I feel your S-pain

13 Sep

It’s been almost two long and boring weeks since Deadline Day, and the signing of Mesut Özil still hasn’t quite sunk in yet…I’m sure it will, but it’ll definitely take some time! Apologies for the lack of writing, but I wanted to wait until the window shut before I posted anything else, for fear of jinxing anything! And now that it’s been almost two weeks, everything that can be said about our new superstar has already been covered, so I won’t go into it too much. Instead, I’ll be focusing on another Wenger Deadline Day special from 2011, Mikel Arteta.

 

More specifically, I’m going to look at why Vicente Del Bosque continues to overlook him for the Spanish national side. It’s a huge pity that he has come out and effectively admitted defeat, but in my eyes, he deserves at least one cap. Yes, the competition for places is phenomenal, with the likes of Xavi, Iniesta and Fabregas all competing for the same (limited) number of spaces in the team. But does Arteta not deserve a cap ahead of some of the other players in the squad?

 

NB For the sake of argument, I’m going to be using Spain’s last 3 squads as a benchmark to try to cover for long-term injuries (e.g. Xabi Alonso)

 

In terms of midfielders, Arteta’s competition is stiff to say the least – whilst he is versatile, the pressure on Spain to perform every time they play means that experimentation is kept to a minimum, and thus one can assume that if Arteta is called up this season, it would be in a similar role to the one he plays at Arsenal, a type of pivote. Seemingly, that would mean his competition is currently:

 

Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid)

Xavi (Barcelona)

Sergio Busquets (Barcelona)

Cesc Fabregas (Barcelona)

Javi Martinez (Bayern Munich)

Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich)

Javi Garcia (Manchester City)

Beñat (Athletic Bilbao)

Mario Suarez (Atletico Madrid)

 

I am aware that some of these players don’t have exactly the same traits as Arteta, but by and large, if Arteta wants to break into the national side, he’ll have to displace one of the aforementioned midfielders. One major advantage that most of the above players have is that they play their football in Spain, and it would be possible to field a team of entirely Barcelona players – this chemistry is hard to create, and Spain have excelled recently by latching onto this. There’s a chemistry building in the national side too – 8 out of the 10 most capped Spanish players are adding to their tallies, and crucially the core of the team has been retained (an exception would be Alonso’s replacement of Marcos Senna post-2008).

 

Furthermore, La Liga is (for the time being) much more accessible for Del Bosque and his team – they can watch almost any game they wish, and decisions are made based on what the selectors have seen first hand, not just watched on television or read about in newspapers (this probably explains why Mata and Torres weren’t in the most recent Spain squad). When you take into account the fact that some international games require Del Bosque to pick players from La Liga, it’s easy to see why Arteta may be overlooked, quite literally.

 

Having said that, Del Bosque was in attendance as Swansea took on Everton – clearly, he isn’t totally oblivious to the English game. However, Michu was probably on his radar whilst he was still playing in Spain, as were Cazorla, Mata and Silva before him. One would be forgiven for thinking that Arteta’s tidiness as a player means he goes unnoticed, but that’s not the case, especially when talking about Spain, or Arsenal for that matter. If anyone can spot a good midfielder, it’s the Spanish.

 

Arteta’s all-round game has shifted since his move to Arsenal, and crucially since the departure of Song. Whilst possession has always been key, his move into a deeper position means he now focuses on ball retention and breaking down opposition attacks, rather than creating chances. In 2011/12, he averaged 2.2 key passes per game, but that dropped to 0.7 last season. To put that into perspective, Xavi last season averaged 1.2 key passes per match, playing in a position more similar to Arteta’s 2011/12 role. Since taking on additional defensive roles, Arteta reduced the number of long passes he played, which would be more in line with what Del Bosque would want in a midfielder.

 

So how does Arteta rank against the previous midfielders mentioned above? Passes completed is an odd stat to compare, especially between leagues because the style is so different. Xavi’s stats dwarf Arteta’s, but that’s just a number – the completion rate is much more important. I’m sure you’ve all seen the Carrick-Arteta comparisons, but here they are again for those who haven’t seen them…

Arteta vs Carrick Les Artilleurs

 

The one name that constantly irks me in the Spanish squad is Javi Garcia – I don’t think I’ve seen such an average player play for two top sides (Manchester City and Spain) without suffering from extensive criticism. And yet, here I am talking about someone who was arguably the best player in his position last season in the Premier League? Arteta’s stats are in bold, Garcia’s aren’t.

 

Average pass length – 17m, 16m

Passing accuracy – 91%, 89%

Passes per minute – 0.81, 0.54

Key passes per game – 0.007, 0.003

 

Whatever way you look at it, Arteta comes out on top – so why does Garcia get into the national squad? I don’t think that those stats really shock anyone, and frankly, Arteta isn’t going to get into the starting 11 by being better than Garcia. But how does he match up to the likes of Alonso, Busquets, Xavi and Martinez? (I’ve discounted Cesc and Iniesta here because they tend to play further forward or out wide for Spain and Barcelona – Thiago isn’t at the same level yet as the ones mentioned, likewise Beñat and Suarez).

Player

Average pass length

Passing accuracy

Passes per minute

Key passes per minute

Score

Arteta 17m (2) 91% (3) 0.81 (3) 0.007 (3)

11

Alonso 20m (5) 83% (5) 0.68 (4) 0.02 (1)

15

Busquets 16m (1) 92% (2) 0.93 (2) 0.003 (5)

10

Martinez 17m (2) 88% (4) 0.57 (5) 0.004 (4)

15

Xavi 17m (2) 95% (1) 1.2 (1) 0.015 (2)

6

 

I deliberately didn’t include assists as a category, because that’s dependant on another player. Xavi racks up assists because he has Messi to finish his key passes off. Unfortunately, I don’t think Özil will get as many assists at Arsenal because we’ve got Giroud, Cazorla and Walcott, rather than Ronaldo, Benzema and Higuain. The latter 3 are much more clinical, even though the quality of the service is the same.

 

Just a final word on how I calculated that – essentially, I ranked them for each category from 1-5, and then added all the scores up. The lower the score, the better the player (hypothetically). It’s basically just fancy Top Trumps…

 

This table clearly shows that whilst Arteta isn’t the best midfielder Spain have at their disposal, he is most certainly not the worst (he’s only one point off Sergio ‘Walking Textbook’ Busquets, which is quite an achievement). Alonso is something of an anomaly in that he prefers a longer pass (see first column), but that’s not to say he’s against tika-taka – the fact is, Arteta statistically should be ahead of him in the pecking order. Perhaps Del Bosque just isn’t a fan of players that aren’t ‘stars’?

 

It’s an unfortunate and uncomfortable truth that it’s now or never for Arteta – perhaps the boat has already sailed? Age isn’t on his side (he’s 31 at the time of writing), and his lack of international experience could prove another hindrance. As unthinkable as it was 12 months ago, we’re also now at a stage where he may not be guaranteed 1st team football on a regular basis either. Ramsey’s blossomed into a fantastic box-to-box midfielder, and it’s clear that Wenger sees him and Wilshere as the plan for the future. Should Wilshere fail to regain his form, then Arteta will go back into the side, but it shouldn’t be assumed that he will play every game. Perhaps paradoxically, his absence from the national side has allowed him to keep going and peak going into his thirties, as it means he gets a well deserved break every now and then.

 

I’m not saying that Arteta should be the first name on the team sheet for Spain, but I would say that he should be in the squad, even if it’s only for the friendly matches, or the dead rubbers. He’d add something different to the squad, without changing the overall style of play, and he’d also benefit hugely from it. It’s just a shame that our very own Mikel Arteta may never play for Spain, when it’s so deserved.

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One Response to “I feel your S-pain”

  1. elkieno September 13, 2013 at 4:30 am #

    I think that what you said about Del Bosq seeming only to pick stars and I think you are right.
    We all know how it is with football every where, don’t select a regular player and then get beat, fans will be up in arms, ‘why did you leave him out’ etc. also with Barcelona producing a great team of spaniards he had to basically take the spine if that side into Spanish side and Arteta does not fit in. He really should play for them, at least once, he deserves it and is worthy of it, heck even a squad member.
    But we (Arsenal) are not worse off or anything cos as you say ‘he gets a good rest instead’ that is much better for us and him

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