Mikel Arteta’s arrival at Arsenal has liberated Alex Song

arteta 300x297 Mikel Artetas arrival at Arsenal has liberated Alex Song

Mikel Arteta and Alex Song pictured in action together for Arsenal

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.

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  • robsmith121

    I wouldn’t go as far to say he has liberated him, it’s just Arteta is mature and understands the game more than Wilshere and Fabregas.  

  • Jesse Coole

    Absolutely agree with this article, and I always thought Song had more to give as an attacking player. Arteta just has a good energy about him, combined with Mertesacker, RVP, and the returning Vermaelen there is some good leadership down the spine of the Arsenal team now. 

  • jodro2

    Agreed. I think the other thing with Arteta is that he, perhaps being older, but also by temperament, has a cool head, and can slow play when necessary, to make sure the team retains possession, or to cool down nerves. He always appears to have time on the ball, and the moment he has wins it or gets it, the team (and the fans) can relax and breathe more freely. This is a much needed quality: although the one touch tikka takka that Arsenal play can be deadly, and beautiful and exciting to watch, it risks falling apart the moment the team is under pressure.

    I also think the team is liberated after Fab’s departure. It was a similar situation as with Henry’s last season at Arsenal, where a star player with a  tendency to sulk was pulling the strings in a way that dragged the team down, rather than lifting it. And Fab didn’t contribute that much during his last season at Arsenal anyway. He’s doing great at Barca, so it’d have been better for all involved if he’d left a season earlier.

    And here’s hoping that Wenger doesn’t, again, allow one player to become–seemingly–more important than the rest of the team. In this respect, RvP will hopefully take a leaf out of Bergkamp’s book, and avoid the trappings that can come with being the team’s star player.

  • AFC Ajax

    Arteta spent two years at Paris Saint-Germain in the early 2000’s. He was still 18-20 back then and didn’t appear that often for the side, yet the fans still remember him fondly and would take him back anytime. Most brilliant midfielder not to be able to break into Spain’s national team owing to their abundance of riches.

  • dionysiusx1

    Arteta was an excellent deadline day signing.  Was willing it through at the time, and haven’t been disappointed since.  The Song – Arteta axis is working wonderfully well, such that, with Frimpong also a bullish understudy and Diaby making a tenantive comeback, Arsenal can afford to be meticulous about Wilshere’s rehabilitation.  It will be interesting to see Wenger’s squad sheets when all are fit and agitating to play.

  • UrbanSpaceMonkey

    I doubt that the Song-Arteta axis will be disturbed too much this season. When Wilshere returns he’ll probably replace Ramsey who at only 20 has played a lot of football for club and country this season.

  • Moses Macferlan

    Excellent, perceptive piece.

  • sola philip fanawopo

    Arsenal 2011/12 team is gradually emerging the most stable one in recent years. The back four look very solid even without Gibbs and the injured right wing back. The midfield would certainly benefit from an addition of Wilshere. But is Arsenal missing him now? I am not sure the fans are complaining. However, the attack needs urgent support. Wenger should by an effective striker during the winter window. 

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