Like the side he regularly captains, Mikel Arteta got battered with criticism this season, with quite a lot of it rather unfair. Arteta entered the season as Arsenal's defensive midfielder, though injury meant that Arteta did not get his first start of the season until Arsenal's Capital One Cup tie with West Bromwich Albion. In his place, the returning Mathieu Flamini, and his shouting, pointing and ability to pick up yellow cards made him an early fan favourite. It didn't help Arteta that his first league start, a 1-1 draw also at WBA, saw Arsenal struggle in midfield. Flamini's injury, though, allowed Arteta to settle into a partnership with the flourishing Aaron Ramsey, and the two excelled together in wins against Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool.
How did Arteta excel? By playing his usual game: showing positional discipline and sense to cover Aaron Ramsey's bursts forward, and by setting the tempo of Arsenal's attack with his metronomic passing game. In some games, Arteta can be a little unadventurous with his passing, but that also has to do with the movement ahead of him: if there is no one to pass to forward, Arteta is going to pass sideways to the fullbacks, who are the attacking outlet. That, apparently, is "sideways crab passing", but that assertion is ridiculous: it was a pass to a fullback, Bacary Sagna, that led to Arsenal's opening goal against Liverpool in November.
Like the rest of the side, Arteta struggled in the absence of Aaron Ramsey, and his struggles were particularly highlighted in the big defeats against Liverpool, Chelsea and Everton, for which he was assigned a lot of blame. There is little Arteta can do, though, when there's a counter attack bearing down on him, the Arsenal fullbacks are high up the pitch and Jack Wilshere has wandered off to god-knows-where, as Liverpool continually did on that awful February day at Anfield. While some of that can be attributed to the fact that Arteta's legs are slowing, any defensive midfielder in the world would have struggled in Arsenal's absurd defensive set-up in those games, and Arteta excelled in the FA Cup run, marshalling the midfield against Liverpool, Everton, Wigan and Hull, as well as showing superb mental strength to twice score the same penalty against Everton in the 6th round. At the end of the season, with Aaron Ramsey back alongside, he flourished, and a post-season interview showed the attributes he brings as an experienced squad member.
Arsenal will likely look to upgrade on Arteta this summer, but he is still a valuable part of the squad. While Flamini gets plaudits because he yells loudly, Arteta provides the experience and game intelligence that Arsene Wenger and the players actually appreciate more, and the fact that Arteta was first choice throughout the season shows this. When alongside Aaron Ramsey, Arsenal have a strong midfield, and Arteta's intelligence allowed the Welshman to flourish. He is ageing, which has affected performances, but he has shown more than enough to prove that he can still be a viable option in Arsenal's first eleven.