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Mirallas Injury Leaves Everton Thin at Wing

Injuries to Kevin Mirallas and Steven Pienaar have left Roberto Martinez in a bind -- with the club's strikers struggling as a result. What else can Martinez do?

This is the face Everton fans make when they think about missing both Kevin Mirallas and Steven Pienaar.
This is the face Everton fans make when they think about missing both Kevin Mirallas and Steven Pienaar.
Alex Livesey

When Kevin Mirallas pulled up with an apparent leg muscle injury in the 31st minute of this weekend's Merseyside Derby, the blue side of Liverpool held its breath.

"Not again," they surely thought.

But unfortunately, the answer came back a resounding "Yes, again," when Mirallas exited the match, and supporters' nerves certainly were not calmed by this less than positive post on Everton's website.

Steven Pienaar, Everton's other top choice winger, is nearly ready to return from an injury of his own, which is good news for Martinez. Yet, there's no denying that both Pienaar and Mirallas have proven to be injury prone, and concerns about both being injured both currently and at times in the future seem to be justified.

In such times as these, what can Everton do to fill in the voids out wide?

So far this season, Martinez has tried both Romelu Lukaku and Samuel Eto'o as faux wingers in the absence of Pienaar, with neither having very much success.

Lukaku played as a winger on occasion in the final stretch of the season last year with reasonable to impressive success, but the trick seems to have lost its charm at this point. The big Belgian is certainly not helped by the fact that he still probably isn't 100% healthy.

Eto'o was certainly capable of playing as a winger at one point during his career, but he is not a young man anymore. This is not to say he cannot be a valuable contributor -- in fact, he needs to be if the club is to juggle Europa League and Premier League successfully -- but at the end of the day, his contributions need to come from up front, not out wide.

Perhaps then, this is why the only Everton striker who seems to have found his stride this season is Steven Naismith, who, not coincidentally, is the only Everton attacker who has played almost all of his time in something resembling his natural position. Perhaps Evertonians ought to thank David Moyes for displaying quite clearly that the former Rangers man is by no means a winger after all!

When faced with similar crises last season, it was often Leon Osman thrown out to the left wing. Osman was not particularly impressive at the position, but he was rarely a detriment to the side at the very least. Ossie certainly isn't getting any quicker though, and Martinez seems to recognize that the lifetime Evertonian's days out wide are essentially over.

Cristian Atsu is to this year's team what Gerard Deulofeu was at this point last year. He is clearly full of pace and ability, but lacks experience and has not yet earned Roberto Martinez's trust. If Mirallas is out for an extended period though, and Pienaar continues to struggle for fitness, Martinez may have little choice but to give Atsu more chances.

Aiden McGeady has stood to benefit more than any other Toffee with Mirallas and Pienaar struggling with injuries, but he has been inconsistent with his numerous opportunities. He scored a remarkable goal in the opener against Leicester and nearly single-handedly carried Ireland to victory over Georgia in Euro Qualfiying, but has also been downright anonymous for long stretches.

Still, with Osman's decline and Atsu still lacking Martinez's trust, McGeady will likely see lots of playing time with Mirallas and/or Pienaar out.

Of course, there is one more option recently made available to Martinez -- Bryan Oviedo.

Oviedo saw a little time at wing last season after his successful stint filling in for Leighton Baines at left-back, before suffering a season-ending injury.

The Costa Rican certainly isn't a natural winger, but his work rate is second to none, he has decent pace, and he'll obviously be defensively responsible. He's proven to have a nose for goal when given the opportunity as well.

Still, Martinez can choose to put Lukaku and/or Eto'o at wing as well, hoping that having his best players on the pitch will produce a greater good than having less skilled players at their preferred positions.

What do you think? Which option is best in the absence of Mirallas? Have your say in the poll and comments.