Spanish pass-master tells FFT's Joe Brewin that competition for places can only be a good thing this season...
Arsenal might have the options in midfield to send Arsene Wenger into dizzy spells this season, but Mikel Arteta isn’t worried about his place in the side.
Mesut Ozil has lit up north London as expected after his summer move from Real Madrid, Santi Cazorla is back off the treatment table, Mathieu Flamini’s return has proved surprisingly successful, Aaron Ramsey is in the form of his life and both Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky are managing to keep fit.
So some things do change at Emirates Stadium – heck, the Gunners are even top of the league after nine games.
Wenger has one concern fewer to contend with after Arsenal were knocked out of the League Cup by Chelsea in midweek, but the Frenchman’s rotation policy in midfield has allowed a previously stretched squad to cope with injuries to Lukas Podolski, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott.
Seven players do not go into three places, of course – but former Everton man Arteta isn’t concerned about the competition in the Gunners' engine room.
“It makes us a more competitive team,” said the Spaniard, speaking exclusively to FFT. “It raises people's games in training, and therefore on the pitch too. If we're winning more games because of it then it can only be a positive thing. In recent years we have been short.
“There's no rivalry, everyone is just trying their best because the manager is picking a different team week in, week out. I'm happy he is doing that because everyone seems to be happy. We have so many games.”
Arteta missed the start of the season with a hip problem, but after being eased back into action with substitute appearances against Stoke and Swansea, has started each of the Gunners’ last three games.
Even a red card picked up in his last outing against Crystal Palace isn’t going to keep him out of the side, after he served his one-game ban in midweek. But what makes him a consistent pick on Wenger’s team sheet?
“I think my responsibilities in the team are different because I am more defensive, so I have to be more organised and balance the team,” he says.
“The others need that freedom and knowledge that someone is backing them up. That way they can really show the qualities they have.”
And so they do. Fellow Spaniard Cazorla was so impressive in his debut season at the Emirates, but the diminutive playmaker has been forced to contend with a new kid on the block in Germany international Ozil this time out. Since the former’s return from the injury the duo have lined up together in Arsenal’s last two matches – and their team-mate says they can continue to do so successfully.
“I always think good players can play together,” Arteta confirms. “Both of them bring something different to the team.
“Obviously Mesut is going to take more highlights than anyone else but I think everyone has lifted their games. There have been moments during games where we have managed to hold the points and get the results, which is going to be crucial this year.
“Playing Santi wide creates a bit of uncertainty because it is very hard to engage him centrally - you can have an extra man in midfield and make it really hard for the opposition. When he plays in the No.10 role he's more involved in the game, but in Spain he was often playing wide so I think he's used to it.”
Injuries in recent seasons have forced Wenger into throwing the likes of Emmanuel Frimpong and Francis Coquelin in at the deep end , but Arteta believes it’s a testament to the quality at his manager’s disposal that even Jack Wilshere doesn’t command an automatic place in the current climate.
“Jack is no different to the others,” he says. “And If Tomas Rosicky is on the bench it doesn't mean he is not as important. It's just amazing that we have those types of players to choose from. It shows how good we can be, but also proves that when we get the chance to play we have to take it.”
We spoke to Mikel Arteta at the Mountain Dew Xbox One Game Zone. You can win exclusive Microsoft Xbox One prizes on packs of Mountain Dew now. Click here for more information.