Neville stirs troops after Arteta blow

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The Independent Football

The Everton captain Phil Neville has told his team-mates they must not allow the loss of playmaker Mikel Arteta to distract them. The Spanish midfielder was ruled out on Monday for at least six months with a ruptured cruciate ligament in his right knee.

Arteta has provided much of Everton's creativity and will be sorely missed as the Toffees seek to overturn the four-point deficit between themselves and fifth-placed Arsenal in the Premier League and progress beyond the quarter-finals of the FA Cup.

However, Neville has urged the rest of the squad to step up a gear to compensate for the midfielder's absence. "It's a massive blow for us because any team would miss a player of Mikel's quality," said Neville.

"The lads are absolutely gutted for him but these things happen in football and we will just have to get on with it. He's already contributed a lot to what could be a very good season for us and we will be doing our utmost to make sure we keep things going.

"We have an awful lot to play for and there's nothing to be gained by feeling sorry for ourselves. We have some big games coming up now and it's up to each and every member of the squad to rise to the occasion and make sure the momentum we've got isn't lost.

"There is certainly enough quality here to cope in Mikel's absence but his loss is undoubtedly a bit of a setback." Injuries have been a consistent problem for Everton this season with striker Yakubu ruled out for the rest of the campaign with an Achilles injury while James Vaughan and Nuno Valente (both knee problems) are also sidelined for the long-term.

Midfielders Leon Osman (stomach) and Steven Pienaar (hamstring) could return this weekend while Louis Saha made his comeback from a hamstring problem in Sunday's goalless draw at Newcastle.

Neville believes his former Manchester United team-mate can provide the squad with a necessary boost after the disappointment of losing Arteta. "It's his turn to deliver. We're all rooting for him," added Neville. "He's shown glimpses so far this season and with 12 games to go it's time for Louis to join in with the form that we are showing. We will need him over the last couple of months of the season."

Scans have revealed Saha's fellow forward Victor Anichebe has strained ligaments in his right knee but it may be some days before the extent of the problem is known.

The 20-year-old was injured by a horror tackle from Newcastle's Kevin Nolan which saw the midfielder shown a straight red card at St James' Park.

"Victor has got very bad bruising on his shin and on the outside of his ankle but we're not overly concerned about that," head physio Mick Rathbone told the official Everton website.

"However, he has had a series of scans and he appears to have strained ligaments on the outside of his right knee. He is very sore indeed and we need to take a few days to let the area settle down before we can properly make an accurate clinical evaluation."

Speaking about Arteta's impending operation, Rathbone added: "We use three surgeons – the best in Britain, the best in Europe and the best in America. Clearly it suits Mikel to use the Spanish guy and he is very happy with the choice. We're looking at him being out for about six months. We don't want to hurry Mikel.

"We weren't actually waiting on the scan because we knew instantly what he had done," added Rathbone. "I said to the doctor straight away, 'That's a cruciate [injury]'.

"When he came off the pitch I spoke to Mikel and said: 'Sorry mate, but this is a bad injury', but he knew anyway. He's not daft, he's a very smart guy

"Mikel's very down, but he's a mature guy, he's a top sportsman and he knows that one of the hazards of being a top-class sportsman is that you get injured.

"He is somewhat philosophical and is already talking about getting back playing next season.

"So we don't wallow in it, it's football, it happens. We just need to get it operated on and get him back."

Meanwhile, Everton have confirmed their Premier League match against Stoke has moved back to its original date of 14 March.

The Saturday 3pm kick-off had originally been put back 24 hours after club officials were told by Merseyside Police to move it because a British National Party rally was scheduled to take place in Liverpool city centre on the same date.

The police had claimed "operational reasons" meant the two events could not take place at the same time and Everton made efforts to move the game with Stoke.

However, the BNP has decided not to stage the demonstration, leaving the way clear for Everton to entertain Stoke on the original date of the fixture.

Merseyside Police have now granted permission for Everton to host the game on the Saturday.