Arsenal’s summer was a debacle to put it kindly.
Samir Na$ri abandoned the team the moment a bag of cash was flashed his way. Wenger seemed reticent to buy anyone despite millions sitting in the bank. And our talisman Cesc finally departed for Barcelona, leaving the most glaring gap in a vulnerable Gunner side.
But as we know, after a United thrashing, Wenger opened up his pocketbook in the 11th hour of the transfer window. And, by September 1st, Arsenal had brought in seven new players.
With more than half the season gone, I would like to analyze these buys and see how they have fit into the squad so far.
First, lets look at Arsenal’s midfield shepherd and resident part-time male model: Mikel Arteta
The new Fabregas? Never.
There is only one Cesc, and all Gooners who watched him over the past eight years know that.
A replacement for Jack? Unlikely. No Arsenal player (probably for the next decade) will be able to replicate Jack’s leadership, passion and pure talent.
Still, when Arteta was bought many saw him as the man to replace Cesc. This comparison was largely down to journalistic laziness, with pundits using their shared Spanish and Barca heritages as evidence of style similarities.
They however, offer something very different.
For one, they don’t play in the same position in Arsenal’s squad. Cesc was the fulcrum of the attacking side, playing higher up the pitch.
Arteta, on the other hand, dictates the pace of the game from further back, employed in the deep-lying playmaker position opposite Alex Song.
And although Arteta is not the new Cesc, he has proven an inspired buy by Wenger. Arteta’s ability to retain possession and keep things ticking over in the midfield is crucial. His passing percentage hovers around 90%, and he has completed the most passes in the Arsenal squad.
Morever, he has chipped in with a few of his trademark long-range poacher goals (see Wigan and Blackburn). Although not the goal return he would have hoped for, these goals still provide an extra boost to a team too reliant on Van Persie for scoring.
He also offers a defensive toughness that’s essential for Arsenal’s CM position.
Arteta has proven adept at tackling and, more importantly, slowing down opposing attacks—with superior positional awareness. Wenger has spoken about the solidity Mikel has brought to the Arsenal midfield. It’s just a shame Wilshere hasn’t been able to learn firsthand from him given his injury.
Lastly, the intangibles of adding Arteta cannot be overstated.
Players like Szczesny and the Ox have commented on his impressive training routines. He adds a wealth of Premier League experience to a relatively young squad, and was forged in the battles of the EPL.
He adds a steel and calmness, which are important in big games.
When Arsenal went down 2-0 to Tottenham last week, Arteta can be seen calmly heading back to the center circle. No panic. He has been there before, and knows a game is 90 minutes. Having that experience is critical for Arsenal’s run-in, especially given previous accusations of team weakness. EPL fans can recognize some of that Everton grittiness in Arteta’s mentality.
Arteta has, however, garnered some criticism for an unwillingness to play the killer pass.
Often, it seems, he chooses to make the safer play, rather than choosing to release someone further up the field. Still, he has shown at times the ability to do this, and ones hopes that with more experience in the Arsenal system he will take greater liberties in his attacking play.
The other criticism of Arteta has been inconsistent set-piece deliveries. At Everton, Arteta was lauded as a set-piece specialist—piling up assists in the process. However, this year Gooners have witnessed numerous free kicks hitting the wall and corners failing to get past the first defender. Many fans understandably want more from these opportunities.
The Arteta transfer, though, has largely been a success. With today’s Milan game imminent, Gooners will agree that Arteta’s absence (due to a concussion) is a big blow. Since his August move, he has demonstrated his quality as the important link between defense and offense that every great side needs. And, whether that’s what fans expected of him when he was brought in is now irrelevant.
He was never a Cesc replacement—and that’s alright. Arsenal still need great midfield creativity—something likely to be addressed this summer, but Arteta offers other important qualities: stability, experience and impressive ball retention.
With Arsenal needing a minimum of four goals to advance today, Gooners will agree that without Arteta this is a much tougher task. And that alone shows how quickly Arteta has won over the Arsenal faithful.
Let’s hope for more in the coming months and years.