Okay, enough with the reserves and the perpetually injured. We're on now to the players that made a significant contribution to Arsenal's 2011-12 season, and with only one or two exceptions, no contribution was significant-er than that of Mikel Arteta. The Spaniard came at the end of August in the "panic buying" spree that saw Wenger go nuts and buy half of a team (or so it seemed) and immediately became the fulcrum on which Arsenal's season balanced. 37 appearances in all competitions, and six goals, don't really tell the story of how vital Arteta was to what Arsenal accomplished this year (SPOILER ALERT: His injury does!). So let's go tell the story!
Thomas: We've talked a lot in our reviews for Arsenal's defenders about Arsenal's defense, which I have to admit makes very little sense to me. Anyway, we've pinned a fair bit of the blame on the midfield, which was often disorganized and unable to do anything more than look on in wide-eyed horror as opposing players danced around and through them to the stranded defense (who then often also made a mess of things). What I'm getting to: Mikel Arteta, while not a panacea, tried his damnedest to keep that from happening. In what was often chaos, he was order incarnate; pinging passes with unearthly accuracy around the midfield, covering when Ramsey and Song (among others) abandoned their posts, and generally having awesome hair in the process. He's not a great defender, but he was good enough to paper over holes in Arsenal's midfield. When he was missing, the machine came apart. He also, unlike some other Arsenal players this year, seemed not to lose steam as time went on; if anything, he improved. And to top it all off, he scored one of the most memorable goals of the campaign for me against Manchester City. His season-ending injury was a real bummer, and I look forward to seeing him in Arsenal kit again next season.
Aidan: The purchase of Mikel Arteta probably saved Arsenal's season. Hyperbolic? Perhaps. But without the departed Cesc Fabregas or the injured Jack Wilshere, Arsenal had no midfielder who could influence the tempo and control the midfield. Arteta became that player; while many expected him to be a more Fabregas-esque player, given that he had done that role so often for Everton, he and Arsene Wenger decided that Arteta would be best served in a deeper role, allowing Ramsey to create and Song to move forward in possession. As the season wore on, Arteta became more and more influential and critical to the midfield structure; aside from perhaps Francis Coquelin, no one has his ability to calmly control play and stay deep for Alex Song. The fact that Arsenal, from the time he was purchased, won a sole game in the Premiership without him speaks volumes, as does the fact that Arsenal conceded only 26 goals in the 28 games Arteta played. Off the pitch, Arteta had a big influence as well, adding experience, both on and off the pitch, but also allegedly suggesting to Robin van Persie that he organise team-bonding events like nights out for dinner, or bowling or the like. At the end of the season, Arteta was the 5th most accurate passer, and averaged the most passes in the Premier League; emphasising his necessity to Arsenal's controlling style of play, especially in the midfield. Oh, and he scored some great goals, including an 87th minute winner against City, with his "small feet". Not bad for an "over the hill panic buy".
Ted: Mikel Arteta was a "panic buy" on August 31, but he was one that I looked at and said "yep, he'll do", because I'd long admired him at Everton. What I didn't expect was that he would slot into Arsenal's midfield alongside Alex Song and be the player Denilson was supposed to become. Much like Denilson's projected finest moments, Arteta played as a continuance midfielder, ticking the ball over and dictating tempo on offense while reading play and intercepting passes well on defense, despite not being the fastest or best tackling player. Arsenal only won one match without him in the team, and all year, I can only remember being genuinely mad at him one time, when he jogged back against QPR for their opener when Adel Taarabt turned Vermaelen inside out. Other than that, Arteta scored goals of genuine quality this year , and he just generally knows what to do and tells others what to do from his deeper role. His free kick goal against Villa was probably my favorite Arsenal goal this year on merit alone (maybe RvP vs. Everton edges it). He's one of the few Arsenal players I have no hesitation about grading the way I do this year.
Paul: One of the great things about getting older is that as the years go by, you realize that you know a lot less than you thought you did, and more importantly, you learn that that’s not at all a bad thing. When Arsenal signed Arteta in the August transfer tornado, I thought "ehhh, that’s fine, but he won’t really make that much of a difference". Turns out I’m kind of an idiot. Arteta was a revelation for me – the easy stat is that Arsenal won when he played, and lost when he didn’t, which was true until the West Brom game. Without Arteta, Arsenal made very heavy weather of that game before finally winning it. Is Arteta a gamechanger? I don’t know if I’d go that far, but all successful things Arsenal ran through Arteta this season, and he was desperately missed once he hurt himself. In a recurring theme, I can’t wait to get him back at full health next season.