No one is more aware than David Moyes of the importance of Mikel Arteta to his team's well-being and few things have worried the Everton manager more this season than to see the Spaniard struggle to find his best form.
Everton's four Europe qualifications under Moyes have all been since the midfield playmaker was signed from Real Sociedad in 2005, and their failure to clinch a fifth last season came after Arteta missed the first five months through injury.
It is no surprise then that with the 28-year-old failing to meet his highest standards this season, Everton's position in the table has suffered. But there have been signs of a recovery in recent matches and, intriguingly, Moyes feels he may have found a solution by asking Arteta not to do more, but less.
"We have come to rely on Mikel to make those key passes at key moments and maybe in the end he has taken on too much responsibility," Moyes said. "His form has dropped but he has not played safe, he has still wanting to show he is brave by getting on the ball. We have just said to him to get on with the game, let it come to you and in time your form will come back and I think there are signs that it is."
An improved performance as Everton added to Carlo Ancelotti's worries by knocking Chelsea out of the FA Cup was a start but it was in this victory that Arteta began to wield the kind of influence Moyes had wanted to see, particularly in his part in setting up Everton's second goal.
It was Arteta's surging run down the inside left channel, taking out two defenders before he pulled the ball back from the byline, that made the opportunity for Jermaine Beckford, already on the scoresheet, to punish Sunderland for the second time.
Beckford's first goal, hit from similar range after Leon Osman's pass had opened Sunderland up, came off the foot of defender Titus Bramble and his second went in despite a scuffed finish. But he earned his manager's compliments, too.
"It has been a big step for Jermaine to jump two divisions," Moyes said of the player whose goal clinched promotion from League One for Leeds last season.
"He has got to improve other aspects of his game but his movement in the box is as good as I've seen from some of the best, and there have been a lot of goalscorers who don't hit the ball that cleanly but get it in the net."
Man of the match Osman
Referee S Attwell (Warwickshire).
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