In our latest ‘remembering’ piece, we take a comprehensive look back at the Rotherham United career of Kari Arnason…
Arnason was brought to Rotherham by Steve Evans ahead of the club’s first season at the New York Stadium in 2012/13. He was among 15 new recruits that summer which included the likes of Lee Frecklington, Kieran Agard, Michael O’Connor, Craig Morgan and Daniel Nardiello.
His contract had just expired with the Scottish Premiership outfit Aberdeen. ‘Arni’ had a lot of interest in him, and Evans had to work very hard to get his man.
During that summer, the former Millers boss travelled to Scotland and France to persuade Arnason to sign for Rotherham. All of this hard work paid off as he agreed to join the South Yorkshire side in June.
Arnason had Championship experience with Plymouth, but not a lot of Rotherham fans knew much about him before he signed. As the season got going, it became quite clear why Evans worked so tirelessly to get him.
11 different Premier Lge players scored in World Cup Qualifiers tonight, as well as 1 from League 2, Kari Arnason (Iceland & Rotherham)
— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) September 7, 2012
Arnason’s first season was perhaps his weakest in terms of performances. He had a mistake or two in him, but that came as a consequence of his quality as a footballer.
Watching him play every week, he just oozed class in everything that he did. But at times he got caught out by the plucky forwards that he came up against in League Two.
Despite this, it was still a strong season for the defender, as he made 33 league appearances en route to Rotherham’s promotion to League One.
He played 90 minutes in each of their last five games. The Millers won all of these remaining games to secure their place in the third tier, which rounded off a fantastic debut season at the New York Stadium…
That 2013/14 League One season…
As the club stepped up a level to League One, Arnason’s performances stepped up as well. He was an ever-present that season alongside club captain Craig Morgan.
Morgan and Arni forged a great partnership during their couple of years playing together. They complimented each other so well. Morgan was a really good leader on the field and he did all of the dirty work very well.
Arnason was a completely different type of player, as he had so much quality and confidence in possession. He was also a capable defender who offered a lot to the team alongside the experienced and ever-reliable Morgan.
The 2013/14 campaign was right up there with the club’s best over the last 15/20 years. With plenty of tinkering along the way, Evans built a fantastic attacking team who were brilliant to watch.
There were the likes of James Tavernier, Alex Revell, Ben Pringle, Frecklington and Agard, who all helped make it such a memorable campaign. Arni played a big part also, as he made 48 appearances in all competitions.
This term culminated at Wembley as they reached the League One play-off final. Arnason played in every single minute of that season’s play-off run. We all know how that ended, as the Millers earned promotion in the most dramatic of ways possible…
Arni in the Championship…
Arnason signed a two-year contract extension with the club that summer ahead of Rotherham’s return to the Championship. The step-up in division served him well once again.
The 2014/15 season proved to be Arnason’s best at the club. For the first three-quarters of the season, he continued to play alongside Morgan at centre-back for the most part.
It was clear to see from watching Arnason this season that he was much closer to the level that he should be at. He was always top quality, but in the Championship, he had the opportunity to express this even more.
He was one of Rotherham’s best players in 2014/15 as Evans’ men grafted hard in their attempts to avoid relegation back down to League One.
As you would expect with the Millers in the Championship, there were a lot of highs and lows throughout the season. There were standout victories over Leeds United, Ipswich Town and Bolton Wanderers.
But towards the end of February, Rotherham conceded eight goals in just two games in back to back defeats to Wolves and Middlesborough.
This left the Millers three points ahead of the bottom three after 33 games. Next up was Millwall at home, who were a place behind Rotherham in the table.
This game would end up being overshadowed by fan trouble in the away end, but Rotherham had the last laugh as they won 2-1. Arnason got a rare goal that day as he headed in the winner in the 85th minute…
His transition into defensive midfield…
Rotherham lost 3-1 away to Cardiff City in their next game, which led to a change of position for Arnason. Then came an away trip to Yorkshire rivals Huddersfield in a what was a pivotal game for the promoted side.
Evans bravely changed it up for that game. Connor Sammon was used as a winger, and new signing Farrend Rawson was brought in to play at centre-back alongside Kirk Broadfoot.
Arnason was operated as a holding midfielder with Frecklington and Richie Smallwood in front of him. Travelling to the game and seeing the team announcement at 2 pm; I and many other Millers fans would have been left fearing the worst…
But this switch-up worked a trick as Rotherham performed superbly as they ran out 2-0 winners. Arnason got on the scoresheet again before Sammon netted the second.
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Arnason missed two games through suspension soon after as he received his tenth booking. But he was available for the last eight games and Arni played in midfield in each of them.
This role suited him down to the ground. As we have mentioned, he was prone to making an error from time to time, but this position enabled him to play his best football.
He pulled the strings in the middle of the pitch expertly and he was a big asset for Rotherham in there alongside Frecklington and Smallwood.
The Millers edged themselves towards safety, which was eventually sealed in their penultimate game of the season. Evans’ men beat Reading 2-1 to secure their second-tier status in what was one of Rotherham’s best nights to date at the New York Stadium.
Sadly, that summer, Arnason’s time at Rotherham United came to an end. He signed for Swedish side Malmo, who were readying themselves to play Champions League football.
It was a shame that he did not stay for longer than three years, but his legacy had already been established for the Millers. He made 130 appearances for Rotherham in what was such a successful period for both himself and the football club.
Arni is one of the most naturally gifted players Rotherham have had over the past 20 plus years. He was loved by Evans, his teammates, the fans and he is still sorely missed to this day…
What the Millers fans thought of him…
“Sore loser. Tough s**t!”
Arnason was 32 when he left Rotherham, but he was not ready to wind down his career just yet. The Millers faithful have watched on with pride at how he has performed in the Champions League, the Euros and the World Cup.
He has played against Lionel Messi, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani and more in recent years. Arni and his Iceland teammates even got in the head of Cristiano Ronaldo.
After they drew 1-1 with Portugal in Euro 2016, Ronaldo claimed that Iceland would do “nothing” in the competition. This led to this fantastic response from Arnason:
I mean, he can say whatever he wants. He didn’t really get a chance today, he got one and he couldn’t put it away. What can I say? Sore loser. Tough s**t.
Iceland proved Ronaldo wrong as they made their mark in that year’s tournament. Arnason shone as they knocked England out of the competition in the round of 16.
This was Iceland’s golden generation, and despite him reaching the twilight of his career, Arnason was a major part of their success.
Fast forward to today, Arnason is now 38 and he plays for Norweigan first division side Viking FK. He continues to play for Iceland. In November, he captained his side against England in the Nations League as he earned his 87th international cap.
Iceland lost 4-0, but Arnason was just as combative in that game as he always has been for club and country.
For the last few years, Rotherham fans have been able to enjoy watching Arnason from afar. He has had such a fantastic career and the Millers were really lucky to have such a talented player on their books for as long as they did.
Ice cool on and off the pitch. A class act. Cheers Arni, it was a joy…