Manchester United pass-master Michael Carrick, or cultured Arsenal deep-lying playmaker Mike Arteta, currently two of the Premier League’s finest midfielders; who is the better player, though?
Well, listening to Sky Sports pundit and a man who knows a thing or two about playing in the centre of the park at the highest level, Jamie Redknapp, after the Gunners’ 2-0 win over Liverpool at the Emirates on Saturday evening, it would be hard to look much past the north London club’s holding midfield player.
The former Liverpool and England international thought that it was Arteta who should have been named man of the match against his old team following an eye-catching display patrolling in front of the home team’s back four, with the 31-year-old also playing a key role in his side’s vital opening goal. Speaking after the game on Sky Sports, Redknapp said:
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.
In fact, Arteta made an impressive 106 passes in total against the Reds, a whole 27 more than the visitors’ highest contributor, Steven Gerrard. Unsurprisingly, 94 per cent of those passes found their way successfully to a team-mate in what was a peerless example of how to play the holding role by the Spaniard.
And as if to emphasise just how crucial the Arsenal midfielder has been to his team since arriving from Everton for just £10 million last August, Arsene Wenger’s side have won 63 percent of all the matches in that Arteta starts, but that win ratio drops alarmingly to just 20 percent when the influential Basque is missing.
However, since recovering from a torn quadriceps injury sustained in August, Arteta’s importance to the Gunners has actually increased, with the team’s form also picking up as the calming influence of the methodical Spanish water carrier returned to the starting lineup (see Arteta’s season statistics below).
But what of United’s holding midfielder, though, a player who is equally vital to his side’s rhythm and tempo as the Spaniard is to Arsenal’s? Well the 32-year-old may be a quiet, unassuming figure off the pitch, but on the field the England international lets his feet do the talking most of the time.
Indeed in the previous campaign, as the Red Devils strolled to their 20th top-flight title, Mr. Consistency attempted almost TWICE as many passes as any of his United team-mates in the Premier League, which is quite some stat when you think about it (see below graphic).
And so far this season, despite the stuttering start the champions have made to their title defence, Carrick has simply carried on with his impressive form from the previous two campaigns, an ever-reliable, but no-nonsense, figure dictating play in the centre of the park (see below graphic).
However, how do these two water carriers compare then when they go head-to-head, both during the previous campaign, as well as so far in this season?
Starting with last season, there is virtually nothing to separate the two midfield maestros (see below graphic), with Arteta the more accurate distributor of the duo, but perhaps more importantly in terms of the role the pair play in the team, Carrick is the more decisive and threatening with his probing passes.
And in this current campaign, it is exactly the same story, with the Englishman once again proving more than a match for his Spanish rival in the possession stakes by supplying his team-mates with far more “key” passes than Arteta does in the capital (see below graphic).
Now I feel certain that neither United boss David Moyes nor his counterpart at the Emirates, if given the chance, would swap their player, while I know for sure that fans from both clubs would also argue strongly in favour of their man, as supporters tend to do.
So perhaps the best, and fairest, way to decide this evenly matched contest is simply to judge each midfielder on the overall contribution that they have made to their team from the beginning of last season, both defensively and in attack, as well as how well they kept the ball too (see below graphic).
Consequently, when judged as the complete midfield player, rather than just as a passer, as the two stars should be, it is actually the Arsenal man who wins this particular head-to-head battle.
All statistical graphics courtesy of Squawka.