Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Friday May 23 2008
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
Date:Friday May 23 2008
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