It’s hardly the new Vieira versus Keane, but Arsenal and United have managed to find themselves with two surprisingly similar players. Their styles are perhaps a very clear indication of the changing face of the modern game, with none of the crunching and aggression of Vieira and Keane but based on clever play and classy passing, although Mikel Arteta and Michael Carrick are of course very different players to the Frenchman and the Irishman who were altogether different characters too.
The plaudits have rung out for both of these players in the last 18 months or so – especially Michael Carrick – the justification to this can be found in so many stats and their much appreciated work to help their respective teams ‘tick-over’. Both Carrick and Arteta are 31, which has been proving to be the prime age for that deeper lying midfield player, as exhibited exceptionally by Xabi Alonso as he continues to improve. Arteta is averaging 3.2 tackles a game to Carrick’s 2.4 which is not really of much surprise to their two roles in the side that neither are renowned for their ball winning in the same way as someone like Michael Essien was at his peak but their main role is to distribute and be the basis for attacks, where Carrick holds the edge with an average of 1 key pass per game to Arteta’s 0.7, where Carrick’s technical passing ability and vision gained him a lot of credit. Efficiency from both players has earned them respect for what they do for the side without being ones for the heroic block or chipping in with a lot of goals, a modern player in both cases that is custom built for the 4-2-3-1 system as in other formations their lack of mobility would really limit the side.
These two players are a clear sign of the modern game, less about the hard tackling but about retaining ball possession (both with pass percentages of over 88) they are a long way from the all action midfield men but that type of player is often required alongside Carrick or Arteta to compensate for some of their short falls. To have a player that sits so deep to not break-up play as much as some of their indirect predecessors like Claude Makelele – albeit a slightly different approach to the role but a development and a statement of how players need to be more available as an option in attacking moves even when playing as the deepest midfielder.
The effects of these changes to the specific midfield role are a testament to the change of the English game and priority put on keeping possession, where Carrick and Arteta both compensate heavily for their weaknesses in the tackle with a key to reading the game that they find themselves intercepting regularly, another great similarity between the two.
Overall, the two players give you different options in the way they influence the game, ultimately with the Englishman having qualities that stats can’t always show to dictate tempo more regularly than Arteta asserted his influence over the game. This may be down to Carrick’s higher level of discipline to sit deeper (also restricted by his own mobility) and control whereas the spaniard is allowed more freedom to burst forward and become more involved in attacks further up the pitch, which is where he picks up more goals from arriving in the box that is reflected in his higher percentage of completed passes in the final third and winning less possession in his defensive third. Both players hold many similarities in their play, but Arteta’s development as a footballer was obviously influenced by his opportunities to play with more freedom in his time at Goodison park that have changed the ways he plays today and the way that he fits into Arsenal’s system including the role he has to fulfill and the differing styles of Arsenal and Manchester United.
Michael Carrick has developed into a player with the ability to control the play when given the time, Arteta arguably does greater damage to the opposition further up the pitch and doesn’t require quite the same time on the ball with the Spaniard’s greater mobility. Arteta could also slot into teams with more ease due to this, whereas Carrick requires being given a more specific role in the side to fill with less versatility but given the right space and time is more likely to exert influence over the game as a whole and dictate the tempo than Arteta, which shows again why they are both so key to their respective teams.