Why There Is Still a Place for Mikel Arteta at Arsenal Despite Injury Concerns

James McNicholas@@jamesmcnicholasFeatured ColumnistApril 22, 2015


In the next couple of weeks, Mikel Arteta should make his return to the Arsenal first team. With the race for second place ongoing and another FA Cup final on the horizon, Arteta should still be able to make a significant contribution to the Gunners season.

These final few weeks ought to represent more than just a farewell tour: The Spaniard will surely remain valuable to Arsenal beyond the summer. 

His current deal expires in just a few months' time. Arteta had been set to sign a contract extension earlier this season, but a series of calf and ankle problems put the brakes on that particular deal. Nevertheless, the Gunners skipper is optimistic that it will not take long for fresh terms to be negotiated. Speaking to Jim van Wijk of the Press Association (h/t Daily Mail), he said:

My only aim is to get back fit and try to perform on the pitch. As long as I do that I am sure that I will continue with this club, with the relationship I have with the club and the respect I have from everybody here.

If I don't do that then I am not going to be here because I don't want to be somewhere where I cannot perform at my best and give what I think I can give.

In May, when everything is fine, we will sit down and talk and it will take five minutes.

There are those who suggest handing Arteta a new deal is pointless. Persistent injury problems mean he has made just seven Premier League appearances this season, and in his absence, Francis Coquelin has emerged as a more physical alternative at the base of the Arsenal midfield. With Coquelin in the team, Arsenal have a steel that always seemed lacking when Arteta operated as their "pivote."

Matt Dunham/Associated Press

However, it would be foolish to dismiss him so quickly. Arsenal have made mistakes in the past when it comes to letting experienced players go too early. When Gilberto Silva was sold to Panathinaikos, there was no obvious ready-made replacement. It took the Gunners several years to recover from losing the astute Brazilian.

Arteta is a different player, but he shares some of his predecessor’s qualities. Like Gilberto, he is blessed with an excellent tactical understanding of the sport. He’s someone who can help Arsenal with game management—an area in which they have traditionally struggled. If you’re looking to protect a lead, bringing Arteta on to steady the ship makes perfect sense.

Sang Tan/Associated Press

One of the key ways he’ll be able to contribute is with his passing. According to Squawka, Arteta has a pass-completion rate of 94 per centthe highest in the Arsenal squad by some distance. That capacity for keep-ball could prove invaluable over the course of the season.

Then there’s his influence on his team-mates to consider. Arteta is hugely respected by playing and coaching staff alike. He has developed into a leader, and his loss would certainly be felt in the dressing room.

Coquelin’s rise may have put an end to Arteta’s days as a regular first choice. However, he remains an excellent option as a squad player. 

James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and is following the club from a London base throughout the 2014-15 season. Follow him on Twitter here.