Ever since Mikel Arteta was signed by Arsenal as a panic buy – or so they say – he has been played out of his natural position.
Arsene Wenger has usually deployed him as an anchor player designed to break up opposition attacks and begin those of his own side. It is a similar situation compared to Andrea Pirlo who plays as a regista, a deep lying playmaker – very good in controlling play but not so at defending.
The difference between Pirlo and Arteta is that Arteta has been forced to defend; a job he has performed admirably despite his ageing legs, which have recently shown signs that he has lost considerable speed across the ground from his younger years. However, his ‘footballing brain’ – for lack of a better description – remains up there with the best, and he is able to read play very well. His positioning on the field is next to none in the Arsenal line-up, with only Per Mertesacker comparable.
Francis Coquelin has been a revelation for Arsenal this season. He had Wenger purring his praises after a dominant display against Liverpool that helped Arsenal climb up to second place. His tenacity and drive as well as his passion for doing the dirty work means the attacking players have been able to attack freely while helping him out defensively. The team ethic has also been vital to Arsenal looking much more compact.
Now that Arsenal have discovered their midfield enforcer, maybe Arteta can form a formidable partnership with Coquelin as Aaron Ramsey recovers from his latest injury. Arteta’s positioning and experience in knowing when to attack and defend means he can contribute more defensively than Ramsey.
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It’s hard not to be curious to see Mikel Arteta playing his more natural position, dictating play and watching him joining up in attacks more freely. He was once a formidable midfielder at Everton with an eye for goal – something that I think he still has in his locker. I think Wenger would not hesitate to play a fit Arteta – such is the belief he has in Arteta’s ability.