Before Christmas when they looked as if they might be sucked into a relegation battle, Everton might have taken having nothing to play for yesterday. But such has been their form since the turn of the year, there were other things at stake here and with Tim Cahill's last-minute winner capping an eight-match unbeaten run for Everton, the celebrations had a feeling of real hope about them.
Among all the issues that ruined their opening to the campaign, from a horrendous injury list to the late and forced sale of Joleon Lescott, Arteta's absence was certainly up there. He missed long periods of the season, because of a serious knee injury, and he has proved his worth again over the last six weeks. He has just missed three games and scored within three minutes of returning yesterday to take his tally to five goals in five games.
Steven Nzonzi equalised, Yakubu Ayegbeni restored the lead and Jason Roberts pulled level again before Cahill moved Everton within two points of sixth-placed Liverpool and a point off Aston Villa in seventh. "We'll see what we can do," David Moyes, the Everton manager, said. "We've got two games at home and one away and we've got ground to make up."
Yesterday, after missing three draws with Moyes bemoaning a lack of killer touch, Arteta returned from a groin problem and after winning a penalty himself, converted from the spot with only three minutes gone to make it five goals in five matches.
Shortly after, however, his season could have been finished if referee Andre Marriner had sent him off for a poke in Morten Gamst Pedersen's eye. A red card would have ruled him out of the final three matches of the season and the fact that he was only shown a yellow card will save him from any retrospective punishment from the Football Association.
Neverthless, Moyes has warned him about his future conduct. "I've had a word with Mikel," Moyes said. "He's not that type of boy. He's coming back from injury, he's had quite a bad tackle, just before that and then he had that one as well. I thought he was on a different planet, he was magnificent."
The visitors could not have wished for a better start when Diniyar Bilyaletdinov's cross picked out Arteta on the far side of the area and as the Spaniard attempted to cut inside, he went over the outstretched leg of Ryan Nelsen and then guided the penalty in.
Everton should have made the game safe when Cahill glanced over from Tony Hibbert's cross and Leighton Baines also thumped a shot on to the post. Nzonzi has built a reputation for destruction since arriving in the summer so his equaliser was a shock.
Even after Yakubu headed in from Victor Anichebe's flick, Roberts thumped in another goal on the break before Cahill's late winner. "We scored our two best goals of the season and they're wasted," Blackburn's manager Sam Allardyce said.
Referee: Andre Marriner
Man of the match: Arteta
Match rating: 8/10Reuse content