Sunday, 4 December 2011

Mikel Arteta re-found form with a superbly composed performance against Wigan

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 against Wigan.

In recent weeks – particularly in the games against Marseille and Fulham – it’s fair to say that most of the team will have been disappointed with their performances, with the run of matches clearly affecting fitness and concentration levels.

Mikel Arteta is no exception to this and despite several glittering displays since joining the Gunners, the 29-year-old finally began showing his age with some tired performances against the likes of Fulham and Marseille. Thankfully, there appears to have been very little criticism, but rather sympathy directed at Arteta following said games, with most people accepting that a player with little experience of playing three games in a week is bound to need a rest now and then.

That rest came as Arsenal’s youngsters were knocked out of the Carling Cup against Manchester City, and the Spaniard couldn’t have wished for an easier game to come back to on his return to the starting line-up. Wigan were short of ideas throughout – defensively and offensively – and Arteta’s excellent passing display (he attempted 97 passes and completed 85*) constantly gave the opposition’s midfield the run-about.

From a tactical point of view, it was interesting to see how Wenger’s midfield has become more and more fluid as the players have got to know each others' game and build an understanding. For much of the match against Wigan, there appeared to be no clear positional instructions for the three midfielders – each player was allowed to move forward at will in the knowledge that the player next to them would move behind and cover them.

As a result, and probably also in part due to the lacklustre efforts from Wigan’s players to close down any men in red and white after the first 20 minutes, we saw Arteta come into more advanced areas of the pitch (to the extent that he was able to make 50% of his completed passes in the opposition half*).

 by Guardian Chalkboards

With Arteta’s ball-retention skills, The Gunners were then able to play simple “keep-ball”, as they did for Gervinho’s 33 pass goal. We also saw Arteta attempt several long shots (all three of his efforts came from outside of the area*), which was nice to see instead of the team constantly trying to “tiki-taka” their way to victory – especially since the decision was justified with a goal for the former Everton man.

Furthermore, with a lack of pressure from the opposition, the Arsenal midfield had more time on the ball and therefore was less inclined to play long passes - Arteta has averaged 5.2 long balls per game this season, but against Wigan attempted just two (completing one)**. Saying that, Arteta did have a surprisingly low pass completion rate compared to his usual figures; misplacing 11 of his open play passes* despite averaging a 90% success rate in the Premier League this season**.

But those figures are nothing to be disappointed at – if anything, it further goes to show Arsenal’s dominance, and Arteta’s increasingly forward play. In addition to this, Arteta attempted (and completed) one through ball and made one key pass, compared to his average of just 0.4 through balls per game this season**.

The wasn’t much to do in the defensive third for Arsenal, with Wigan limited to just eight shots (three on target), but in typical Barcelona fashion, the ex-Cule led the line as Arsenal pressed their opponents high up the pitch; winning two tackles and one interception**.

Another shining performance from Arteta and another three points for Arsenal – at least one of Arsenal’s deadline day signings is making a strong impact at the Grove. The Spaniard’s experience could prove vital after Christmas (especially with Wilshere expected to return to the squad and allow for rotation) as The Gunners’ recent form arguably puts them in contention for more than just a place in the top four.

*Statistics from Guardian Chalkboards
**OPTA statistics from

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.

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