Arteta’s Transformation and a Potential Ramsey Relocation

In order to succeed in football, you will always need some degree of luck. When August 31st 2011 arrived, Arsène Wenger was running low on it. He had been given the news that Jack Wilshere would be out until at least the start of 2012 and Abou Diaby out indefinitely; in searching for a replacement, he called Everton, enquiring about Marouane Fellaini. Bill Kenwright quoted £30 million, claiming that he would “be lynched” if he sold the Belgian. So Arsenal followed up by asking about Mikel Arteta and eventually, a £10 million deal was finalised.


Those who had watched Arteta knew that he would not take the place of the departed Cesc Fàbregas, but play deeper, with a more defensive mindset. And alongside Alex Song, defending would very much be the primary element of his game (as analysed in this), but his partnership with Song was an oddly imbalanced pivot, with Song’s indiscipline meaning that Arteta was often remaning deep to cover for him. After the Cameroonian’s sale, Arteta was entrusted by the manager to play as Arsenal’s primary holding midfielder.


This was seen by many as a risk. Arteta stands at 5’9″ and is not exactly a great physical presence; nor is he a Javier Mascherano-esque tenacious chaser. His holding qualities lie in his intelligence and his discipline. He is rarely, if ever, caught out of position. You will not see him throwing himself into tackles, charging ill-advisedly around the field like Napoleon into Russia, purely because he has no need to. As Xabi Alonso once said on the English concept of tackling (specifically slide tackling) as a quality: “Tackling is not really a quality, it’s more something you are forced to resort to when you don’t have the ball. I can’t get into my head that footballing development would educate tackling as a quality.”


This is a mere freckle on the face of English football’s ideological flaws – which is another issue for another time – but it illustrates that Arteta comes from a different school of thought, with regard to defending as a whole. Arteta has acted as an extremely secure defensive midfielder, partnered by Diaby for four of this season’s five games, as the foundations of a successful partnership looking as though they are being formed. With more definition in the midfield roles, the whole team looks to be stronger defensively; the shielding midfield pair are doing more shielding than they have done in years past and hence the back four are better protected look much stronger for it.


He has averaged 94.5 passes per game this season, with a success rate of 93.1%. His style has fitted perfectly with the club’s possession-based philosophy, and he has become one of the most important presences at the club. He provides stability in the most critical area of the pitch. His defensive ability has left many, myself included, very pleasantly surprised. Like his colleague Per Mertesacker, he does not get caught for pace because he knows where to stand.


He also gives Arsenal more tactical versatility. The reason many thought he was replacing Fàbregas when he arrived were his thus far minimally used creative abilities. When playing alongside Diaby, Aaron Ramsey and eventually Wilshere (when he returns), he will sit deeper but next to the more defensive figures Francis Coquelin and perhaps Emmanuel Frimpong, he has the chance to harness his creativity, while also aiding further back if needs be. This was seen in Arsenal’s 6-1 win over Southampton, wherein Coquelin played closer to the defence, while Arteta cut a somewhat more creatively influential figure. His adaptability and importance have seen him become one of the most vital players at the club.


Aaron Ramsey may turn out to be the player who benefits most from the Spaniard’s shift. He did well in patches last season when deployed in the ‘number 10’ role, behind the centre forward, but struggled greatly in a deeper position after Arteta’s injury towards the end of the season. This was not helped in the slightest by Song’s complete neglecting of his responsibilities, throwing Ramsey to the proverbial sharks, as he has never played as a true holding player. He was lost in the role with no one to guide him through it.


Now Santi Cazorla has arrived and put the advanced midfield position in his inside coat pocket where no others can take it from him, the Wales captain will find opportunities there limited. He is physically very strong, he has a good range of passing, impressive dribbling and a tireless, dynamic element to his game – on paper, he fits the box-to-box position well. Next to a disciplined holding player, Ramsey could be given the freedom to operate deeper but with less defensive responsibility, and even to sit back in a holding role, in years to come, when he has learned the position better.


Given Diaby’s time on the sidelines, it will be asking a lot of him to play two games a week. Chances will come for both Ramsey and Coquelin, but for games in which Wenger’s men will set up to attack – most games – Ramsey will probably be the preferred option. He was put under a huge amount of pressure last season and the strain began to show on him in the second half of the year. All going to plan he will not be needed nearly as much this season, so will have the energy to present his better qualities, in a role that suits him perfectly.


Not even the man who signed Arteta could have predicted what a success he would be, nor the change he would undergo. He is the centre of the team, the link between defence and attack. He was certainly not top of Arsenal’s desired list of options, but he has defied expectations. Luck was on Wenger’s side when Arteta’s lesser-known qualities showed themselves. If there is any success in Highbury this year, he will be at the centre of it. The greatest of all the panic buys.


24 Comments on “Arteta’s Transformation and a Potential Ramsey Relocation”

  1. steww says:

    Excellent analysis. Can’t fault it.

  2. James Cook says:

    Top piece man, glad I RT’d before reading it. I was thinking of writing a similar piece before you posted this one! Not on Arteta but on the evolution of the DM.

  3. moosa says:

    Brilliant article like I said to artekkers like the way you forgot that we have moved from highbury to the emirates but hats off to you keep up the good work mate.

  4. wale Folarin says:

    Absolutely correct. Also recollect that when he was injured toward the last season we struggled to win a match. He is very attentive to details.

  5. Sriram says:

    Good one. I liked it, though I still wouldn’t resort to calling it a panic buy. But, that’s ok.

    He was an absolute steal at 10m. He is the vital cog in the Arsenal machine today and if he stays fit throughout, we might have a wonder season in front of us.

    Keep writing, cheers!

  6. Fantastic piece bud. Love to hear acute analysis and an awareness of the game and how it works. I know we all, as fans sometimes fail to see things subjectively. But it’s great to read this and see the evidence of your point backed up in the games of this season and last. Can’t wait to read more! Well done!

  7. Hartley says:

    Great piece, when i heard we might sign Arteta I was very happy with it because before his injury he was what made Everton tick. And its only now that the moaners are understanding “the footballing class of the man” panic buy was it I don’t think so. Everyone within that team has a role !! Let’s just trust are manager and keep the faith. Thank you

  8. patto1992 says:

    I really enjoyed reading this article and agree with you on everything about Arteta but Mertesacker not getting caught out by pace is a strange comment, last season it happened a lot

  9. us_gunner says:

    I knew Arteta was a talent from watching hia run the midfield at Everton, and im overjoyed at the success and confidence he has injected into our squad. He’s a great player. i hope Ramsey can have another great year like the performances he showed before we went to Stoke Rugby Club a few years ago and he had his leg shattered.

  10. Tone Starks says:

    Good piece agree completely.

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