06 July 2013

Mikel Arteta: Minifig Maestro

In order to distract myself from the madness over Higuain—is he in London? Has he already had a physical? Why can't I seem to remember how to spell his last name?—I thought I'd look back over the season to glean some satisfaction from the successes we did enjoy and hope to build on, Higuain or not. With that in mind, I thought I'd look past the hoopla over goals and victories to find elements that underpinned it all, and the one name I kept coming back to is Mikel Arteta. Say what you will about the emergence or development of players like Koscielny, Gibbs, Walcott, or Ramsey; gush over the exploits of Cazorla or Podolski; lament if you will the inconsistencies of Szczesny or Vermaelen. Quite simply, Arteta was very literally at the center of it all, orchestrating the entire team with simplicity and verve.

Like Ramsey, he's had to adapt to the defensive midfield role, having played at Everton in a more attacking creator's role (even as a forward at times), but he's done so with aplomb. With a body-mass index of 19.1, on the low end of "normal" and verging on underweight (BMI>18.5), he's hardly going to intimidate anyone or throw his weight around, he seems to more than make up for that with intelligence, timing, and footwork. Cazorla, his fellow Spaniard might draw more oohs and aahs, but the subtler pleasures Arteta offers are no less sublime.

Using statistics from whoscored.com, you'll see on the chart that he leads the team in tackles and interceptions, as well as pass-accuracy and passes per game. Not shown but still worthy of notice is that he led the team with six yellow-cards, which might raise an eyebrow or two. However, a case could be made that many of these were tactical, bookings taken to break up an attack and to buy time to re-organize the defense. It's a shame that these bookings harm his overall rating. In addition to his skill on the ball and his ability to set up the attack, then, his ability to disrupt counter-attacks sets him apart from many of his peers. He's been compared at times to a metronome due to the steadiness with which he distributes passes, but I dislike the robotic regularity that this suggests. He's third on the team with 5.3 long balls per game (surpassed only by keepers) and his passes average 17m in length, revealing an assertiveness and creativity that the term "metronome" doesn't do justice.

When Alex Song left, we rightly worried that there would be a gap in the squad and no one to fill it. However, Arteta has emerged as a superior replacement, just as instrumental to our successes as to those who are putting the ball in the net, if not more so. He links defense to attack superbly and deserves recognition for helping to steady the defense and spearhead the offense. I might go so far as to say he's the best in the Prem at what he does.

To revisit and further dispel the "metronome" concept, one uses a metronome when it's hard to mark the rhythm. Arteta shows no signs of any such struggles. If anything, he is a maestro, setting the rhythm by which everyone else, opponents included, must play. Andante, allegretto, presto, whatever it may be, Arteta seems to sense the moment. To that, I tip my cap.

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