01 April 2013

Mikel Arteta vs Reading

Thanks to @XavierGooner14, we have an excellent break-down of Mikel Arteta's performance against Reading, punctuated by his spot-kick that nailed the coffin shut once and for all. The goal will garner most of the headlines, but in a quintessentially Arteta-ian (Arteta-esque?) game, he controlled the midfield, orchestrated attack after attack, and disrupted what few counters Reading could muster.  Were it not for  a hard but uncalled foul on Stuart Taylor, we might have seen Arteta notch an assist to Giroudif not setting up for a "real" penalty kick because, let's face it, Taylor's foul should have been called for a spot-kick while the foul on Oxlade-Chamberlain happened outside the box. Maybe it was a make-up for the missed call on Taylor. At any rate, we're really here to sit back and enjoy Arteta's excellence.

While Cazorla shined and Gervinho stole the show and rightly earned most of the headlines, it was Arteta's calm control in the midfield that made the more exciting stuff possible in the first place. A quick look at the numbers:
  • Passing Accuracy: 93%
  • Touches: 117
  • Key Passes: 1
  • Tackles: 2
  • Successful Dribbles: 0
What the numbers fail to acknowledge is the number of key passes Arteta made but that teammates failed to capitalize on, whether due to fouls, poor touches, or making the next, extra pass. Arteta has earned credit for  only two assists on the year, but this masks how often he's earned the "second" assistthe pass that leads to the assist. If such a statistic existed, Arteta might just lead the league, impressive for a deep-lying midfielder who rarely ventures very far upfield. In the video, what surprised me was the number of long passes that Arteta attempted and completedhe sometimes sent passes 30-40 yards upfield, bypassing teammates and defenders in the process on land or through the air. It would be one thing to achieve 93% accuracy through a bunch of tiki-taka passing, but to mix some long balls as well is impressive. He wasn't hoofing 'em up there, either; you can see him time and again size up the available space and put the ball right at a teammate's feet or in stride. His lob over the defense to Giroud was perfectly weighted, and had Giroud given it a softer touch or not been gored by Taylor, Arteta would have that assist to go along with his goal.

As it is, we'll have to settle for the subtler pleasures that Arteta delivers: pass after pass after pass. Some have called him metronomic, but this feels a little too rigid, as if he settles into a regular, perhaps static, rhythm that feels automatic. I'll resist the "Spanish Dancer" possibilities, leaving me with jazz musician. He reads the game well, seems to know its rhythm, and identifies who should have the ball next. I can almost picture him with an upright bass, setting a rhythm and nodding to each player for his next solo riff. To extend the metaphor, it's the trumpet and sax who grab all of the attention, but without the foundation that the bassist provides, their improvisations are little more than slop. Thankfully, with Arteta backing, the likes of Cazorla, Podolski, Gervinho, and Giroud can freelance within the framework that Arteta provides them. Others may be hailed as impact-signings, but it would hard to find someone whose signing has had a broader and deeper impact than Arteta's.

Others have made their impact with more dramatic flair, but Arteta, quietly and confidently, leaves his signature on just every game he appears in.