If you asked James Bond to collect your Aston Martin from the dealership you’d back him to get it to you safely. I mean, he’s used to fighting terrorists, flying planes, and parachuting out of moving jets. The challenge of a sprightly sports car shouldn’t pose him too many problems.
On the other hand, if your eighty-year-old grandmother was tasked with the same pickup, it’s fair to say you’d be a little nervous.
You’d trust Bond because he’s playing within himself. Getting an Aston Martin across London is child’s play compared to his normal day job – and so is Mikel Arteta’s since his move to Arsenal.
Despite playing the majority of his career as an attacking midfielder, Arteta now plays as a deep lying playmaker at Arsenal. He has adapted perfectly and the shrewd Arsene Wenger plays him in this deeper role to utilise his main assets: passing and tackling.
To analyse his success in this role, we will compare him to an established exponent of the deep lying playmaker role: Michael Carrick.
Carrick and Arteta both play for teams who dominate possession and both sit deep in midfields surrounded by quality players. This allows us to make a fair comparison.
We’ll take a look at Carrick vs Arteta in tackling, passing, and attacking third passes.
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Arteta has completed more passes than any player in the Premier League. Arsenal play a formation where Arteta is the fulcrum, so he has plenty of opportunities to pass the ball, though he is often under pressure. His first touch and composure allow him to retain possession almost all of the time. Being an attacking player in the past will help him here: he will be used to receiving the ball under intense pressure, so playing 20 or 30 yards back will feel like a luxury.
Final Third Passes
This stat gives us an idea of the players’ penetration. Arteta and Carrick are both ranked highly here. You’d expect Carrick to be better than Arteta because Arteta isn’t leveraging any of his skills as an attacking midfielder. He has little experience of playing longer balls into the final third whereas Carrick has built his career on this range of pass. Arteta is still 11th in the league, proving how important he is to Arsenal’s attacking and transition play.
Winning Back Possession
Arteta is clearly superior to Carrick at retrieving possession. This includes interceptions and tackles, and this is a superb edge to Arteta’s game and one that Wenger will have noted prior to playing him a little deeper. Arteta is similar to his compatriot Xavi Alonso in this respect: both players are very tough and won’t be bullied in the Premier League midfield maelstrom.
Arteta brings more to the team than Carrick. His tackling and passing is more incisive but the area where Carrick has the slightest edge is arguably the most important: passes into dangerous zones.
Overall, would Wenger swap Arteta for Carrick? – I doubt it. For pure ball retention and winning the midfield Arteta is the probably the best holding midfielder in the Premier League.
Carrick is more expansive and arguably more dangerous. They probably both suit the teams they play in but one thing is for sure: Arteta’s touch and technique accrued from a career further up the pitch means players can’t get near him in this defensive midfield hole – I expect him to dominate this area for Arsenal for the next two or three years at least.
All of the stats from this article have been taken from the Opta Stats Centre at EPLIndex.com – Subscribe Now (Includes author privileges!) Check out our new Top Stats feature on the Stats Centre which allows you to compare all players in the league & read about new additions to the stats centre.