November Player of the Month
It is, I confess, perhaps an awkward time to pontificate on November`s Player of the Month. As ever, the second half of November threw up a number of undesired incidences which has caused a feeling of ennui amongst Arsenal fans. Therefore, recollections can be rather nebulous- particularly as the prevailing hope of the Stoke victory would be that November has been firmly put behind us. It was at this exact point last year that a routine home victory over Wigan gave birth to a long unbeaten run. You might also recall in December 1997, a sleepy if nerve wracking 2-1 win at home to Leicester City was the catalyst for an unbeaten run that propelled us to the title. With the Gunners eight points behind with a game in hand, it is not entirely beyond the realms of possibility that a similar run could see us challenge for the title. However, I feel a sense of duty to reward the month`s outstanding player. It is difficult to pick a glowing candidate with the month punctuated by disappointing defeats to Sunderland and Chelsea.
With Robin van Persie`s ankle left in a tangled mess by virtue of another meaningless international game (is there any other kind?) much attention has shifted onto irritating external disruptions. In that sense, international football has become football`s answer to the royal family. It contributes nothing, it serves no purpose other than an antiquated decorative purpose, it educates no one, yet it plunders and takes from us and when it does, we are supposed to consider it some massive honour to have been shafted by the most jewel encrusted cocks going. Prior to his ailment, van Persie would undoubtedly been considered for the award (*tearfully recites Dutch national anthem*). Alexandre Song was a prime candidate for the award with a series of impressive displays in the defensive hub of our midfield- a furrow he has ploughed largely on his lonesome in the absence of Denilson. Of course, he will not be eligible for the January award as he serves his pregnant international purpose (it truly is an honour, sir). William Gallas has likewise put in a number of honourable shifts. However, the award must go to the best player and more often than not where Arsenal concerned, that will usually be Cesc Fabregas. The Arsenal skipper sauntered into October on a high after dawdling his way past Tottenham`s lightweight luddites on October`s final day. He continued that insouciant form in November`s opening match against AZ, opening the scoring with a low shot from the edge of the area. Cesc displayed another string to his ever burgeoning bow in the same game, nearly scoring again when he rose above the AZ defence and headed the ball onto the crossbar from Gibbs` cross. He did add to his tally early in the second half of the match, this time he dovetailed with Arshavin, receiving the Russian`s through pass before steering the ball impudently past Romero, deceiving the Argentine goalie with his eyes as he glanced at the opposite corner to that which he swept the ball into.
The goal showed how much Fabregas` finishing has improved, he shows an ice cold temperament in front of goal and his immense quality does the rest. It also illuminated just how well he and Arshavin combine, an oft overlooked facet of our current attacking play. The 4-3-3 gives Cesc license to roam from midfield. One of Fabregas` greatest strengths during his time at Arsenal has been his ability to recognise the qualities of his team mates and play to them perfectly. Adebayor would not have registered half the Arsenal goals he did without Cesc recognising his physicality and his ability to play a through ball based on those strengths. He has also struck up a symbiotic partnership with Alex Hleb, seeing his bewitching ball control and using it as a sound board for his own forays forward. Arshavin and Fabregas are intelligent players of great quality and are able to see the qualities in one another, which is why it isn`t surprising to see that they have been the source for one another`s goals on many occasions this season.
In our next encounter, the breezy 4-1 dismissal of a dismal Wolves side, Cesc escalated himself to the top of Arsenal`s scoring chart for the season- this at a time when van Persie was still fit I might add. His inswinging corner bought about a first goal, an own goal off of Zubar. Fabregas then started and finished the move that led to our third goal. He robbed Dave Edwards of the ball in the right back spot, leaving Sagna to pick up the pieces. Fabregas then showed the gumption to career forward, Sagna crossed the ball into the feet of van Persie who, like Arshavin, has the intelligence and awareness to bring others into play, van Persie delightfully shifted the ball into the path of Cesc`s locomotive run and the Catalonian did the rest with a consummate finish. The disruptive international hiatus followed (but what an honour it was to have our season wrecked your highness). Fabregas` performance at the Stadium of Light was average by his standards, yet he was still our most potent threat on the day, with Arsenal`s attacking triumvirate making no attempt to get in behind Sunderland`s defence, Cesc was unlucky not to score himself with a ferocious drive from the edge of the box which cleared the crossbar by centimetres. On another day, (doubtless when we`re 5-0 up at home) it might have nestled satisfyingly in the top corner and the growing accolades for the Spaniard would have swelled still further. In the home stroll against Liege, he could and should have added to his immense tally of assists as a couple of his corners led to chances which should have been buried by his team mates (one emanating in a goalmouth scramble which saw four goal line clearances and a chipped post and one which saw Arshavin and Gallas collide heads), he also played a delightful through ball for Arshavin again and the Russian whipped the ball just past the post. Fabregas himself would clip the outside of the woodwork with a first half effort.
In truth, he was average against Chelsea but largely only because of Chelsea`s excellent marshalling of our static front line. Perversely, I took some kind of encouragement from his petty foul on Essien late in the game, a foul which drew a booking and a free kick which resulted in Drogba`s second goal. It was an act of petulance, but it shows me that Fabregas does not take defeat at all well- as has been evidenced many times before. He hates to lose. The next step in his development, as a captain, is to channel that winning mentality and to somehow teleport it to his team mates through sheer will and communication. I don`t see that in him just yet, but Cesc is a player that makes improvements on his game year on year- everyone of his weaknesses since coming into the side as a teenager has been ironed out. His supposed physical inadequacies, his lack of productivity in front of goal, his set piece delivery- all worked on and improved upon to the point that he is fierce in the tackle, composed in front of goal and a great source of opportunity from free kicks and corners. I feel Cesc`s quality is so stark that at times it is under appreciated; that we take it for granted and are myopic to how pivotal he is in every chance we create and every goal we score. As Joni Mitchell once sang, you don`t know what you`ve got till it`s gone. Appreciate it now, because you`ll lament it when it`s not there.LD.
Past Players of the Month
August: Alexandre Song
September: Robin van Persie
October: Robin van Persie.