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2008-09 Player by Player Part 1

Having now completed the rundown for my top five players of the season, I thought it only fair not to spare the waifs and strays and give each squad member a thorough grilling. From the quietly improved (Bendtner, Song, Eboue) to the fair to middling (Sagna, Nasri, Clichy) to the downright underwhelming (Diaby, the lanky one who spent two semi finals with his hands on his hips. Adebango I think he`s called). Those that have only completed a nominal number of games won`t be included, it`s pretty worthless me assessing Wilshere`s season on the back of a couple of Carling Cup games and a Youth Cup Final. Those included in the player of the year rundown will be spared an exhaustive diagnosis compared to "the others."

1.Manuel ALMUNIA- A season of consistency amidst a squad that has been horribly inconsistent. Manuel poses an interesting paradox, as one of the elder statesmen of the squad, he has tried to take on the position as a leader and a voice for the team with some success. However, despite his age, he is still relatively inexperienced at this level, mistakes against Chelsea, Liverpool, United and Spurs again this season leave question marks over his big game temperament; but the Champions League Semi Final at Old Trafford might just have been a turning point on that score. Almunia has improved on a number of facets of his game which I have already alluded to in another article. Not at the stature of a Seaman or a Lehmann, which means he gets a lukewarm reception from Arsenal fans, I`d perhaps compare him more to Lukic (who was good enough to win a title with Arsenal). In terms of the Premiership`s current custodians, Almunia is one of the best. I wouldn`t have asked much more from Almunia this season, key saves in Champions League games will feature in many a UEFA highlights reel. Overall a thoroughly decent season from Almunia, he certainly impressed me more than Cech or van der Sar did. (Let`s face it, I could have kept goal for United for large chunks of this season). 8 out of 10.
Highlight of the Season: His one man team impression at Old Trafford in April.

2.Vassiriki Abou DIABY- Officially Arsenal`s appendix. Nobody knows precisely what it is there for, or what it does, but you`re sure there must be some reason for it. Diaby is considered not defensively disciplined enough to play central midfield, not good enough to displace Nasri, Arshavin, Cesc etc as an attacking midfielder and too gash to play on the wing. Has the infuriating habit of beating seven players at once with a mesmerising piece of skill, striding majestically past a sea of befuddled opponents, before whacking the ball out of play under no pressure. Diaby does not seem to fully understand what his qualities are, if he does he seldom plays to them. The manager has deployed him in big games due to his power, but that physical prowess counts for little when you continually give the ball to your opponents, I`m at a loss to understand why Diaby hasn`t used the last three years of being dispossessed by opposing midfielders to stop and think to himself, "hmmm, perhaps if I release the ball inside ten minutes this will stop happening?" Diaby undoubtedly has some qualities and when he engages his brain for long enough to tie all of the component parts together, he can be devastating. Goals against Fenerbahce, Villa and Newcastle all point to how he can roar through defences when he`s decisive. There is a good player in there somewhere, but my main worry is that, whilst Diaby has very good feet, I`m yet to see much evidence of a brain. 5
Highlight of the Season: The delightful kicking (in the metaphorical sense) he gave Fenerbahce`s defence in October.

3.Bacary SAGNA- Cries of second season syndrome have echoed throughout the press, but perhaps that exemplifies just how excellent Sagna`s inaugural campaign was. The truth is, Sagna has had to adapt to a shifting Arsenal midfield as much as any of the midfielders at the club. With Walcott in front of him, Sagna has to be far more defence minded as Walcott still hasn`t really nailed the tracking back as well as his predecessors. Hleb is a dream to play in front of for a full back as Sagna could motor forwards, confident that the Belarusian wouldn`t surrender possession cheaply. Walcott, to paraphrase Sally Fields, "is like a box of chocolates." You know he is capable of producing the proverbial toffee fudge by beating three players and sprinting to the by-line with gazelle like grace, but he is equally capable of the coffee crème, tripping over the ball, falling on his arse and leaving the opposing full back to rush forwards unchecked. Overall, I think Sagna, considering the readapting period of playing behind two polar opposites in Eboue and Walcott, has produced a solid, if unspectacular, seven out of ten season. He does however need to work very hard indeed on his crossing, which is terrible. 7.
Highlight: His bicycle kick goal line clearance at Villa Park.

4.Francesc FABREGAS Soler- 15 assists (including 9 in the Premiership) from a central midfield player who has missed half the season with injury would be considered an exquisite return from most midfielders. But Cesc Fabregas isn`t most midfielders. By his own lofty standards, you could say Fabregas has stood still somewhat this year, it`s perhaps the first season since he`s been at Arsenal where you cannot really pinpoint a part of his game that has improved dramatically. However, this is easily explained. Following his exploits with Spain in the summer, Wenger tried to rush Fabregas through pre season, which inevitably led to injury. He was then rushed back from injury again, so perhaps Wenger was the only person surprised to see him sit out three months when his tired muscles were not sturdy enough to withstand a crunching 50-50 with Alonso in December. Added to the fact that his three amigos Hleb, Rosicky and Flamini have been absent for various reasons, multiplied by being lumped with the captaincy in very difficult circumstances, it is not difficult to decipher the reasons for his comparative inertia. Upon returning from affliction, he was then cast into a new position behind the striker, an experiment that I would venture failed. His defence splitting assists for Nasri against United and Bendtner against Kyiv show Fabregas is more comfortable dictating a game from deep. Fabregas` workload has been made heavier by his manager being overly reliant on him, whether that be by placing physical or psychological demands on him that have been too great. Without Hleb, Fabregas has felt less able to get forward and replicate his goals tally of 2007-08 and has been cast with the burden of being Arsenal`s sole creative hub prior to the arrival of Arshavin. However, the Russian`s elevation to prominence should help Fabregas immeasurably next year, an experienced head, a leader and somebody to share the burden of playmaker. Fabregas has still enjoyed a very good season indeed, but we know and he knows that next season should see him produce even more. 7
Highlight: His last minute equaliser at Sunderland in October. Beating a very tall Mackems defence in the dying embers of a lost game. It was a goal borne of desire and an ability to drag an underperforming side out of the doldrums. It was the reason he was made skipper.

5.Kolo Abib TOURE- Taking the season as a whole, you cannot help but be a little under whelmed by our longest serving player. One of the players who I think has struggled in the absence of more experienced heads to supplement him, Toure is an excellent defender when placed alongside a centre half of physical stature, such as Campbell or Senderos. The word on the street, by the manager`s own admission, is that the Toure- Gallas axis lacks the requisite height to deal with the Premiership`s loftier opponents. Toure is now our longest serving player and often our oldest outfield player and I do not think he has quite taken to those waters with duck like aplomb. Shorn of a Gallas or a Campbell figure, Toure`s organisation skills are often found wanting, he is an able deputy that has struggled to make the step up to sheriff, I simply do not think he is that type of defender. A difficult opening to the campaign culminated in him losing his place to Silvestre and then Djourou, an injury to the latter at Villa Park in December saw Toure called into the side at the last moment and ended in a blazing row with the ever combustible Gallas. Toure handed in a transfer request but was quickly talked around. To his credit he has shown great mental aptitude to bounce back and cement his place in the team once again and make his partnership with Gallas work again- despite their indifference to one another. Toure, in defensive terms, is an eligible bachelor looking for a soul mate. Perhaps Vermaelen`s arrival will see him find happiness. But this season has been one largely spent in the lonely hearts column for Kolo. 6
Highlight: Breaking back into the team on Valentine`s weekend and looking like the defender that won our hearts back in 2002.

8.Samir NASRI- An encouraging debut season for Nasri. Asked effectively to fill two roles with Hleb and Rosicky unavailable and then again with Fabregas injured, when he was effectively asked to be the creative fulcrum of a side he was still getting to know. Even his more established hombres in midfield were struggling to get to grips with the shape of an ever shifting midfield, so it must have been doubly difficult for the new boy. Scoring three minutes into your full debut will always buy you patience amongst the support (ask Freddie Ljungberg) whilst the two goal salvo against United sticks out. I think he struggled slightly towards the end of the season and the fact that Arshavin outdid him for assists in half a season points to room for improvement, but at 22 it`s reasonable to expect he will develop. He was also asked to play on the wing, in the centre and latterly as a defensive midfielder throughout the season, but Nasri took to life very quickly at Arsenal and settled instantly. He appeared a tad injury prone in the autumn, causing his manager to publicly declare Nasri would need to be stronger after a robust challenge from Palacios in the home game with Wigan saw him hobble off once more. Since then injury has not plagued him nearly as much, so he must have worked on his physical strength. Very good for a first season, with him acclimatised to the English game I expect to see a lot more next season with him adding even more goals to his game. In all, I`d perhaps liken Nasri`s maiden voyage with Pires` back in 2000-01. If he can come close to matching Bobby`s second season, we`ve a lot to look forward to! 7.5
Highlight: Smashing the ball past van der Sar from twenty yards and slaying the European Champions at the Emirates.

10.William GALLAS- What`s to be done with a problem like William. Harmful for team spirit? Possibly. Best defender at Arsenal? Definitely. Maybe his rant back in November was ill advised, but he appeared to unwittingly clear the air in a squad that was permeated by a poisonous atmosphere, the first stage of recovery is acknowledgment and Gallas, however malleable his moods, seemed to have said what was needed. Even if cost him the captaincy, Gallas showed his best form post outburst and the team got back on track too. Gallas, freed from the glare of captaincy which his flaky character could not handle, became the lynchpin of a defence that began to look sturdy again. When his knee collapsed underneath him in Spain, Arsenal`s season limped down the tunnel with him. You may not like the man beneath the scowl, but as a defender, he is one of the very best around. 8
Highlight: Using his shiny bonce to score a controversial late winner in the F.A. C up Quarter Final against Hull and booking Arsenal their first trip to the new Wembley. Anything that gets up Phil Brown`s nose that much is fine with me.

11.Robin van PERSIE- What can a fully fit van Persie do when he stays fit for a whole season has been one of the great philosophical hypotheses of the 21st Century. How about twenty goals and thirteen assists? Curbing his volatile temper once and for all as well as learning that his right leg is for a lot more than just standing on? Learning that ten other players play alongside him and that, you know, sometimes it`s a decent idea to pass to one of them once in a while? Two goals at Stamford Bridge to beat Chelsea? Not missing a single penalty all season? Player of the season by quite some distance. 9.
Highlight: Feeding off Adebayor`s scraps in the Stamford Bridge penalty area to score his second goal in three minutes and win the game for Arsenal away at Chelsea, proving he can deliver against high quality opponents in pressure cooker situations.

12.Carlos VELA- Vela instantly captured the hearts of the Emirates faithful with a swashbuckling hat trick against Sheffield United, followed by an audacious goal in the next round of the Carling Cup against Wigan. A speedy young forward who runs at defenders with gusto and that is capable of sublime finishing, as Burnley keeper Brian Jensen will attest. Carlos is still very rough around the edges, his decision making sometimes leaves a lot to be desired, but you expect that from a teenager. At times, he has lacked composure at the right time, as his myriad of misses against Burnley in the League Cup and his snatched last minute effort in the 0-0 draw with Sunderland demonstrate. However, having been foiled three times by Jensen at Turf Moor with low one on one finishes, the manner in which he lofted the ball over the big Dane at the Emirates shows Vela analysed that game and amended his finishing to suit the keeper he was facing. That`s a very promising sign of his intelligence and a lip smacking prospect of what`s to come. Hopefully, next season will see him progress further and become a mainstay of Arsenal`s frontline as Bendtner and Walcott have now managed. 7.5
Highlight: Outmuscling the considerable frame of Titus Bramble at the Emirates before sending a breath taking sand wedged shot over a bemused Chris Kirkland from the edge of the area.

14.Theo WALCOTT- Theo`s progress may have been enervated slightly by a couple of injuries, however, he has now become a first choice player on the right wing. His hat trick for England in Zagreb thrust him into the spotlight and he has handled the expectation excellently. You still sometimes get the impression that Walcott is a sprinter above all else as his feet sometimes let him down in tight situations, as does his brain. But his accomplished finishing, as seen against Villarreal cause me to think he has to make the switch to centre forward sooner rather than later. Evra marked him out of two games simply by closing him down quickly and denying him space to run into. I think being able to lurk in behind defences will add a great deal to Arsenal`s build up play and will occupy defenders in the way that Adebayor used to with his work rate and physicality. The fact that Walcott is often double marked in games, particularly in Europe, is the ultimate compliment for him. 7
Highlight: Assists at Ewood Park and the Reebok rove he can make things happen from nothing, but it has to be his outrageous finish against Villarreal at the Emirates, deftly spooning the ball over Diego Lopez from a tight angle.

15.DENILSON Pereira de Neves- Possibly the only Arsenal midfielder who has done his job consistently and well, but there again probably the only Arsenal midfielder who has been tasked with the same job all season. He is a young man who has been asked to adapt to a new role and has done so impeccably. No Premiership midfielder has better ball retention or more interceptions, only two tackle with a better success rate than the young Brazilian and only four make more tackles. The biggest compliment you can ever pay a screening midfielder is if you do not notice him, Denilson`s immaculate work has gone largely unnoticed by doing those jobs that defensive midfielders must master so well. No Arsenal player has more minutes under his belt this season and that shows the players and the manager trust him implicitly. With three goals and seven assists he adds more than Flamini did too, even if most won`t acknowledge it. 8
Highlight: Absolutely bossing de Rossi and Totti in the home leg against Roma. Two of Serie A`s most revered sons kept well and truly schtum by an immaculate midfield display from Denilson.

Part two will follow tomorrow.LD.




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The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Thursday June 11 2009

Time: 8:37PM

Your Comments

a lengthy read but I enjoyed it - but William Gallas - 8!
merlin
Excellent piece once again LD. Though where is number seven's evaluation? Haha
gunnerkid107
Great writeup. Agree with everything except the almunia 8. Personally would have given him a 7.5, reliable, confident and a calming presence but not enough stand out games to warrant a higher mark than 7.5 imo
Imperium
Diaby's the new Gunnersaurus Rex.
ArsenalFan01
"Diaby - Officially Arsenal`s appendix. Nobody knows precisely what it is there for, or what it does, but you`re sure there must be some reason for it." Very nicely put LD. As for your Toure-Vermaelen idea, from what I've seen of the Belgian I fear he's in a similar sort of mould as Toure. A fighter, not so much a comander; great when played alongside an experienced head but uncomfortable without one.
ArsenalRob
I agree with GK. You couldn't have just wrote Tomas ROSICKY- 0 without an explanation?
TPowell
diaby was probably worst player player of season
49ers
Without doubt, Diaby and Ade are the big conundrums from this year. You just KNOW they have the talent in there... it seems that what they lack is the consistent graft, the fight, the mental strength, the absolute REFUSAL to lose. Ade lost his mojo when he stopped chasing lost causes and harassing defenders as in 07/08. One suspects that the fatness of his pay packet caused him to lose focus on what made him successful in the first place, but that if he straightens himself out next year he can return as a force... but then, what do you say about Diaby? Diaby hasn't EARNED a fat pay packet yet... hasn't turned heads at the AC Milans of the world... hasn't taken any one position by the scruff of the neck and made it his own. What is it about him? Is he just damn lazy? Mentally weak? WHAT THE *F* IS IT???? I am as stumped as anyone. You can just see that the talent is in the feet... the body and physique could make him the next Viera... but he will never get there, until he sorts out the problems between his ears. Too bad you can't perform an operation to insert a Warrior Spirit inside someone as easily as you can fix a cruciate injury these days...
devvil
arsenalrob, you do know vermaelen is captain of ajax right? so how is he not a leader?
carefreeblue
You expect people to sit there and read that? For those who cannot be bothered simply take the players name and put "A complete load of *****" against each one.
TeddyLyon
TeddyLyon, I don't expect everyone to read it. Where did I say that? Of course some people are just illiterate..............
Little Dutch
TedLyon, what a scintilating read that'd be eh?
shewore
devvil, Diaby is never going to be a class player. He is just average.
Tom14
Just heard Ray Parlour say that Denilson is in the same mould as Fabregas and that he does not win the ball back and pass it simple to the next man... Do these guys watch football? Are they complete fools? I mean, I have never liked what Parlour, Perry, Adams, Wright or Smith have to say (Keown, Dixon or Robson are much much better) but to say that Denilson is a Fabregas type of player and that we need a player who is the exact type of player than Denilson already is totally annoys me!
Tom14
carefreeblue, Gallas was Arsenal captain, Toure is vice-captain, because they lead by example on the pitch (with Gallas, obviously not off it), not by command. John Terry has developed his captaincy skills brilliantly at Chlesea, but would probably be less able in this department without the asistance of Carvalho etc in defence whose style is more calm and controlled and allows Terry to fight alongside them in the centre of defence. With the likes of Toure and Gallas, they're both running around dealing with all they can, so the coordination isn't quite there. I suppose he is a leader, but I don't think he can do it by himself. Vermaelen has the Oleguer for company at the back, a cool head who knows where to put himself on the pitch, os doesn't need to run around making up ground so much.
ArsenalRob
Tom, I heard that Parlour interview. I had the same reaction to his comments re Denilson. However, I've always thought Ray's one of the most consistent supporters of Arsene and the club we have among our former players. I've never heard him trash our team or manager the way Merson or Wright do routinely.
jaelle
Yeah, I agree on that. He is not paid to talk **** about us I suppose but his comments were ridiculous.
Tom14
Almunia has impressed quite a bit this season, and your assessment is spot on, LD. He's better than most keepers in the PL, and only marginally behind Reina and Cech. I expect him to get even better next season, but also fear that he may be too nice to succeed. Nasri has been very very solid, without being spectacular. He needs to score more goals though - he's got into fewer goal scoring positions in the 2nd half (playing DM didnt help, but still). I'm a little concerned about Theo - your comment about the lack of a footballing brain could equally apply to Theo as well. I've been a bit disappointed by his progress this season, and I expected more, esp when he started games.
prits
Good reviews LD. Perhaps a little too kind to Vela who played so little but he is a mouth watering prospect. I think Almunia was perhaps even a little better than you suggest. Theo's relatively indifferent season was mainly due to his injuries I think. Fully agree about Denilson - an unsung hero if ever there was one.
norfolk dumpling
"We are used to playing with footballers like Vieira, Gilberto Silva or Flamini and for sure this year we've been a bit lame in such an importan position. It's an undervalued role, but key, above all for teams like ours, that attack, that have a lot of the ball. To know there is someone behind you is fundamental." - I don't know where Ars*blogger got this quote from, but I will be p*ssed off with Cesc if he said that. It is like he mentally decided that Denilson was not good enough or something, like many Arsenal fans.
Tom14
 

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