Why Mikel Arteta is Arsenal's most important player

NZonzi, Arteta, Rochina

Arsenal’s 3-0 victory over Newcastle on Monday night at the Emirates showcased the Gunners most influential player.

In a 3-0 win that saw Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud, playmaker Mesut Ozil and defender Laurent Koscielny score to ensure the North Londoners took all three points off the Magpies, one player was central to the victory, yet often goes unsung in his endeavours; Mikel Arteta.

The 32-year-old Spaniard arrived at the Emirates from Everton for £10 million to replace former captain Cesc Fabregas as the key playmaker but has since been converted into a somewhat unorthodox defensive or holding midfielder. When he first arrived, I heard the mutterings of some fans who nicknamed him ‘Fabregas Lite’ which was and is unfair on the former Barcelona protégé, they were sizable boots to fill.

Upon the arrival of Santi Cazorla last season, Arteta was shifted back by Wenger, to occupy what is effectively a No.6 position. His technical quality and vision had characterized his diligent work at Goodison Park as well as his spell at Rangers, but his tactical awareness and durability in his current role often go unnoticed at the Emirates where team goals are bread and butter and a flash of genius in front of goal takes all the plaudits.

Arteta’s pass completion rate on Monday night was 93%, pretty good, his average completion rate for the season is 91.7% in the Premier League. Mertesacker and Koscielny have the highest average pass completion rate of all players in the league with 93% and 92.9% respectively. Mathieu Flamini, the alternate with Arteta, is just behind him with 91.6%. As I watched the Gunners pick Newcastle apart on Monday night, I couldn’t help but admire Arteta’s play.

Arsenal took 61% of the possession against the Magpies. Out of 112 passes attempted, 110 were completed successfully in Arsenal’s defensive third, that’s an incredible 98.2%, which is so close to perfection, it’s unreal.

When you see the Gunners working the ball around the attacking third, the fullbacks pushing higher and higher up and the play shifting from flank to flank until there is a breakthrough, that is total football at it’s essence. When they lose possession, who is first person to take responsibility, whose jurisdiction is that? Mikel Arteta.

He is the one who starts every phase of play. We have heard and said so much about the qualities of Aaron Ramsey this term and his desire to get in the box, often finishing a move ‘he started’, we can sometimes forget who gave him the ball.

As the two centre-backs spread wide and separate, Arteta finds himself some space to occupy in the centre circle, he makes himself available and then pivots, to play it out which is where almost every Arsenal attack begins and for 100% of the time on Monday night, he delivered; every single pass he played out from the back reached its intended teammate.

Arteta cannot buy his way into the Spain national team, despite the fact he is the best at his job in Europe. Xabi Alsonso, who occupies that role for Spain, has an 88.4% pass completion rate in La Liga this term and has made 61% of the tackles Arteta has in the Premier League this term, 62.7% of the interceptions his compatriot has made and 53.8% of the clearances.

If Spain opt to ignore the talents of Mikel Arteta, that’s another issue, but Arsenal fans must give their most important player the credit he is long due.

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