Mikel Arteta has ranked Marouane Fellaini among the most potent midfielders in the Premier League and believes he can sustain Everton's challenge for a top-four finish.
Fellaini scored his seventh goal of the season on Wednesday as Everton were held to a 1-1 draw by Arsenal at Goodison Park, a result that enabled Tottenham to overtake both clubs in the table. Arteta played alongside the Belgium international during his time at Everton and though injury often interrupted their midfield partnership, he admits the 25-year-old has made further strides in the 15 months since he departed for Arsenal. The Spanish midfielder also credits David Moyes' deployment of Fellaini in an advanced role for the improvement.
Arteta said: "I think it is much more difficult to play against him when he is playing in that forward position around the box. He creates a lot of problems, he uses his size well and he is a threat around the goal, as you can see from his goals. For me, he is much more efficient playing there than when he is deeper. I have seen a tremendous improvement in him, especially in that position. He is one of the most difficult midfielders to play against because of his size. You don't normally come up against players like that in that position."
Arsenal slipped to seventh after Wednesday's draw, leaving their manager Arsène Wenger to hope afterwards that home games against Swansea City, West Bromwich Albion, West Ham and Newcastle will propel the team back into contention for a top-four finish. And Arteta admits his former club can provide a genuine threat to Arsenal's ambitions.
He added: "Tottenham are challenging now, West Brom lost [at Swansea] but have been doing really well and I think Everton have got a good chance if they keep everyone fit. I think the first 11-12 is really strong and they have started the season well, which I know from my time there is not normal. In the long run they will be there."
Moyes claimed Everton merited victory on Wednesday and should have had a penalty when Arteta pulled Steven Pienaar inside the area in the second half. But the Arsenal midfielder responded: "It was difficult for the referee because he couldn't really see what was going on, but it wasn't a penalty, for me."