Why I think Arteta will still be a vital midfielder for Arsenal next season

Posted: April 1, 2013 in Arsenal, Premier League
Arteta celebrates his goal against Wigan.

Arteta celebrates his goal against Wigan.

It’s not been the best of seasons for our midfield metronome, Mikel Arteta. But it’s not been a bad one by a long stretch. Arteta’s start to the season was brilliant; he had Diaby sitting next to him in a double pivot which, in a nutshell, resulted in both of them sharing the defensive duties. Once Jack Wilshere returned, the spotlight was shone on the Englishman, and rightly so. Wilshere had just returned from injury and was playing like he’d never suffered a 14-month absence from first-team football for the Arsenal. Whilst Wilshere was orchestrating the play in the pivot with Arteta, his lack of defensive nous left Arteta with all the defensive duties. A player with Arteta’s experience, you’d expect to be able to cope with a pile of duties left behind by a youngster, but the defensive-midfield position is one which he has only started playing this season. By having to focus primarily on the defensive duties, Arteta’s supply of creativity has been cut off.

Last season, despite his gung-ho antics, Alex Song worked incredibly well with Arteta. As many will point out, Arteta almost played the DM role at some points because of Song’s headless chicken-esque runs. But, off the ball, Song put in a shift defensively. Many who say Song was a bad defensive-midfielder simply didn’t watch him in 10/11. Moving away from Song. Arteta flourishes in the double pivot when he’s given the leeway to get forward more often and involved in the incisive play in the final third. When he’s left with all the defensive duties, it’s easy to cut him out of the game entirely: stick an energetic, mobile player on him, and he has no freedom whatsoever; he has to focus on passing it sideways because said player is always breathing down his neck. We saw this when Sir Alex Ferguson deployed Rooney as an attacking midfielder to isolate Arteta – this was probably what instigated the constant isolation of Arteta in many games. Later on, most notably, we saw Toni Kroos do the same to Arteta at the Emirates – arguably the Spaniard’s worst game in an Arsenal shirt, this season.

Surprisingly, this shows that Arteta's least played type of pass is backwards.

Surprisingly, this shows that Arteta’s least played type of pass is backwards. (courtesy of the brilliant SquawkaSports)

With no sly dig at Wilshere intended, Arteta plays much better when he has someone with a competent defensive nous sitting next to him. Whilst it may not be appreciated, Aaron Ramsey’s ball retention and tackling goes incredibly under the radar. The double pivot of those two seems to be working a treat as it allows them to take it in turns to attack/defend; they work hand-in-hand when it comes to the off the ball work. Ramsey and Arteta are very similar in terms of their defensive work, primarily tackling, as they both hover around the player with the ball and expertly wait for an opening to stick their foot in. When playing next to Diaby earlier in the season, Arteta could rely on him to out muscle players which in turn led to Arteta cleaning up the loose balls. What I’m trying to say is, Arteta works well with someone who’s willing to share the defensive duties as opposed to just piling them on him. Sure, some will say Wilshere’s always willing to get stuck in, but there’s more to it than just throwing your leg at the ball.

The reason I think Arteta will still be vital next season is because I firmly believe we’ll purchase a powerful defensive-midfielder. If we do so, it’ll help not only Arteta but also Wilshere. Whilst Wilshere will be able to drive through the midfield without worrying about his pivot partner, Arteta will also be able to dictate the play and split defences open with his newly found freedom on and off the ball. It goes without saying that the addition of a defensive-midfielder will not only add some much needed balance to the midfield, but will also add strength in depth. Having Ramsey, Arteta and Wilshere all suitable to play a tad ahead of this defensive midfielder, whoever he may be, is going to be fantastic. What with Santi making waves on that left-hand side, it leaves Arsenal with options in the attacking-mid position also: Rosicky & Wilshere equally adept to playing in that position. It’s a weird one with Wilshere because I don’t think he’s consistently incisive enough with his final ball as an attacking-midfielder, but I also don’t think he’s defensively sound enough to play in a pivot; that said, the inclusion of a defensive-midfielder will aid the squad in so many different departments on the pitch.

Just a final word on Arteta, I just think it’s commendable how well he’s played for Arsenal this season. He’s quietly gone about his job with the utmost professionalism, he hasn’t spoken about how hard it is for him to focus on so many different aspects of the pivot by himself and his leadership qualities have been second to none. His direct contribution to seven of Arsenal’s 59 league goals this season should also be appreciated hugely, considering that demoralising penalty miss in the final minute against Fulham at home. He’s also only picked up three yellow cards all season, that in itself shows how calm and composed he is an a newly explored position.

All in all, I feel as though people saying Arteta will be a bit-part player next season really aren’t looking at the full picture. Whilst a defensive-midfielder will, possibly, reduce Arteta’s game time, I still feel as though he’ll play a massive part next season, especially if Wenger’s long-term vision of Wilshere is in an attacking-midfield position.


  1. ruthmac99 says:

    Brilliant article. I would also like to add that I would like him to be made full time captain. He is a true leader, was watching him cajoule, clap and shout at.everyone to encourage them. Liked him when he was at.Everton, had a few injuries but played with heart and soul. My player of the year. Your thoughts over captain please?

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