LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 16: Mikel Arteta of Arsenal looks thoughtful during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Sunderland at the Emirates Stadium on October 16, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
A skillful midfielder who originated out of Barcelona's academy, originally as a defensive midfielder in the mould of his hero, Pep Guardiola. A player who saw his chances blocked by Xavi and Andres Iniesta, and thus, left Barcelona and the country as a teenager. A player who was pushed into a more attacking role and has since flourished. An excellent passer of the ball. You can be forgiven for believing that the person depicted above was Cesc Fabregas. However, it is Arsenal's new Spanish maestro that is the subject of that description.
However, that is all the two midfielders share in common. While many regarded Arteta as a "poor man's" Cesc Fabregas, that comparison does a disservice to someone who has been proving that he is as influential as the former Arsenal captain. Having played in every Arsenal match since joining, aside from the Carling Cup, he has not needed an excessive time to bed in, looking comfortable in the red and white strip from the first minute against Swansea City, two months ago. In that game, he did exactly what was asked of him; provide a techinical security, offering to receive the ball, and then make a good pass to either Andrey Arshavin, Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey or Robin van Persie. He took on a more defensive role than he usually played at Everton, but, his adaptability, to a different role and a different club, highlights his football intelligence, something that makes him a huge asset to Arsenal.
Since then, Arteta's spectacularity has come from his solid performances, in that deeper role. He's passed at a rate over 90% (making the most passes per game in the Premier League, and the 8th most in Europe's top 5 leagues--ahead of a certain Cesc Fabregas), and while it hasn't been "flashy", they've been important passes, either getting Arsenal out of a tight situation, spreading play to wide areas, or enabling an attack to build (one example is his excellent pass to Gervinho before the Ivorians assist for Robin van Persie's first goal against Stoke). He's been superb at winning the ball back, winning 15 out of 17 tackles, showing that a defensive role isn't beyond him. But there's also another quality about him; the way that he rarely loses the ball (he's lost the ball 10 times in 8 games), the calmness on the ball that he gives to fans and players alike; something that one didn't have with Arsenal's previous number 8. He can slow the tempo down, or quicken it, but always does things with a calmness and intelligence that Arsenal have perhaps lacked over the last few years, the "leadership" that those expert pundits always allude to.
His intelligence is what I have the biggest appreciation for. Tactically, he's superb, always moving into the right place when Alex Song breaks forward, or Andre Santos is stranded up front. In possession, he rarely makes the wrong pass, and, especially in the last few Arsenal games, he chooses the right moments to get forward. That intelligence means that he can partner any midfielder; Frimpong, Wilshere, Ramsey, Song, Rosicky. With each one, he's struck up a good understanding and played well, something that speaks volumes given that he met up with everyone about 2 days before his first game for the club. While he isn't as good, or the same type of player, as Cesc Fabregas, some aspects of his game are superior. Fabregas, for example, wasn't as positionally sound when covering for Arsenal's midfielders, and, since Arteta has joined, Arsenal have generally looked more solid in open play. Indeed, Arteta, out of Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas and himself, the four who idolised Pep Guardiola, seems to be the only one who plays in a similar fashion to the Barcelona manager. Guardiola himself was a simple player; always making the right pass and being in the right position, while adding creativity from a deeper position, like Arteta does. It was Cesc Fabregas who was given Guardiola's number 4, but it's Mikel Arteta who deserves it (as long as it's in red and white!).