Breaking Down the Importance of Mikel Arteta for Arsenal

James McNicholas@@jamesmcnicholasFeatured ColumnistJuly 2, 2013

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 02:  Mikel Arteta of Arsenal in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Stoke City at Emirates Stadium on February 2, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images

Few players are more important to Arsenal than Mikel Arteta.

In 2012/13, only Santi Cazorla started more games for the Gunners. Arteta started 34 of 38 Premier League games, and was subbed off on only three occasions.

One of those occasions was the final day of the Premier League season at Newcastle, when a patched-up Arteta was fielded in the starting XI despite being patently unfit.

Arsenal could not bear to be without him.

It's easy to understand why. Arteta is right at the core of the current Arsenal team. When Alex Song was sold to Barcelona last summer, Arteta took over the pivote role on a full-time basis.

Since then, Arteta has effortlessly converted from an attacking playmaker to a defensive fulcrum. Such adaptability is surely the mark of a great player.

Arteta doesn't have Song's overt physicality, but he does possess real positional intelligence and discipline. The majority of his defensive contributions are interceptions, showing he has the prescience required to read the game.

However, when required to launch in to a challenge, Arteta has repeatedly shown he is no weakling. In 2012/13 he won a creditable 69 percent of his attempted tackles.

His headed duel success rate is also impressive for a player who stands at just 5'9".

What Arteta lacks in height he more than makes up for with sheer guts.

It's clear that Arteta makes a vital contribution patrolling the area in front of the back four. However, Arteta's defensive responsibilities have not curbed his creative instincts entirely.

Arsene Wenger has compared Arteta to Italy's metronome-like midfielder, Andre Pirlo. It's a fair parallel to draw: According to Squawka, Arteta completed a remarkable 91 percent of his passes last season.

His passing is progressive, too. 66.9 percent of his passes moved Arsenal forward. Arteta is constantly probing and looking to help launch the next Arsenal attack.

The Spaniard also contributed six Premier League goals last season, most of which came from the penalty spot. His success rate from 12 yards demonstrates his enormous mental strength and coolness under pressure.

Arteta's importance to Arsenal is best summed up by the fact that in their vital Premier League run-in, it was he who wore the captain's armband.

Thomas Vermaelen may be Arsenal's skipper, but Arteta remains the de facto leader.