I started a series of posts on my previous blog, reviewing Arsene Wenger’s signings from the 2011/12 campaign did in their first season at the club. So far I have reviewed Carl Jenkinson, Gervinho, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Park Chu-Young, Per Mertesacker and Yossi Benayoun in the series, which leaves me with the last summer signing Mikel Arteta and Arsenal’s January signings left to do.
Mikel Arteta – Everton (approx.fee £10m)
Arsenal’s final deal of what was an extremely busy transfer window for the club, was their best signing of the season. Arsenal left it late to replace Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, but they did spend wisely with the last minute signing of Mikel Arteta from Everton. It was a deal that had been on and off throughout transfer deadline day, but after Arteta told Everton manager David Moyes that he wanted to go, the Spaniard got his wish. Even after Arsenal’s £10m bid was accepted, the deal could have still fallen through. Arteta was Everton’s highest paid player on what was believed to be around £70-75k per week. Whatever wage he was on at Everton, Arsenal offered £10k a week less. The Spaniard’s representatives refused to budge, but Arteta rescued the deal with little time left before the transfer deadline. He told his agent he wanted to move to Arsenal, regardless of the fact that they were offering him less money. Add to that the transfer request that he handed his manager earlier in the day, and you realise that this deal really couldn’t of happened without Arteta’s eagerness to join the club. Arteta reportedly didn’t even have a medical before signing, stating that there wasn’t enough time.
"“It was very stressful. At 6pm, they said everything had broken down. Then, at 8.30pm, everything started again,” Arteta recalled. “But there wasn’t time to have a medical. I went to the offices of the club [Everton] and from there I told Arsenal to trust me and that if some medical problem was found it would be my responsibility.” – Mikel Arteta"
When this deal was completed, I had mixed thoughts about it. Arteta to me was a player that if we had signed him 4 or 5 years beforehand, I’d have been over the moon. He seemed to have coasted along at Everton for a few years now, happy to collect his big pay cheque and looked as though he wasn’t as motivated as he once was at the club. The one thing that did please me about the deal was that he genuinely wanted to be at the club. He did everything he could to get the deal sorted out, a deal done so late that he was worried about it not going through:
"“It was mad. It (the transfer) was happening, it was not happening, it was happening, it was not happening. It was a crazy day to be honest and big tension. At the last minute I was in the office in Goodison and….nightmare.“I had made the decision I was going and then I didn’t know if it was going to be possible. We had all the paperwork to do and the window closed at 11pm and it was 10 past 11 and the fax wasn’t going through and stuff like that. I was like ‘Aaargh, this can’t happen again’. At the end it was like…” He makes a gesture of relief. “I had done it, and done it the way I wanted.” – Arteta on his deadline day move."
This showed commitment to me from the start of his career. Arsenal were also having a nightmare start to the campaign and he chose to join still. Arteta stated that he watched Arsenal lose 8-2 to Manchester United the weekend before his transfer, but that did not change his mind on the move.
"“What I think about Arsenal is not going to change from one game, that’s for sure,” he says. “I have played against Arsenal many times and I have suffered. I am not going to change my opinion.”"
After the drama of deadline day, with 5 new signings in the space of 48 hours, Arsenal had a new look to their squad. Arteta made his Arsenal debut in a home game against newly promoted Swansea, with Arsenal finally getting their first win of the Premier League season in a scrappy 1-0 win. It wasn’t long until Mikel scored his first goal in Arsenal colours, putting his team 2-1 up away to Blackburn, in a game that they would go on to lose 4-3.
The following month, Arteta began to establish himself as a reliable figure in Arsenal’s midfield. He was an ever-present in October, starting every game in the Premier League and Champions League that month, playing a major part in the team’s success that month, including the 5-3 win at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea in the Premier League. The only game Arteta missed in October was the 2-1 League Cup win over Bolton, where he was rested due to Arsene Wenger’s policy of playing a second string line-up in the competition.
Arteta scored his second Arsenal goal at the start of November, netting the last goal in Arsenal’s comfortable 3-0 victory over West Brom on November 5th. As the month went on, Arteta looked more and more comfortable at his new club, forming a solid midfield partnership with the likes of Alex Song and Aaron Ramsey. He started December brightly too, scoring a swerving long range shot in a 4-0 thrashing of Wigan. Arteta started all six of Arsenal’s Premier League games in December and was rested in Arsenal’s 3-1 defeat to Olympicaos in the Champions League. With the Gunners already through to the next round of the competition, Wenger decided to rest his first team and give the club’s youngsters and reserves a run out.
Mikel was captain of the Arsenal side that beat Leeds 1-0 in the 3rd round of the FA Cup, on an emotional night at the Emirates, where club legend Thierry Henry made a goalscoring return to the club. He also featured in the 2-1 defeat to Fulham at the beginning of the month, before he picked up an injury prior to the game against Swansea. Arsenal lost 3-2 to Swansea and Arteta also missed the 2-1 defeat to Manchester United the month of January. Arteta made his return to first-team action at the end of the month, coming on with 20 minutes left of the Gunners FA Cup tie against Aston Villa, a game Arsenal won 3-2.
"“It was really pleasing for me to be captain for a club like Arsenal, it’s unbelievable,” he said. I just want to thank my team-mates for the effort, and my manager for the support.” – Arteta on captaining Arsenal against Leeds"
The Spaniard scored his 4th goal for the club in February against Blackburn. It was the third time in the campaign that Arteta had scored against Blackburn. In his final game in an Everton shirt, Arteta scored a late penalty to steal all three points for Everton against Rovers. He then scored his first Arsenal goal against Blackburn, in the 4-3 defeat back in September, before scoring in Arsenal’s 7-1 home win against the relegation battlers. A clearance from an Arsenal corner fell to Arteta’s feet, and he punished Rovers by scoring from the edge of the box. Arteta played his part in the North London Derby at the end of the month, a game that Arsenal were 2-0 down in, before staging a fantastic comeback to win 5-2 against their North London neighbours and close the gap on them in the race for Champions League football the next season.
Arteta was stretchered off in Arsenal’s 2-1 win over Liverpool at the beginning of March. He received a warm round of applause from the Liverpool fans, despite the fact he spent 6 years at their local rivals Everton. He continued to play a major part in the team in March, only missing one game due to injury in the 3-0 home win against AC Milan. His best moment this month was a stunning 30- yard free-kick, which wrapped up all three points for the Gunners in a 3-0 win against Aston Villa in the league.
Arteta scored a wonderful late winner against eventual champions Manchester City, a goal that seemingly handed the title to City’s rivals Manchester United at the time. Arsenal won the game 1-0, putting the Gunners in pole position for third place and denting City’s title hopes. However, Arteta’s season ended in mid-April because of an injury he picked up in Arsenal’s 2-1 home defeat to Wigan on April 16th.
Perhaps what was most interesting about Arteta, was just how much the team missed him for the remaining games of the season. He isn’t by any means a flashy player, but he is a fantastic footballer still. Arsenal’s form coincidently slumped after Arteta was ruled out for the season. The bad result against Wigan, as well as frustrating draws against a weakened Chelsea side, Stoke and Norwich, lead to Arsenal needing to get a result on the final day of the season against West Brom, to guarantee Champions League football the following season. There was a statistic that came out before the game against the Baggies, stating that Arsenal hadn’t won a game all season without Arteta in the side. This statistic was true and worrying too, considering the circumstances that Arsenal had gotten themselves into. Thankfully, Arsenal did manage to win without Arteta on the final day of the Premier League season, with an element of luck to it!. A win is a win, and Arsenal could sit back and relax watching the Champions League Final, knowing that even if Chelsea did win the Final, they would still be playing in it next season. Tottenham were the unlucky ones to miss out, much to the amusement of Arsenal fans.
Although I was unsure about the deal at first, it didn’t take long for me to warm to Arteta. He’s Arsenal’s rock, Arsenal’s unsung hero. Some fans were complaining in the season that “all he does is pass sideways”. There is much more to his game than that. He works his socks off, plays some lovely balls throughout games and one thing that he adds to the team that nobody else can do is taking shots from range. Think back to his goals against Wigan, Villa and City, they were all from range. A criticism of Arsenal over the past has been that they pass the ball too much and look afraid to shoot. Arteta isn’t. Rosicky used to be like Arteta, but appears to be afraid nowadays. Hopefully this is something Arteta continues to do throughout his career at the club, as us fans love it, especially when it pays off!. He also takes some free-kicks and corners, so is definitely a vital player.
Arteta reminds me of a Gilberto. Gilberto during the 2003/04 season was the sort of player that most fans didn’t notice. The following season, Gilberto was out for the majority of the season and Arsenal missed him badly. It was only once he came back that people noticed what he did for the team and his role in the team became even bigger once Patrick Vieira left the club and people began to realise how important he was to the team. Just like this season with Arteta, a lot of people were criticising him, just like they did Gilberto, but once he was injured, they saw what the team was missing and how important he was.
I had such faith in Arteta that I bought my Arsenal shirt in November and got his name printed on the back. I didn’t want to go down as the guy that last bought an Arsenal shirt with ‘Nasri’ printed on the back. Same squad number, but a much classier act than his predecessor.