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20 September 2015

Oh Captain! My Captain!: Why I Admire Mikel Arteta

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Our club captain, Mikel Arteta, has had a long and successful career in football, especially during his time in England. Before his arrival at Everton in in 2005, he had spent time in the Barcelona youth team, on loan to PSG, A couple of years at Rangers, and one at Real Sociedad. Though he would develop into a quality player, he never seemed to settle well before arriving in the Premier League. When he joined the Toffees, he met with success and stayed from 2005-2011, becoming a fan favourite and gaining a reputation as a midfielder who an pass the ball superbly while creating and scoring goals. In 2011, he graced the pitch at Emirates stadium as an Arsenal player.

Arteta is one of those players who can get a job done. He has a strong mental component to his game and almost always keeps a level head. When he started for Arsenal, he was played primarily in a creative role behind the centre forward, who at the time was Robin van Persie. I must say, I liked Mikel in this role, though I knew he wouldn’t contribute at the same level as a player like Fabregas, who had left for Barcelona that same year. When Alex Song moved on to Barcelona, Arteta would play a deeper role as defensive midfielder, where he remains today.

I admire Arteta. He’s a player who, while showing a lot of potential in his career, never quite made a breakthrough to the very top. He shined as a fantastic player at Everton, a club that never competed at the same level as the other “Big Four” clubs in the league. He has done very well, but has never been considered the best at what he does (e.g., even in a fantastic season at Everton in 2007-2007, he racked up 12 assists, but was still third behind Fabregas and Ronaldo in the league). And then there’s the situation with the Spanish national team; it’s odd that such a player, even in his Premier League prime, found it impossible to make it onto the pitch for his country at the senior level. One might argue that Spain was developing into the best national team in world football and there was no room for him behind all the other preferred Spanish players, but this would in a sense, sadly, reflect the same experience he had throughout his career. He has always been viewed as a quality player, but not enough to make it onto the team sheet of those at the very highest level.

It is this experience of Arteta that has lead me to appreciate him most. I imagine him having all the drive in the world, burning with the fury of one who has been on the threshold of something truly great for so long, but never quite being able to step across the line. Seeing this and knowing he still puts in a shift, works like a dog to contribute as best he can to the team, no matter whether he starts or comes off the bench (more common now), gives me a wonderful feeling inside. Mikel is 33 now, and his best days are behind him. Now he’s not first choice defensive midfielder, but still has quality in terms of passing and maintaining possession when he’s on the pitch. No, he’s not the player he was, but he’s learned a lot in his career; he knows to be patient, he knows to be reserved, professional and not let his feelings get away from him. He plays from the head, that strong mental aspect he possesses, which every younger and less experienced player at the club sees everyday in training, in the locker room, and on the pitch. They need a player like him as a role model at the club. There’s a reason he was chosen as Arsenal captain.

Arsenal have signed Arteta to a one year contract extension, which is the manager’s policy for players over the age of 30. Arsene knows the midfielder is no longer in his prime, we know it, and Mikel knows it too. Though he’s raised two FA Cups with the team, there are still things for him to do and achieve at the club; not as a top goalscorer or playmaker, but as someone who contributes and does their part without complaining; as someone the rest of the team can look to when they falter, when they are frustrated, angry, or down. Arteta plays a role that is impossible to measure with analytics and statistics, one that builds confidence, cohesion, and helps raise the other players, even as he at the twilight of his career slowly begins to descend. We all need someone like this.

This is why I admire Mikel Arteta.

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