Mikel Arteta is a player like so many others who split opinion. Either a sign of a declining, settling for fourth Arsenal or a suave, professional, deep-lying midfielder.
From a rare piece of Iberian flair at David Moyes’ Everton to club captain, calm-head and consistent presence at Arsenal, Arteta’s career in the Premier League was a varied one. Signed by Arsenal on deadline day in 2011, the Spaniard quickly ascended up the club’s hierarchy as he was given the honour of becoming vice-captain for the next season after the departure of Robin van Persie. A sign of Arsenal’s shortage of natural leaders, perhaps.
The loss of Alex Song to Barcelona in the same window led to Arteta playing the deepest midfielder role. He adapted well initially, having primarily been an offensive or wide player when at Everton and Rangers. It was a transition that was becoming increasingly common; taking a technically gifted attacking player and converting them into a position-aware controller of tempo.
Arteta remained a constant in an Arsenal squad that was in a consistent state of minor turmoil. A repetition of last-16 Champions League eliminations and poor runs of Premier League form left a club hitting its targets, but only just. The ex-Real Sociedad midfielder was influential, not only through his importance tactically, but in his role as a leader off the field. It was, of course, Arteta who lifted Arsenal’s first trophy in far too many years with the FA Cup in 2014.
Although the Spaniard’s career waned with injuries stifling any hopes of playing deep into his thirties, Arteta was an iconic figure through a time of reinvention and disappointment at Arsenal. Often the glue that held weak, young squads together, he will go down as one of the most reliable players in the history of the club.
His choice to retire at the end of his last Arsenal contract in 2016 and move straight to Manchester City to work with Pep Guardiola as a coach reflects the ambition of the man. If any player has the credentials and personality to develop into a world-beating coach, it is the cool, thoughtful Spaniard.
A younger, fully-fit Arteta could have been key for Arsenal this season, which makes his decision to not only retire, but leave the club, all the more frustrating. With the long-term absence of Santi Cazorla, Granit Xhaka continuing to find himself out of position in transition and Francis Coquelin too often rash, the guidance of Arteta either as a team-mate or a coach would surely have been a great benefit to Arsenal.
Good players of do not translate to good coaches, but Arteta could have remained in a mentoring role at the very least. As a partner for Xhaka, there are a few that would have been much better. He could have fulfilled the Cazorla role perfectly up until a mere couple of years ago and it would have left Arsenal’s midfield and 2016/17 season looking resoundingly healthier.