It seems odd picking a defender after a month in which Arsenal conceded six goals in one game, in one of their worst ‘performances’ of the season. There were other candidates this month: namely Lukas Podolski and Tomas Rosicky – the former with a good contribution of goals and assists, and the latter with his typically impressive performances buzzing around in midfield, not to mention a rocket at Tottenham which ended up being the winner.
But, despite Bacary playing in the 6-0 capitulation at Stamford Bridge, Culann and I were both in agreement that he’d been our player of the month for March. Starting with said loss, it was notable that none of the goals really came down his side. In the first half, three of the goals were scored from Arsenal’s left hand-side being exposed, and in the second half the two goals came from our right after Bacary had switched to the left. The move before the penalty was conceded by Kiera- er, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came from Sagna’s side, but other than that he was hardly culpable. In fact, goals seemed to come from wherever he wasn’t playing, which probably says something about his defensive quality (or that Chelsea were targeting the other full-backs consistently – most likely because they knew of Sagna’s quality).
So the Chelsea game didn’t put much of a blemish on Sagna’s month – certainly not as much as with other players (I won’t name and shame). Going back to the beginning of the month, the Stoke loss was fairly unremarkable from an Arsenal point of view, with no players doing particularly well. The following match against Everton was completely different, with lots of Gunners impressing. As well as putting in a good shift defensively, Sagna set up Arsenal’s third, with intelligent movement to get into a good position, composed play once on the ball and a well-measured pass to Giroud to score. What I most liked about that was his calmness – a less experienced player might have rushed things and played it as soon as Giroud began pointing, but Sagna waited until the right moment to deliver an under-stated pass to ensure it was an easy finish.
Next followed consecutively tough away matches at Tottenham and Bayern Munich, a 1-0 win and a 1-1 draw respectively. Arsenal set up in similar ways in both games, although, surprisingly, were arguably less defensive against Bayern Munich. Then again, maybe it seemed like that because they were able to keep the ball better at Bayern, and thus were able to relieve the pressure on the defence more often (or at least that’s how I remember it). Sagna was his usual solid, reliable self at White Hart Lane; coolness personified on the ball, putting in robust challenges and saving Szczesny’s blushes when he dropped it for the first time. Another reliable performance at Bayern followed.
I must admit that I’ve pretty much erased the Swansea match from my mind, surprisingly even more so than the Chelsea horror show. From what I can recall though, Sagna was, again, solid: it can be difficult to write about players like Sagna for these kinds of things, because they’re so consistent they don’t stand out – we’ve come to expect a high level of consistency from him, and, when he delivers it, it doesn’t seem particularly worthy of praise.
Then finally the 1-1 draw with Manchester City at the Emirates. I was at the game at an Arsenal pub for the first time ever, so I may have missed some of the action having had beer launched into my eyes when we scored (I hadn’t considered that people around me wouldn’t put down their beverages when they leaped up to celebrate) but a few things from Sagna’s game stand out. The first was his wicked cross just after the equaliser, when he whipped the ball devilishly across the goal, just in between the centre back and goalkeeper, more or less leaving both stranded. It was pretty much the perfect ball, and just needed somebody to have gambled on it (although if Giroud had, perhaps Demichelis wouldn’t have left it to zip across the face of goal as he did). The second was Sagna’s involvement in Flamini’s goal, which, like Sagna himself, was simple and under-stated. He pointed into the corner for Giroud to drift out wide and receive the ball, which the Frenchman duly did, and Sagna spun a nice ball down the line for him. What was helpful about this was that Giroud’s movement dragged Demichelis out of position, meaning City had to defensively reshuffle when it happened and then when Demichelis returned – just as Flamini volleyed home. It’s hard to say, but that little movement may well have made all the difference.
A common theme of this Player of the Month series has been, after initial domination by Aaron Ramsey, that it’s highlighted the sharing of responsibility in this Arsenal team in these last few months. Theo Walcott and Santi Cazorla both won it recently, but with the former injured and the latter flitting in and out of form, there’s been room for another player to step up: this time, it’s been Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain coming to the fore.
It’s incredibly promising that he can come back from such a long lay-off and instantly become a key player in this team: so much so that, prior to the Sunderland match, he had scored or assisted our last five goals, stretching back to the Crystal Palace game in which he scored both Arsenal goals. He’s looked equally impressive in central midfield and out wide, managing to contribute greatly in both positions, which is a big attribute for a player who is still quite young to have.
The difference in the Oxlade-Chamberlain of now and a year or so ago is quite stark. The main thing that he’s managed to improve, besides his end product, is no longer running up blind alleys and trying to do too much. That was a feature of his game a couple of years ago, but he’s eradicated that now, and uses the ball much more intelligently, knowing when to give it simple and when to take players on.
That directness was much needed for Arsenal, given that Serge Gnabry seems to be raw still, and of course the injury to Theo Walcott. After he missed out against Manchester United at home, he was used at home against Liverpool in the FA Cup, and his assist for Podolski shows exactly what Arsenal, and Mesut Özil in particular, had been missing: a player willing to be direct and run in behind players, rather than constantly looking for the ball into feet.
It showed against Crystal Palace, too, when Chamberlain made an incisive burst behind the defence to neatly control and lob Santi Cazorla’s through-ball over the advancing goalkeeper: that kind of composure isn’t to be sniffed at from a player of such a young age. He was also one of the only players to emerge from the Anfield debacle with any modicum of credit, dribbling well and winning a penalty from Steven Gerrard. He gave Gerrard a bit of a tough time at the Emirates the next week, and the England skipper should probably have received two yellows for the fouls that Chamberlain drew from him alone.
It says a lot about Chamberlain’s rapid development and increasing importance to this team that against Bayern Munich he looked to have the beating of David Alaba, perhaps the best left back in the world right now, and certainly no slouch: Chamberlain wasn’t able to rely on raw pace to beat his opposite number, because Alaba is probably quicker than him. So it’s impressive that he managed to use other tools in his locker, rather than just pace. Indeed, his combination of pace, power and guile is a nightmare for any opposition full-back. His directness should serve Arsenal well as we approach the final straight.
And the Ramsey monopoly is broken! Culann and I were in more or less instant agreement that this month, Arsenal’s best player has been Theo Walcott. Not that there weren’t other contenders – Bacary Sagna and Per Mertesacker were superbly consistent as usual, while Koscielny was immense as ever. Mesut Özil was also quietly excellent, scoring twice and playing a crucial part in several goals, as well as putting in one of his most impressive performances to date against West Ham.
But the award goes to Theo Walcott, for his decisiveness in the big moments. His season has followed the pattern of last campaign, where he struggled to get into the team early on in the season (for different reasons) before finding his way back into the side and scoring lots of goals around December and January time. What’s different now is that our form players have dropped off, and Theo is the one we’re now looking to.
It’s incredibly encouraging because previously he’s seemed like a confidence player who played well when others were on form but hid when we were having an off-day. Now he’s one of the leaders of the team, and, while he may not put in 10/10 performances, he comes up with the important moments for us. That’s apparent in Culann’s video – there are a few decent highlights from his month, but mostly they’re decisive goal contributions, and all teams need a player like that.
His contributions this month have all been of utmost importance – he brought us level against City (with an admittedly scuffed finish) before a superb take and finish put us back in the game again; obviously we lost the match, but he was a big part of why we were in it. He played a vital part in the draw against Everton, combining well with fellow substitute Tomas Rosicky to set up what looked like a late winner for Özil – although Gerard Deulofeu had other ideas. Then his goals against West Ham, which probably summed him up this month: effective, influential and capable of producing at decisive moments.
It’s so important for Arsenal to have Walcott in this kind of form now that Ramsey is injured, having already begun to tail off a little, while Olivier Giroud also isn’t firing as he was (although Walcott put his first goal in several games on a plate for him against Newcastle) and Mesut Özil and Santi Cazorla are yet to hit top form – the same goes for Jack Wilshere. Theo Walcott is producing when Arsenal need him most.
It’s also encouraging to see him use the ball more intelligently – his runs off the ball have always been clever, despite what Chris Waddle may think about his footballing brain, but he uses his body more wisely when in possession, shielding the ball and feinting to get past players, as you can see in Culann’s video. Everything seems to be coming to him more naturally now, which can only be a positive.
He may not beat five players in a row down the line when people shout “Run at him Theo!” (hey Dad) but, if you give him a bit of space, he’ll nip past you and whip in a devilish cross. He might even be able to get on the end of a cross, as he showed against West Ham. Arsenal had become a little predictable with playmakers out wide, so having Theo Walcott back and in form is proving a bit help in making them harder to deal with.
With all of the Player of the Month awards that he’s been given, I don’t think there’s a sentence I haven’t used to describe Aaron Ramsey – every superlative has been ticked off, and I’ve even used the cliche about how I’m running out of superlatives, I think. So I think it’d be a little boring for everyone concerned if I was to reel off the same thing about how well he’s playing and how good a player he is, and, although it seems lame and lazy, I decided to find what other people across the internet are saying about our main man right now. Sorry if that seems like a cop-out, but I thought it’d be more fun for everyone.
Perhaps no player symbolises how much Arsenal have progressed more than Aaron Ramsey. There was a time when the midfielder was the target of such fierce criticism from a section of Arsenal’s fans that Arsène Wenger wondered whether it would be best to leave him out of home matches for his own sake, but no one doubts his value now. These days the questions Wenger has to answer concern whether Ramsey will develop into one of the best players in the world after his outstanding start to the season.
Man of the match vs Liverpool: Aaron Ramsey. It was a wonderful team performance from Arsenal but Ramsey gets the nod after another exceptional display in midfield, capped off by a stunning goal.
But this season Ramsey has been a revelation, scoring freely, assisting others and pretty well running the show from his favoured position in the centre of midfield.
That Ramsey’s running is one of his most impressive qualities should come as no surprise. He covered 11km on Saturday [vs Liverpool], proving that he has come of age as a box-to-box player par excellence.
Aaron Ramsey at the moment is arguably one of the best midfielders in Europe. That’s why he puts in performances like that. He’s one of the best in Europe. He’s a fine young man and he’s someone is beginning to show that potential and hard work – if given a chance and if given a steady run of games – can shine among European stars which is something will probably delight Arsene Wenger.
Through 12 games, Ramsey has not only realized the individual potential that everyone saw in him as a youth at Cardiff City, but he has also been the driving force behind Arsenal’s fast start. Wenger has used both tactical shifts and more compatible teammates to transform Ramsey into a consistent two-way player for the top team in the Premier League, and he is my early favorite for the Player of the Year award.
Ramsey’s move from an auxiliary wing position to the central midfield this season has played an instrumental role in his establishment among Europe’s best midfielders. The move gave Ramsey more control of the midfield, and he now leads the possession-based Gunners with 87 touches per 90 minutes. For some, the fact that Ramsey is the most active player on the league’s top team is enough to garner consideration for Player of the Year, but Ramsey’s advanced numbers show that his move to central midfield has made him more efficient in other areas as well.
Aaron Ramsey, scorer of the goal that took Saturday’s game beyond Liverpool, played like the Steven Gerrard we knew back then. He charged from box to box, tackled all that moved, and inspired his team to victory. The current version toiled in a malfunctioning midfield that could never get a grip on the match that was supposed to prove his club’s credentials as a force for honours.
Maturity and experience has undoubtedly contributed to the “new and improved” Aaron Ramsey and this season he has ticked all the boxes required of a modern all-round midfield player. His stamina and mobility are extraordinary and although he has trouble running away from the opposition over longer distances, his sharpness over the first few yards often puts the opposition under intense pressure and the ball is often easily recovered.
Aaron [Ramsey] has first a fantastic engine. I believe his defensive awareness has improved, his defensive qualities have improved and his defensive score is very strong now. After that he has a huge desire to play every single ball. He wins the 50:50s – that was not the case a year ago. If you let him, he takes the ball at the back, passes to himself in midfield and passes to himself up front because he wants the ball so much. That’s why his presence is so massive in a game.
Ramsey is quality. Dont see how anyone can say wilshere is better, if he was english everyone would be raving about him.—
SamRobson. (@Robson14Sam) November 30, 2013
Ramsey so good this season he's almost creating a new position. Seems to be everywhere, mixture of general dogsbody & clever goal poacher.—
Giggs Boson (@giggs_boson) November 06, 2013
said it to many times but Ramsey is so good 😨—
jake (@fukk_Jake) November 26, 2013
Why is Ramsey so good nowadays what a turn that was—
phil ellison (@philellison2) November 26, 2013
Bruv wtf why and how is Ramsey so good now it actually doesn't make any sense to me kmt—
STIFF CHOCOLATE™ (@Stormzy1) November 30, 2013
This month could well have made it three in a row for Aaron Ramsey, but Culann and I put it to a vote on Twitter between our two contenders, the other being Olivier Giroud, and the French striker came out on top. In truth, it could have been one of a large number of players: Wojciech Szczesny continued his fine form; Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny’s partnership blossomed even further; Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs were superb either side of them; and of course Aaron Ramsey kept on impressing.
However, Giroud was the choice of most people, and it’s easy to see why. The Frenchman has improved so much in his second season with Arsenal, as has been the trend throughout his career. He’s scoring more, netting against Napoli, Borussia Dortmund and Crystal Palace – two of those were to change a 1-0 lead to a 2-0 lead, making our games more comfortable to see out, while the other was to equalise against Dortmund. He didn’t contribute a lot in big games last season, let alone score, so to see him bullying Subotic and Hummels at the Emirates and dragging us level was brilliant.
Like with Ramsey, though, it’s not just Giroud’s goals that are impressive. His all-round play has been magnificent, and Subotic and Hummels wasn’t the only centre-back partnership he gave a rough time. He may be up front on his own, but he can handle the challenge of leading the line alone no problem. He’s a very useful outlet when we can’t play out from the back – his hold-up play is now very accomplished, and the ball just sticks to him – and he can now create something from nothing. That’s happened a few times this season; give him the ball in a tight area and he uses his strengths (one of those being his physical strength) to manufacture space and an opening.
That’s something that has really impressed me about Giroud – he knows his strengths and uses them well. On top of that, he knows his limitations: he isn’t the best dribbler, so when he gets the ball he usually releases it as soon as he can, which benefits the team as we can play at a high tempo with quick close combinations. Giroud knows his strengths and weaknesses and uses that to the team’s advantages. His upturn of assists this year proves that – he’s a team player.
His goal against Napoli pretty much summed a lot of his game up. Alert and alive, he fired in a pass to Mesut Özil and spun away from the defenders to make his traditional near post run, before finishing with minimum fuss. Giroud loves quick give-and-gos and also making a run at the near post, and that goal saw him do both to effectively finish off Napoli.
What’s so encouraging, for me, is that Giroud doesn’t look out of place dovetailing with the likes of Özil and Cazorla – in fact, he’s on the exact same wavelength as them offensively, which says a lot about his intelligence. He’s constantly able to link up with our attacking players perfectly, and that’s a big compliment to how good he is at link-up play.
It was interesting to see Giroud play against a side with Luis Suarez the other night, the player who almost displaced him as Arsenal’s main striker. Giroud knew that he had to prove Arsenal didn’t miss out by not replacing him, and although he spurned his biggest goal-scoring chance, he still put in a great performance, troubling all three of Liverpool’s centre-backs. Let’s hope he doesn’t rest on his laurels and continues to go from strength to strength.