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.
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.
It’s a common technique in journalism to not put the name of the player focused on in the title in order to pique the curiosity of would-be readers – for example: “German playmaker linked with Arsenal”, but I’m not so sure that technique is going to work in this case. Although Olivier Giroud has had a good month, and Laurent Koscielny remained his reliable self, there was only one candidate for August’s Player of the Month. In fact, Culann and I didn’t even need to discuss the player that we were going to cover. It was always going to be Aaron Ramsey.
Continuing from where he left off last season, the Welsh midfielder has used the confidence that he gained from a strong end to the last campaign to go from strength-to-strength. His all-action performances have been a highlight of Arsenal’s opening four games, and he seems to be adding goals to his game – three goals over two legs against Fenerbahce were welcome additions to his highlights video.
His goals were of course great to see, and his involvement in goals beyond that also – a lucky assist for Olivier Giroud against Fulham and a pre-pre-assist (is that a thing?) for Giroud’s winner against Tottenham followed a magnificent piece of play which resulted in him slipping Theo Walcott in behind Fenerbahce’s defence, who crossed for Kieran Gibbs to convert – but, for me, it was his all-round play that was most heartening.
Obviously it’s a good thing that he’s added goals (and mainly composure) to his game, and is having more of an influence further forward, but what makes Ramsey such a good player is that he’s good at almost everything. He’s an excellent tackler – so far he’s won 92% of his duels, the best in the league – a great passer, both short and long, strong, intelligent, good at dribbling and fantastic control.
I would say that at the moment, Ilkay Gundogan and Cesc Fabregas are the two most complete midfielders in the world – both can be targets for Ramsey, if he continues to improve his all-round game. All of his games this month have demonstrated how complete he is as a player, and it’s impossible to pick one moment which sums him up – his tackling, passing and dribbling, to name just three of his impressive qualities, are all equally important to his game. Ramsey has picked up the season where he left off last, and long may it continue.
Throughout the season I’ll be writing Arsenal Player of the Month articles in collaboration with the well-known CWDComps, who will be producing a video of the player’s exploits during the month.
Despite two underwhelming 0-0 draws against Sunderland and Stoke, home and away respectively, when Mr CWD and I sat down to discuss the candidates (figuratively) there were a few that came to mind. Kieran Gibbs, Carl Jenkinson and Santi Cazorla were mentioned, but eventually we settled on our other Spanish midfielder.
So congratulations to Mikel Arteta! The first winner of the not-yet-prestigious CoA Player of the Month, in association with CWD. We knew from his time at Everton that he was very technically gifted, but we mostly saw that in the final third, with several fantastic goals and excellent assists. Last season he was more disciplined, playing the steady role in midfield, always offering an option and spraying passes around with supreme precision. His passing was incredibly accurate, and his completion percentage was usually 90% or higher.
However, this season he’s reigned his game even more, and in the first two games has been the main holding player, with Abou Diaby breaking forwards from the pivot. He constantly looked to make interceptions and start off attacks by playing the ball into the more advanced players – he and Cazorla linked up well throughout both games, exchanging 15 passes against Stoke and 29 against Sunderland, the highest in each game.
Arteta mostly did the dirty work in midfield, mopping up where it was needed and wrestling the ball from advancing midfielders. He demonstrated his tactical awareness many times by appearing in exactly the right place in midfield time and again, and while it wasn’t anything spectacular, someone has to do it, and Arteta did it splendidly well.
As our new vice-captain he’s expected to lead the team alongside Vermaelen, and he seemed to help organise the players well against Stoke in particular. The organisation was better than ever before, and the team was very compact and solid, thanks in part to Arteta holding his position in front of the defence. He also covered well for full backs Jenkinson and Gibbs when needed, and that’s been a key thing of Arteta’s short Arsenal career – using his experience to shore up the team and help out in any way that he can.
His determination and drive were apparent throughout both games, and his dogged dedication was shown several times as he nipped in to win the ball, with 4 interceptions against Sunderland and 3 against Stoke. While he’s not physically imposing, he uses his body cleverly, throwing himself into challenges and using his guile to his advantage, and these were all things we saw against Sunderland and Stoke.
All in all, despite no goals, it was a good month for Mikel Arteta, with the two clean sheets reflecting his stellar work in front of the defence. He said he wants to score more goals, but I think with that sort of defensive contribution, people won’t be too bothered if he doesn’t score that many.