By Josh Clarke
The last-minute 2011-12 recruitment drive with which Arsene Wenger followed up the departures of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasriwas derided as desperate and laughable - the beginning of the end of a club unable to hold on to its best players.
And with hindsight Park-Chu Young, Andre Santos and Yossi Benayoun have done, or did do, little to dispel that notion, while Per Mertesacker has eventually proved himself equal to his new surroundings. Everton midfielder Mikel Arteta was the most high profile of a quintet of signings greeted by disgruntled protest.Indeed, Arteta was a player who failed to make the grade at the Nou Camp as a youngster and had been at Rangers and the Toffees ever since.
Though he had caught the eye under David Moyes, the Spaniard was approaching 30 years of age, had no significant experience in the Champions League and arrived at the Emirates having suffered a lengthy spell on the sidelines with a serious knee injury.
In the wake of the €60m+ the Gunners received for Fabregas and Nasri, the €12.2m purchase of Arteta, along with the loan signing of Benayoun, seemed to supporters a pathetic attempt to fill the creative void at the Emirates.
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Yet, for the turbulence that has engulfed the club since his arrival – factoring in the departure of Robin van Persie and Alex Song and the long-term absence of Jack Wilshere – Arteta has unexpectedly proved the club’s crucial pillar of stability.
Santi Cazorla may have stolen the plaudits for the balanced way Arsenal have adjusted to life without Van Persie, but it is the manner in which Arteta has reinvented himself that goes a long way towards explaining his compatriot’s instant adaptation to his new environment.
Initially, given the advanced role Arteta excelled in at Goodison Park, it seemed that the Spaniard would be expected to be a slightly downgraded like-for-like replacement for the forward-roaming Fabregas.
But briefed with defensive responsibilities, Arteta has proved himself a revelation in a deeper-lying role at the heart of the Arsenal midfield, providing an intelligent screen for a markedly improved back four when off the ball, and a cultured and calming influence when on it.
His constantly effective use of the ball from the base of Arsenal’s play going forward has allowed Cazorla to roam into and isolate space in between the opposition midfield and defensive lines. What the ex-Malaga man weaves from there writes all the headlines.
Arteta’s tactical contribution is there for all to see but just as important is the Spaniard’s unflappable persona. Though Thomas Vermaelen was given the captaincy at the start of the season, it is vice-captain Arteta who seems to function as the understated leader on the pitch.
As effortless as his effective manner on the pitch has seemed so far this term, it should also be noted that Arteta’s job will be made significantly easier with the impending return of Jack Wilshere.
With Cazorla more advanced, Arteta has so far featured alongside Aaron Ramsey, Abou Diaby and Francis Coquelin. Since his time at the club he has yet to have the chance to form a partnership with Wilshere but the prospect of the two together, headed up by Cazorla, is mouthwatering for Arsenal fans.
It may be Cazorla collecting the accolades for the new direction Arsenal have found this season, but the subtle contribution of a re-invented Arteta cannot be understated.