Thursday, 22 December 2011

Getting Arteta on the ball and bossing midfield will make Arsenal winners

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

I’ve written several times before about how Arsenal’s signing of the season so far, Mikel Arteta, has been a key addition with his ability to control the tempo of a game and provide an important link between defence and attack. Against Aston Villa, these qualities were once again on display as Arsenal scraped a win against a physical and hard-working Aston Villa side.

Although Arsenal were pretty disappointing for most of the 90 minutes, there was a clear difference between the first half – when the away side took the lead and created a number of other chances – and the second, when the aptly named ‘Villains’ controlled the game for around half an hour, before Arsenal came back into it and grabbed the winner.

The difference, throughout the game, was Mikel Arteta. Not only was it the Spaniard’s quick thinking from a throw-in that led to the penalty and opening goal in the first half, but the ex-Everton man was perhaps the only starting Arsenal midfielder who appeared up for the physical battle. Arteta won two of his four attempted tackles (including aerial duels), while Frimpong won just one, and Ramsey won none**.

With Aston Villa’s superb pressing game pushing Arsenal back into their own half (56% of their tackles and 38% of their interceptions were made in the Arsenal half**), it was Arteta’s composure and accuracy on the ball that prevented the Gunners being overran in the middle of the pitch.

Despite Villa’s dangerous wingers, Arséne Wenger’s side were happy to force the home side into wide areas, with increasing confidence put in Arsenal’s ability to deal with crosses; winning 63% of aerial-duels overall*.

When given slightly more space in the first half – particularly in the immediate aftermath of the goal as Villa chased an equaliser and left several gaps across the pitch – Arteta managed to complete 37/40 passes (93%), including making 67% of his successful passes in the opposition half**.

In the second half, Arteta and Arsenal’s midfield were put under even more pressure, with Villa coming out after half-time with a determined and more disciplined attitude. Here, Arteta adapted his role to a more controlling one – spreading passes to Arsenal’s wide-men to a) try and create chances using the pace of Walcott and Gervinho, and b) frustrate and tire the opposition.

Although the former didn’t quite happen, the latter certainly did and after 30 minutes of the second half, Villa were clearly tiring and backing off Arsenal, who eventually found the breakthrough with three minutes of normal time to play.

While several players in the Arsenal side have struggled to find consistency so far this season, especially in a packed and tiring Christmas period, Arteta has been one of few players to have regularly performed to the best of his ability. While clearly not a direct replacement for Cesc Fabregas, Arteta has quietly provided important balance and stability to the Arsenal midfield, using his experience to put in composed and often decisive performances such as this one.

While concerns remain about whether the Spaniard was signed two years too late, his form at the moment seems to suggest such concerns are – for now at least – irrelevant. With Jack Wilshere (hopefully) returning from injury within the next month or two, and Rosicky impressing off the bench, the important thing is to take it game-by-game.

*OPTA statistics courtesy of
**Statistics from Guardian Chalkboards

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 CWDailyGoonerCulann 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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