After his emphatic cameo which included scoring a goal (I don't care if the league registered it as an own goal, it was an Arteta goal) in Arsenal's 4-0 defeat of Aston Villa at the Emirates yesterday, the departing club captain has officially announced his retirement from playing.
Mikel Arteta, who joined the club from Everton on deadline day in 2011, was visibly emotional during the post-game end-of-season celebration with fellow players and club staff and received a standing ovation from the fans. The 34-year-old Spaniard was named club captain in 2014 after the departure of Thomas Vermaelen but had become the effective captain on the pitch in the 2013-14 season after Vermaelen had been displaced by the pairing of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker. Since the latter half of 2013-14, however, Arteta has been wracked by injuries and has missed large chunks of the following seasons due to injury. Despite playing over 2000 league minutes every season from 2011-12 to 2013-14, he played only 450 minutes in 2014-15 and only 162 minutes in 2015-16.
Arteta spoke candidly about his injury history and the end of his playing career.
"It is very hard to stop but I wanted to leave it." I wanted to decide, and I thought for the last few months that I wasn’t good enough to represent this club on the pitch," Arteta said. "You have to accept it. It has been a long time for me to be playing football and I didn’t want to cheat them or anyone. It is time. I want to leave it like this and we will see what happens.
"You have to be honest with yourself. That’s why I haven’t been upset with the manager [Arsène Wenger]. I have been upset with myself. When you can’t get it right and you have been through injuries and difficult moments at this level. For me, to play at this club, you have to be the best in your position. When you lose that, I think you should be away from this place. I have probably been here too long. In the last few months, I probably didn’t deserve to be here but at least I got the chance [against Villa] to stay in touch with them and it has been amazing.
"For me, the standards you need to play for this club – it cannot be eight out of 10. It has to be 10 out of 10. When you cannot deliver that, it is not good enough. Sometimes, people get away with it. Inside myself, my gut wasn’t clean and, when you are like this, I prefer to make the decision myself."
. . .
"I don’t want to talk. I have so much respect for this club, what they think about me and what they have shown in the last few weeks that they want to do with me, that I cannot talk about any other things. Monday is going to be a very difficult day, I believe, because after all these emotions, you realise that probably you hang up your boots and stop doing something I have been doing for the last 17 or 18 years in a professional way. I have to digest and consume all those emotions first."
Arteta has endured a nightmarish season because of injury, with an ankle problem setting him back and leading to related calf issues. He was unable to start any matches in the Premier League. "The injuries have absolutely been a factor," Arteta said. "When you stop for months and you come back, you try everything, and I worked so hard to get back but then you do it again and again and again. You disappoint yourself and other people at the club, the manager, everybody. You don’t know how to get it right.
"In the last few months in training, I felt really good, to be fair but, as well, I cannot make a decision because I felt good in the last few months. I need an overall picture and, for me as well, it is a dream to leave this sport at the highest level
"It was my ankle first, which I couldn’t get right, and that was affecting my calf. I was always having calf injuries out of nothing. I was fine and then it was really frustrating. In the last three months, I trained like I did years ago. I felt really good and the players were telling me: ‘Micky, you are crazy – how the hell are you going to stop? You can play for two or three years. OK, maybe not here but somewhere else.’ But it was my gut feeling."
Arteta offered his verdict on Arsenal’s season and it was one that was undercut by disappointment. "We finished second, which is our best finish in the last 11 years, so that is a good achievement, but we should have won this Premier League," he said. "For me, it is clear. We have the ability, the depth, the squad and we have the mentality. Something was missed and we cannot accept that at this level. Next year is going to be even harder."
According to The Guardian, Arteta has offers to join the coachings staffs at Arsenal, which makes sense given his obviously affection for the club and the manager's respect for him; Manchester City, where incoming manager and fellow Spaniard Pep Guardiola has identified a spot for him in the staff; and Tottenham, stemming from his close relationship with manager Mauricio Pochettino from when they played together at Paris Saint-Germain. At this point, it is looking most likely that he joins Guardiola at City, an opportunity to learn from one of the world's best that this writer cannot begrudge him for taking.
The Short Fuse congratulates Mikel on a brilliant playing career and wishes him the very best. Look for an upcoming retrospective piece on his career for Arsenal in the coming days.