Four signings so far, but a player already on board could be key

Posted by Luke O'Farrell

Alex Livesey/Getty ImagesA healthy Darron Gibson could make things easier for Roberto Martinez in the new coach's first season at Everton.

Roberto Martinez has breathed fresh life into Everton since taking the reins earlier this month. Four additions quickly rolled through the door and a clear shift in style has surfaced during preseason.

Allied to the refreshingly positive outlook of the new manager, there is a degree of optimism and excitement among supporters ahead of the new season.

Strengthening the wafer-thin goalkeeping department is the most assured move to this point, with Joel Robles able to provide competition for the previously unchallenged Tim Howard. Elsewhere, the free transfer of Antolín Alcaraz offers defensive cover, Gerard Deulofeu is an exciting, relatively low-risk arrival from Barcelona and Arouna Kone may solve the quest for regular goals.

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Yet in spite of the new arrivals, the upcoming season could prove definitive for a player already on the Goodison payroll. Acquired for 500,000 pounds in January 2012, Darron Gibson was one of the shrewdest purchases of the David Moyes era and his preseason form promises much, but fitness is vital.

Plagued by niggling injuries throughout his career, Everton must keep Gibson fit and firing during 2013-14. Disciplined in his positioning, his strong defensive aspects provide a shield for the well-oiled Everton rear guard.

Strong in the tackle, boasting deceptive stamina and constantly pressing the opposition, Gibson has filled the hole created by the departure of Lee Carsley in 2008. Nevertheless, for all the positive attributes shown by his predecessor, the Carsley comparison is something of a disservice to Gibson.

This is largely due to a trait absent from the Carsley armoury -- a cultured passing range. Combine the defensive qualities with the distribution abilities and Gibson is the definition of money well spent; the Ireland international is a bargain of the highest quality.

Albeit against opponents of varying quality, the early preseason signs also bode well for the forthcoming campaign. Taking on greater responsibility, possibly stemming from managerial instructions, Gibson is developing into the deep-lying playmaker in this Everton side.

Collecting the ball from the centre backs, the former Manchester United man is at home thanks to his assured passing. Whether starting attacks via passes to forward players or switching the play down the flanks, the midfielder is reveling in the added responsibility.

Allowing his central midfield partner to roam around the midfield, be it Leon Osman or Marouane Fellaini, Everton can rely on Gibson to maintain the shape and discipline in the middle of the park. Often suffering when Gibson is injured, the Toffees are lightweight in his absence; no other player is able to fill this role to the same high standards.

Potential captain material in the future, there were signs of assertiveness during the previous campaign as Gibson settled into the side. This was most noticeable in the home draw against Aston Villa. Trailing 3-1, delivering an insipid display matched only by the FA Cup defeat against Wigan, Everton were seemingly down and out.

Playing right back, stand-in captain Phil Jagielka led the side. However, when the third Villa goal hit the back of the net, it was Gibson dragging his teammates back into proceedings. Leading by example, verbally and in terms of performance, Gibson showed plenty of leadership.

Having found his feet at Goodison, while dispelling the doubts surrounding his initial arrival, Gibson is a key component of the Everton midfield and further proof that money is not everything in football. Looking to thrive under the new regime, the stage is set for Gibson to flourish in the months ahead.

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