Futbolita

We’re more united than ever: Arsenal star Mikel Arteta

Mikel Arteta speaking to Yahoo! SEA in KLMikel Arteta speaking to Yahoo! SEA in KL

Mikel Arteta can't wait to kick-start his second season at Arsenal, even without former club star, Robin van Persie, whose £24 million (S$47m) move to rivals Manchester United created shockwaves on Thursday.

In the run-up to Arsenal's season opener against Sunderland this Saturday, the 30-year-old midfielder  spoke to Yahoo! SEA in an exclusive interview about Asia, the Gunners' hunt for their elusive trophy and his dreams of making Del Bosque's Spain squad one day.

Although Yahoo! caught up with the Spanish star late last month during Arsenal's pre-season visit to Malaysia, the former Everton playmaker revealed that that  Gunners were already preparing for a future without their leading Dutch hitman, who was the Premiership's top scorer (30 goals) last season.

Van Persie was a notable absentee in the Gunners' preseason squad that toured Malaysia, Beijing and Hong Kong two weeks ago, but Arsene Wenger's team looked comfortable training without their key talisman in sight.

"I'm really looking forward to the new season with Arsenal because I know it will be different from the last. There is a different feeling among all of us in this (current) squad and we are more united," explained Arteta.

Indeed, when the Premiership kicks off this weekend, the Spaniard will be thrilled at the prospect of linking up with Arsenal's new attackers Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and countryman, Santi Cazorla, who arrived at the club fresh from his Euro 2012 victory with Spain.

"Lukas (Podolski) is a fantastic guy and I am looking forward to playing with him and Olivier (Giroud) to help them to score more goals for the team," Arteta said.

"As for Santi Cazorla, I know him very well and I think he is an amazing player and a good addition to the squad. It would be a great pleasure to play alongside him too."

Turning to his side's pre-season tour to Malaysia, which saw them beat a Malaysian selection in a scrappy 2-1 win, Arteta said he's been very surprised by Asia.

"It's my first time here, and I had no idea that there were fans here who love Arsenal so much -- even though they live so far away -- until I came here," said Arteta in Spanish, as we walked alongside the Bukit Jalil pitch.

Growing up in the Basque region of Spain, Arteta confessed that the heat got to him.

"You know the heat made it difficult for us out there and we weren't used to it," he said. "The quality of the pitch wasn't so good either, but I must give credit to our opponents (the Malaysian team). They really have many good players and played extremely well."

By Premiership standards, a result like that would have easily registered as a poor pre-season performance, but Arteta maintained there were still many positives to take away from the game.

"We still got to see so many fans from this part of the world, which is amazing. Asian fans are extremely passionate and I'm grateful for their affection. Although we could have done better, the match was a good test for us and it has motivated us to continue working hard for the new season".Can Arteta force his way into the first 11 this season? (Getty Images)Can Arteta force his way into the first 11 this season? (Getty Images)

Can Arteta force his way into the first 11 this season? (Getty Images)

FRESH IMPETUS

The 1.76m midfielder -- who sealed a reported £10 million move from Everton to Arsenal last August -- also said he hopes to have a much bigger impact this season.

He scored a total of six goals during his debut season with Arsenal and made three crucial assists. A former Barcelona B player, Arteta's style typically involves accurate pinpoint passing and the ability to provide cover for his teammates quickly. This made him the Premiership's most fouled player in 2007.

"We want to do well and win trophies for our fans. That is the aim of every team, but we have an entire season ahead of us so we must be practical, focused and continue to work hard," explained Arteta.

Last week, Arsene Wenger put the entire squad through their paces in an intensive training camp in Germany, designed to physically and mentally prepare them for the new season.

There were morning and afternoon sessions comprising of gym workouts, fitness drills, ball control and positioning exercises.

Arteta said: "Training under such conditions have been very difficult, but we're coping. Preseason is never easy."

If there's any consolation for the Gunners, it is that Wenger's intense 'boot camp' system seems to be working.

Since their pre-season workout in Malaysia, Arsenal defeated Cologne last Sunday in a 4-0 win with a double from their own former player, Lukas Podolski, and one goal each from Thomas Vermaelen and Gervinho.

SPANISH ROOTS

Of course, question marks still remain over the issue of Arteta's chance to represent the senior Spanish national team.

He has featured at every level for Spain (Under-16 right up to Under-21) but has never been called up once by Vicente del Bosque or his predecessors, mostly because of the existing competition in midfield.

Arteta's preferred spot is currently taken up by his own good friend, Xabi Alonso, and many of La Liga's finest players, including Alvaro Arbeloa, Xavi and Andres Iniesta -- who were all part of Spain's Euro 2012 and World Cup 2010 winning campaign.

However, he is positive that his time will come.

"Yes, it would definitely be amazing to play for 'La Seleccion' one day and a dream come true to represent the colours of my country. As I've said often, I am waiting for my chance, and will continue to work hard and believe that it is possible," he said.

Despite his glamorous 'Premiership footballer' status, Arteta's laid-back and humble personality can be traced back to his humble roots.

His close friendship with Spanish stalwart, Xabi Alonso (above), dates back to their childhood days at Antiguoko, an amateur youth Basque football club in San Sebastian, which acts a feeder club to La Liga side, Real Sociedad.

They often played together on the beach and practised their drills, often dreaming of a chance to play for a professional club.

"Yes, we do talk often! Xabi is a great friend and we have many good memories together," said Arteta fondly.

Arteta, who is married to Spanish model Lorena Bernal, also recently welcomed the birth of his second son, Daniel in June.

"Daniel's doing very well and he looks a lot like his (older) brother, Gabriel," Arteta explained with a laugh.

So does he have future football plans written out for his boys?

"Yes, if they want to be footballers, I'll support them. But if they choose a different path, I will try not to be too upset!" he said.

Ash Hashim or 'Futbolita' - The Female Football Voice' covers European and Latin football and has interviewed many of the top personalities in the game. Visit her site here.