19 August 2013

Week in Review Vol. 1: Mikel Arteta's Pretty Important, It Seems

Mikel Arteta is expected to miss at least a month with a torn quadricep muscle.
(Photo courtesy Ronnie Macdonald)
Around 12:30 on Saturday afternoon, there were two primary targets of vitriol among Arsenal supporters. 

The first, as expected, was Arsene Wenger. The manager, as synonymous with the club as red-and-white kits and undefeated seasons, sent out a side that lacked a number of traits required to win matches. Chiefly among those was depth. A team plagued with injury and short-handed by a summer of inactivity quickly saw that shortcoming exposed.

Whether it was Aston Villa's design or sheer rotten luck, Arsenal saw three players go down to injury and another sent off. The second issue is where the other target of Arsenal fans' rage comes in. Official Anthony Taylor was wildly erratic in decision-making, awarding a pair of penalties to Villa and the same number of red cards to Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny.

The first penalty, while rightfully given in my estimation, was the most telling for Arsenal. The offending party, goalkeeper Wojech Szczesny, had little choice but to charge Villa's Gabriel Agbonlahor seconds after he beat Koscielny and approached the box unmarked. Szczesny took the forward down in pursuit of the ball. Taylor awarded the penalty, produced the caution and Christian Beneteke scored Villa's first goal on the rebound of his own attempt. It was the beginning of a very frustrating day for Arsenal. Naturally, Johnson took some heat for the call, as did Szczesny and Koscielny for their efforts on the sequence.

The play developed, however, long before Agbonlahor did his damage. The leadup revealed an absence Arsenal simply can't deal with at the moment. Mikel Arteta's 20 months in North London have solidified him as one of the Premier League most influential players. There are, of course, more talented, more dynamic central midfielders around. Few, though, have proved more valuable to their club than Arteta to Arsenal.

Watching the play repeatedly, as I'm sure every Gooner has, it's not fair to say the outcome is wholly different with Arteta on the pitch. Watching Arteta during his time with Arsenal tells a different story. Arteta is the linchpin in the Arsenal side. He's not Patrick Vieira, and it would behoove us all to stop dubbing every capable holding midfielder as such.

Arteta is, however, frequently the difference for Arsenal. Monday morning, news of a potential bid for Newcastle's Yohan Cabaye broke. The Frenchman would certainly help Arsenal plug the gap created by Arteta's absence and strengthen the club overall. He does not replace him. Even with the talented young midfielders currently in Arsenal's rotation, namely Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere, Arteta is first choice for the Gunners when available.

There's no question that Arsenal's other options in the midfield offer more creativity. Few in England can match Arteta's positioning and commitment to smart, simple plays that help gain and keep possession. The clattering challenges and more visible forms of ball winning will never be Arteta's strength. At his best, Arteta often seems invisible. His job makes this is a welcomed sight. Unless he picks out a perfect ball or hits a strike from distance, snuffing out opposing rushes or occupying the exact patch of grass an opponent has in his sights are where Arteta earns his money.

On Saturday, Arsenal didn't lose because it was an inferior side. A few unfortunate breaks fell against it. At that point, the young, unsettled team came undone.

Signings need to come, of course, but Arsenal doesn't need signings to be better than Villa with a healthy squad. Players, like Mikel Arteta get injured, though, and Arsenal plainly isn't deep enough to cope right now.

Aston Villa: The three goals Villa scored, and the points it earned as a result, were the story for the most part. Brad Guzan's performance was just as impressive, though. Villa deserved its win, but those points don't come without a few huge Guzan saves.

Cardiff City: Earning promotion to the Premier League was obviously a big deal for Cardiff and its supporters. Apparently, the achievement was so important that multiple authors have written books about it. It's going to look a little silly if they go right back down.

Chelsea: Even after its 2-0 win over Hull City on Saturday, Chelsea's looking to make another upgrade by attracting Manchester United's Wayne Rooney. A pair of bids have already been rejected by United, but Chelsea has prepared a third. At what point is Rooney going to just admit he has no interest in playing for David Moyes?

Crystal Palace: I like where Crystal Palace supporters' heads are at. They know their team isn't going to scare anyone, so they're just trying to do it themselves.

Everton: Roberto Martinez has no interest in selling either Leighton Baines nor Marouane Fellaini. But a legitimate offer for two of the best in the world at their positions would probably help him consider it. United did not make such an offer.

Fulham: Scott Parker signed for Fulham on Monday. Parker said this move "delighted" him. He is lying.

Hull City: The 2-0 scoreline in a loss to Chelsea flattered Hull City in its latest Premier League debut. Despite the first of many shellackings to come, the Tigers' fans insist they're just happy to be here. As is Chelsea.

Liverpool: I've always been of the opinion that Daniel Sturridge is amazing. And I am correct.

Manchester City: Manuel Pellegrini's first year as Manchester City manager began with a 4-0 defeat of 10-man Newcastle on Monday. Whatever, let's talk about how great Yaya Toure is.

Manchester United: David Moyes first few weeks as United manager have gone pretty well. In general, his first season is going to tell us an awful lot about how important a manager really is.

Newcastle United: Newcastle never had much of a chance to knock off City on the road on Monday. But credit to Steven Taylor for trying anyway.

Norwich City: New Norwich City striker Ricky van Wolfswinkel scored in his Premier League debut on Saturday. He then credited Robin van Persie for convincing him to sign with Nor'ich over Sporting.

Stoke City: Mark Hughes thinks Ryan Shawcross can be a more "dynamic player." He is incorrect.

Southampton: Rickie Lambert is one of those guys universally loved by everyone, right? Even after Soton moved for idiot Roma striker Pablo Osvaldo, it's clear Lambert is still the guy.

Sunderland: Paolo di Canio is an awful person. But he is also fabulously entertaining.

Swansea City: People seem to think Arsenal is legitimately trying to buy both Michu and Ashley Williams.

Tottenham Hotpsur: AVB insists Tottenham hasn't bid for Anzhi M ... etc. midfielder Willian. What he means is, he's not sure if Gareth Bale is leaving or not yet.

West Bromwich Albion: Nicolas Anelka is terrible now, and he is absolutely going to score against Arsenal at least once this season.

West Ham:  Some dummy West Ham supporter was recently sentenced to a year in prison for unsuccessfully arranging a brawl between West Ham and Millwall firms. I really hope Millwall stays down forever.

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