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Player of the Season- 2nd Place

As suspected, the three characters taking positions five to three have generated a great deal of debate. (One of them even somehow generated a debate about the merits of socialism in the 21st century. Only Arsenal fans could do that!) As I said at the outset, in a campaign that has been plagued by inconsistency and plagued by injury, it is difficult to pinpoint players who have enjoyed a regular run and maintained any semblance of decent form. Fits and starts has been very much the order of the season, or unfits and starts if you will. However, the choice for second place is a player who has bucked the trend somewhat with a season of unalloyed consistency; he has stayed fit for the entire season, succumbing to a minor injury for one game in the entire campaign, an away match with West Ham in October. He has started 49 games this season and appeared twice as a substitute, he was only substituted himself on three occasions, racking up more minutes than any other Arsenal player. Yet you rarely read his name in any match report (except for mine!), seldom read his interviews and almost never hear of him singled out for praise. Interestingly, his name is often reeled out by Arsenal supporters as an example our mediocrity, yet you never hear his name openly berated on match days. Largely, because Denilson rarely puts a foot wrong.

There has been much speculation as to the merits of Wenger`s youth policy, the words on the street is that Arsenal has become a crèche, a pamperer of young egos at the expense of club welfare. However, if Arsene wanted to use an illustrative example of this policy at work, he could do worse than to highlight Denilson`s statistics this season. Season 2007-08 saw Mathieu Flamini enjoy the season of his career in the defensive nook of Arsenal`s midfield. Flamini, ever a player you can count on to sing for his supper and turn on some form only when contract renegotiation is on the horizon, swanned off to Milan on a Bosman last summer and Arsenal fans keenly anticipated a shiny replacement signing. Xabi Alonso, Yaya Toure and all manner of You Tube superstars were touted as replacements. Yet Arsene let his intentions slip in an interview with the Arsenal magazine last May when he hinted broadly at turning Denilson into a defensive midfield foil for Fabregas. Indeed, upon singing Denilson, Wenger described him as "part Gilberto, part Rosicky." (Hopefully, when the Boss labelled him "part Rosicky" he wasn`t thinking of the hamstring area). The transfer deadline passed and Arsenal fans were not happy with the organic replacement Wenger had found within his arsenal. From there on, it was always an impossible task for Denilson to win the supporters over, short of actually taking to the pitch wearing "16 FLAMINI" on his back; it was obvious that credit would be difficult for him to come by.

Much like someone jilted by an old flame, Flamini`s absence has allowed his reputation to become distorted and placed upon a plateau. That he had an astonishingly good season last year is beyond doubt, but something of a myth has been cultivated since his departure. Arsenal`s patchy form early in the season has seen parallels made and conclusions drawn. Yet few pointed to the fact that Rosicky`s virtual paralysis and the departure of Alex Hleb were also losses keenly felt by our midfield, that`s 75% of the component parts of the most important area of the pitch decimated, the symphonic understanding achieved between that quartet last season hit an absolute threshold. Subsequently, the size and shape of the midfield has shifted persistently, as new positions and formations have been experimented with at different stages. The only constant for me, has been Denilson. His role hasn`t changed a great deal within the framework of every midfield permutation, allowing him to find his feet, and found his feet he has.

Given the very minute role he played last season, Denilson has been asked to step up to the plate incredibly quickly and has not disappointed. One of the reasons he does not receive the credit he is due owes to his subtle style. Flamini had great energy, which he needed because his positional sense was not exemplary. Supporters and pundits are much more likely to notice a player haring around like a lunatic than they are a player like Denilson, who avoids such lung busting displays simply by being in his position. It is often said that part of what made David Seaman such a great goalkeeper was the fact that you hardly ever saw him fling himself full length into top corners because nine times out of ten, he had anticipated the flight of the ball and was in position to catch it. I would make a similar argument for Denilson who reads play exceptionally well for a man of his age and inexperience. Check the statistics, interceptions, tackles won, tackles lost, successful passes; Denilson leads the way at Arsenal in every category by a country mile and leads most midfielders in the Premiership (he also betters Flamini in most categories compared to last season), these sorts of jobs are the absolute staple of the defensive midfielder. Throw in seven assists and four goals too and you have a very impressive season`s work.

Denilson I feel is also hampered by his nationality when it comes to receiving acclaim. There is a very prominent stereotype on these shores that the Brazilian footballer is hell bent on offensive football and neglectful of defensive duty. The amount of times I`ve heard the phrase, "he`s a Brazilian, of course he can`t defend." But if you look past the shiny Nike branding of "joga Bonita" and ditch the conga and samba stereotypes, you`ll see that Brazil has a great history of producing world class defensive midfielders, anchors that have given the creative greats license to soar. Just look at the current Brazilian coach for an example. What most impresses me about Denilson is the simplicity of his game, his anticipation is second to none, every single time a ball breaks loose in midfield; take a look at the first Arsenal player to sweep up the scraps. Every time one of the full backs or wingers finds himself penned in and surrounded by bodies, take note of the first Arsenal player on the scene making himself available for the pass. Time and again Denilson facilitates for his colleagues by doing his job, winning the ball and recycling it economically. Arsenal`s deficiencies in the centre of the park have not been defensive, but predominantly in trying to accommodate Walcott and Nasri into the midfield and not lose our balance. When Arsenal shored up at the back and stop leaking goals quite so regularly, Denilson received almost no credit despite having played throughout that entire spell. Arshavin`s arrival shored up the creative imbalance and Arsenal`s midfield began to look mechanic again, but Arshavin`s prominence did not detract from our defensive stability until Denilson was displaced by Alex Song briefly, upon Denilson`s resumption we stopped conceding again. Coincidence?

Denilson`s place in the podium is a victory for consistency and industry, unspectacular reasons for being our second best performer this year, but in a season that has been utterly bereft of such qualities elsewhere in the squad; the young Brazilian has been a cool breeze running through some tempestuous conditions. To have been asked to adapt to a new position in a team competing at the very top echelons of the game is no small task for a 21 year old, Denilson`s form I feel was patchy in August and September, but since the autumn I scarcely remember a poor game from him. I suppose he has become the archetypal seven out of ten player; which Arsenal sorely needs in a team of players who flit between the brilliant and the abject on an almost weekly basis. (In the month of November, we beat Chelsea and Manchester United, but lost to Stoke, Manchester City and Aston Villa). He has also performed in big matches, which I have always judged to be something of a yardstick for any player, at Stamford Bridge he was a key to repelling Chelsea`s attacks which, under Scolari, came predominantly from their full backs. The home tie against Roma was one of the more immaculate performances from an Arsenal player this season, tasked with shackling de Rossi and Totti, Denilson outshone both easily- even to the point that the press and the supporters gave him credit for his display. It`s an old adage that a defensive midfield player is usually doing his job faultlessly if you haven`t noticed him. Denilson never draws howls of derision in the stadium and rarely receives acclaim or criticism in post match diagnoses. So here`s to Denilson, Arsenal`s invisible man. Tomorrow I will announce my player of the season.LD.




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The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Monday June 8 2009

Time: 11:51AM

Your Comments

I'm actually surprised by this turn of events Tim, I was sure Denny would be your number one! That said I agree wholeheartedly with your decision. Denilson definately has a touch of Gilberto about him and that is no bad thing!! The Invisible Wall MKII? Let's hope so!
Rocky7
I think it would be unfair on van Persie to not get the number one spot to be fair. But LD, do you think we will start next season with Denilson alongside Fabregas, or will we have Nasri or a new DM playing there? Or even this 5ft11 short@rse!
Tom14
Denilson had more pre-season playing time than any other player, including 90 minute back to back appearances in the 2 Emirates Cup games. He had played pretty tirelessly through much of last season spending more time on the pitch than any other player. He moved the ball quicker and more accurately than any other player. Some will claim his passing was less ambitious than Cesc for example but he still came up with 7 assists and scored 4 goals. It's a role he can only get better and better at playing.
Amos.
And still we want a DM at the club. My problem is that we may not do well next year, after signing a good center back and a replacement for Adebayor, and Denilson will be slated yet again. I firmly believe that we will not bring anybody in and Cesc will have to accept that Denilson is good enough (just like the fans have to do) and get on with his own game.
Tom14
The fact that mediocrity comes in at number 2 sums it up really. Cesc hasn't played well alongside him...something that he did do alongside Flamini, times were different then, granted, but i can't see him flourishing again next to Denilson.
shewore
Hear hear! Denilson's situation draws parallels with Gilberto's when Gilberto first arrived. It is such a shame that often, fans look for flashier energetic displays (in both attack and defence) and disregard the less flashy, quieter defensive style some players have when both ways of defending are equally effective. Maybe it is an aesthetic reason; it is undeniable that the all-action high energy displays of players like Flamini were pleasing to the eyes. However, the quiet meticulous work displayed by both Denilson and his predecessor Gilberto were also excellent to watch - there is a certain finesse to such a style of defending.
Jonus Busan
"but i can't see him flourishing again next to Denilson" - I think you need to re-watch the Man Utd game at The Emirates, Blackburn away, Newcastle at home, Fenerbache away, Chelsea away and many many many other matches where the Denilson - Fabregas axis has been brilliant.
Tom14
If Cesc hasn't performed well this season then there are other directions to look other than central midfield. Nothing in the way Denilson has played has restricted Cesc in any way.
Amos.
I find it hilarious that Alex Song (who has been good, I will not deny that) gets recognition after two or three good performances - with Denilson wiping his arse - but when it all goes to pot, nobody says "Maybe we do need Denilson".
Tom14
Denilson with Cesc/Nasri/Rosicky(?)/Arshavin on the pitch will be 10x better as he will have an outlet to pass to, his worse games this season (due to passing the ball straight to the enemy) have been with the above mentioned missing, and only walcott/eboue/diaby/song available, none of which are known for creating space to receive the pass or help a pressured hombre
bootoo
Prior to the previous season, Denilson was touted to be 'Fab's little brother' for this style. Then he played a more advanced role & I thought he was more dangerous in the final 3rd than Fab. He somehow has to make way for Fab because of the later's incisiveness & superiority in long range passing. I see that as a personal sacrifice because he is willing to forego his preferred role & stay back to do the donkey's job after Flamini departure, compared to Diaby. His style now is very similiar to that of Gilberto except that he is more creative. Creative defensive midfileder is really a rare breed. I am convinced he'll be more commanding next season.
Joe_@**
I agree bootoo, he has been put in a team with Eboue, Walcott, Ramsey, Song and Nasri (in his early days) and was singled out when he had nobody really to pass to. With Arshavin, Fabregas, a mroe matured Nasri and Rosicky - he will be fantastic.
Tom14
Good call, LD. Denilson the most underrated Arsenal player. Just did his job, got on with it, played "the simple game" extremely well. I can even remember a few defense-splitting long assists throughout the year. This boy will be a rock next year, think how good he'll be having had the full season under his belt this year. Let's not forget, this season was really his first playing regularly. Considering how good he was in his first season, next year looks very bright for him.
devvil
It's been a fantastic season but one which unfortunately not many have noticed. The problem is much people can't see his merits and that they are expecting much too soon. It has been Arsenal's inability to keep possession for prolonged periods as last season while lacking that bit of bite. He has got a bit to improve however. His lesser performances have been against direct teams who disrupt play and one where he has to keep his utmost concentration to help his defence. Here are a couple of articles that may be of great interest. http://arsenalcolumn.wordpress.com/2009/05/31/denilson-has-risen-from-the-shadows-to-take-centre-stage/ http://arsenalcolumn.wordpress.com/2009/03/07/denilson-can-rekindle-the-lost-art-of-midfield-tackling/
The Brain
Very good spot there. Great article.
Tom14
Brain..nice article. The statistics on that site says it all..its no wonder Wenger isnt considering a DM. A lot of the teams inconsistencies had a lot to do with Fabregas having an off season.
number14
ive always had time for Den....around me at the stadium the criticism he receives is for his negative passes, mainly backwards and sideways....im just glad he has the ball and passes it in order for us to keep posession....and he will get better as he gets older
fran merida
Lol at blaming Denilson for Cesc's well below par performance this season, the logic of some people. Definitely agree with this pick LD, it is funny how some people can watch the same games yet see one thing so differently, yet another exactly the same.
Ozi Gooner
I'm a Brazilian who's been eagerly waiting to see this kid blossom at Arsenal. Over time (even before this season), I've developed almost a maternal soft spot for him because of his interviews on Brazilian TV (since before he came to Arsenal), his interviews on Arsenal TV, his conduct on and off the pitch at Arsenal and the way he's come on leaps and bounds this season. (My mom wants to adopt him). Given his age and what we've seen him do this season (which is really quite extraordinary by any football measure), I'm excited to see what he'll become in the future. I really love this kid. Fantastic article, LD, can't praise it enuf -- my favorite so far of this series, but I'm biased. My only concern with him is his ability to deal with powerful teams like Chelsea and Stoke. "Denilson I feel is also hampered by his nationality when it comes to receiving acclaim. There is a very prominent stereotype on these shores that the Brazilian footballer is hell bent on offensive football and neglectful of defensive duty." True, and that stereotype is quite out of date, much like the old stereotype of the Italian game being just "boring catenaccio." The Brazilian game has changed dramatically since the 80s (with much debate and criticism among Brazilians). We were never ever known for good goalkeepers, now we produce some very good ones. Julio Cesar at Inter is right alongside the world's best like Buffon and Casillas. Brazil's Serie A and the NT now favor big, strong players like Alex at Chelsea and Dunga has been known for playing THREE DMs, something a lot of us criticize him for. Dunga views our great 1982 Brazil team and their coach Tele Santana as "losers." It's amazing to see how ignored Denilson is. Worse, how so many gooners view him as mediocre. They're not watching what he actually does on the pitch because he's so tidy and quiet about it. But he's used to that, he got the same treatment by Sao Paulo fans when he played for them.
jaelle
Oh, btw, it's frustrating to see Dunga constantly call up Anderson and not Denilson (tho Anderson remains on the bench mostly). He chooses Anderson because he's a physically bigger guy than Denilson and of course he's a Man Utd player. But his displays for Brazil (the few times he's played) have not been esp. impressive. I hardly need add, of course, that as a gooner, I'm grateful Denilson has been ignored by Dunga. :-)
jaelle
Let me preface this by saying that I'm in no way trying to deride Denilson in any way (in fact I think Tom was the only person on this site to openly support him before me), but I feel as though he's still a couple of more years away from being part of a championship winning side. Experience is without a doubt the most important characteristic of players in this position. If we do bring in another DM, then Denilson will still get plenty of time on the pitch, allowing him to develop further. That being said, if we don't bring in another DM this summer its not like I'll be disappointed.
TPowell
Ah yes, I forgot to mention that, based on where he played at the end of last season and what Wenger has said about him in interviews, Song will be played more as a CB next season, which is why I still predict another DM will be bought this summer.
TPowell
If we sign a new CB (Vermaelen) there would be no need to play Song there.
Tom14
Tom, I remember very well how AW said a number of times that he did not believe Song could be a regular DM. He said that he could play there sometimes but not as first choice throughout an entire season. While Song put in some good displays as DM, I noticed how much more assured he is as CB when he played there toward the end of the season. Also, I don't think you're wrong about your doubts re Denilson, I do think he's got some more improvement to make to become a world class DM.
jaelle
I never said that Song will not play at CB, but there is no point playing there if we have Gallas and Vermaelen, as well as Djourou there. He will have basically replaced Silvestre (and this is assuming Toure goes, which I don't think he will). As for Song, I did say that he needs to improve to get to the top level (on the other thread) but he is no worse than most of the players being mentioned to come in.
Tom14
As for Denilson***
Tom14
I see what you're saying regarding where Song plays if all that happens is the purchase of one CB, I suppose I'm not as confident as you that we'll necessarily keep Gallas and Toure this summer.
TPowell
both Gallas and Toure I should say
TPowell
"I suppose I'm not as confident as you that we'll necessarily keep Gallas and Toure this summer." -- You mean me? I'm not confident about anything re Arsenal this summer! :-) Wouldn't surprise me to see either one of them or both go, or stay.
jaelle
I think Toure should go if one has to because I don't think he is that great anymore, and he has a genuine sell on value. You can imagine Gallas - Vermaelen this season, with Djourou (maybe Sakho) and Song as backup, then Gallas leaves next year with another coming in.
Tom14
no jaelle, I was talking to Tom, I'm actually with you having no idea what will happen. And Tom, that's the scenario I keep envisioning, with Song as our 4th choice CB and another DM being brought in...
TPowell
So Denilson would be 2nd choice DM? I think if we rate our players based on this season and how well they did, then we should sign nine other players because we would need a right back, left back, two center backs, a goalkeeper, two wingers and an attacking central midfielder. Because Denilson has wiped the floor with everyone other than van Persie.
Tom14
Arsenal had a mediocre season which is summed up by the most mediocre mid-field player being given 2nd best player, and gallas 3rd best in this appraisal of players ability and commitment. I think all this sums up our season perfectly.
bseymour
I love it when people are so convinced that they are correct. They don't see how stupid they sound.
Tom14
To be fair I can see what people are saying. If Arsenal had had a superb season with everyone firing on all cylinders, a player who has simply done his job consistently and without fuss would not have featured at number 2. In many ways what Denilson has managed shouldn't be a lot to shout about in an all conquering team. Carrick will be nowhere near player of the year for United. However, what Denilson has done is really the hallmark of any decent shielding midfielder. The comparisons with Gilberto are too pertinent to ignore I think, it took him a long time and a career threatening back injury to win round most fans. Hopefully, Denilson vertebrae won't be what wins Arsenal fans round!
Little Dutch
"Carrick will be nowhere near player of the year for United" - Many Man Utd fans would disagree about that, and many journo's voted for him as the player of the season. Just because a player is less likely to finish 2nd if he is a defensive midfielder, and has done well, compared to a striker or a winger, that doesnt mean he is less deserving. But I do understand your point.
Tom14
Please Tom, there's no need to criticize yourself!!
bseymour
I promise you, I am not one little bit hypocritical! ;-)
Tom14
If your thinking says that Denilson right now is a better player than an in form/uninjured Clichy, Sagna, Gallas, Cesc, Arshavin, Eduardo, etc. then yes I suppose we do need to buy nine other players as you suggest. Again, I'm a big fan of him, and he has deserved this spot in LD's rankings and I expect great things, but all he did this past season was what was asked of him, to play his role as well as he could given his limited experience. Players in this position don't reach the height of their abilities for another couple of years on from where Denilson is now. I love Denilson, but he made plenty of simple mistakes last season that I saw, which is why (in my mind), a championship winning team will not have Den as first choice DM... yet (he needs a couple of years)
TPowell
I can assure you that if you watched every club week in week out, you would see more mistakes from pretty much every other defensive midfielder.
Tom14
We're not competing against every other club are we? in reality you know exactly which clubs we have to be better than, and you know that Denilson is not better than the holding/defensive midfielders on those teams, not yet any way.
TPowell
He is better than every DM in our league apart from Macherano and Carrick in my opinion (Essien if he was played at DM). We compete with those teams. Then you have De Rossi and Yaya out of our league, but these players are never going to join Arsenal.
Tom14
In truth we cannot afford Top stars from top clubs. That rules out Alonso, Mascherano, Toure, Essien, Villa, Etoo, De Rossi, or pretty much any established player from a top English/Spanish/Italian team, Bayern Munich & Lyon. Yaya Toures agent today said as much when he said we couldnt afford to pay him what other clubs could. You will find in this day and age that unless we change our policy and line these ***** pockets with silly amounts of cash they will all play elsewhere. Even Arshavins agent today was piping on about wanting increased wages to match the 50 percent tax on top earners. To an extent i understand that it sounds ludicrous to move to a bigger team with bigger ambitions and bigger pressure and get less at the end. On the other hand when your cheque clears each week and your getting double to play football than what the average man in this country earns in a year hard grafting, its hard to feel any sympathy at all
paul_ownz
Arsenal didn't have a mediocre season. We had a very poor start to the season but got much better after Christmas and actually finished very well. Of course we are all disappointed not to have won any silverware but FA Cup semi finals, Champions League semis and fourth place in the PL way ahead of the team in fifth place (OK we were a long way behind third place) doesn't tot up to mediocre as far as I am concerned. At one time I truly believed we would finish no higher than fifth and possibly as low as sixth place but the team proved me wrong I am delighted to say and Denilson's solid performances contributed in no small way to the improvement in the second half of the season. A good defensive midfield player is often a bit like a good referee; you don't notice them - until they make a mistake and that has been Denilsons downfall as far as many fans are concerned they only notice the stray pass or missed tackle, not the many good passes and solid tackles. I hope very much that Denilson stays with us for a long time to come.
norfolk dumpling
It's wrong to say we don't pay as well as other top clubs. The vast majority of clubs can't get near what we pay - our annual wage bill refects that. In fact there are only 4 clubs that can 'afford' to pay more. ManU, Real, Barca and Bayern. There are other clubs that will pay more even if they can't really 'afford' it based on their revenues - Chelsea and now Man City notably. But those two (and others) eventually will have to bow to the simple laws of economics. For us we have to accept that we can be among the very top payers - in the top 6 in the world - but most probably never the absolute top.
Amos.
Tim, sorry but why isn't Song at 3rd place! imo Song has been 1 of the most improved player!!!!!!
hackneyval
And Gallas in 2nd place thats my thoughts on the Top 3!
hackneyval
Song is not in there because he does not deserve it - simple as that.
Tom14
Good call LD. I've been impressed by Denilson, and his partnership with Cesc has to grow. The deeper Cesc goes, the better he seems to become in terms of dictating play, so I dont see any problem in Cesc adapting his role a little bit. Cesc will also become a better player for it. Its more about the mid field balance (we need to stop playing Theo in mid field) and Denilson will start to look much better to gooners.
prits
Song still has a little too much of the headless chicken for my liking. I think the boy has potential, but when Song came in we shipped goals, Denilson came back and we stopped. The articles the Brain linked earlier in the thread explain it better than I have here.
Little Dutch
You're right to shout Denilson's name, Tim. he has been a total professional all season and very under-rated. You're right that he doesn't hit the headlines often. But he is a player Wenger relies on.
Sindbad
I have been one of those citing privately the failings of Denilson as a DM. I would reflect on the efforts of Vieira (who many have correctly pointed out was a CM not a DM), Keane, Essien and Makele, and cite their superior strength, ferocity and other easily noticable traits. However, when one stacks up the statistics, it cannot be denied, Denilson is superior to Song and Flamini in every measure (except errant passes - which can only improve). The point made by the author and others is well made, flanks of Walcott and Nasri make the job of the central midfield combination much harder than a Hleb, Rosicky wide midfield. Having said all of that, I believe Senna for 5 m on a 2 year contract would only aide Denilson's development, and help the team in the short term.
hughied
But Senna has not done anything to warrant a place in our team.
Tom14
 

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