Vital Arsenal Player of the Season: 3rd Place
The votes have been cast and it would appear that you lovely people agreed with me entirely in your Player of the Season votes in terms of running order. Like Arsenal themselves, Mikel Arteta held off a late surge from Alex Song in 4th place, who snared 10% of your votes. The Spaniard signed from Everton on deadline day can justifiably feel the love with 11% of the overall vote for Player of the Season, putting him in 3rd place. Though not our record signing, Arteta is the most expensive player Arsenal have bought thus far. £10m transfer fee and a further £15m in wages over a 5 year deal for a man who will have little resale value at the end of his deal represents a big speculation. If this season is anything to go by; it`s an investment that will yield accumulation. Journalists that conducted a very basic lack of research alleged he took a pay cut to join Arsenal, which is untrue as Arsenal put an extra year on his deal compared to his Everton contract.
Arteta`s arrival was sealed in true Arsenal style, with seconds of the transfer deadline to spare. The press billed him as the replacement for Fabregas, but the truth was that that was never the intention. Slowly everyone began to realise that actually he was an upgrade on Denilson and more of a replacement for the crocked Wilshere. Ramsey was to head the midfield triangle, with Arteta`s unyielding ball retention and ceaseless concentration acting as the go between in midfield. Nobody in the Premier League passed more often and more accurately than Arteta. He became our pivot, the lubricant of our game. He liberated Ramsey (later Rosicky) and allowed Song to flower into a creative defensive midfielder, ably covering every time the Cameroonian whenever he ventured forward. In this respect, Arteta enabled Arsenal to prescribe to the manager`s vision of total football, where everybody is responsible for everything.
It took a lot of us a long while to get used to this more understated role. Arteta had been the creative fulcrum of an Everton side for six years and most had expected him to take that mantle again. Wenger once described a young, budding Denilson as a hybrid of Gilberto and Rosicky. He never quite managed to develop that way, but the description is more fitting for Arteta. His brand of unfussy play- receive the ball, move it on, be in a position to receive again if needed- became vital in the engine room. He at once liberated Ramsey and Song and he added an experience and maturity to a side that had, in recent years, looked talented yet self destructive. One can only salivate at the prospect of having signed him four years earlier. An alliance between him and Fabregas could have really been something special.
Joni Mitchell once sang, "So it always seems to go, that you don`t know what you`ve got till it`s gone." Whilst Gooners were on board with Mikel`s importance, the wider public didn`t seem to get it until the wee Pugsley Addams lookalike with the Ken Doll hairdo was injured in a cup tie with Leeds. He missed the next two games, away at Swansea and at home to Manchester United. We lost both. It`s now a well worn fact that the Gunners only won 1 of the 9 games for which Arteta was sidelined this season. It took them until the last attempt too! It`s not just Arteta`s ball retention that makes him so vital to the side, but his defensive nous. He knows when to plug in for wandering teammates (cough, Vermaelen, cough) and he presses the opposition.
One only has to look not just at the quantity but the manner of the goals we`ve conceded in his absence. Against Swansea, Norwich, West Brom and Wigan straight forward, uncontested balls from the middle of the pitch had put our back four under instant pressure. Two concurrent events at the season`s tail end neatly surmised his influence. One of his last contributions of the season was to smash a late, 25 yard winner past Joe Hart against Manchester City. But it wasn`t the strike, so much as how it came about. With 87 minutes gone, he was harrying Pizarro into surrendering possession, he pressed high up the pitch to win the ball back. Eight days later, he hobbled off in the home game v Wigan. In the period between him going off for treatment and being replaced, the Latics scored twice. The first saw the team mercilessly exposed on the counter attack without Arteta`s diligence. He missed the rest of the season as Arsenal became nervous and leaky. One can only speculate, but both his calmness and his defensive responsibility would surely have seen us over the line into 3rd place in a much more timely fashion.
Arteta also gives us a viable right footed option for setpieces. Strikes against Aston Villa and Manchester City showed us that he can hit a mean strike- which he showed plenty of times in Everton`s blue. But his setpiece delivery from corners is also unerring. No other right footed option matches his delivery for accuracy. You rarely see him over hit and it`s not often one of his corners doesn`t clear the front post- a bugbear of Wenger`s Arsenal in past years- or into the goalkeeper`s arms. It`s just a shame we don`t have the players to capitalise on it more often! Arteta attempted in excess of 2,200 passes this season, completing exactly 90% of them and created 63 goalscoring opportunities for teammates- though admittedly this culminated in just 2 assists. He has 7 goals from 27 shots in his 31 league appearances (information courtesy of fourfourtwo`s stat zone ). As the players completed their end of season lap of appreciation pleasantry, only two players had their names sung directly. Van Persie and then Arteta. His contribution has been slow in arriving, but generous in its outpouring from Arsenal fans. A fantastic effort from a player I`d have loved to have seen at Arsenal some years ago. Tomorrow, a write up on this season`s silver medal. LD.