Today we start the countdown to the unveiling of the Arsenal.com Player of the Season - as voted by the fans.
Mikel Arteta leads off our top five. The Spanish midfielder finished in fifth place with 4.1 per cent of the votes cast after a superb first season at Emirates Stadium.
Arsenal.com reporter Rob Kelly gives his verdict on the 30-year-old.
“He is a player you don't like to lose because he is an organiser, a winner and has great qualities. He has a 90-minute focus on the pitch and what typifies him well is the goal he scored against Manchester City. He first won the ball back through complete focus on what the opponent will do and where he could lose the ball. He then finished the action and scored the goal. That is what I call a real midfielder, a guy who is always in the game.”
Of all the many astute signings Arsène Wenger has made in his 16 years at Arsenal, the capture of Mikel Arteta on transfer deadline day must rank as one of his best. Cool, calm and composed, the Spaniard so quickly became a mainstay of the team that it seemed scarcely credible that he had not been a Gunner for years.
Of all the statistics about Arteta this season - his 91 per cent pass rate, his 83.14 per cent tackle rate - perhaps the most telling was about his effect on the team. When Arsenal travelled to West Bromwich Albion for their final game of the season, they had not won a league match that Arteta had not played in. That illustrates just how essential the Spaniard had become in his first nine months at the Club.
The 30-year-old faced a major challenge upon joining Arsenal. Following the departure of the Gunners’ talismanic captain, Arteta was mistakenly labelled ‘Fabregas-lite’ by some observers. But that misunderstood the role the Spaniard would play: he had not been signed as a playmaker, more as a conduit between defence and attack. It was a role he had assumed in his early days at Barcelona, and he revisited it to brilliant effect in his first season under Wenger.
Mikel was always keen to emphasise that he was happy to play a more understated role if it was to the benefit of the side as a whole. “I just try to balance the team a little bit. I don't want to be the main man; we all know who the main man is and that’s Robin. The most important thing is the team, and once the team is doing well the highlights will come for the rest of the players because we are playing well. Everyone is part of a machine and we are all just trying to make the machine work as well as we can.”
That quote typifies Arteta’s selfless attitude, but he has also remained highly influential going forward, weighing in with six goals and three assists during an excellent debut season at Emirates Stadium. Of course, the most memorable of those goals was his late winner against Manchester City, but he also scored a sensational free kick against Aston Villa, a curling effort against West Brom, a long-range hit against Wigan and two strikes against Blackburn. Quite the highlights reel.
Mikel may not have been as eye-catching as some of his team-mates during his first season at Arsenal, but his technical excellence, experience and maturity made him one of the most important. And with a season under his belt in the red-and-white shirt, his influence will only grow over the coming years.Copyright 2016 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source