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The World's Most Underrated Deep Playmaker

Mikel Arteta has been a key player for the Gunners for 3 years now, after he landed in North London from Everton on a very busy transfer deadline day in 2011. Although his multifaceted role has evolved throughout the years, his importance in the team has never changed. His importance is underlined to the extent of being named Arsenal’s vice-captain (although since Vermaelen is no longer a starter he is more like Arsenal’s permanent captain). 

The Spaniard has been a model of consistency. Although his role can more or less be likened to a defensive midfielder, it is best defined as a “deep playmaker”. In a way his role can be seen as a “6 ½”, that is to say Arteta sits in a deeper role than a playmaker and has to fulfill a certain amount of defensive tasks but has much more freedom as far as a basic “DM” is concerned. This particular role suits him perfectly; it conveys liberty but is nonetheless curtailed by a lot of discipline and hard working.

Arteta’s performances are aided by double-pivot system. As we all know, Arsenal adopt an attacking football style but the defensive aspect is first of all assured by the double-pivot. The duo provides an alternative to two basic DMs protecting the back four at any rate. Very basically, while one of the two players is going forward the other is supposed to stay in retreat.

Arteta double pivot

The process is successful provided that both players are extremely precautious (for instance, the partnership made of Ramsey and Wilshere does not work as efficiently; those players lack defensive strength to perform well in that position as a partnership). Since the double-pivot is the pillar of a team’s general organization, shortcomings in this very domain often echo to the entire team.

Nevertheless, such a problem is out of the question with Mikel Arteta. Even though his partnership with Flamini is seen by many as too “rigid” and “unadventurous”, it is extremely efficient and respects wonderfully discipline principles. In order to perform well Arteta needed to be partnered by someone who possesses maturity. This presses the importance of what is called understanding, automatism and most of all complementarity.

As a matter of fact, his defensive abilities have been questioned, especially last year. Most notably this year, in as much as Arteta’s range of skills is fairly wide, he has become Arsenal’s leader in the midfield in numerous aspects. He is effectively a solid defender as though he had acquired enough skills to interiorize his role and get the job done in which case he is impressive.

Interestingly enough, I believe people tend to omit Arteta’s defensive work in the sense that he is the perfect man behind the scenes. Arteta is the 9th player to tackle the most in the Premier League, Arsenal’s second (Super Aaron Ramsey is really leading every single table this season, isn’t he?) with 3.7 of them per game. We should definitely consider the fantastic work the Spaniard knocks off.

Arteta tackles

Arteta interceptions

Illustration of Arteta’s impressive defensive performance against Cardiff

Moreover, he has gathered so much experience from criticism instead of abandoning the whole story that he corrected the different flaws he had at the beginning of his spell at the Emirates. It is worth adding that Arteta is a warrior and always works very hard is such a way as to constantly improve despite being 31 years old. Most notably, the improvement has come from his positioning which nevertheless has always been his main asset. Despite all this, what is striking is that it allows him to intercept a fair amount of passes in addition to the duels won. Interestingly, conversely to Flamini, he is not a proper defensive midfielder. Yet, on average, he is Arsenal’s best midfield as a defender regarding duels won and defensive actions. Underestimated?

A couple of weeks ago, Arteta picked up an injury, and all of a sudden, Arsenal faced issues. When it came to balance the team, a flow of negative impressions expressed a lack of coherence. The display and the organization were clearly not as fluid as people wanted it to be.

Aside from his sturdiness, another great feature comes from the beautiful balls he triggers. Just as Ramsey, his passing range is neat and intelligent. Added to this, having Arteta on the pitch allows Arsenal to “skip” the link with Flamini in the build-up. The latter’s passing quality is indisputably and noticeably inferior to the Spaniard’s. Hence, whilst Flamini is often the first step in the build-up from the back, Arteta appears as a more direct link towards the final third.

Arteta vs Liverpool

Arteta’s outstanding display illustrated by his brilliant passing range against Liverpool

In fact, the previous point is blatant as 67% of his passes are forward. His ability to make the play from a deeper position is quite frankly astonishing. Arteta averages 57.2 passes per game of which 91.5% are successful. He can change the tempo of a game simply by his passing. For instance, he triggers 5.4 long accurate balls on average per game.

Depending on whether Flamini starts alongside him or not, his position evolves. If Flamini is not playing, Arteta holds a role that resembles the Frenchman’s one: the Spaniards sits in front of the back four. On the contrary, when both start, rather than staying randomly backwards, he gets much more involved in the game on the whole. Therefore, he plays relatively higher on the pitch. Hence, the emphasis is on adaptation and understanding.

Comparison with and without Flamini:

Arteta with Flamini

 Arteta plays alongside Flamini (Arsenal drew 1-1 that day)

Arteta without Flamini

Flamini is suspended, Arteta holds the 6 ½ role

The only thing that can stop Mikel Arteta is unfortunately his age. As previously written, he is 31. Thus, he has started to lack pace and fitness which is normal, should you bear in mind the admirable amount of work he completes. As a result, Wenger tends to rest him more than he did in the past years, on account of the decent amount of possibilities Arsenal have, and related to the famous “depth” in their squad.

From the aforementioned features, my conclusion will take the form of a suggestion. Arsenal play generally in a 4-2-3-1, but this very system can change during the game. For instance, it can turn into a 4-3-3 on defensive phases. My point is that I really would like to see a proper 4-3-3 throughout an entire game. Further, such display would be unrestrictive for Arteta given that Flamini would do what he does best: strictly speaking, cover the area, block the passes and annihilate counter attacks. I would organize my 4-3-3 with Ramsey and Arteta alongside, both players having the ability of projecting themselves forward. On the other hand, in doing so, the midfield can only be solidified.

Lastly, from his behavior on the pitch emerges composure and style. I have recently read a few negative comments about him. It is left to the football viewer and presumably fan to make up his mind, but I feel those complaints are very harsh. Arteta nearly always offers comprehensive performances and thereby is fully committed to the club.

Anyhow, is there any point in evoking some sort of surprise which would lead Arteta to Brazil or is it completely foolish? You know… “You may say I’m a dreamer… but [hey] I’m not the only one [!]”

We all love our captain, don’t we?

Tell us what you think! If you agree, or have a different view, please leave a comment in the comments section or why not write a response or your own article on YouWrite?

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Tags: Arteta, Defensive Midfielder, Flamini, Deep Playmaker

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