Finally reaping the rewards for his ‘hard work’ at Arsenal
After moving to Arsenal last season from fellow Premier League outfit Everton, Spanish midfielder Mikel Arteta is finally starting to earn the plaudits that his play has long since deserved and he remains an exceptionally consistent operator and a more than capable technician whose form in the middle of the park is quickly making him one of the club’s most important players.
Coming from an Everton-supporting household, I’ve long since had an appreciation of Arteta’s talents and for a prolonged period, I always valued him as the best player outside of the traditional top four of Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea. The subtleties of his game were often glossed over simply because he wasn’t on a stage that acquired as much close inspection, but make no bones about it, he was nothing short of majestic for the majority of his six-and-a-half years at Goodison Park.
However, since completing his £10m move to the Emirates last season, the Arteta love-in has grown and grown and rightly so, for he is as instrumental for Arsene Wenger’s side as he ever was for David Moyes’, but it’s his adaptability to taking on a completely different role for the overall benefit of the side which has most stood out.
While on Merseyside, the 30-year-old predominantly occupied the right midfield role as part of a narrow midfield five and his ability to take on and beat a man with his trickery and his cultured approach marked him out as a superb player, not to mention his threat and ability from set-pieces, but at Arsenal this term, in the aftermath of the sale of recognised holding man Alex Song to Barcelona, he’s taken on an altogether different, deeper and more defensive role than we’ve previously become accustomed to seeing him in.
Arteta spoke of his new role telling the official Arsenal magazine this month: “It’s a very important job, balancing the team between attack and defence, and that’s what I’ve been attempting to do. I’ve had to change my mentality a little bit – I know that I can’t go forward as much as I used to and I need to sacrifice more in attack – but if it’s beneficial for the team I’m more than happy to do it. If you want to play at a top-level club like Arsenal you have to adapt to different roles and situations. We’ve got so many attacking players now, with a lot of quality going forward, and I know I now have more defensive responsibility. I need to assume that responsibility to help my team-mates and I’m very pleased to do it if we get the right results.”
Even while playing alongside Song last season, he performed well defensively, while simultaneously operating as the creative heartbeat of the side, constantly probing with his precise and tidy passing game. He made an average of 94 passes per game last season, which was the best in the entire top flight all campaign with a completion rate of 93.8%, second best to only Joe Allen. No wonder team-mate Santi Cazorla recently described his omission from Vicente Del Bosque’s recent Spain squad as ‘strange’.
But it’s his awareness and positional sense that most caught the eye,averaging 2.4 interceptions and 4.6 tackles per match. To put this into perspective, the far more physical and aggressive Song made just 1.6 interceptions and 2.9 tackles per match and all of a sudden it doesn’t start to look so odd why Wenger was seemingly so reluctant to replace the Cameroon international.
With Arteta you manage to get the best of both worlds – that steely determination and positional play when put on the back foot and the ability to dictate the tempo from deep when the side do have the ball and his relationship with Cazorla has been one of the bright spots of a decent start to the new campaign which has seen the new signing flourish in a forward-thinking central role.
An international call-up may be out of reach for the time being, with Spain boasting an embarrassment of riches in his position, but he’s more than capable of making the step up once again just as he’s proven with how comfortably he’s adjusted to a new role at a bigger club with Arsenal and he more than compensated for the heavy loss that Jack Wilshere’s 14-month injury absence went on to eventually become.
He’s something of an stylish grafter at the moment and the team’s form declined in his absence last term through injury. It’s only now that he’s starting to show other sides to his game which is earning him his moment in the sun, but if truth be told, he’s been this good for a long time now and while this gushing ode may portray what a fanboy I am of his, there’s no denying that he’s absolutely vital to any hopes that Arsenal have of ending their seven-year trophy drought this season.
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