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February Player of the Month

February Player of the Month

It is perhaps no surprise that, in a month that has seen Arsenal not concede a single goal, that a defender should win Player of the Month. It`s even less of a surprise when one considers the profligacy of our strikers. Robin van Persie for instance was January`s embarrassingly outright victor given his proclivity for goals and assists, yet February has seen the margins desert him somewhat, though his involvement in our attacking play has still been incredibly prominent. Thus, February`s candidates are limited exclusively to those behind the halfway line. Denilson has again been the paradigm for consistency and attitude, putting in another string of impressive displays, most notably against Roma. Bacary Sagna too is rediscovering the form which made him such a fan favourite last season now that his early season injuries have cleared up. He has spoken about making his game slightly more conservative and the manager points to this as one of the reasons behind our new found solidity at the back. The only thing that put him out of contention for this month`s award compared with the victor, has been some very poor crossing. Teams such as Fulham have been happy to let us have the ball out wide because they know that the quality of the crossing is usually sub par and on the rare occasions that it isn`t, there is nobody there to attack the ball anyway. Sagna`s delivery needs to improve. Almunia has been a worthy custodian; Kolo Toure has begun to look something like his old self again, reigniting his partnership with Gallas to the point that Kolo cannot even bring himself to leave the dressing room without him. (Point of note, had Eboue picked up that senseless booking, what would the reaction have been?)

However, whilst Kolo has proved to be a decent deputy again, it is his sergeant that earns decoration this month, which is quite ironic considering the fact that Toure has worn the armband in every game this month whilst the winner, William Gallas, was stripped of the very same appendage for being overly garrulous last winter. Wenger spoke at the time about how he hoped relieving Gallas of the armband would make him a better player; he also asserted that he still rated Gallas, "as a player and as a man." Both his character and his form were questioned in the early months of the season, culminating in some "pockets of resistance" amongst the away following at Manchester City in November volubly proclaiming their distaste for him. The fact that I have not heard a single voice raised against him in anger since is testament to his form and to the assertions of the manager, which have looked spot on thus far. Whether or not Billy has a future at Arsenal beyond the summer months remains to be seen, if his volatility is really as damaging for team spirit as has been suggested, you have to think not. However, at this very moment, the guy is utterly indispensable.

Up until the acrimonious relinquishing of his captaincy in November, Gallas looked a player bereft of focus and motivation. Goals conceded to Fulham, Hull City and Bolton Wanderers showed him unwilling to make a convincing enough challenge to prevent goals from set pieces. Since November, William has borne the public humiliation with humility and dignity- two traits most doubted he could spell, let alone exhibit. Arsenal have not lost in the Premiership since that fateful day in Manchester when Gallas was left out as punishment for his assertions to the press. Slowly and beneath the radar of the hawk like attention he was party to when he was captain, he has become the organiser and cajoler of this defence again. What has always struck me, even from his days at Chelsea, was just how exceptionally Gallas reads the game. When you have a side that relies on attacking full backs as much as Arsenal, a centre half with such an inclination for "mopping up" is invaluable. Against Roma, I lost count of the amount of times he snuffed out an attack by using his nous to get to a through ball before it could arrive at an attacker`s feet. The guy has the nose of a bloodhound. Most of us are acutely aware as to how effectively he utilises this in other side`s penalty areas. In a team lacking experience and maturity, Gallas is a shining light.

The first game of February saw a visit to North London "rivals" Spurs, after Eboue`s mindless first half red card, the onus was suddenly on the home side to attack, which they did. Gallas shouldered the responsibility and was comfortably the best player on the pitch, repelling the likes of Pavluychenko, Bent and the mallet headed whinge merchant Robbie Keane. Once again, his flair for organisation and reading of the game meant Arsenal were rarely seriously troubled at the back. The outings against Cardiff and Sunderland were hardly his busiest assignments, but both still yielded clean sheets and that`s largely down to focus. In matches where you have little to do, you are more likely to lose concentration and Gallas did not allow that to happen in either match. But it was the Roma game in which Gallas really shone again, the visitors had a good deal of the ball in the second half as the Gunners dropped back, but their only chances of note were long range efforts. Gallas again it was who organised the chain imperiously, snuffing out every one of Totti`s runs or attempted through balls. He played through the pain barrier for most part too, when he accrued a very heavy knick on his shin in the penalty area with Arsenal attacking, Gallas, at the threshold of pain, shuffled himself to his feet and out of the way so as not to let the game stop at a crucial moment. Altruism in the extreme, victory through harmony you might say. But for all his faults, Gallas has always been quick to recognise that there is no 'I` in team. Against Fulham he was once again one of our better players, with Clichy woefully out of form at the moment, he was once again on hand to cover for his wandering compatriot more times than I care to remember. The only unfortunate thing about Gallas` form this month has been that he has been unable to replicate it in the opponents` penalty area! But the final irony is for me, that having been stripped of the armband, Gallas looks more like a captain now than at any time in the last twelve months. Taciturn yet authoritative, he now shouts instructions to his defenders without wrinkling his nose and bawling histrionically, the fist shaking and chest pumping has stopped. He looks more at ease with himself and his team. Long may it continue.LD.

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Writer:Tim Stillman
Date:Monday March 2 2009
Time: 11:33AM

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Arsenal Player of the Season by far.
02/03/2009 11:47:00
Eboue, for player of the month
02/03/2009 12:05:00
I agree completely, and it really should be noted that our defence has been second only to United for a couple of months now. Our lack of creativity is truly shocking, but the team is never going to be out of games with our defence playing this well.
02/03/2009 12:13:00
0 Kiss of death
Little Dutch
02/03/2009 15:36:00
I was hoping at least one of the injured would return for this one, instead we lose Gallas. Although I feel as though Djourou is very solid in the center of defence.
02/03/2009 16:23:00
02/03/2009 18:25:00
LD good write up agree. By the way hat boiled or stewed?? Will be ready for you to eat in three weeks.
02/03/2009 19:09:00
bar giving away a penalty to villa (which could prove really painful come the end of the season) Gallas really has been excellent of late, and his form has to be the biggest factor in the improvement to our defence .... well, that at the fact silveste being injured too ;) But I could never give him player of the season after the awful start he had to the year. Good article as always LD.
03/03/2009 03:18:00
very apt analysis for a no-brainer choice - though if I may add Gallas made an ordinary Almunia looked a "worthy custodian" and a below-par Toure appeared a "decent deputy". Agreed absolutely that Gallas's coverage of the erratic Clichy was instrumental for the clean sheet we kept last Sat but Gallas had swept and cleared up more messes for Toure in the last few games. Like Clichy, Toure's attitude and spirit are impeccable, but this season he looked less mobile and has been a pale shadow of his past performances. Gallas also made several last ditch tackles in the box in recent games to save Almunia from being tested with goal-threatening shots. Sagna's analysis (including his crosses) was spot-on, and imho he played the crucial supporting cast to Gallas in our run of clean sheets. We probably would not feel the miss of Gallas too much in tonite's game, but in the coming matches I feel Djourou (who played well before he was dropped) should partner Gallas (until Toure rediscover his good old form) at the heart of defence. As for Almunia and Clichy, I guess we have to keep faith in them since we do not have a "Djourou-type" option available for LB and GK on the bench.
03/03/2009 07:54:00
NoFitState, you can argue about his bad form earlier in the season, but it was not like the rest of the team were amazing. If we were looking for a PofTS right now, there is no option who has played better than Gallas for a higher number of games. I just think it would be amazingly romantic if Gallas won it. I love the guy.
03/03/2009 09:29:00
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