October 12, 2012
I wonder what Mikel Arteta does with himself during international breaks.
In my head he walks his way through an endless sad film montage to the instrumental parts of ‘Hello’ by Lionel Richie. He walks alone down a street, his hands thrust in the pockets of his overcoat, surrounded by autumn leaves. He skims stones across a lake. He pauses outside a playground to watch the kids laughing and having fun. He stops outside a TV shop and watches his Spain teammates celebrate scoring a goal. It starts to rain. He places a lonely hand against the glass…
Maybe it’s not like that at all. Perhaps he enjoys relaxing with his friends and family and gets some well deserved time off. He could do with it and that’s one reason I’m not entirely sad that Spain have such a ridiculous wealth of talent that they can afford to consistently overlook a player as good as Arteta.
This Behind the Numbers piece on the official site reminds us that Mikel is one of only two players (Carl Jenkinson being the other) to have played every single minute of our Premier League and Champions League matches so far this season. Having made that deep lying midfield spot his own since Alex Song’s departure he’s probably the most indispensable member of the squad so without international breaks or you know, leg breaks, it’s hard to imagine when else he would get the chance to recharge.
Arsene Wenger has spoken a bit to the club magazine about how the physical make-up of top flight players seems to have changed over the last few years, allowing someone like Arteta to play the role that he does. First of all he says that shorter more technical players are becoming far more important:
I believe it’s because the density of players you have to fight against in the final third is always getting bigger, so the quality of the pass and the technique in that area has become much more important.
There is less space available, so accuracy is key. Secondly, because there is a smaller space the shorter players, the very agile players, are becoming more important and the taller players in midfield less so. That could be an explanation.
He might have a point about the density of the players in that final third. Take a look at John Terry and Ashley Cole. Ohh! Zing! But he also argues that this change has affected the role of the deeper lying midfielders:
You can now say that this player has had to become more technical – you saw it during Euro 2012, with guys like Andrea Pirlo playing in this position.
They are not destroyers anymore, they are players that the game starts from and the quality of their passing has become very important. That’s why you don’t really see purely destructive players in these positions anymore.
And that’s possibly another reason why the decision was taken to offload Alex Song in the summer. For all that he offered us physically in the middle his technicality was never on the same level as the other midfielders we have in the squad. Yes he was capable of producing the odd bit of magic but it always seemed a bit of a surprise when he did.
And anyway, what Arteta lacks in brute strength he certainly makes up for in intelligence and defensive awareness. Not only is he the winner of more tackles (31) than anyone else in the squad, he’s got the second highest record in the entire league, only one behind the leader Mark Noble.
Less surprising maybe are his passing stats. He’s miles ahead of anyone else at the club with 617 successful passes in the first seven league games, an accuracy rate of 93.8%. His closest challenger in the league is Yaya Toure who has 543. Proving once again how important our metronomic metrosexual is to keeping this team ticking over.
If the stats and the performances and the sad movie montage weren’t enough to make you love the man he’s even been saying the right things off the pitch too. He’s been talking about responsibility. Can somebody fade up Lionel please?
On the pitch and away from it I have been trying to behave the way I think we should, because I think we have a big responsibility. Not only for ourselves but for what we represent to other people. We are in a very lucky position and we have to take advantage of that and use it in the right way. Sometimes we make too many mistakes!
I am still 30, and I’m used to playing with guys who are 34, 35 and 36, but at Arsenal when you get to that age you are one of the oldest, if not the oldest!
It’s a bit funny, but you know inside yourself that you have that responsibility and there are kids who are 17 and 18 and they are looking to you.
Arsenal always seem to have quality 17 and 18 year olds coming through but as Arsene Wenger often notes it’s those key years that will decide whether they make it at the top level or not. If they keep their heads down and work hard then they give themselves that much more of a chance. So having a Mikel Arteta around to look to for inspiration is worth a great deal to this club.
We’ve had that in the past with great professionals like Henry, Pires, Bergkamp etc. Players you can learn from. But in recent years that hasn’t been the case to the same extent. Of course a player like Cesc Fabregas is a great role model. But when he’s only just turned twenty himself he doesn’t have the same aura or experience as someone like Mikel.
So while the Mikel Arteta international break movie montage in my head may be as much of a tearjerker as that one from the start of Up, I’d be pretty happy for the Spanish national team to ignore his talents for a while longer.
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