Thursday, 29 September 2011

Mikel Arteta’s confident display against Olympiacos made him the real MOTM

On Inside The Formation we'll look at an individual player's performance and analyse their input into the game. Joss Bennett looks at Mikel Arteta's role against Olympiacos.

Not to take anything away from any of the other outstanding performers – Andre Santos at left-back, Alex Song covering at centre-back, eighteen-year-old Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and even Wojiech Szczesny – but Mikel Arteta, the £10m signing from Everton, put in a near perfect performance against the Greek champions that made him far and away my man of the match.

 In a mixed, and open game in which the Gunners had both periods when they were on top, and when they were under pressure, Arteta was one of the most consistent performers – contributing well to both phases of the game and ultimately leading Arsenal to victory.

The Spaniard’s overall performance was particularly highlighted by his ‘distance covered’ (12km)*. Despite playing the whole 90 minutes, and playing more than 80 minutes in each of his previous 5 games prior to the Olympiacos match, Arteta still managed to cover more ground than every other player on the pitch.

Of course his most obvious defensive contribution during the game was his early clearance off the line in the 15th minute after a badly defended corner fell to Rafik Djebbour, but he also offered a more subtle contribution in the defensive phase, as the stats show.

Arteta broke up play well with six interceptions (again; a game high), one tackle, and three fouls (for which he was eventually booked)** and more than made up for the relatively disappointing Emmanuel Frimpong and Tomas Rosicky alongside him in a return to the 4-3-3/4-1-2-3 formation we’ve seen this season. Arteta’s superb, and rounded, performance in the middle of the pitch clearly forced Olympiacos to shift their focus to the wings, with the visitors making as many as 77% of their attacks through the channels**.

Going forward, Arteta’s role was clearly a slightly less aggressive one than we saw against Bolton, when Arsene Wenger decided to switch back to last season’s 4-2-3-1 system. In that game, Arteta started in a similar position as he did against Olympiacos, but Alex Song was pushed up alongside him and Aaron Ramsey moved into an attacking-midfield area; effectively flipping the midfield pivot.

The key difference in the 4-2-3-1 was that although Ramsey started higher up the pitch, he and Arteta had the freedom to move around the pitch and swap positions, meaning the latter frequently ended up in an advanced position and created five goal-scoring chances, as well as making through-ball**.

So against Olympiacos, although Rosicky came in for Ramsey (and they’re both quite similar players anyway), with both he and Arteta starting in a balanced central position, neither player was as effective as they might have been in the attacking phase. Arteta had just one key pass (same as creating a chance) and made zero successful through-balls**. Fortunately, the Spaniard is far more adapt at playing this position than Ramsey or Rosicky and changed his playing style to suit it – becoming more focused on keeping possession and spreading play to the wings with 98 touches, 73 passes (90% accuracy) and five (from six attempted) long balls**.

Those stats clearly show how effective Arteta was at keeping the ball, but while they may at first be dismissed as “pointless” if he didn’t get an assist, or Arsenal didn’t win by a bigger margin, it’s important to remember the pressure we were under in the first half, and compare that with the way we were able to dominate possession and control the game in the second half.

While we were solid defensively, and nullified their main threat – their right hand side – a large part of the second half performance has to be put down to the composure and experience of Arteta, who reduced the frantic pace of the game and ensured Arsenal rarely had a nervous moment at the back in the second half.

Arteta has already shown remarkable consistency for Arsenal after a relatively quiet debut, and in his first Champions League proper game at the Emirates, he once again showed he has all the qualities to be one of the best signings this season. Tottenham will be a huge test, but I have every confidence he can come through it with flying colours.

*Stats courtesy of’s match centre.
**OPTA stats courtesy of

Joss Bennett is co-editor and head writer of Arsenal blog Arsenal Report - a site for all Gooners interested in tactics, stats and the inner workings of the club. You can follow him on twitter and his read is work at Arsenal Report.

Video produced by CWDailyGooner.

Culann Davies is founder, head writer and video editor of Arsenal blog CWDailyGooner - a site for all Gooners interested in analysis of Arsenal's first teamers, youngsters and loanees in video form. You can follow him on twitter and read his work at CWDailyGooner.

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