This weekend, Chelsea will put Arsenal’s “resurgence” to the biggest test they’ve received since apparently turning the corner. A few things have been key to this upturn in form – Robin van Persie’s goals and Gervinho’s wing play to name two – but one that has somewhat sneaked under the radar has been the stability that Mikel Arteta brings to the table.
When the Spaniard was signed in the dying minutes of the summer transfer window, he was expected to be something of a replacement for Cesc Fabregas. However, he hasn’t directly replaced Arsenal’s former skipper as the creator-in-chief – instead taking up the role as Arsenal’s “middle-man” in the midfield.
Arteta’s main duties in the midfield are to help Arsenal retain possession and fluidity by moving the ball on simply and effectively and giving an option to team-mates for a pass. He occasionally sits deep in the midfield so that when Arsenal do lose possession he’s on hand to win it back and restart attacks.
He helps maintain the pressure on the opposition by helping to ensure that Arsenal’s attacks don’t end when they lose possession by winning the ball back quickly and getting the attack back on track – the intensity of the Gunners’ attacks therefore increases, putting the opposing defence under more strain.
It had been noticed that during Arsenal’s poor run of form, their pressing had been slack, but now Arteta has been brought into the midfield, that has improved – he constantly harries the opposition and this contributes to Arsenal winning back possession quickly.
It’s vital for Arsenal to maintain possession in order to be as efficient as they can – the more of the ball they have, the more opportunities they’ll get to score – so Arteta is vital in this case.
Against Chelsea this may be even more vital – in past years they have taken Arsenal apart on the counter attack over and over again, so Arteta’s presence will go some way to stopping Andre Villas-Boas’ side from doing that on Saturday.
Arteta will probably come up against Raul Meireles in the London derby, and his ball-winning skills will be key to Arsenal. Theo Walcott and Gervinho will line up on the wings, so there’s plenty of counter attacking potential if the likes of Arteta can win the ball in promising positions, which is something that Arsenal have put emphasis on.
He’s also been key to their pressing philosophy – it had been noticed that during Arsenal’s poor run of form, their pressing had been slack, but now Arteta has been brought into the midfield, that has improved – he constantly harries the opposition and this contributes to Arsenal winning back possession quickly. He has helped take some of the creative strain off of Aaron Ramsey, preferring to create from deep and letting Ramsey play through balls on the edge of the area, like against Stoke for Gervinho’s opener. He still gets forward, but it’s rare that he’s the highest midfielder at any point for Arsenal.
He helps the midfield three work well by always offering an option and his positional sense helps him know when to drop back and when to go forward, which is vital for Arsenal as their lack of defensive discipline hurt them at times last season.
It’s noticeable from this heatmap of Arteta’s passing against Stoke that he plays a lot of passes from deep and likes to link up the play and help start moves. This is even more important now that Alex Song is becoming more forward-thinking – Arteta can fill in for Song in the deep-lying role whenever the Cameroon international goes on one of his forays forward.
All of this means that Arsenal are much more stable – there’s always a man back to break down opposition attacks and restart moves, and this could be vital against Chelsea in particular, as they may leave space at the back when attacking Arsenal.
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