Many Arsenal fans will be looking at the disappointing dark cloud that hangs over Mikel Arteta and his recent arrival at the club, that being his age and the likelihood of a short stay at the top of Europe football. But on the other side of the fence is Arteta himself. A player who is now the natural leader in this Arsenal team and one of the most important figures in the side, yet one who may forever be overlooked by Vicente Del Bosque and the chance to enjoy some part of Spain’s success.
Players like Juan Mata, Javi Martinez, Jesus Navas and even the many excellent goalkeepers the nation has are spoken about as superstars who are unable to waltz their way into the Spanish squad. We’re seeing the height of a nation’s powers that means there is a seemingly unlimited resource of quality in every position. Even the left-back spot has been addressed.
Juan Mata is on an outstanding scoring run of seven goals and seven assists in his last six games, but there’s no room for him. Instead, the Chelsea midfielder has had to represent his country on a tier just below the likes of Xavi and Iniesta. He has won medals playing for the U21s but it’s a far cry from glory of the World Cup.
Mikel Arteta has spoken about his game changing at Arsenal from what he was used to playing with Everton. He started in the Barcelona youth system as a deep-lying player, but as he moved around Europe and eventually landed in England, he’s seen his position move further up the field. Now with Arsenal he’s gone full circle.
Arteta is the pivot in Arsene Wenger’s side. He’s the team’s Xabi Alonso or Xavi, who also adds a little bit of Sergio Busquets to his game. He’ll play the reliable holding role in midfield and never abandon his post. Notably, it’s refreshingly Spanish and a another small hint of the dominance of Spain we’re seeing in England. From La Masia and Castilla to the Basque country, it’s the same brand of football that carpets the nation and makes all the players in the Spanish squad a natural fit for Del Bosque’s starting XI.
The disappointing side is his age. The next World Cup should certainly be the last time we see Xavi and maybe Xabi Alonso on the biggest international stage as central figures in the Spanish side. Unfortunately, it’s also the last chance Mikel Arteta may have.
The player may only be 32 when Brazil’s World Cup comes around, but there’s so much talk of the next generation and those who are likely to replace the Xavis and Alonsos.
The Arsenal player has brought to light the wonderful relationship he and Santi Cazorla have, and a recent interview highlighted just how saddened Arteta was at not being part of his nation’s success. Unfortunately, Cazorla doesn’t hold as much power as his national team mates from Barcelona or Real Madrid, but there’s certainly an acknowledgement that he’d like to see Arteta part of the set up.
So does he deserve it? As mentioned, Arteta has changed his game to be the deep-lying player in the team but one who also helps to pull the strings. His defensive discipline has been extremely important for Arsenal and his ability to keep the ball moving is akin to his compatriots playing for Del Bosque. His qualities mean he’d walk into the England starting XI unopposed and have the team built around him. If England have been paying attention to nations such as Italy and Spain, they’d be wise to do so if given the opportunity.
So far this season, Arteta has the best passing completion percentage of any central midfielder in the Premier League at 93.8. But Arteta’s story seems to be one of being underrated and underappreciated. He doesn’t command the same major headlines as the bigger stars in the Spanish squad, but that’s all part of it.
He’s replaced one Spaniard as the heartbeat of this Arsenal team and shared the responsibility with Cazorla. The move for Cazorla to Arsenal along with his performances have helped him start for La Roja in recent internationals. You’ve got to hope that the backing of a club like Arsenal will do the same for Arteta.