The Arsenal Column

Arsenal Analysis and Tactics. All views expressed are those of Pat Rice. (Disclaimer: they are actually not his words).

Arsenal owe their resurgence to one man: Mikel Arteta

Such is the measure of trust and confidence Mikel Arteta conveys, he didn’t even need to have a medical at Arsenal. True, The Gunners were in a desperate situation come the final day of this summer’s transfer window but with his unfortunate injury record in the past two years, it came at a risk Arsène Wenger knew was worth taking. “It was highly stressful, full of uncertainty,” Arteta tells Guillem Balagué of how his transfer unfolded in Champions Magazine. “At three o’clock I thought I was an Arsenal player, by six it had broken down and I said, ‘That’s it, I’m staying [at Everton].’ At 8:30pm I went through it all again. By then there was no time to do a medical, no one around who could establish my condition, so I jumped in the car, went to the offices and they just had to trust what I told them. If it turned out there was a problem, I’d have been responsible.”

In a sense, signing Mikel Arteta was the safe option. He already knew the Premier League and his rich footballing heritage meant he could integrate seamlessly to Arsenal’s play. But he was also “safe” in the sense that Arsenal needed a midfielder who could balance out the vagaries of their expansive style. They already had a Cesc Fàbregas replacement – two in fact in Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey – but what was required was a “between-the-lines” player; someone who maintained the flow in centre. Wenger has always wanted one; Filipe Melo and Yann M’vila have been most recently linked while Gilberto, Flamini, Denilson, Diaby and Wilshere have all played that role but it’s Arteta, though, who looks perfect in the position.  “He’s [Arteta] a really important player in our team,” said Wenger. “He is the player between Song and [Aaron] Ramsey or [Tomas] Rosicky. That gives us continuity. When we need to keep the ball he can do that. With Jack [Wilshere] missing he is really a player who allows you to keep the ball when it is needed.”

My first impression upon seeing Mikel Arteta in an Arsenal shirt – apart from how even more handsome he looked in the club’s colours in comparison to the blue of Everton – was that “he knows how to defend in a 4-3-3.” And sure enough, in the first minute of Arsenal’s 1-0 win over Swansea, he won the ball back twice to instigate forward momentum to emphatically confirm my suspicions. His stubborn positioning on the left of Arsenal’s midfield was a refreshing sight, neither attracted to the bright lights of opposition goal nor too risk averse to get forward, it was the perfect balance.

Arsenal’s results have steadily improved with Arteta in the team but just as importantly have the performances also improved. Wenger describes his team as “more controlled and less cavalier” and that solidity can be attributed to the Spaniard’s calming influence. His tactical acumen is superb and he was known at Everton for having technical discussions with the manager, David Moyes. On the pitch, his attention to detail can be as unerring as the neatness of his hair. Arteta’s passing accuracy is over 90% and he is in the top ten of most the passes in Europe, completing 76.7 successful passes per game. That statistic has been criticised by some who say it’s a false masturbation of his numbers, (no doubt forged from the frustrations of watching Denilson in past seasons), as it shows his passing can often be too passive. But those who make that argument also miss the point of Arsenal’s style because by keeping it moving, he’s dragging opponents around to create space and to help sustain the pressure. Not coincidentally, other parts of Arsenal’s game has improved to complement his style; the defence are better at winning the ball back higher up the pitch thus allowing Wenger’s side to play as much of the match as possible in the opponent’s half of the field. It’s as much a defence as it is an attack. Nevertheless, a player creating 2.5 chances per game can’t really be termed as conservative.

Statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com

Arteta’s presence has helped shaped the dynamics of Arsenal’s midfield. No longer is Alex Song burdened with the lone duty of bringing the ball out from the back while he is also given freedom to break forward to aid attacks. It’s true that Jack Wilshere also did this last season and in a way, his absence is just as influential Cesc Fàbregas’s departure, but the layout of the midfield has moved away from the double pivot to a rotating three. Which is important to distinguish because the way Arsenal open up teams now is not limited to one person as it was with Fàbregas. Creative duties are shared and build up can be patient before a sudden – and occasionally intermittent – release puts a team-mate through: Usually Robin van Persie. Then there’s Aaron Ramsey who, after a difficult start, has begun to flourish and again, we might have to thank Arteta for it. He’s not burdened with having to collect the ball deep, as he might have earlier this season and definitely alongside Tomáš Rosický, and he has started to have more of an effect up the pitch. The Welshman has four league assists to his name and is a near ever-present, missing one game.

It’s been said Arsenal are a one-man team and Robin van Persie’s goals don’t do much to disprove that notion but every other statistic suggest Arsenal are more of a team than they have ever been. Sometimes you will find one person who is so perfect for the team that their presence lifts everyone around them and makes the system click. Naturally, Mikel Arteta is doing it in his quietly spectacular way.

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21 Responses to “Arsenal owe their resurgence to one man: Mikel Arteta”

  1. Smith says:

    An Evertonian here I’d just like to agree with everything you’ve said about Arteta. A player like him sometimes unnoticed but trust me everyone notices it when its gone. He’s a fantastic player but he also brings a lot of leadership to the team both on and off the pitch.

    I’ve loved watching him get his form back again even if it isn’t in a Everton shirt and hopefully he’ll get the recognition he deserves.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 133 Thumb down 1

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  2. brian says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

    Poorly-rated. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 69

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    benhan Reply:

    @brian,
    You certainly didn’t watch the game with attention. Maybe too drunk to observe Arteta magnificent simple pass and move. He is the heart of this team, who keeps it beating. Go search on youtube compilation of his personal actions vs WBA and Chelsea and you’ll understand what the Brain tried to say in this article.

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  3. Mike kanvi says:

    I use 2criticize his play,cos i was comparing him wit fab,his play is neat n ramsey is almost doin d fab role but not scorin.anyway,tank god spain do not need him,cos he wud proberbly b broken by now!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 8

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  4. M. Gordon says:

    Hadn’t considered Arteta in this way, but it’s interesting to me how well he has worked his way into the side and have helped lift the team around him. I think I remember some question of his defensive duties and how he wouldn’t fit the “Cesc” mold — but we didn’t need him. Would have been a interesting experiment to see Arteta with Cesc, but maybe in the Spanish NT.

    Looking forward, how do you incorporate a Wilshere and/or a Diaby into the side? Or having such a selection headache (Arteta, Wilshire, Diaby, Ramsey, Song) allow for more flexibility in system and thus become more of a tactical choice?

    To me, I don’t think we have a similar “Arteta” ready to slot in and keep the ball moving..Wilshire is close, but he seems more natural in that advanced role; ditto Ramsey? What do you think?

    Future headaches, but for now, I’ll enjoy the midfield and the joy of Arteta…and pray nothing untoward happens to that perfect head of hair..

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

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    Arsenal Column Reply:

    @M. Gordon,

    I think Wilshere is a more natural replacement for Arteta than people think but it’s his drive that differentiates him in that role. While Arteta has great close control, Song has been forced to push forward because Arteta hasn’t the direct running Wilshere has/gave to the side.

    Luckily for Arsenal, both Diaby and Wilshere are flexible and they can play both roles; we have more options this season so expect the midfield to rotate to create the right balance.

    But at the moment, it’s hard to take Arteta out and certainly, with Arsenal aiming not to drop points – i.e. more risk averse shall I say – Arteta must start.

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  5. wrightydenhenry says:

    Clearly Arteta is no a straight replacement for Cesc what I liked about him was he was prepared to change the corners when they weren’t working (think Sunderland at home). He’s skilfull yet has a tough edge and won’t get bullied. Like to see him taking free kicks from the left.

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  6. ash Burton says:

    at arsenalcartoons.com we’ve backed arseteta from the moment he signed , he’s not the future, he’s NOW!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

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  7. [...] injury record in the past two years, it came at a risk Arsène Wenger knew was worth taking.” The Arsenal Column Share this:StumbleUponDiggRedditLike this:LikeBe the first to like this [...]

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  8. Jekyll says:

    What I suspect is that Arteta will be in the team until Wilshire is fit. Wenger likes his players young and owing their career to him, and Arteta fills neither of those criteria. Of course I’d love to see Wilshire back in the team, but at the expense of Song, who is indisciplined, not Arteta. I know Song is the only supposed DM in the team but he doesn’t play that role properly anyway so the midfield might as well be Arteta, Wilshire and Ramsey. Am quite sure Wenger will drop Arteta however. Then we have to factor in Diaby if/when he is fit, as Wenger always plays him when he is. Who will he drop for him? I guess other injuries will take care of that.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 1 Thumb down 22

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    Arsenal Column Reply:

    @Jekyll,

    Everybody has been so harsh on Song’s discipline. In fact, he’s very disciplined. He only gets forward because he knows someone will drop back, usually Arteta and he only does it selectively. Wenger doesn’t mind because we need his drive at times. Besides, both Arteta (3 goals from 4 shots on target) and Song (1 from 3) have good conversion rates when they do go forward.

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  9. Wak Kenyan says:

    I think Arteta is Wilshere’s replacement. Ramsey is Fab’s. And with the current squad, Coquelin could fill in for Mikel if required despite being considered more defensive. He keeps it simple and is tactically astute. Diaby has some work to do to get a look back into the team.

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  10. sam says:

    Wilshere can’t play the role of Arteta, Wilshere will fight it out with Ramsey not Arteta, if Wenger wishes to mess then the biggest blunder he can make is not to have these two guys in that team, Alex Song and most importantly Arteta, Alex Song is not indisciplined, all DM who really know their work is will take a card for the team, from Viera, Scholes, Roy Keane, Makalele, G Silva. For Arteta its that balance he brings in that easily goes unnoticed. Those two roles have been vital to our resurgence and I think when Wilshere is back, he can try the Fab role, fight it out with Ramsey, but both of them can’t play the Arteta role for arsenal.

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  11. david seago says:

    good article, he is becoming a vital member of the team.

    A lot of discussion about what Wenger might do when players come back, but lets wait for them to come back first!

    Personally i’m salivating at an Arteta/Ramsey/Wilshere middle three in midfield. Arteta there to keep the young bucks under control! Keeping Arteta fresh is going to be important aswell as he’s played every game so far? not sure whether that’s true but it seems like it. Obviously Song has been very important for us this season so it will be interesting to see what happens.

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  12. Anon says:

    Great article.. Artete being spanish, I too wondered how this guy would fill the boots of Cesc. Only now do I realise that he was never meant as a Cesc replacement. His passing is similar to Denilson, who was a great passer, but the thing is he knows how to tackle and position himself much better than Denny and you cannot ask for more from a CM.
    We are in for a treat when JW returns. Also If Wenger does manage to get some other top quality creator like Goetze then I would say that the team would definitely be much stronger than the one that promised so much last season.

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    Rithvik Reply:

    @Anon,

    The player that Arteta reminds me the most of is Xabi Alonso; similar movement and positioning, though I rate Alonso higher than Arteta. The team appears to be slightly less dynamic than last year with Cesc and Nasri, but I think that this increased midfield depth will help them in the run-in (assuming that they don’t lose any more fullbacks!). It has definitely taken time, but the side looks more secure now.

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  13. Misho says:

    I would love to see the angle of the passes, Arteta is making.
    I dont see the sideway passes of Denilson, Arteta seeks the oportunity and the assists/game proves this.
    About the middle 3 – the most possible are Song/Wilshare/Ramsey. But I will surprise you – I really want to see Frimpong in the place of Song. Not that Song is poor or something, no, but I see in Frimpong as the next big thing. The Energy with the 3 britains in the middle… it will be amazing.

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    Arsenal Column Reply:

    @Misho,

    1. Arteta’s passes v WBA: (84/94), Attacking third 30/34, Long 2/2, Short 26/28.

    Forward: 44/51, Backward 23/24, Square 17/18.

     by Guardian Chalkboards

    2. Arteta’s passes v Swansea: (71/80), Attacking Third 29/33, Long 1/1, Short 17/18.

    Forward 37/43, Backward 20/20, Square 14/15

    To compare, his passes for Everton before he signed:


     by Guardian Chalkboards

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  14. Dave says:

    Unfortunately for Arteta, Wilshere’s potential as the spare midfielder (the player tasked to keep possession and bring the ball out of defence) is greater than his. They have comparable passing ability, but Wilshere is much more dynamic. Possibly move Arteta to the attacking midfield role? His finishing is much better than Ramsey’s?

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    Woolwich Peripatetic Reply:

    @Dave,
    Given that Wilshere can and has played anywhere across the front three and that he’s probably the best false #9 we have after Van Persie (who I would suggest is closer to Cruijf than that other false #9 who keeps winning WPOTY), suggesting that he will displace Arteta as the deep lying playmaker is a little premature. He’s been played there because it was the best way of shoehorning him into the team (for Arsenal or England.)
    I rate Wilshere higher than Arshavin as a false #9 (though Arshavin did brilliantly when deployed there in RvPs absence, given his lack of stature) because the #9 has to be absolutely committed to retrieving the ball when an attack breaks down within our system.

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  15. Irony says:

    A good example of the role Arteta has in this Arsenal side could most likely be seen via a comparison of the Dortmund away leg and the most recent Chelsea match. Arteta had only recently been purchased and hadn’t really had time to “gel” and know his role.

    Dortmund played a high intensity pressing game, and man marked Song out of the game. This made it much more difficult for Arsenal to get the ball out of defence since Song usually drops deep to do just that.

    Fast forward to the Chelsea match and you can instantly see how Arteta has liberated Song from bringing the ball out of defence. I could be hugely wrong here – I’m do not have statistics to back these claims up, just my observations.

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