Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil have commanded most of the headlines surrounding Arsenal's superb rise to the summit of the Premier League this season.
However, it would be remiss not to mention the understated contribution of the genius that is Mikel Arteta. The uncapped Spaniard has been nothing but excellent since he returned to action in late September and has played a major role in the Gunners' great run.
It would be fair to say that when Arteta signed for Arsenal in 2011 many fans were wondering what exactly Arsene Wenger was up to. Arsenal signed eight players during the summer of 2011 with Arteta and Per Mertesacker standing out as those most likely to go straight into the first team.
Arteta, however, was something of a worry for Gunners fans. At his former professional clubs, Rangers and Everton, the midfielder had enjoyed the role as the chief creative player and was often to be found in an advanced or left-sided midfield role.
Remember, Arsenal had just sold Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona and Samir Nasri to Manchester City so the capture of Arteta was very underwhelming. Also, in December 2007, Arteta was given a straight red card for catching Fabregas in the face with his arm. He wasn't exactly No. 1 on the Gunners fan's transfer list.
The Gunners also possessed players like Ramsey, Andrei Arshavin, Yossi Benayoun, Abou Diaby, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alex Song and Tomas Rosicky. Each of these midfielders were competing for a berth with Arteta.
Former Arsenal great Martin Keown was working for BBC at the time and was asked if Arteta and Benayoun were adequate replacements for the departing Fabregas and Nasri. He said:
No they're not, it's very hard to replace those players.
I think back to the [Dennis] Bergkamp era, the impetus those players brought. Arteta is a great passer [and] Benayoun is not getting into Chelsea team. It's a mixed bag for Arsenal fans.
The Spaniard would go on to make 29 starts during the 2011-12 season. Song was the only midfielder to make more starts than Arteta with 34.
Since making his debut in the home win over Swansea City, Arteta has gone on to make 92 appearances for Arsenal in all competitions. He will reach the 100-mark, injury permitting, over the Christmas period.
Three major factors appealed to Wenger in his selection of Arteta. Firstly, his professional attitude is second to none and he is a massive influence on and off the pitch. His presence and attitude alone have helped improve many at Arsenal and none more so than the likes of the younger players coming through. Each of Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott have benefited hugely from his company.
In November 2012, David Moyes told the Irish Independent that he was not surprised at how important Arteta had become to Arsenal's cause.
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He is a very gifted footballer [and] a great lad to work with.
I think the manager (Wenger) was probably surprised what he offers: he is a great professional, a really good footballer and I'll be delighted to see him back – just disappointed it is in an Arsenal jersey.
I see Mikel now and when they are having a bit of a huddle he is the one who is the leader and I think they look to him, he has taken on a lot of the leadership qualities in that side.
He was part of the rebuilding process that had to take place at Everton when we tried to develop the team and move it on.
We were a bit unsure when he first came here. He was a bit lightweight to play in the middle and so we played him off the side and he was great there for us, he really was.
Eventually he moved on to be a real key figure in that period and was a big part of us developing and moving Everton forward.
How about Arteta's stats? Up there with our most important players pic.twitter.com/uXjD941LMq— Chris (@MoarFootball) July 6, 2013
Wenger backed up the theory of Arteta being a leader in September 2013 when he told the club's official website that the Spaniard is looked up to by his fellow players.
He is very influential and he's a leader—one of the leaders of the team and he's a technical leader as well.
The second major determinant in his purchase from Everton is his outstanding passing ability. Arteta is one of the few players in the Premier League comfortable in both a continuity role and in a creative role. Basically, this means that he is a midfielder who can play at a high level in any section of the pitch.
The likes of Ozil, David Silva and Juan Mata are all at their best in the final third of the field. Arteta often fulfilled this role for Moyes at Everton. He is also comparable to the likes of Lucas Leiva, Mathieu Flamini and Morgan Schneiderlin in his defensive contribution to the cause.
Arteta recently came into direct competition against Leiva as Arsenal faced Liverpool. The game was a top of the table clash with first facing second with the midfield battle set to determine the direction of the game. In the end it was Arteta who shone as he contributed a man of the match performance.
Analyzing the game for Sky Sports, Jamie Redknapp was gushing in his praise of Arteta's all-round performance as he directly compared him to Lucas.
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Arteta's role today was a different class and if you compare that to what Lucas—who never really covered the ground and the areas that he needed to—did for Liverpool, he was spot on.
Everything he did defensively, plus his all-round performance, gave everyone a platform to go and play.
It's not easy in there in this Arsenal team because people always go running forward with the ball, and at times he must see plenty of red shirts running forward, but not too may running back.
He has to always back up the play and the one time he did break with the ball, he made the [first] goal for his team. It was quality midfield play and at times people like him in that system never get the plaudits they deserve.
He has to play. Wenger showed that when as soon as he got fit again he was straight back in the team.
The last major, but by no means the final, reason that Arteta found his way to Arsenal is because of his highly intelligent decision-making and positional sense.
Arteta possesses an innate ability to ghost into positions undetected and make blocking tackles or interceptions. In his 10 Premier League and Champions League games this season he averages an excellent 3.6 tackles and 1.6 interceptions per game according to WhoScored.com.
Mikel Arteta: Since joining the Gunners, Arsenal have won 63.4% of their PL games with Arteta starting, compared to 20% without him #AFC— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) August 15, 2013
If analysts were asked to come up with a template for a complete midfielder, it is safe to say that Arteta would not be the prototype that comes to mind.
However, he is an exceptional passer of the ball, possesses the ability to cover every inch of the pitch, is positionally very aware and is a real leader of men.
In short, he could find a place in any team.
You can look me up on Twitter @WillieGannon.