Player Focus: Mikel Arteta & Yossi Benayoun
In the first of four 'first impressions' articles Scott Davis reviews the impact of new midfield signings Mikel Arteta and Yossi Benayoun. Part two will take a look at our promoted from youth ranks pair of Francis Coquelin and Emmanuel Frimpong tomorrow.
Scott Davis on: Mikel Arteta
Seen as the elusive Cesc Fabregas replacement may be an unfair burden to bear, however in the surprisingly uncapped Mikel Arteta, Arsene Wenger has himself a player whom he'll expect to shoulder the creative responsibility from midfield. Although yet to register an assist in his first four games, he has managed to find the net away at Blackburn in the typical Arteta fashion which made him an Everton cult hero.
A good dribbler who shows rapid bursts of acceleration from deep lying positions, Arteta is a very cool and composed customer who rarely loses possession of the ball. With his excellent close control and two good feet he draws in many fouls and wins plenty of free kicks.
So far I have been delighted at how he's slotted into central midfield so comfortably and for want of a footballing cliché, 'he seems as if he's played there for years.' In his four appearances we've seen two different sides of the Spaniard's game. At home against Swansea and Bolton we've seen Arteta the footballer; a player who dictates the flow and pace at which the game is played through his own ball distribution. Whilst away from home against Borussia Dortmund and Blackburn, playing slightly deeper, we've seen the experienced leadership. In those two games he was a shouter and a finger pointer - less fluent and less expansive than at home but an organiser never the less.
He has struggled with injuries in recent seasons and question marks over his fitness remain. What can not be questioned however is his all round ability. When fit Arteta is a wonderful footballer and if he were of another nationality he would almost certainly have had 50 caps by now. He has quality in abundance and providing he stays fit, he will almost certainly be pulling the strings in midfield.
Scott Davis on: Yossi Benayoun
Like Arteta, Yossi Benayoun registered a goal on his third Arsenal appearance., albeit against League two side Shrewsbury Town in the Carling Cup. An early goal never the less in the opening stages of a new club career always helps to settle the nerves.
Equipped with a good engine, in Benayoun you have hard-working, attack-minded midfielder who will be expected to create something out of nothing and unlock stubborn defences when need be. On his debut, a 30 minute substitute appearance vs. Swansea City, he showed a good work ethic on the left and a willingness to track back providing support and cover for young full back, Kieran Gibbs.
His first start came against Borussia Dortmund, and whilst Arsenal as a whole were overran in large parts of that game, Benayoun showed his versatility by playing a more central and subsequently deeper role in midfield where he pressed well. When in possession however he’s always looking to go forward and against Shrewsbury he showed he’s naturally a direct runner and backwards really isn’t an option for him.
Whilst many Arsenal supporters would state Benayoun isn’t quite the marquee midfield signing they would have liked, Arsene Wenger has possibly sacrificed real top drawer quality for a hard working runner whose work rate can’t be faulted. An experienced Premiership player who lets not forget has played for both Liverpool and Chelsea to date. In theory he should bed in with the pace of the game almost immediately and the Israeli is someone I’d very much like to see more of. For me, if you find yourself in the unwanted position of chasing a game with a tight, narrow scoreline and you need a goal; you could do a lot worse than having Yossi Benayoun to bring on.
Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, our brightest attacking forces have both moved on, and there is a valid argument that the calibre of those two has not been replaced, a view I think most supporters would acknowledge. Mikel Arteta and Yossi Benayoun have been signed to fill the void but perhaps a direct comparison is a touch unfair, especially at this stage in the season and in consideration to the level of overhaul and circumstances of their arrival three matches into the season. On one hand I am critical that the club acted so late in the day but thankful that the players were signed even if there was a touch of pragmatism about the deals. Maybe that pragmatism is something we might have profited from in previous seasons.
Arteta has looked the part from the off and I cannot help but wonder what might have been had Wenger taken him a year or two earlier. Mikel and Yossi have come into a squad where there is much change, around them the likes of young Frimpong and Coquelin have added to the responsibility and size of task but both players have performed admirably in trying circumstances, both have scored their first Arsenal goals, and both have shown a high work rate. Arteta has been the more integral to date and has shown the kind of commitment level so inexcusably lacking last term, we have seen the Spaniard willingly put his head in and take a blow whilst also saving a certain goal with some astute defending on the line against Olympiacos. As key players return from injury and the squad gels we’ll know more about the level of these two but their efforts to date show promise, it doesn’t bear thinking about how we may have coped had the pair not been drafted in on deadline day no matter how critical we are of the manner of the business done.