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Player of the Season

Player of the Season

Having had the opportunity to pick over the nuts and bolts of the season in excruciating detail, as well as perusing over individual player appraisals, I have come to a decision as to my player of the season. Those of you with a flair for arithmetic will have worked it out from the player reviews. However, before I drench the victor in lyrical wax, it is worth pontificating on the contributions of those that pushed the winner close.

Last season, Gilberto was a clear winner, with only Fabregas really pushing him, Clichy in an honourable third place. This season, there have been a plethora of candidates. In fifth place, I would have Bacary Sagna, who has fitted into our team so seamlessly and contributed so tirelessly. His peers thought so too as he took a deserved place in the PFA Team of the Year. Fourth would be Gael Clichy who has, once again, been the model of consistency and professionalism. Having clocked up more minutes than any other Arsenal player, he has remained energetic, enthusiastic and scarcely beatable right to the end. His distribution has also improved immeasurably this year. In a summer which is set to be dominated by scare stories of player discontent (thank you Mr. Dein), Clichy is the one rising above the static making positive noises and pledging to sign a new contract. In third, Emmanuel Adebayor, whose thirty goal haul carried us single handedly at times. Having played much of the season upfront alone, he has led the line with dedication, power and authority. His effort levels have not dropped and he has improved his finishing inestimably. Second place goes to Mathieu Flamini; his transformation has been quite remarkable this year, ousting last year`s player of the season with a series of domineering displays. He became the battery of an Arsenal side that was previously overly reliant on high technique; his selfless brawn has been the anchor that has given Cesc and Hleb license to soar. Had this award been dished out in February, Alex Hleb and William Gallas would also find themselves worthy candidates.

With all other candidates exhausted, I am left with no choice but to go with the majority. (Certainly, at time of writing, the poll on the sidebar suggests so). You simply cannot ignore Cesc Fabregas. Obviously a player blessed with immense talent and maturity, but what really sticks out for me is his hunger. With each passing season, he has added to and improved upon his game. Having been handed Vieira`s mantle, there was an argument that perhaps he was bullied too readily in away matches. So he went away and redoubled his determination, flying into tackles and, as Messrs Sheringham and Hughes will attest, not taking no boo hockey from no one fool! There were times when that spilled over into petulance, such as the Carling Cup Final melee, but he appears to have improved on that aspect of his game. Come the end of last season, despite an all conquering campaign, there was an argument that he needed to add goals to his game. So he came back this season and duly obliged- he was leading scorer in the top flight at the beginning of October. His set piece delivery has also become immaculate, whereas before his corners had a tendency to be meat and drink to goalkeepers, we now see pinpoint delivery every time. With Adebayor and Bendtner in the side, coupled with Gallas` predatory instincts, the Gunners have scored a total of 15 goals from Cesc set pieces this year. That`s a good chunk of our 15 point improvement on last season right there, along with his 14 goals.

Statistics only form part of the picture, but they seldom lie. Twenty four assists and fourteen goals from a central midfielder are difficult to ignore. Fabregas has become so integral to our play, that he has made the services of Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira redundant. With his assists record and handsome goal tally, you might even say he`s carrying some of the Bergkamp burden too. Quite a curriculum vitae of legends trailing in his wake. It`s no coincidence that so much of our combination play has his name fixed firmly to its axis. Fabregas and Hleb, Fabregas and Adebayor, Fabregas and Flamini and, on corners, Fabregas and Gallas. Cesc`s vision and accuracy with long range passing has bought Adebayor`s game on tremendously, Cesc plays to the Togolese striker`s strengths, always playing the ball at a height at which he can control it, rather than hoofing it hopefully to his head. He is also quick on the scene to pick up the scraps. Cesc recognises his team mates` strengths and plays to them; he is acutely aware of Hleb`s unrivalled ball skill and feels comfortable giving him the ball in crowded areas, aware that Hleb will retain it, only then to scamper into space vacated by three or four defenders who try unsuccessfully to burgle Hleb of possession. Like a good snooker player, Cesc is always two or three shots ahead of everyone else.

But far from being a simpleton fancy dan, Fabregas has the will and steel of a warrior, chasing back to rob opposing attackers with precise tackles. How many times have you seen Cesc booked this season for mistimed challenges? His mental strength is borne out by his performances in the big games. My main bone of contention with Henry was that I felt he hid his talent beneath a Gaellic shrug on occasions he should have been gracing. With goals at Anfield, San Siro, at home to Manchester United and Sevilla and in a North London derby this season, Cesc shows he can step up to the plate when the eyes of the world are watching. His performance in the San Siro was his coup de grace. With the likes of Kaka, Gattuso and Pirlo on show in their own backyard, Cesc stepped up and showed, not only that he belonged on such a stage, but that he was going to damn well own it, crowning a glorious performance with a late goal that sent the holders tumbling out of the European Cup. Cesc has formed a glorious partnership with Flamini; but the doom mongers miss the point. Not to take anything away from the Flamster, but who do you honestly think is at the heart of that combination? Is it a coincidence that Flamini is in contention for player of the year this season, whilst former partner in the engine room Gilberto was a clear contender last season? Great players can play with anyone and, as I mentioned before, what sets Cesc apart is his ability to play to his team mates` strengths as well as his own. I`d chance that I could play alongside Cesc in the first game of next season after a few Guinness`s and look a half decent footballer. (You see, Cesc would recognise that, due to a misspent youth, I lack pace and, err, concentration at times, so he`d douse the ball with real ale and pictures of boobs and watch my pace and attention span instantly rectified). In March, with Arsenal going through a difficult spell, Cesc scored or set up all but one of our goals in a troubled month. Again testament to his spirit and the level of responsibility he accepts. This is the year, that our young Spanish prince, has been crowned the rightful king of Highbury.LD




Click here to join in the debate on the club forum.

Writer:Tim Stillman
Date:Friday May 23 2008
Time: 12:08PM

Comments

0
Superb point about Gilberto/Flamini.. who's gonna step up to the plate next year? That role truly is a water carrier job, ie replaceable.
AFC85Lew
23/05/2008 12:25:00
0
Superb point about Cesc & Tim LOL. Well written article LD, and you argue the case well. Its hard to argue with your winner, coz Cesc has been outstanding this season, but for me, Adebayor just about pipped Cesc for the vote.
prits
23/05/2008 12:32:00
0
You have always written well LD but you seem to have hit a purple patch over recent weeks. There must be umpteen season and player reviews but this is great stuff with different angles and perspectives from the prosaic material we are fed in 90% of the others.
Amos.
23/05/2008 12:52:00
0
To some extent Cesc has needed a physical presence to support him. Not because he wasn't willing to mix it physically but hasn't, until this season, had the physical development to enable him to impose himself in this regard as much as he needs. Thats be much less of an issue this season and will be even less so next season and the seasons thereafter. Without wishing to overdo it he could just be the most complete midfielder the club has ever had.
Amos.
23/05/2008 13:09:00
0
Spot on!
Lou the Gunneress
23/05/2008 13:09:00
0
That's just it, I know Wenger compared Cesc to Scholes and, while I think Scholes is one of the best footballers to have graced the Premiership, I think it's an inadequate comparison. I remember AW saying that he doesn't let his players do any weightlifting before the age of 22 as it can be damaging to fabricate a player's natural physical make up. We saw this with Gerrard who was plagued with injuries as a youngster. I also have a feeling that much of Rosicky's problems are down to this, as a youngster the 'dumpling' nickname really bothered him due to his slight frame, I'm guessing he hit the weights and now his hamstrings have become a blu tac like substance. With regards to Cesc though, also keen not to over egg it, but if we hold onto him for another five years, bar an injury jinx or a massive attitude about turn, we might be looking at our greatest ever player. Plus, his dislike of Cole scores him extra points! On a serious note, that also proves his determination, Cole called him "a featherweight" so Cesc has spent the last two seasons ensuring Cashley knows that, in the words of Cypress Hill, "We Ain't Goin Out Like That."
Little Dutch
23/05/2008 13:24:00
0
Sagna!
Goofle
23/05/2008 14:10:00
0
Yeah his dislike of Cashley - and JT too - scores extra points! And I like the fact that LD didn't even have to mention his personality off the pitch - such a humble and intelligent young man. I mean being so outstanding at 21 he could easily have become someone who points at himself or his own name at the back when he scores or something like that. He's also one of the quickest to recognise his teammates' contributions on the pitch. But at the same time, this season he's shown that he knows when to take the centre stage or to put away some chances, while he had always been more of a creator for his teammates (Henry's departure played a part too of course). He's like a Clichy who knows when to be selfish with good reason. That balance can be hard to strike for a young man and he's shown he can do just that. God he's only 21!
Lou the Gunneress
23/05/2008 14:22:00
0
"Plus, his dislike of Cole scores him extra points!" -- definitely, one of my favorite moments of the season was his confrontation with Cole. Excellent write-up of Cesc's abilities. Like Lou, I'm also struck by his entire manner and attitude. In interviews, his attitude toward his teammates, his manner toward most opponents even...he doesn't come across at all as obnoxious, arrogant, or massively in love with himself the way certain other players are. His performance at Milan is easily one of the finest individual displays I've ever seen in 40 years of watching football. The other thing that has struck me this season is how much more tackling he's done, and how precise his tackles are. The other thing I like is his open, childlike joy when he scores, he looks so surprised at himself. And I'll always remember fondly how he ran to embrace Le Boss when he scored at Milan. Viva Cesc! Long may you reign at the Grove.
jaelle
23/05/2008 16:48:00
0
Hilarious! The Guardian's Fiver column gets on John Terry's back re spitting and crying like a man: http://football.guardian.co.uk/Fiver/0,,2282018,00.html
jaelle
23/05/2008 18:57:00
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