Just when you all thought I had run out of ideas for blogs on Mikel Arteta I return with an alternative perspective once more. My motive this time is to reinforce my view that our smooth Spaniard is the best man for the job in the deepest lying midfield anchor role.
There seems to be some confusion in the debates and discussions I am having about fans wanting a Diaby, Viera type player to come in this transfer window. Players such as Diame and Tiote have been mentioned, and of course the inevitable M’Vila. The confusion for me at least surrounds exactly what the fans want and I think many feel the need a strong physical presence in the midfield, because they doubt Abou Diaby can stay fit. Now I completely understand this but let’s be clear that player is an alternative to Jack Wilshere, in the more advanced pivote role, not an alternative to Mikel Arteta.
Younger fans seem to recall Paddy Viera who was always top of Premier League odds, as a defensive player but with the exception of his very first season he always had a partner sitting to allow him to surge forward. First Manu, then Parlour and ultimately Gilberto. So if you want to bring in a Diame type player it will be in place of, or as a different option to Jack and not Mikel. For the record I do tend to agree for certain games a strong we could add some steel and energy but stress I have no wish to see this in the anchor role.
The Arteta role in our formation is the role of a sweeper in ‘old money’ yet operating just in front of the back 2 instead of behind. As I have stressed before this position is in modern day football one of intelligence, anticipation, interception and distribution not one of last ditch tackles, clever fouls and letting the opposition Number 10 now you are there. For me there are very few players in Europe more suited to this role than Mikel Arteta and facts would tend to support me in my contention.
However for those who think the role does require a strong tackler, Arteta can oblige. After 11 games he was 3rd in the tackling league with an average of 4.1 per game. The only DM who had tackled more at this time was Morgan Schneiderlein, but the actual number of tackles being so low may surprise you.
1) Mark Noble (West Ham) – Tackles, 49, Tackles per game 4.5
2) Morgan Schneiderlein (Southampton) – Tackles, 43, Tackles per game 4.3
3) Mohamed Diame (West Ham) – Tackles, 41, Tackles per game 4.1
3) Mikel Arteta (Arsenal) – Tackles, 41, Tackles per game 4.1
5) Claudio Yacob (West Brom) – Tackles, 40, Tackles per game 4
I gather from a superb recent blog by Jake C0hen (@Jcohen92) that his has dropped to 9th at Christmas but is still averaging 3.6 tackles a match.
For me however as we have seen with Sergio Busquets now and Claude Makelele in the past the role is about reading the play, intercepting the ball and immediately beginning an attack with quick distribution. Far more efficient for the DM to anticipate the opposition pass and intercept still on his feet to prompt a counter attack, than to be flat on his arse having made an impressive last ditch saving tackle! The latter is what we would have expected from Song and the former is what we see week in week out from Mikel Arteta.
If I am correct we should anticipate that Arteta’s interception statistics would be exceptionally high. Well yes they are. As at the 28th December here is the League’s top 10 from a TalkSport magazine survey. Here’s the top 5
|Player||Position||Number of Interceptions|
So only two other anchormen have more interceptions in Premiership play and both Spurs and Southampton have conceded more goals.
The other crucial aspect for this role is quick and accurate distribution and Arteta excels in this arena. He is widely accepted to be the best distributor in the league and last season he completed more passes than any other player in our league. His pass completion percentage moves between 92 and 94% which is also unparalleled in the English top flight. Indeed in October it was widely reported that he has completed more passes successfully than any other player in Europe’s top 5 leagues. (Yes, including Xavi – On the 6th October he had made 658 to Xavi ‘s pathetic 530!)
Anyway enough of the football stats because you will have all heard them or read them before and these are readily available to any blogger or reader. They are however important and in my opinion crucial evidence to back up my continual claim that Mikel Arteta is the right man to anchor the Arsenal midfield. The fact that he has played every minute of every league game suggest the management at Arsenal agree. However it is this fact that worried many Gooners and it is the ability of Mikel at 30 to maintain this that concerns many. People question his ability to play week in week out at his age, with his track record of injury and it is these concerns that primarily prompted this blog.
I am quite frankly bored and disillusioned with Gunners continually suggesting that Arteta is too old to cope with game week in week out for a whole season. Claims he is injury prone also are ill formed and blatantly incorrect. So here are some stats you will not have seen and I hope they prove enlightening and maybe put a few minds to rest.
I decided to have a look back at the last 11 seasons for Arteta and 3 other of the best 30 somethings plying their trade in the top echelons of the premier League. Now 2 of them, Gareth Barry and Michael Carrick are playing the deep lying role at the top 2 sides in the league and Stevie Gerrard has dropped slightly further back this term. Regardless of your own views of Carrick and Barry both have enviable track records in Manchster in recent years and both Alonzo and Busquets rate Carrick as top dog. He has started 45 of United ‘s last 46 games. Barry has seen off De Jong and is currently keeping Garcia on the bench. Gerrard is the Liverpool and England skipper and shows little sign of slowing down. I do not read the blog’s of Liverpool, Man City of Man United but I wonder if their fans are continually questioning their 30 plus central midfielders ability to play each week as we Gooners frequently appear to be with Arteta?
We can start with the obvious points that all 3 are older than Mikel and that all 3 also have had and may still have the extra rigours of international football, which sadly has not been the case for Arteta. His loss however should be Arsenal’s gain. Check out the table below:
So having assessed the FACTs do you still feel Mikel Arteta is an injury prone player unlikely to be able to play for us each week for the remainder of this season and into the next?
He had one long term injury in 2009/10 and that is it for his whole career – Wow! Sicknote, NOT.
Gerrard however has missed huge chunks of the last 2 seasons, yet his ability to perform for club and captain England as well is not questioned! Gerrard as well as being regular injured had played nearly 180 games more than Arteta over an 11 years period. 15 games more as a season and yet Gooners question our talismanic vice-captain?
Barry is a year older and has played over 150 games more than Arteta in the past 11 seasons, and yet even after a long-term lay off that causes him to miss the Euros has returned to perform week in week out for the English Champions. Do we hear the City fans doubting Barry? I think not.
Carrick, the closest player in style and effectiveness to Mikel has also been too often overlooked by his country perhaps but he is not doubted by the United faithful or Sir Alex Ferguson. He too has played over 140 more games than Arteta in the 11 seasons recorded in the table.
In short Arteta has averaged only 32 games a season since 2001/2 and you want me to believe that at 30 he cannot play weekly and sustain his form having only suffered a solitary long-term injury? Whilst Gerrard who has averaged 48 games a season, Barry 46 and Carrick 45 are selected continually without such doubts being raised?
I hope I have manged to convince some at least that Arteta has all the attributes to stay at the base of our midfield, protecting our back four for some time to come. However most importantly, that thanks to a golden generation for his country and the likes of Xabi Alonzo and Sergio Busquets, Arteta’s very low number of games per season, relative to his peers means he has many miles in the tank for Arsenal. Some question his pace but as long as the two centre backs continue to show the discipline they have developed of late, and just sit, I feel our Vice – Captain has the football brain to make up for his slight lack of speed with acute positional awareness.
Regardless of who Wenger decides to bring in this month you can have a bet on Arsenal keeping Mikel Arteta the anchorman for the remainder of this season and beyond. Roll on the weekend and the start of our campaign for FA Cup glory v Swansea.
Until next time thanks for reading.
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