Today’s post is by PA regular Double Canister.
“He is Arsène Wenger on the pitch.”
I was prompted to write this after I saw a tweet to George saying as much and felt I could expand a bit on why I believe it is so.
I would have to state my conflict of interest first – the only Arsenal shirt I have ever put a name and number on the back of – ever – is Arteta No 8.
Mikel is far too highly skilled as a footballer for what other teams and commentators see as the classic Defensive Midfield role. He is not Makélélé, thankfully. He is not quite like Gilberto Silva as the Invisible Wall. We all know he is a better all-round footballer than Flamini. He is the man behind our multiple sexy attacking threats up front and the mind-fielder and is the oil in the engine of the Arsenal midfield. His contract expires in January 2015. He will be 32 years old this March, we may be seeing the best of him right now.
Arteta is a deep-lying playmaker. He wins the ball, see things, sees players – makes passes, and as was said by others – he can see the pass beyond the first pass. There is no one else in the English league I would compare him to. He is always available as the recovery pass. He hardly ever gives the ball away. He is not as psychotic as Roy Keane was though. He does the heavy pressing for Arsenal, and with Rosicky, they can both form a proper tiki-taka (the other half of what Barca used to do so well) and do what has to be done to press and win the ball back.
Pivot ye not
So what does Arteta do so well? Is he something like a trequartista or a regista? No, not exactly. In Argentine and Uruguayan football, a playmaker is known as an enganche – literally meaning “hook”. In basketball it’s called the point guard. A point guard has perhaps the most specialized role of any position – essentially, they are expected to run the team’s offense by controlling the ball and making sure that it gets to the right players at the right time. Above all, the point guard must totally understand and accept his coach’s game plan; a point guard is a coach on the floor, who can handle and distribute the ball to teammates.
It leads to a deeper question: what kind of football does Arsenal at the moment play under Wenger?
Is the simple answer, but what really is that?
New Wengerball© is a unique blend of possessional, direct, and total football. I have often argued that the traditional DM role is obsolete at teams like Arsenal, we expect our players to be complete; defenders attack – attackers defend. You know – Total Football style. We also expect our midfielders to possess extraordinary levels of energy and skill (and a bit of nous too). We don’t use a holding midfielder anymore, as this would restrict our attack options by using up one of the midfield positions. Each and every one of the 6 players in front of the defence is an attacking weapon. It is a lightning quick pass-move system. Throw in one or the other of our two overlapping fullbacks as well. Teams we play against don’t know from where – or who – the next ball towards their goalmouth will come. Most English teams usually operate with only one recognised playmaker; Arsenal usually have 4 or 5. Arteta’s role as the point guard requires unusual skill and adaptability, combined with intelligent positioning. Look as Gerrard struggles so desperately whilst being converted into the same position so late in his career.
And what has this to do with asymmetric warfare?
There is as a phrase used in the military ‘Slow is smooth, and smooth is quick’. Arteta will ensure he (or at least one other covering player) stays around no further forward than centre circle when everyone else is playing school yard football. Lying deeper, he can orchestrate the movement of the whole team. His starting position is quite deep, probably due to fading pace but that is rarely exposed as he is usually first to react to loose balls. Mikel rarely gives the ball away. He gets criticised, unjustly, for making some side and back passes but he is no Carrack – there is a logic to what he does – the ball will be moving forward again after the next pass, often to one of the killer attackers like Ramsey, Wilshere, Cazorla or Ozil. The point is he can keep recycling the play from side to side, front to back, keep the passing rhythm, the tempo and speed impossibly high, until the opposition falter or make a mistake – and then BOOM!
Why he is Wenger’s brain on the pitch
Arteta has discipline – he will stick to the task. How many late goals have the Arsenal scored? How many late goals are conceded when he’s around? It often takes 70+ minutes to break down teams who play against us with a parked bus. In the last 20 minutes, when Arsenal are still usually trying to make sure of the result in the match, you will see some very interesting things happen.
Santi, Rosicky and Theo will typically keep swapping sides. Sanga may drop back into defensive mode and Monreal or Gibbs will be the one pushing forward.
The first 70 minutes were merely feints, the real XXXX comes now. Ozil becomes alive, new attack angles appear everywhere. Defenses can’t cope, but we need Arteta to be the one pinging the ball around to make it happen. His passing from the deep positions has to be spot-on reliable – and it usually is. Lying deeper, he has an oversight of the entire game from his usual position around the centre circle. He can move up or back depending on the situation and provides the extra body to an attack or a defence. Oh, and he will take one for the team if he has too. A +70% tackle success rate but he is not shy about the odd rugby tackle on an opponent if that is the last resort, and accruing the inevitable yellow card if he sees that we have been left too exposed behind him.
This photo of them – they are soul mates
Arteta has the intelligence and senior experience to understand what must be done. Both never had international careers. It’s Arsenal or nothing for them both now. Their careers will not go on for much longer. It has to be done now.
Now watch this and tell me I’m wrong:
Double Canister can be told he’s wrong on Twitter @double_canister