Soccer: Arsenal's Arteta is another Barca gun

By Sam Wallace

Mikel Arteta's impeccable English means that he is very rarely lost for words but, when he tries to describe the emotions he experienced on August 31, the final day of the transfer window, he occasionally struggles to find the right expression.

His transfer to Arsenal from Everton for £10 million went through just in time after a day in which it was on, off and back on again with dizzying speed. It meant the end of six and a half years at Everton for the Spanish midfielder and the challenge of filling the role left by the departed Cesc Fabregas.

The story of those last few hours in the office at Goodison Park is one of tension and frustration, much of it, Arteta admitted, directed at the fax machine - still football's communication tool of choice in a digital age. The story at the time was that Arteta accepted a pay cut in his monthly terms in order to keep the deal alive.

"That's something I don't like to speak about," Arteta says, "but I can say that I made a big effort to come here."

It was Arsenal's most frantic few days of transfer activity. Out went Fabregas and Samir Nasri among 15 departures from the first and reserve-team squads. Arteta, Per Mertesacker, Andre Santos, Yossi Benayoun and Park Ju-young were the highest-profile arrivals in the window's last days.

Arsene Wenger's side had been beaten 8-2 by Manchester United the previous Sunday and action needed to be taken.

There had been a long-term interest from Arsenal in Arteta. The 29-year-old came close, he says, to signing for another club the previous summer. He will not tell me who but it is thought to be Manchester City. Yet when Arsenal came back in to sign him this summer there was no hesitation.

"I always said when I leave Everton I want to do it the right way. I want to look the manager in the face and say: 'Thank you very much. I think it is time for me to go'. It was the same with the chairman. That is the way it happened. I leave a good relationship with the players and the staff which is really nice for me.

"These are people that I really appreciate as professionals and as people. We had a good relationship. Apart from football there was a personal relationship and things that happened to me and them and our families over the last seven years, so you can't just put that apart. Any time I can pick up the phone to speak to them, they can speak to me with no problem, no confrontation. That gives me a good feeling."

At Arsenal it was tough at first with defeat to Blackburn in Arteta's third game - in which he scored - and then Tottenham on October 2. But since then they are undefeated, in seventh place and went into last night's game against Norwich City just three points behind Chelsea. The memory of Arsenal's 5-3 win at Stamford Bridge three weeks ago is still fresh.

"It gives you a lot of confidence and a perspective that you have to enjoy football and you have to enjoy the moment ... when they come you have to take them," he says. "You worry about the next day and the next day. Sometimes you have to be able to enjoy it and say: 'This is what I like about my profession'.

"They [Arsenal] made it clear they wanted me because they needed an experienced, creative midfielder. Someone who could fit in quickly in the Premiership. For me it was the chance to stay in England, move to London, try a bigger club. And a club that wants to play football all the time. I am from the Barcelona school and the football here is the most similar. I knew there was going to be pressure. With some of those players leaving and others coming in there will always be a discussion about who is better but at the same time I thought I will have the chance to help the team and improve it.

"Obviously two of the best players have gone and it is different. We cannot try to be the same as them, that would be a big mistake. Fabregas was here for eight years. He is a legend, one of the best midfielders I have played against. Trying to compare yourself with them is never going to work. It is impossible from day one. So just try to play your own game, improve the team and try to fill those holes."

Arteta is very proud of the fact that he was schooled at Barcelona although he left at 17 to go on loan to Paris Saint-Germain having never played for the first team. Despite his considerable talent he has also famously never won a cap for the Spain senior team, a result of being born into the greatest generation of Spanish footballers.

It was Xavi who blocked his way as a teenager at Barcelona and it has been the same with Spain but Arteta bears no grudges. He was widely expected to be selected for the Spain squad for the World Cup qualifier against Turkey in March 2009 but suffered the worst injury of his career the month before.

"It was February [2009] against Newcastle. Nightmare. I [injured the] cruciate, lateral ligament and meniscus at the same time. I was getting back after nearly four and a half months and the meniscus flicked again in training and I had to repair that. Then I got an infection so it was nearly 10 months and that injury is not easy to recover from.

"It doesn't hurt me [not to play for Spain] but obviously I would enjoy playing [in that team] because we have the best footballers in the history of Spain. I know how good they are and there is nothing I can do. I can try to play better and harder. Hopefully I can get a chance because it would be a dream for me."

There was a time - Arteta reckons it was about three days - when he thought he may be eligible to play international football for England. That was until he checked the Fifa regulations which prevented him from doing so. He could only have switched had he been eligible to play for England when he began representing Spain at junior level. Before that was clarified, there were discreet enquiries made from Fabio Capello's camp, although not from the manager himself.

It is a long way from his days at La Masia, the farmhouse in the grounds of the Nou Camp where Barcelona's young players live eight to a room in four dormitories. Arteta shared with Andres Iniesta, Pepe Reina and Victor Valdes among others. There is real joy when he remembers how, as a Basque kid from San Sebastian, his playing style and his character was moulded.

"They prepare you as a person and as a footballer. You see it in the characters as well. Talk about Iniesta, Xavi, [Carles] Puyol - nice people. Great players but very, very respectful people. For me the best thing to learn from is an example. We had [Pep] Guardiola, [Guillermo] Amor, [Jose] Bakero and when you see these examples you want to be like them. All the young lads now are going to have Iniesta and Xavi as examples and now Thiago [Alcantara] is coming. The ball keeps rolling."

As a 17-year-old, Arteta says that he recognised the high standards of the club when, at first, his contemporary Xavi could not break into the first team. Xavi was behind Guardiola at the time. Arteta knew that after Xavi, Iniesta was next in line. "I was realistic and sometimes you have to say: 'Listen, it has to be something crazy [for me to make the first team]'. Maybe it would have happened but sometimes you need to make a decision."

There is a nice symmetry about the fact that Arteta is replacing Fabregas, another of the Barcelona academy boys who has returned to Catalonia. As for Arsenal and Wenger, they knew exactly what they were getting: another recruit from the best finishing school of all.

- Independent

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n4 at 22 Apr 2014 04:17:23 Processing Time: 586ms