When Arsene Wenger sold Alex Song from Arsenal to Barcelona last summer, many Gunners fans were surprised that he neglected to sign a like-for-like replacement for the holding midfielder.
However, Wenger already knew the succession plan. He had identified an internal solution: Spanish midfielder Mikel Arteta.
Arteta had joined the club with a reputation as a creative midfielder. At Everton he was deployed in a variety of roles, including left wing and behind the striker.
At Arsenal, his responsibilities were destined to be different.
When he first signed for the London club in 2011-12, many imagined he would go on to replace Cesc Fabregas as the playmaking No. 10. Instead, Arsene Wenger earmarked that role for Tomas Rosicky and Aaron Ramsey.
Arteta was instead paired in the holding role with Song. As the season wore on, the Spaniard's evolution into a defensive midfielder progressed. As Song launched forward forays with increasing regularity, Arteta emerged as the more disciplined of the pair.
By the start of this season, Arsene Wenger had decided to deploy Arteta as the deepest of his midfield trio.
A change in position requires adaptability and intelligence, and fortunately Arteta possesses both attributes in abundance.
Arteta has always been a great continuity player. His possession play is impeccable, and playing in a deeper role has not damaged this trait.
According to Squawka.com, who have provided all stats for this piece, his pass completion rate stands at a staggering 92 percent.
One accusation occasionally levelled at players with high pass completion statistics is that they tend to play the simple ball. With Arteta, this isn't the case.
A glance at his pass distance stats suggest he manages to be accurate while remaining ambitious.
The defensive side of Arteta's game is improving all the time. As the season has worn on, his defensive contributions have increased dramatically:
The number of interceptions he makes tells you that Arteta plays a cerebral game, based on brains rather than brawn. Rather than reckless and risky tackles, he relies upon intelligent positioning and anticipation.
At first this defensive improvement seemed to inhibit the creative side of Arteta's game.
However, his chance creation ratio is now on the increase, suggesting he's learning to combine both facets of his style in the new role.
Arteta is an integral part of the Arsenal team and an ever-improving force at the base of their midfield.
If he continues to grow into this new role, he could eventually become the Premier League's most influential holding midfielder.
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