Mikel Arteta’s arrival at Arsenal has liberated Alex Song
For someone whose style of play is so unobtrusive, Mikel Arteta provokes a lot of heated debate. Below any newspaper match report on an Arsenal game, he is both lambasted as slow and ineffectual, and proclaimed as pivotal in Arsenal’s resurgence.
The most obvious view of Arteta is that he was a budget replacement for Cesc Fabregas. The similarities – both are Spaniards who learned their football at Barcelona; both take plenty of free-kicks; both are regarded as creative midfielders – are obvious. But the differences are actually more important.
Arteta is not an inferior version of Fabregas. He is actually a subtly different kind of player. Where Fabregas was the creative fulcrum of the side, Arteta plays deeper. He is a solid tackler, intercepts a lot of loose balls and very seldom loses the ball himself. It is no indictment of Arteta that he has only managed two assists so far this season.
The brilliance of Alex Song this season illustrates Arteta’s importance. Last campaign, Song had Fabregas and Jack Wilshere for company in central midfield: a powerful trio, certainly, but one that often left Arsenal exposed. But as Arteta is more defensively disciplined than either Fabregas or Wilshere, the pressure on Song has been released: he can go on buccaneering runs safe in the knowledge that Arteta, in his clever way, will cover for him.
Song’s spectacular assist for the opener in the crucial game against Borussia Dortmund – in which he beat three players in a run down the left-hand side, before a superb cross was converted by Robin van Persie – was only the most extreme example of his dynamic attacking play this season. In the 16 games Song has played alongside Arteta, he has created seven goals – virtually one every other game. In 128 games over the previous three seasons, Song was only responsible for eight assists. He is now a more influential player than at any time in his Arsenal career, with his forward thrusts offering Arsenal new attacking possibilities. The conclusion is unmistakable: Arteta’s presence – his sheer footballing intelligence – has liberated Song. With Arteta alongside him, Song has become a player he simply couldn’t be in the Fabregas days.
Arteta, of course, has his limitations. The quality of his set-piece delivery has sometimes been disappointing, while he is certainly not the paciest footballer, lacking the stamina of Scott Parker, whom many Arsenal fans wanted to sign. While Parker would have been a very good fit at Arsenal too, Arteta has one major advantage over him: goal-scoring. He has scored three goals for Arsenal so far but, as he recently acknowledged, should be chipping in more. Arteta’s shooting ability from outside the box should be one way in which Arsenal can reduce their dependency upon Van Persie’s goals.
But Arteta’s importance in Arsenal’s revival shouldn’t be denied. He does a very specific job – arguably, one which no Arsenal player has done since Gilberto Silva – very well, combining excellent technique and composure on the ball with previously-lacking protection of the defence. That Arsenal leads now have a feeling of permanence is much down to Arteta.Tagged in: Alex Song, Arsenal, football, Mikel Arteta, Premier League
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