Mikel Arteta, Arsenal player of the year 2012-2013

He is a quiet hero for us because he always gives you a certain level of quality. He is always 100 per cent focused and committed. He brings the best out of other players. – Arsene Wenger on Mikel Arteta

There are many qualities which one can point to to argue that their favorite should be player of the year; goal scoring, scoring important goals, overall defensive contribution, important saves, and just plain winning games are probably chief among the reasons cited. But, metronomic passing? Tackling? Not turning the ball over? Leadership? I say “it depends”.

It depends on how much they pass the ball, how consistently they pass, how selflessly they lead, if they take tackles which stem the flow of the opposition’s play, and if they can make the other players around them truly better. I think Arteta does all of those things and that’s why he’s my pick for player of the year.

It wasn’t an easy choice. Santi Cazorla is my favorite player to watch. He’s just so eager to create goals and goal scoring opportunities and so endlessly creative with the ball that I love seeing him in possession. In my imagination this scene is playing on loop every time I think of Santi with the ball: Cazorla will pick the ball up (probably a long pass from Arteta!) on the wing and start his dance, dribble past a man, fake a shot, get his marker to commit, then play a neat little splitting pass to Gibbs, move to the top of the box, wait for the return ball, and stroke home a masterful goal on the volley. My natural inclination is to give that guy the award.

But my counter inclination is to step back from the obvious choice and ask if there is a foundational player upon which Cazorla’s creativity is given the chance express itself. Who is doing the dirty work, keeping possession, and cleaning up after Cazorla when he fails to create? That guy is Mikel Arteta.

There was a strange moment toward the end of this season when a number of people started pipping Michael Carrick from Manchester United for player of the year. He ended up winning the United Player’s PoY award but Wenger actually tipped him for the League gong calling him “underrated” and saying that he could fit in at Barcelona with his passing style.

Carrick does represent a new style of somewhat defensive midfielder whose main job isn’t to be a destroyer but rather to hold possession and then to act as a bridge to the offense and occasionally as a shield to the defense. I looked at overall passing numbers for the top five Leagues and came up with the top six guys who make the most passes, Xavi, Arteta, Yaya, Pirlo, Carrick, and Schweinsteiger – I omitted Busquets because I didn’t want two Barcelona players, but he fits the mold here as well. I then compared their numbers and, no surprise, they are all slightly different but all do several things the same: they pass at a high rate, they turn the ball over at a very low rate, they make long passes at a high rate, and most of them tackle at a high rate as well.

Arteta-gonalonsAs you can see, Arteta, Carrick, Pirlo, and Schweini are eerily similar in their numbers here. Pirlo is more of a deep lying playmaker which is why his key passes and long passes numbers are so high but his other numbers are similar to the top four there. Yaya and Xavi are the outliers in that they don’t really play defense and Arteta is more defensive minded than any of them in the top group.

Arteta led the Premier League in passes per game, was near the top in passing percentage, made an incredible 87% of his long passes and led Arsenal in tackles, interceptions, and fouls committed. He was in almost every way as good if not better (statistically speaking) than the other players in that group above.

Four of those players won their respective leagues this year and it’s as clear an indication that top teams demand this type of cultured passer who rarely turns the ball over and can also get in a tackle when needed. If Arteta posted his same numbers and Arsenal had won the League, we would be easily talking about him as player of the year – at least as easily as Wenger did for Michael Carrick, who is made to look a lot better than he is because no one ever pressures him in midfield whereas teams have tried to mark Arteta out of the game on many occasions.

But what makes Arteta even more special than just the numbers he posted is that he voluntarily took on the deeper role in midfield this season with the departure of Alex Song to Barcelona. We tend to forget that last year Arteta was second on Arsenal for key passes (shots created for others) with 60 and he scored six goals for the club from open play, whereas this year he has just the one (v. QPR all his other goals come from penalties). Arteta gave up that role to Aaron Ramsey and in so doing helped to transform the young Welshman’s Arsenal career.

That selflessness is the hallmark of a great leader which is the other reason why I think Arteta has to be player of the year. In the depths of Arsenal’s season, when all seemed to be falling apart around the club, Arteta became the clew by which Arsene Wenger led Arsenal out of the labyrinth.

He was seen marshaling the players on the field, organizing the defense, and off the pitch there were several videos of team training in which Arteta and Wenger were seen talking, rather animatedly, about the team. So, when Vermaelen was dropped, Arteta was marble-constant and he took the armband easily, no questions asked, no fanfare. He just assumed the role. Keiran Gibbs put Arteta’s influence on this team thusly,

There are players like Podolski, who’s a bit of a joker, and there’s Artetawho’s more the father of the group and tries to nurture the young ones and make sure they’re behaving.

In a way I see Arteta as an extension of Arsene Wenger on the field. He epitomizes Arsene’s desired playing style with his tidy little passes and busting a gut tracking back to break up the opposition attacks. But he is also expansive and expresses himself with pinpoint long passes and perfectly timed forays forward — the few that I remember almost all seemed to result in an Arsenal goal at a crucial time. For example, he scored the winner against QPR in the first meeting and set up the winner in the second. He also took all of Arsenal’s penalties, thus winning the West Brom match and the Wigan match.

He’s calm, professorial with the players, leads by example, and someone who puts his body on the line day in and day out for the Arsenal. He made others around him better, most notably Aaron Ramsey, but also gave Cazorla the platform from which he could create, and the back four the player in front of them who wasn’t going to go off in search of the Hollywood pass as Song had the year before giving them the confidence they needed to make one of the best defensive run-ins I have ever seen.

He was the first player that Arsene Wenger went to when Arsenal beat Newcastle to secure fourth place and their embrace was one of teammates who had worked out the plan together and seen it executed perfectly on the field.

For all of that, I pick Mikel Arteta as my player of the year 2012-2013.


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44 thoughts on “Mikel Arteta, Arsenal player of the year 2012-2013

  1. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1vlado

    great write up Tim… agree with pretty much everything..

    still do you think we should be looking for an understudy/replacment given his age or could that be Ramsey in a couple of a years..

  2. +7 Vote -1 Vote +1Koscielny to the rescue again. Or in this case, Arteta.

    Great piece for a great player.

  3. +13 Vote -1 Vote +1Top_gooner

    Absolutely brilliant article. I wasn’t sure I could have picked him as my POTY but your argument is just so sound and so clear it’s hard to deny that without Arteta we really may have been lost this season. I’m not ashamed to say that this nearly brought a tear to my eye. His willingness, his eagerness to make the team better at every opportunity is undeniable. He really felt like a second coming of “Mr. Arsenal”.

  4. +4 Vote -1 Vote +1Bunburyist

    I was tempted to pick a player who had improved the most this season (Ramsey, for example, went from being the “next Denilson” to the “next Flamini” (and I mean the latter in the good way, not the money-grubbing way)), but having read Tim’s post, I now think that’s probably unfair on players who showed up, stepped up, however you want to put it, every single game throughout the season. There’s maybe only 3 that did, and Arteta is certainly at the top of that list.

  5. +7 Vote -1 Vote +1andy

    a great choice. arteta has been the metronome that dictates the tempo of the team. his attitude is brilliant. reminds me of edu (another very underrated player) a lot. hope to see him stay with us until his playing days are over and maybe move into a coaching role. perfect role model for the young midfield talent we have.

  6. +5 Vote -1 Vote +1Lobster

    Plato himself couldn’t have written it any better! Quality blog this, we need more of them

  7. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Som

    Great article Tim.Amazingly written.Incidentally how many hits did yestrdays article get?

    1. +6 Vote -1 Vote +1Tim Post author

      First, I want to thank everyone for making yesterday’s article such a huge success. All of the comments were excellent and it was one of the most commented on articles of the season.

      Second, the Jovetic=porn article has gotten 7,330 direct hits and the season review article 1,852. Both close to my prediction.

      1. Vote -1 Vote +1KEITH

        Your article was superb. Thoughtful, well considered a model for other bloggers to aspire to !!!

  8. Vote -1 Vote +1GoonerNC

    Great analysis. I’d still pick Cazorla just because I think so highly of him. But Arteta is right there. Did his job so well. This team badly needed him. I’d like to think that the spirit and resolve we’ve seen this year comes very much from him. Well done.

  9. +5 Vote -1 Vote +1Shard

    A wonderfully made argument. I voted for Cazorla instead of Arteta as the Player of the season, on the premise that what Santi managed in his first season is remarkable. Now I feel bad about that because like you said, I had forgotten about Arteta’s role last season, and how good he was going forward. To change that around, ‘sacrifice’ himself (that’s the term he used) for the good of the team, his lego hair, and his ability and know-how in the middle of the park, shows some understated brilliance. I have changed my mind based on your article. I agree. Arteta is the player of the season.

  10. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1phelan

    I read this right after reading Arteta’s interview snippet on the club website. Brilliant. If Wilshere and Cazorla are the brains, then Arteta is the heartbeat (Ramsey is…nuts, I ran out of body parts to point to).

    With that said, the scary part is that Arteta is the best player we have at the position, and he is getting older. I certainly do appreciate the effort throughout the season, but the one that sticks out in my mind would be the exhaustion he showed in away game to Bayern. His two careless fouls – I would think due to being knackered – killed any remote chance of us taking the game at the last second.

    As mentioned, Ramsey is not Arteta. We will need someone into the club, or someone from the youth squad, to step up and learn from Arteta so we have natural progression.

  11. +4 Vote -1 Vote +1RedandDread

    Nice article Tim and sums up my sentiments on Arteta also. On one Arsenal Mania thread, where fans/members were asked to state their best & worst of 2012/13, my choice for best midfielder was Arteta-most others chose Santi. Like you I always enjoyed watching Santi but without Arteta we wouldn’t have made that 4th spot IMO. He was integral to everything that was good about this team. And he was the de facto leader of the team throughout the season, even when TV5 was on the pitch.

  12. Vote -1 Vote +1Ickenham Gooner

    I have a question about our potential transfer dealings this summer and would like to run a quick poll.

    What do people actually want? I do not mean any specific players, but in terms of cost.

    Assuming we have the reported £70m budget, would people prefer:

    a) one £50m player, and then resolving all our other needs for £20m total

    b) spending a decent amount on one player (£30m) and then a few £10m to £15m players

    c) or just lots of £10m to £15m players.

    My own thoughts is option (b). I think option (a) sounds nice but we need depth and that cost of player is just unrealistic for Arsenal. I do think we need a statement signing which would demand we break our transfer record by a fair margin.

    I completed a similar poll at work and had no-one going for option (a), and about 50/50 for options (b) and (c).

  13. +6 Vote -1 Vote +1ctpa

    These numbers show why it was imperative for Arteta to give it a go against Newcastle. Ox did okay in that he did nothing negative but there’s no one like Arteta who dictates play. This shows why teams began to target Arteta with rotational fouls and we struggled in those games. This also shows the greatness of Wenger who acquires an life-long attack minded player and turns him into a top, top DM. Just when when some thought there was no more magic left in the hat out pops Arteta from left field to give our ship a rudder. These are the type of players Wenger is looking for, the ones at the top of the tree and not that low hanging fruit the lazy British media fruit pickers tend to find.

  14. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1Nikki

    Wow Tim, again and again you keep swaying me to your opinion based on your wonderfully written piece. I said that choosing Arteta as POY was understandable because of how excellent he is on the pitch, but alas Cazorla just slightly a better performer on the pitch than him. What I’m failing to really see, but actually predict when I first read that you choose Arteta as your POY, is what kind of contribution he give as a captain. Specifically, his off the pitch and indirect role to the team on the pitch. You just did explain these part beautifully and make me wish he get some awards or something if not this season, then next season. It’s just not fair that not only for clubs, but also in his national team he didn’t get the award he deserves. Hopefully next season will be the season, he will get to lift trophies with us.

  15. +4 Vote -1 Vote +1moosZ

    Tim… You have just changed my mind on player of the year from carzola to arteta.. brilliant article ..
    PS.. this is my first comment.. :)

  16. Vote -1 Vote +1dy

    hard to choose between the two, but yes Arteta.
    Looking forward to next season, I’m still hoping there’s someone who can play as a link between Caz and Art.

  17. +4 Vote -1 Vote +11NiltotheArsenal

    A crisp, thoughtful analysis, hard to argue with, but why not spread the love a bit:

    MVP: Mikel Arteta
    Most Exciting Player: Santi Cazorla
    Most Improved Player (here’s a debate): Aaron Ramsey
    Most Likely to Go to Istanbul, convert to Sufi Islam and become a Whirling Dervish: Gervinho.

    Will you be posting opinions/thoughts on the other end of scale (i.e. Worst Player of the Year)?

  18. +5 Vote -1 Vote +111cannons

    A Villa friend down at the pub asked me the same question about player of the year when we were playing Wigan, expecting Cazorla but I answered Arteta. He thought it was an interesting response because from the outside other supporters don’t notice the work he puts in. For me that smacks of Gilberto and the invisible wall he was famed for providing. My reasoning to my Villa pal was almost a bullet-point outline of this post.

    I’m glad you made the point about Arteta’s ability to suss out when to make the tackle that breaks up opponents’ attacking moves. It’s something Song tended to get booked for because his lack of nuance. It was one of the things I hated about Arteta when he played for Everton. A sign of respect if ever there was one.

    If I had to choose a top 4 POTY they would be:
    1] Arteta
    2] Cazorla
    3] Mertesacker
    4] Koscielny

    You’ll notice all of those players came to Arsenal in the last 3 seasons, and all represent a shift in transfer policy. Instead of promoting youth from within or outright buying young, talented [but as yet unproven players] he’s getting players in the middle of their careers who have something to prove. You’ll also note as I have, that this was Wenger’s policy when he first arrived. It bodes well for the future.

    Sorry for the long post. Cheers for another great read, Tim.

  19. Vote -1 Vote +1ChitownArsenal

    I’ll admit, I was probably leaning towards Koz or Cazorla, but you make a very compelling case. I admittedly earlier in the year was thinking that Arteta slows us down too much. However, after seeing the team fire the last third of the season, I think some earlier struggles could be attributed to some chemistry issues in MF with Jack and Cazorla. That’ll be interesting for Wenger to sort out, as clearly both of those players have to be in the first 11, right? Once Ramsey came in, our defensive record improved quite markedly and I’d argue that Ramsey provided some assistance to Arteta defensively back there. Will we have Arteta/Ramsey as first choice? We did quite well that way, however, the schedule on paper at the end of the season didn’t include a top 3 side. But taking 26 of 30 is remarkable for any side in the world in their respective league. Credit where credit is due, though; Arteta’s been an incredible signing and pure class.

    1. Vote -1 Vote +1Fab12

      We did play a top 3 side in Man United during the run, and we also played Everton who while aren’t top 3, are definitely a difficult side to play. Both were tough games but the Arteta-Ramsey pivot was integral to our draws against them, so I’d think there’s a strong case for the partnership. It will be interesting to see how Cazorla out wide and Jack at CAM does, that formation accommodates all of them but we’ll see the difference Rosicky brings to the side vis a vis Jack. Wenger has some potential headache inducing decisions to make, but this is exactly why I might be the most optimistic I’ve been for a while.

  20. +4 Vote -1 Vote +1alabamagooner

    I wanted to stand up and cheer after reading this. I love Arteta. Solid, calm, dependable. True captain for sure. And some people think he won’t play much next season…that’s craziness.

  21. Vote -1 Vote +1KamilioKLGooner

    Brilliant tribute to our unsung Hero. I had the same dilemma choosing between him and Cazorla and this article made it easier to decide.

    I hope Arteta stays for a long time. Play for as long as he can and then go on and become a coach at the club.

  22. Vote -1 Vote +1David Hernandez

    Nice post! I always fond of Arteta since the day he started the game for Arsenal. I like his eagle eyes, so sharp when he took the penalties. He always been my favorite player besides Rosicky (I prefer Rosiscky, sound better to my ear) He is the real captain in the pitch. No doubt I he is the player of the year for Arsenal this year.

  23. Vote -1 Vote +1@VilleKukko

    Great piece! I chose Santi as player of the season, but basically it could’ve Mikel just as well. He was so important for us, or as said, pivotal as the pivote.

  24. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Casper

    Smashing article, sir and skillfully articulated my opinion on why I was more gutted, then excited over the delayed transfer of Arteta in 2011. He is the leader Gooners complained about not having, without realizing the depth of his conviction. He in 2 years has proven a dedicated, loyal Gunners. If we had him from Everton for a longer period, we would be debating his legendary status for the Arsenal, in my opinion.

    His sacrifice, drive, calmness, and intellect is invaluable. Cazorla can get subbed, Wilshere, Vermaelen, but Mikel was symbolically needed to for the run out at St James’. That spoke volumes. If Mikel ever fancies a managerial career, I would beg for it to be under the banner of the cannon.

    1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1St. Hitch

      Well said Casper. That embrace after the Newcastle game spoke volumes about his role within the team. At the time I actually wondered if Wenger was grooming him for a coaching position when he retires. He will have a strong case for manager one day.

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  26. Vote -1 Vote +1Langston

    Could not possibly agree more. He’s been the rudder that has steered Arsenal’s ship. We talk about class–Arteta is all that talent and class to boot.

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