Seriously, I wonder why you’ve never been with the national team. Look you’ve had some incredible seasons with Everton and now you’re the deputy captain of Arsenal. How strange that you’ve not yet had a chance. There are many players in that position, but I do wonder. — Santi Cazorla speaking to Mikel Arteta on why he’s never been given a chance to play for Spain.
Based on this season’s performances, Mikel Arteta deserves a spot on the Spanish national team and just why he is not getting that spot is a mystery that only Vicente del Bosque can clear up.
Playing in a deeper role at Arsenal since Arsene Wenger sold Alex Song to Barcelona, Arteta has refined his passing game and has added a steely defensive resolve to his game. Arteta leads all the major European leagues in total passes attempted (658) and averages 25 more passes per game than either Busquets or Xabi Alonso.
Reliability is the key to Arteta’s success at Arsenal this season and in seven matches he has only misplaced 41 passes. That’s good enough for a 94% passing completion rate. And lest you think that he’s only good with the short passes, Arteta averages 6.6 long balls per game and has completed fucking 46 out of 50 long passes — that’s 92%. Xabi Alonso is known for his long balls and has completed more long passes (58) for Real Madrid but he’s attempted a lot more too (83) and his completion rate is just below 70%.
Arteta doesn’t lead Europe in tackles per game, but he does well enough to rank 15th overall and 3rd in the Premier League. Xabi is 61st in Europe and I stopped looking for Busquets because he was hiding behind his hands.
Arteta does get called for more fouls per game than either Busquets or Xabi but he’s only gotten one yellow card this season compared to three for Xabi and four for Busquets. Don’t read too much into that because the leagues are so different but it does look like Arteta is a better tackler who knows when to strategically foul the opponent and not pick up a needless booking.
In order to show how much better Arteta is doing in his new role this year compared to last, I ran a quick comparison between Busquets’ Euro 2012 numbers and Arteta’s 6 game League averages for 2011-2012* and then compared Busquets and Arteta’s 2012-2013 League averages. The difference is amazing:
The left side is 2011-2012 and as you can see, Busquets was arguably the better player beating Mikel in 8 of the 13 categories where the two numbers weren’t the same. On the right side, however, the two players are compared for 2012-2013 and there is no contest, Arteta destroys Busquets’ numbers winning 12 out of 16 contested categories. Arteta is leaps and bounds the better passer in every way and is the better defender in most of the categories.
Growing up together in San Sebastian, Xabi and Mikel dreamed of playing together for Real Sociedad and given Mikel’s amazing transformation this season I can’t see any way around it: it’s time for del Bosque to play Xabi and Mikel together in an all-Basque double pivot.
*Arteta played 29 matches for Arsenal in the League. To get a “6 game average” I divided his season totals by 4.8 (29/4.8=6.08). Feel free to quibble over the method but I was feeling lazy and didn’t really feel like doing an actual six-game stretch.