Of late, Arsenal fans have had very little to crib about. The team has been performing very well, and almost every player has been giving their best in every match. But as football fans go, there always needs to be some point to discuss, dissect and criticise after every game.
And that is where criticism of Mikel Arteta comes from. Of all the players in the team, the general consensus is that he is not as effective as others in his position, like Mathieu Flamini, and that the Frenchman should be the preferred starter over the Spaniard. The ideal line up for most detractors of Arteta would be a midfield consisting of Flamini and Ramsey as the holding midfielders.
There is the impression that Arteta is a player that prefers the back passes than actually moving the ball forward, a la Denilson. While it may have been true to an extent the previous campaign, considering he had to contend with Gervinho on the left and Theo Walcott on the right, it is certainly not the case this time round.
In fact, stats show that Arteta has moved the ball forward a lot more this season, perhaps as a direct result that he has more technically astute players to pass to. Certainly the sight of an Ozil on the right or a Cazorla on the left cannot be too shabby! That being said, he does move backwards as well, at least half the time.
But the question that needs to be asked is: Is moving the ball back really all that bad as it is made out to be?
Surely, almost every team in the English Premier League knows that Arsenal are always an attacking threat and can hurt you if you provide any gaps in the defence. As a result, most teams set themselves up defensively, and in many cases, have 10 men behind the ball. In such scenarios, it is not possible to always expect the forward players, irrespective of their pedigree and talent, to find a way past all the players. So, when they give it back to Arteta, he, seeing that no successful play can be made, plays it back to the defenders so that a fresh attack can once again be started from the back.
For a team that thrives on having the ball in possession, and wants to ensure that there are no defensive errors, especially during counter attacks, it is a far better option to be patient and play to ball back to keep possession rather than trying to force a move that was never there, giving away the ball to the opposition. And considering that Arsenal do not play long ball either, this is the only way out.
There is, of course, the fact that he is slower than the others in midfield, and asking him to shield the defenders can be a tad risky. Many a times this season, we have already seen that Arteta is not the quickest to recover when beaten, which leads to him making unnecessarily tackles in a bid to get back the ball. As a result, he picks up quite a few yellow cards, and in some cases a red too, hurting the team in the process.
But then again, this Arsenal team has all been about collective defensive responsibility, with the entire team focussed on helping defend and removing any scope for errors that the opposition can use to hurt us and take away valuable points. With Koscielny and Mertesacker being in fine form along with Flamini, Ramsey, Cazorla, Ramsey, Wilshere as well as Giroud putting in great defensive shifts, Arteta’s pace, or lack of it, shouldn’t cause too much of a worry.
In fact, Arteta brings a lot more in terms of experience and leadership to the field that is very important for an Arsenal squad that has not touched meaningful silverware for close to a decade. While Flamini does all the shouting and pointing and organising, the experience and calmness of players like Arteta and Mertesacker is important as well as the team set the pace of the league, a position they have not really been used to.