The numbers show why del Bosque should pick Arteta for Spain


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.


Follow Tim on twitter @7amkickoff and at

*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.


    • busquets’ diving and card waving skills give an extra dimension to spain’s attack, something arteta can’t provide.

      Thumb up 189 Thumb down 2

    • I think del Bosque will only pay Mikel when Mikel realises he has Barca DNA and moves to Barca.

      Arteta does not know he has this DNA yet but I’ll do everything I can to make it the only thing I say to the media.

      Thumb up 61 Thumb down 1

  1. “I stopped looking for Busquets because he was hiding behind his hands.”

    Well done. The biggest point that del Bosque should find the most convincing.

    Thumb up 123 Thumb down 2

  2. I loathe Busquets, and would love to see Mikel get his paid his due on the international level. That said though, how many games has Busquets actually played “DM”? I have only watched RM v Barca last weekend and he was center back. Are the numbers apples to apples?

    Thumb up 23 Thumb down 6

  3. he’s sheer quality,but busquets will always get the nod due to barca relationships and familiarity with xaviesta.Would love to see him get a few caps though,thoroughly deserved.

    Thumb up 50 Thumb down 1

    • There is always this argument as well as the fact that you don’t change a winning formula. Until Spain lose a game and Busquets plays crap why would they drop him? Especially for someone older? … it makes no sense and while it’s a little selfish, I’m glad. The cunts stuck a Barca shirt over Cesc’s head. They’re cunts!

      Thumb up 24 Thumb down 2

  4. Shame he didn’t come to Arsenal earlier… Imagine him with Cesc. Playing for a big club would have also massively boosted his chances of playing for the national squad, and if there’s one player who fucking deserves it, it’s him. Plus, you know, his hair is infinitely better than Iniestas.

    Thumb up 65 Thumb down 2

    • back then we didn’t really need him (though i think there were some transfer rumors), especially as nobody would have thought of him as a “defensive midfielder”. in fact nobody except the boss did so before song left. but arsene knows.

      Thumb up 25 Thumb down 1

    • Big club – my arse – he was at one big enough before. What you mean is ‘fashionable’ club. Well – fashion moves on and arsenal are now one of yesterdays ‘big four’.
      I don’t disagree that Arteta’s been overlooked too much by Spain, but – interesting how Everton have not missed Arteta one bit – in fact have been better without him.

      Thumb up 4 Thumb down 35

  5. I have to admit that when Arteta signed for us last season I was happy but not overjoyed. I felt at the time that Song was better and that Arteta was just a decent stop gap for when Wilshere and Ramsey developed further. I’m man enough to admit that I was wrong.

    Arteta has been an absolute revelation and is now indispensable. His passing, work rate and intelligence is phenomenal. He is probably my favourite Arsenal player now and I hope he gets a call up to the Spanish team.

    Thumb up 93 Thumb down 0

    • Same here man. To think that he’s only cost us 10mil pounds and even took a pay cut to play for us just simply like a dream. He is so intelligent with and without the ball. A brilliant midfielder will see the pass before he get to the ball and he’s definitely in that category. His awareness is what makes him so mesmerizing to watch.

      Thumb up 38 Thumb down 0

      • If Arteta indeed took a pay cut to come to Arsenal, shouldn’t the club now perhaps consider offering him an improved contract? Just putting it out there.

        Thumb up 16 Thumb down 0

    • I was jumping up and down with excitement when it was confirmed on Skysportsnews.I knew how good he was. I just wish that we had signed him a few years earlier.

      Thumb up 30 Thumb down 0

      • theres 2 ways I look at it .
        the ‘if only’ we’d signed him earlier argument is valid and i can only imagine cesc and arteta would have been unreal
        but the other side of it is we have signed an outstanding professional in his prime and his long term successor (jack) couldn’t have asked for a better player to learn off. the fact he has someone so amazing to train and play with can only make him a better player.
        busquets looks like a dropkick

        Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

    • He was in Barca’s youth system, and although he’s Basque rather than Catalan, I’ve heard that they do some form of experimental DNA graft in the training ground so they can boast about it if they ever want the player back.

      Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  6. NO!
    that’s one player less to worry about returning injured and tired from international duties. our most important player too, as it is…

    Thumb up 26 Thumb down 1

    • Whilst i agree that it benefits Arsenal, its selfish to deny a player a call-up, especially one who deserves it like Arteta does.

      Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

    • Ok, what? There is a God but Arteta is less deserving of a late career call up than Parker was?…..Ummm…….can some pick those toys up and put them back in my pram.

      Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  7. To be fair to Busquets, he plays in a team where he gets fewer chances to tackle, and he isn’t the primary passer of the team. He also moves the ball very quickly (not that Arteta doesn’t, but Busquets is ridiculous quick to play a pass).
    Now, I think Arteta deserves to be in the Spanish national team. But I also think that people here are underrating Busquets – this is a player that beat out Mascherano, Yaya Toure, and Seydou Keita for the CDM spot at Barca. (And Alex Song, I guess, but he can’t even manage to start ahead of Adriano at CB).

    Thumb up 59 Thumb down 7

    • I think players don’t realize how much a single (or several) incident can define them. I will always imagine Busquets with his hands over his face or Saurez deliberate handball at the WC and think, what cunts!

      Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  8. What is this? Do we WANT arguably our best player being called up for international duty and getting overplayed and injured?

    Thumb up 24 Thumb down 1

  9. I’d love to see Arteta recognised and he obviously would love it to. Speaking selfishly though, I’m glad he hasn’t been called up. Less risk of injury on international duty, and less risk of cunt teammates putting barcelona shirts on you at press conferences

    Thumb up 19 Thumb down 0

  10. No no,let’s stop we really want a star of the team going off to every part of the world with that spanish team,or relaxing at home with his lovely Spanish dog “el limpar”

    Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  11. I hate to be ‘that guy’ but some people are a bit off the mark here. Like him or not (I choose not), Busquets is a very very good player in terms of how Barca and Spain want to play.

    Mikel should definitely be in their squad though. He’s probably playing better than both Busquets and Alonso at the moment.

    Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  12. I do believe that he deserves at least a few competitive caps, but I’m happy having one of our key players have a couple of weeks off here and there instead of playing useless friendlies, especially at this point in his career. Plus I don’t want him hanging out with that bunch of idiots, with their DNA and all that.

    Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  13. Disrespect to Busquets? WTF?
    Busquets is a walking (diving/cheating) disrespect to the entire game. No disrespect is enough for that cheating dirt bag. I’ll give it to him that he excels at diving for a call on defense if he can’t get it back with his first attempt, which is a critical component of Barca’s game.
    Arteta should get the call just because he is a better man as well as good enough for the team.
    But I agree with others that I am happy for him to be home during the crappy interlulls.

    Thumb up 15 Thumb down 2

  14. Leave Arteta alone. Can’t we Gooners have at least one top player we wont be holding our hearts in our mouths during international breaks?

    Thumb up 12 Thumb down 2

  15. Please put those biased Goggles away. I love Arteta as any other Arsenal fan but he isn’t better than Busquets or Alonso. He doesn’t have the technique to play in top Competitions and that is evident with his Champions League Performances. He crumbles whenever someone puts pressure on him which isn’t the case with Busquets. However it would be great if he can get at least one call up.

    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 38

  16. All these comments are biased. Both Guardiola and Del Bosque said if they could be one player in football it would be Busquets and said he was the best defensive midfielder in the world. The statistics do not give an accurate reflection Barca and Spain dominate possession so he hardly has to defend also they win the ball back much higher up the pitch through the attacking players. Also Busquets superior technique means he rarely loses possession and has one of the best first time passes in football perfect for Spain’s style also his intelligence to play the pass and move vacating space, finding space to allow his teams passing to flow is 2nd to noone. Arteta is an excellent player however the Spain midfield is the greatest there has ever been and he has some of the best players in the world ahead there would be no point Del Bosque bringing him up for a friendly either if he is unlikely to be a part of the set up for the Spain team going forwards there’s no room for sentiment in football it would be better to give players like Thiago and Romeu a chance. This is from an Arsenal fan who recognises Arteta is a great player but some things are just not meant to be but he’s vice captain and a fan favourite at Arsenal football club that’s a phenomenal accomplishment in itself.

    Thumb up 16 Thumb down 8

    • You seem inclined to a “superior” busquets. Arteta deserves a friendly, has he got it yet?. No!. Dele bosque and that busquets can fuck right off to goddamn infinity until Arteta replaces that busquets atleast once in that spain squad.

      Thumb up 8 Thumb down 4

    • It’s an interesting point you make but I wonder if what you’re really suggesting is that two players can never be compared. For example, no two leagues are the same (a point I emphasize in my post, actually) and the officials aren’t the same so according to your logic, you can never look at fouls, cards, or even non-fouls like successful tackles because officials in the Premier League are far more lenient in terms of calling a tackle a foul or not.

      The same for the playing styles of Arsenal v. Barcelona and the number of passes per game for each team’s players. Etc. etc.

      Essentially, you’re positing something akin to an infinite regression argument. That is to say, the closer we look at something the less we know about it and the more we have to keep digging to uncover the Truth.

      But just because we look closely at something and learn that we know less, doesn’t mean that we know nothing about the topic. In fact, the more we examine the facts and the further we dig, the MORE we know.

      As for comparisons, some are more useful than others but again, just because a comparison isn’t perfect doesn’t mean that it’s useless. All of your criticisms are bang on, but that doesn’t mean we can’t compare the two and posit that Arteta is having as good a season (or better) than Busquets. We compare KNOWING that the comparison is imperfect, in fact no comparison is perfect. Even apples to apples, there are different types of apples after all.

      But as far as comparing two players across two leagues these two are as close as we are going to get to a decent comparison: both teams play a very similar style and both players play a very similar position.

      Anyway, thanks for the erudite comment. It’s rare to have a debate about infinite regression on a sports blog.

      Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

      • I’m not saying they can’t be compared i’m saying stats don’t tell the full story compare Busquets’ stats for Spain and Barca they differ considerably yet Spain and Barca’s style is similar, far more similar than Arsenal’s style compared with Barca where Barca press high and aggressively while Arsenal don’t press at all they get back into shape, they’re defensive styles are almost on opposite ends of the spectrum in fact Fabregas spoke of how much difference there was between the teams tactically so they’re stats are going to differ, also Busquets only played 3 minutes in one of those la liga matches and 75 minutes in one of the others so the stats should probably be minutes played rather than games played.

        Both teams have similar passing styles yes Arteta’s stats are better but i feel that most of the people on here don’t recognise what Busquets actually does because most of his work is done off the ball, it would take an infinite amount of time for me to write about what he does, his intelligence to make space for team mates, his reading of the game but there is a youtube video Sergio Busquets- the brilliant mind if anyone wants to watch it they may see what i’m saying.

        This is the first time that Wenger has played someone in this sort of role and Arsenal fans seemingly believe Arteta is the only player in the world to play the pivot role and that he’s the greatest at it. Arsenal fans don’t acknowledge contributions even mock players like Busquets, Carrick, Lucas Leiva but their team’s fans are raving about them in the same way, for those Arsenal fans like this my advice is to be a fan of football as well as a fan of Arsenal.

        I agree with you that even though the stats aren’t perfect we can compare them to a certain extent and i agree Arteta is having as good if not an even better season however i do feel that Busquets is the better player but as i said in my original post i do feel Arteta has some of the best players in the world in front of him and Busquets in his position i feel certainly falls into this category. Thanks for your response though i felt you had an open mind to my comment where others seemingly may not have.

        Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

    • Yes…..yes and yes!.
      Should have realised sooner he’ll never get a chance with spain and instead switched to England. I think England football would have really benefited from this real proffesional, we’ve seen too many undeserving cunts don the England shirt already.

      Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  17. Who gives a fuck about national teams? If he wants a call up, I’ll call him up and thank him for not fucking off every few weeks to get injured training for pointless matches.

    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  18. Excellent analysis… Suggests how well Arteta is doing this year…

    One thing I’d add is that comparing his last season numbers with this year also shows that the team is much more balanced around him… We definitely have a more mature team, no players going AWOL, overall positioning seems good, other players making themselves available for passes etc… So the stats above are not only indicative of Arteta’s form, they clearly display that this season Arsenal as a team have a different form… More experience added with 3 relatively experienced first team players and players like Merteascker getting used to life in the PL…

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  19. I shed a tear to think if we kept Cesc and bid more for Alonso we could have our own spanish midfield of Arteta, Cesc, Xabi and Cazorla for good measure… Yep fantasy over.

    Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  20. I think it’s a difficult decision for the manager but it does kinda stink that he doesn’t even get a shout in the friendlies. I’d rather he stay at the grove personally but he deserves a couple inter-caps….

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  21. When Spain are playing a side that wants to actually play football, Busquets offers useful cover for the defence but his primary purpose is to allow Xavi and Iniesta to exchange passes around corners. In that he is always available for a pass and spots a safe pass before the ball reaches him.
    But there’s a reason why VDB plays Alonso as well as Busquets, Spain and Barca don’t play the same way (due to a lack of Messi) and Alonso has clear attributes that Busquets lacks (a slightly ginger beard for one). Spain often face teams who park the bus like France, Italy, etc.
    At the moment Arteta is doing both players jobs in some ways better than either of them.
    Barca’s passing stats are always misleading, they pass to defend all game, something Arsenal only really do when winning and trying to close the game out. Arsenal players prefer to move the ball on foot before passing.

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  22. Biscuits oh! Sorry I mean Busquets is not better than Mikel by far. 1 thing wc makes him a regular in the spanish team is he is a local n also plays fr Barca were Iniesta n Xavi also happens to play fr. That’s a fact otherwise if he was playing fr a team like Osasuna or n small team who knws?

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  23. Arteta is the best and though him gettin a cap would be awesome,it would ruin his magnificent hair….and his feet…those are errr…important too

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  24. So for Mr. Arteta’s benefit I think it would be super if his ability were recognized with some caps (not to mention a more regular starting role for our boy Cazorla), but for purely selfish reasons I’m quite happy with his current exclusion. Arsenal gets a more rested player who isn’t exposed to as many opportunities to pick up an injury.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here