot underestimate the importance of Tim Cahill since the three strikers have been out; he has been fantastic. He said to me after the Merseyside derby game where he scored the equaliser, "If I stop running then the midfield stop running and if they stop running then the defenders stop running". It is just a never-say-die attitude. It sums up the Everton team spirit in that single quote.
"Mikel Arteta is another very important player. He has been switched from the flank to a more central position and has been outstanding. I don’t know whether he’ll be back or not to face Arsenal and the injury that kept him out of the derby game was quite serious. With only a few days in between he will be doubtful. But on the other hand Marouane Fellaini is available once again after suspension."
MAN OF THE MOMENT
"Phil Jagielka has been player of the season without any shadow of a doubt. He had to fill in at central midfield at the start of the season but he did brilliantly there, and since he has been switched back to his favoured position he has hardly put a foot out of place. It has not just been this season but generally the whole back four have been outstanding. They have only conceded goals to Steven Gerrard in the last eight games and both of them have been outside the box. Of course there was one aberration against Aston Villa at the start of December when they let three in but since then it has been business as usual and Joleon Lescott and Jagielka have been outstanding."
"Will they be tired? I suppose the two derby games against Liverpool would have taken a bit out of them through the intensity that goes with those matches, but Everton were never better last season than when the games were coming thick and fast. It suits Everton playing in these types of games and I imagine the players will just be looking forward to getting going again for another big game.
"I don't expect Moyes will change from a 4-5-1 formation. When something isn’t broken you don’t try and fix it. The formation that he’s using at the moment is working to a tee. Cahill up front with Fellaini supporting from midfield and the likes of Stephen Pienaar and Leon Osman. Just because they only play one up front doesn’t mean that they’re a negative side by any means."
IMPRESSIONS OF ARSENAL
"It has been a hotch-potch season hasn’t it? Sometimes they have looked phenomenal but other times, like against Stoke, they have flattered to deceive. Personally I always like watching Arsenal, they play the game as it should be done, and it’s a proper football club. Wenger has done an outstanding job and I would think they’ll be in the top four come the end of the season as normal."