“I was the man to play in a different role, I had to adapt and I did the best that I could. I have sacrificed myself a lot for the team and worked as hard as I could and tried to help my team-mates,” the Spaniard told Arsenal.com
“I feel very happy because I think I have found a level of consistency throughout the whole year. I missed two-and-a-half weeks with a little calf problem, after that I think I have played every game.”
The club’s sale of Alex Song to Barcelona last summer and the manager’s decision not to bring in a replacement meant Arteta had to adapt his game – he has for the Gunners, Everton and Celtic been deployed as either an out-and-out central midfielder or as an attacking midfielder due to his high level of technical ability and his creativity.
This term, however, Arteta has been forced to abandon much of his creative play and focus more defensively, tasked by the manager with protecting the back four, making tackles and challenges and holding his position in deep midfield to allow the likes of Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky to operate freely in his previous position as playmaker.
It is a role that he has adapted to remarkably well – his time with Celtic and Everton obviously fostered a great deal of steal in his play because he likes a strong tackle and he can hold his own despite being of fairly slight build.
I do wonder how Wenger went about revealing his plans to Arteta – how the conversation would have gone we’ll likely never know but it must have been something of a surprise to the 31-year-old who had previously been operating in the Gunners’ free role in their central trio.
He states that he had to ‘sacrifice’ for the team and I believe he has – his talent are, to some degree, going to waste in that position and it must be a much more arduous task to perform – it requires a much higher level of discipline and focus, anticipation and concentration.
Playing in defensive midfield means he cannot express himself anywhere near as often and he has sacrificed the freedom he previously enjoyed.
He has, however, taken to the role with immense maturity, commitment and absolutely no fuss whatsoever – you don’t hear him complaining, he doesn’t moan and huff and puff because he’s not being played in his favoured position where he would probably admit, it’s less fun and he receives much less credit.
The question remains, should he stay there next season? He’s done a great job, especially in the latter half of the season, there’s almost a case to be made along the lines of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.
However, for the sake of the player, it may well be advisable for the manager to repay Arteta for his hard work this term by allowing him to alternate with Cazorla and Wilshere or Aaron Ramsey next term and it would certainly mean his compatriot gets more a rest than he has this season.
I suppose, in the end, it’s down to whether or not the manager brings in a proper defensive midfielder this summer – if he does, I would expect Arteta to see less first-team action but, at 31, that might not be the worst thing in the long-run if he wants to have the kind of longevity that Paul Scholes has enjoyed over his career.
Mikel Arteta may well decide he would rather play out of his preferred position than not play as much and I suspect that was his choice this term – he must have noted that Cazorla’s arrival along with Wilshere’s return from injury would likely mean he would not be playing in attacking midfield and so opted to play wherever he was needed.
I would expect him to choose to do the very same next term.
image: © Ronnie Macdonald