Although Robin van Persie won Arsenal.com’s player of the season award today by more than a landslide, there are several who deserve mentions alongside the Dutchman – the three men above for instance. No, not you Mike Dean. I blurred you out for a reason. (if you genuinely are reading this Mike, more penalties please. Not for the other team as pictured above, you give too many of those)
As well as Laurent Koscielny, Alex Song and Bacary Sagna, Mikel Arteta, Theo Walcott, Tomas Rosicky and Wojciech Szczesny have all made sizeable contributions this season, and those contributions should not be written off simply due to the magnitude of van Persie’s. Not only did several of them lay on a great deal of van Persie’s goals, but they were superb in their own rights. Suggestions that Arsenal are a one-man team are way off the mark, even if their captain did score a large amount of the Gunners’ goals last season.
In his first full season, Wojciech Szczesny made some excellent saves and was a commanding presence between the posts. A lack of protection from the defence and midfield at times exposed him – especially to an apparent weakness from long shots – but he still made some vital stops and his distribution seemed to improve. A large character, he’ll be sure to be Arsenal’s number one for years to come.
Despite two leg breaks, when he played, Bacary Sagna was a beacon of consistency and was always his no-nonsense self at right back, further strengthening his claim to being the best in the league in his position. As well as the never-wavering defensive contributions, he did his bit when he went forward too, setting up van Persie’s header at Anfield for example.
Many had Thomas Vermaelen & Per Mertesacker down as our first choice at the beginning of the season, and by the end, Laurent Koscielny is the only indisputable choice at centre back for many, myself included. The Frenchman (older than Vermaelen, to my surprise) had a superb second season, showing everyone that he had settled completely with many flawless displays in defence. Deserving of far more than just 4.29% in the player of the season poll.
In midfield we were ravaged with injuries, which meant we didn’t see Jack Wilshere once, and we were often without Alex Song’s back-ups in Coquelin & Frimpong. Luckily Song was pretty much always available, and while his performances weren’t as consistent as his appearances, he still came up with important assists when we needed him to; mostly to van Persie, although an exquisite ball to Theo Walcott for our second vs Aston Villa springs to mind.
Alongside Song in a midfield pivot was Mikel Arteta, summer deadline day signing from Everton. I’ve written way too much about him recently as it is, but one more paragraph can’t hurt: he added some much needed stability and balance to Arsenal, as well as chipping in with some vital contributions going forwards. Arsenal’s record without him said it all.
The third member of the regular midfield – in the second half of the season anyway – was Tomas Rosicky, and the Czech excelled in the role between Robin van Persie, linking up well with the Dutchman as well as dropping in and creating a midfield three with Arteta & Song, which helped Arsenal’s fluidity a great deal. 2 goals and 5 assists weren’t brilliant, but something to build on next season – and the goal to put the Gunners ahead against Tottenham was pretty huge.
It may seem strange to some that Theo Walcott is the final member praised in this post, as his contribution remains erratic, but there were still some important goals and assists scattered here, there and everywhere. In 46 appearances (including 5 as a substitute) he netted eleven times and set up nine goals – that’s 20 goals he was directly involved in. Not a bad return for someone still only 23 and still developing.
All in all, despite a huge contribution from van Persie, there were still vital parts played by his team-mates, and he certainly couldn’t have done it without them. I suppose this is kind of a lazy season review – and it’s not anything to do with the recent Unsung Heroes series, despite some relatable content.
This post first appeared on Life’s a Pitch.
In the six years it has been since Arsenal lifted a trophy, there has been one common factor throughout: a problem with our defence. Whether it’s been a dodgy goalkeeper, the defensive personnel or trouble with set pieces, it’s nearly always been our downfall.
There have been several high-profile defensive mistakes at Arsenal over the past six years. Manuel Almunia has made a large number of them – for one, his fumble against Birmingham in March 2010 signified the beginning of the end of Arsenal’s title challenge. That season had seen us still in with a chance of lifting the trophy late in the season, but defensive mistakes, among other things, saw us fall away. Losses to Tottenham, Wigan and Blackburn – all littered with goals that should have been easy to prevent – were the final nails in our coffin for that season.
While other things have contributed to us not winning trophies (refereeing mistakes and injuries come to mind – these can also be traced back to St Andrews) it has long been the case that defensive troubles have been one of the main reasons that we’ve struggled for consistency. The fragility has always been clear to everyone, and you could sense that a mistake could come out of nowhere at any time.
Now, things seem to be different. Arsenal’s first choice defence finally seems to be one to be proud of; the reliable Wojciech Szczesny, one of the best right backs around in Bacary Sagna, our solid vice-captain Thomas Vermaelen, the ever-improving Laurent Koscielny and the enthusiastic (yet temporarily injured) Andre Santos. Left back is arguably the only first choice position which can be questioned – Santos has only been at Arsenal for a few months, and although he’s shown good signs he’s still yet to be tested to the best of his ability.
However, Arsenal have been a lot more solid in defence of late. Szczesny has proven himself as a top goalkeeper worthy of his position, Sagna has always been top quality, Vermaelen has few remaining critics after a storming first season, and Koscielny has set about proving all of his nay-sayers wrong with some outstanding form. Santos has also provided calm and experience, despite his liking to maraud forward – which has in fairness improved our attack too.
In fact, a case could well be made for Koscielny and Vermaelen potentially being the best central defensive partnership in the league. They haven’t played together at the heart of the defence as much as Arsene Wenger would have liked due to various injuries, but when they have they’ve impressed.
The perennial high line seems to have been ditched in favour of a more efficient, versatile style, and the Gunners have had far less problems in the air – be that from set pieces or from long balls. While not the tallest pairing around, Vermaelen and Koscielny are both deceptively strong in the air, and the statistics back that up.
While it may be too late for Arsenal to mount a proper title challenge this season due to a late awakening because of Wenger’s apparent wish to press the snooze button until the end of August, we seem to have sorted out the problems that have haunted us season upon season. The spine of the team is now strong, and we have a tough, efficient base to build upon. Without the shakiness at the back the rest of the team can feel more at ease and more able to do their own jobs, instead of worrying when the next defensive cock-up will come.
Not only have we improved our first choice back-line, it seems obvious that our back-up options are better now too. Instead of the often-erratic Eboué (see the penalty he conceded against Liverpool at the Emirates last season) we have the young, hard-working Jenkinson – while he is still learning, he has incredible stamina and a wicked cross. At centre half Squillaci is making fewer appearances thanks to the shrewd purchase of Per Mertesacker; although he has made a couple of errors, he’s still getting to know the Premier League and has given us a vital boost of experience, according to Robin van Persie. Johan Djourou now seems ready to fill in whenever needed effectively across the defence too, instead of destabilising our defence like he once did. And Kieran Gibbs now offers a more reliable alternative at left back than he did a few seasons ago (when he’s actually fit!).
So you can keep your Gary Cahills (overrated and not at all versatile) and your Christopher Sambas (definitely not what we need, thanks) because we’ve solved our defensive problems on our own. As the old saying goes; Arsène knows.
I’ve not posted for a few days, mainly because I’ve been disillusioned and fairly uninspired with what’s been going on at the club of late.
Last night, that all changed. Finally, a performance that we could be proud of. Not spectacular by any means, but a hard-fought win when it mattered.
I’d like to think I was proven right in a couple of ways. For one, I’ve been backing Wenger throughout the summer, including here pre-match on Real Social Dad, and I think he showed how he deserves us to trust him still. He made all of the right calls – continuing with Jenkinson and Sagna despite the return of Traore, starting with two defensive midfielders to limit the damage from Udinese, then not being afraid to bring on Rosicky when we needed to up the tempo and keep the ball more.
He in particular had a good second half, Rosicky. He’s taken a lot of stick, and I’ve been one of few who’s stuck up for him so I was glad to see him come up with a performance. He played the link-up man role superbly, moving the ball on quickly, getting in good positions, and clearing up excellently in defence. It was a big performance from him that was desperately needed.
Something I said about Theo against Liverpool was that he should have moved onto the left flank at some point, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, he was being outnumbered on the right, and secondly, he’s a lot more effective on the left, in my opinion anyway. He can cut in and go for goal. That’s exactly what he did yesterday, and to brilliant effect. He took his goal so well, and reminded people why he’s compared to Thierry so often.
Gervinho was also impressive, coming up with the end product to match his dribbles. After setting up Theo brilliantly only for him to miss, he wasn’t let down the second time, beating his man to put the ball in for RVP, who duly finished to put us back on level terms on the night and ahead again on aggregate. It was a superb piece of play from Gervinho at a time we desperately needed it. Hopefully we’ll see him split open defences like that more often. We usually struggle in situations like those so it’s nice to have someone who can unpick the lock.
And what about that man Wojciech? How many pundits has he effectively laughed in the face of? Savage, Cascarino et Al(an Hansen) have been banging on about how we need a goalkeeper for months, and I think they will finally give up after Woj’s performance yesterday. Not only the penalty save, which was oustanding, but another solid all-round game for the Pole in goal. Bob Wilson has been raving about him for ages, and it must have been brilliant for him to watch his young protege come up trumps once more.
Likewise, it was brilliant to see Bob and David Seaman praising Szczesny on Twitter. Despite a few bumps in the gaps in between, it looks like Wojciech will be the third generation of top class Arsenal goalkeepers. Who needs to spend £20 million on David de Gea (who will struggle with crosses all season long I reckon) when you have a brilliant young Pole who’ll be in goal for decades to come?
So, as I said in the title, the feeling is of relief, happiness, and a bit of excitement. I’m excited because this young Arsenal team has been written off more than ever, and this time even the fans have been sceptical, but it looks like there’s something about the team that will help us go far. With three signings – Albiol, M’Vila and Marvin Martin would be lovely – I think we can prove a lot of people wrong this year.
Up the Arsenal.
It’s not often we get good news on the injury front, so let’s savour this moment.
Ahhhh. That’s nice.
Sorry? Oh right, the news!
Well you probably already know; three crucial players in Wojciech Szczesny, Johan Djourou and Alex Song are set to return to action in the vital match against Liverpool. It’s a massive boost to us, and it’ll really give us a helping hand in our efforts to gain another three points at the Emirates. The last time we won there in the league was against Stoke I believe, and that was too long ago.
I’d expect the returning players to slot straight back into the starting line-up, what with cover in those positions being particularly scare in this moment in time. Seeing as our alternatives would be Lehmann, Squillaci and an admittedly improving Diaby, I’d be surprised if Arsene didn’t opt to slot Szczesny, Djourou and Song back into the side.
It has to be said, they’ve been three of our best performers this year. It’s strange – last season we had a few players who had great seasons, and the team played really well. This season, we’ve had loads of great seasons from players, but less success overall.
Perhaps the reason is the players haven’t actually been performing as well as we think. Maybe players like Szczesny, Djourou, Wilshere and Nasri all seem to be playing exceptionally well, when in reality what’s changed is they’ve improved hugely from their previous seasons. Don’t get me wrong, they’ve all done really well, but I don’t think we’ve had anyone on the level that Cesc was on last season.
Anyway, on with things. Thomas Vermaelen is back in full training and is making good progress. Apparently he may play before the end of the season, but I think it would be silly to play him in a match with a lot at stake. What he needs is a proper pre-season to get him back into the swing of things. It’s excellent that he’s recovering, but rushing him back was exactly how he exacerbated his injury. There’s no need to do the same again, especially with Djourou and Koscielny being a fine partnership.
There’s also a picture of the apparent away kit for next season on arsenalinsider.com. Here it is in all its… well, glory’s not really the word…
Most people aren’t keen on it. Some really hate it, some just dislike it. I’m not sure about it, I’d probably need to see some of the players lining up in it to make a proper verdict. The badge is nice, I like the “FORWARD” on the wreath, although it might be a little over the top. As I said it’s quite difficult to judge without seeing the guys playing in it so I’ll reserve proper comment until then. Who knows, it may not even be the real kit! But it seems likely.
Anyway, more will probably follow on here before the Liverpool game – more team news when it comes through maybe. We’re still unsure of whether Sagna will be available, but Rosicky is ruled out for sure. Until then.
You should already know by now though. The Uruguayan striker is now one of the hottest properties in Europe, having fired Napoli into fourth place in Serie A. Most people probably thought Ezequiel Lavezzi was their best talent, but not anymore. Cavani’s goals, a lot of them sensational, have come by the bucket load this season. He’s grabbed 29 goals in 40 games already, and there are plenty more to come. You can check out his superb “diving scorpion kick” goal here. Make sure you do.
Anyway, to the point – we’ve been linked with him. Well, I wouldn’t really include him in the rumours section of an Arsenal blog if we hadn’t. The Metro has claimed he has a £20 million buy-out clause; he’s actually only on loan to Napoli from Palermo. Personally, I would pay that. He’s only 24, and will be world class. I can’t see Wenger paying that much for a striker though.
Apparently Manchester United now lead the chase for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who I mentioned that I’d like us to sign a few posts back. I can’t see him going anywhere other than Arsenal to be honest.
Nicklas Bendtner has again been linked away from the club – this time in a joint swoop from AC Milan. The other player is Andrey Arshavin, and the price quoted is £45 million. I’m not sure I’d do that deal, it’s a huge amount of money for those two, but they’re important players for us.
Andrey has that ability to break down teams when we’re struggling for inspiration (see West Brom at the weekend) and score crucial goals, something Nicklas also does. Plus, strikers and wingers are players we have few of. If we sold B52, that would leave us with Van Persie, Chamakh and Vela. Unless of course, we signed Cavani. But that’s just a fantasy.
Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere have publicly got behind the team today, both insisting we’re still in with a huge chance of the title. Here’s what Rambo had to say:
“We have a game in hand and we play Man United at home so we are definitely not out of it [the title race]. Definitely not. There is a lot to play for and hopefully we can do that and become champions at the end.”
While Jack is still backing us to be United’s strongest challengers:
“There are nine games left and we really have to go to it. United still have to come to the Emirates and we will have to beat them — from now, that is the biggest game we have to look forward to. Until then, we will just have to win every game. We all feel we are still their main challengers and we believe we can win it. Hopefully the fans do as well because we need them behind us.”
I agree with both of them. I always said Chelsea were still in it, but I still think we’ll have to collapse hugely for them to overtake us. We did that last season, but that was without our best players – Cesc, Song and Theo are all returning soon, and then we’ll only be without a couple of goalkeepers, Vermaelen and Djourou – nothing we can’t cope with. Hopefully..
The topic of goalkeepers leads me nicely to my final part of the round-up. Wojciech Szczesny says he’ll be back stronger than ever:
“If you lose a game, you can pick yourself up – but when you are injured, you cannot just miraculously come back, you know it will take some time to get fit and you won’t actually have a game for a few weeks, so that is the biggest challenge. But I am confident I will get through it and come back stronger than ever.”
I’m sure he will be back, and ready to continue his claim for the number one shirt. If Fabianski wasn’t injured too, Wojciech would have a real fight on his hands to regain the shirt. However, I think next season it’ll be Szczesny between the sticks outright, Fabianski as back up. In my opinion, that’s not too bad.
That’s all for today Gooners, should be another post up tomorrow. Enjoy, comment, spread the word.