Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Tuesday January 5 2010
There are times when picking the Player of the Month can be a troubling task. That is usually owing to one of two reasons. The most onerous of which would be those months when you have to have to reluctantly grab your spatula and climb head first into the bottom of the barrel (this happened a lot in the first half of last season). At other times, it has been such a quagmire of futility due to the plethora of candidates available. Happily, for December, 2009, it is the latter. In a month in which we have played eight won five drew one and lost two, December has been a kind month for Arsenal- which is quite extraordinary really considering how much of a tumult we were all in as December reared its wintry head. Given that both of our defeats were virtually inconsequential as Arsenal have stormed back into the title race and with notable wins over Liverpool and Aston Villa, the noughties ended in ebullient spirit. At the beginning of December, Andrey Arshavin appeared to be the front runner for the December award after moving to the arrow head of our front three impressively- performing consecutive match winning cameos against Stoke and Liverpool. Abou Diaby has also used his ungamely stride to step up to the plate with some of his best form since joining Arsenal four years ago- particularly noteworthy his performances in consecutive games against Burnley, Hull and Aston Villa. Aaron Ramsey is another midfielder who has been building on his obvious potential, playing excellently when called upon and notching himself two goals in December- one of those an absolute peach against Pompey at Fratton Park. I`m guessing most people`s choice for this award would be Alex Song and I would be loathe to disagree with you. The Cameroonian has continued to blossom into one of Arsenal`s most important players this season with a string of fine displays. It is not only is his tackling and ability to regain possession and match more physical sides that ha caught they eye, but where Song has really developed this season is in his composure on the ball, often beating players in tight spaces with crafty footwork and retaining possession for his side. The morons that booed him on his Premiership debut are probably the first ones booming out "We`ve only got one Song" from the stands, whilst bumptiously declaring that they`d "always rated that guy." However, Song, who I was pretty sure I`d give this award to right up until a few hours ago, has just been pipped at the post for December.
My Player of the Month for December is William Gallas. Whether or not he has been Arsenal`s stand out performer this month will be open to debate I`m sure, but that he has been playing incredibly well- not just in December either- will likely not be so contentious. Much has been made of Arsenal`s improved form over the last four weeks, but very little of it appears to have been out down to the fact that Arsenal appear to have repudiated their defensive form. In the six matches in which Gallas has played this month, Arsenal have conceded three goals- one a penalty given away by Vermaelen and one a consolation goal. Really, the only meaningful goal registered under his stewardship went to Liverpool at Anfield. In the two matches he missed, the Gunners leaked four. Gallas` form has not gone unnoticed amongst Arsenal fans, the most prominent evidence for Gallas` good form is that, since his fall from grace as he was stripped of the captaincy 13 months ago, the opinion of him amongst Arsenal fans has now gone past neutral and shifted into gear again. "William Gallas is our mate" again resounds from the terraces with gusto. I have written much about Gallas` more reserved, taciturn demeanour since being stripped of the captaincy, but a few other things have happened this season too.
Firstly, Arsenal have bought him a big, strapping deputy in Thomas Vermaelen. Gallas relishes playing alongside a physically robust defender who relishes putting his wotsits on the line and doing battle with the Premiership`s literal heavyweights. Gallas has always been more of a thinking man`s defender; positionally astute, careful and considered in the tackle, preferring to wait for a chink in the attacker`s armour before quickly stealing out a leg and robbing his opponent of the ball, well schooled in the finest texts of defending- Sun Tzu`s the 'Art of Back Four`, Descartes` 'Discourse on Defensive Method`, Shakespeare`s epic tragedy 'Gus Caesar.` It is well documented that Arsenal did not have a satisfactory back four last season. Due to his popularity as a character, many Arsenal fans refused to see that Kolo Toure had become the weak link, but there was a reason Arsene fought to hold onto 32 year old William Gallas in the final year of his contract, whilst cashing in on 28 year old Kolo Toure in the same state of contractual ennui.
Vermaelen being a left footer has also been pointed to by Wenger as a reason for Gallas` form this season, for the first time since he came to England he has been able to play in his absolutely ideal position on the right hand side of the centre half axis. Gallas is a combustible and moody character who has no problems being expressive with his moods, it is well documented that he and Toure did not get on, by selling Toure on, Arsenal have removed the weaker part of the old partnership, thus making Gallas happier as a player now he trusts his defensive lieutenant as well as enabling him to take up his best defensive position. I feel Gallas felt the gravitas of responsibility was a little too severe at times last season- it is no coincidence that Arsenal`s season fell apart with Gallas` medial ligament. Arsene has made some cryptic comments this month praising Vermaelen`s composure- I wondered if this was a sly dig at Toure- who did have a "headless chicken" quality to him that Gallas doesn`t on a football pitch. But whilst Vermaelen can take a lot of the credit for the fact that Gallas is playing his best football in an Arsenal shirt, I still think Billy is the senior member of that partnership. It`s only obvious when you watch him live in the stadium, but Gallas` cunning knows no bounds, using his faultless reading of the game to steal in front of strikers and cut off the oxygen of supply before an attack can fully develop. His upper body strength and pace are often under valued too. Witness his outstanding challenge on Agbonlahor as he went through on goal late in the 3-0 defeat of Villa, determination, allied with muscle and speed as he roared back with a stifling block.
In the Stoke match, Arsenal came under a period of sustained aerial pressure with some trademark Delap long throws, but Gallas was more than equal to the task of buffeting Stoke`s league of mutant muscle men. Against Liverpool too, Gallas was charged with the task of neutralising the not inconsiderable threat of Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard and did so with consummate aplomb, marshalling an Arsenal defence which did not concede so much as a shot on their goal in the second half. Villa too travelled to North London armed with forwards which no defenders relish facing in Heskey and Agbonlahor, with John Carew joining the fray from the bench. None of them got so much as a sniff. Gallas has been operating at the top of his game for some time now and, at his age, is at his peak for a centre half. Since joining the Premiership nine years ago, it is my opinion that Gallas has consistently been one of the finest defenders to grace the league- both in blue and in red. Amongst the plethora of contracts signed by Arsenal players since May, one remains conspicuously ink free. If Gallas continues this form, it might just be the most coveted signature of the lot.LD.
Previous Players of the Month:
August: Alexandre Song
September: Robin van Persie
October: Robin van Persie
November: Francesc Fabregas
Date:Tuesday January 5 2010
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