January Player of the Month
Having all taken our pound of flesh over the last couple of days in the wake of a convincing defeat at the hands of Manchester United, it would seem like a good time to pontificate on January`s Player of the Month. Unfortunately, it will likely be a muted celebration. It is nigh on impossible to pick out a stand out player for the calendar month for the simple fact that very few players have been fit enough to have played enough for consideration. Abou Diaby was enjoying a fine month before a calf injury against Bolton, Aaron Ramsey ended 2009 and began 2010 in fine fettle but has not featured since the 2-2 draw with Everton. The only players that have been fit for selection on a regular basis; such as Almunia, Sagna, Rosicky, Eduardo, Denilson and Arshavin have largely underwhelmed. The centre half pairing, whilst being a long stick short of awful have begun to reappraise an early season fault of over committing to attack when it`s not really necessary. All of the above factors only really leave me with one candidate.
That there is only one real candidate for Player of the Month is not damning of our form as such, more that our lien up has shifted into so many different permutations that it`s difficult to cite consistency. Players were rested for the F.A. Cup trips to West Ham and Stoke (Nasri and Diaby were rested for the game at Upton Park- both were promptly injured thereafter, I`m seeing less and less point in resting players) and our results prior to Manchester United have been good, though defensive cracks have appeared in allowing Everton and Bolton to score twice on our home ground. We`ve also gone behind in every game in January, bar the clean sheets away at Aston Villa and Bolton. On one hand you have to commend the fighting spirit to claw back deficits to West Ham, Everton and Bolton, you also have to ask questions of our defensive concentration and our focus from the beginning of a match. There is however, one player whose focus and concentration, as well as his ability, which is beyond reproach. Largely based on a couple of world class performances, the Player of the Month for the second time this season is Cesc Fabregas. I`ve pored over his qualities to the point of saturation, but there have been times this month when he has dragged us into games single handedly.
Against West Ham and Everton, he was sidelined through injury and his absence was notable- particularly in the Everton game where we only really created two chances of note- fortunately we scored them both via serendipitous deflections. (As a point of note, Arsenal have scored five deflected goals in January- Lampardesque). Once he came back into the side for the trip to the Reebok Stadium Arsenal looked a different animal. Such was his superiority throughout the game; Bolton reverted to type by simply trying to kick him off the pitch. Paul Robinson raked some studs down the back of his calf; Matt Taylor knelt on his neck and had a couple of digs to his chest for good measure. But Fabregas was unperturbed, driving Arsenal forwards through sheer force of will. His driving forward run should have yielded a penalty when Arsenal produced a counter attack; Cesc latched onto Eduardo`s pass and was clearly taken out by Jaaskelainen to no reward from the match official. He of course opened the scoring in that match after playing a lightning one two on the edge of the area with Eduardo, who cleverly flicked the ball into his path. Despite there being a bevy of Bolton bodies, Fabregas reacted swiftly to the situation to sweep the ball into the bottom corner. He would break beyond his strikers again minutes later in an attempt to meet Arshavin`s cut back but toe ended the ball just wide. Fabregas` performance in the opposing penalty area has accelerated enormously this season, breaking at will into danger zones and demonstrating a cool head to finish.
Fabregas was pivotal in the second goal of that game too, performing something of a trademark when he found space in the centre of the pitch, receiving the ball in the centre circle his radar was already on hyper active mode as he found Eduardo with a perfect first time pass, enabling Eduardo`s deflected cross to find Merida for the clincher. In the return match at the Grove three days later, Fabregas was the catalyst for the enthralling comeback from two goals down. With his side sagging and deflated at 02-, it was the Catalonian that took it upon himself to pepper Bolton`s goal. Setting up a fine chance following a mazy dribble which Arshavin could not convert and a similar run and pass set up Eduardo for a sitter, which he duly missed too. But undeterred on the stroke of half time, he again powered forward through midfield before delivering an incisive pass to Rosicky, who smashed home a pivotal, match changing goal. Fabregas would score the equaliser himself with a striker`s finish, having also had a curling shot smartly saved by Jaaseklainen seconds after the equaliser. He received a pass from Arshavin in the area and despite having to negotiate a tight angle and with a defender in his path; he managed to squeeze the ball between the keeper`s legs. The comeback was an example of Fabregas leading by example, citing a game in danger of slipping away and pulling his team back into it through contagious energy. However, he will need to sharpen up on dishing out verbal instructions. In the Stoke match the following weekend, Theo Walcott had again given up on chasing a loose ball to the corner flag; Fabregas shrugged and proceeded to chase it himself. As with the Manchester United match when there were several players clearly not carrying out their instructions, he will need to prepare to be unpopular and tell players what is required.
It was something of a surprise to see Fabregas line up against Stoke, but line up he did and he gave his customary show of desire and will power. Winning the free kick that led to Arsenal`s equaliser as well as claiming an assist. For large parts of the stalemate with Aston Villa, Arsenal were not troubling Villa`s defence. It was Fabregas who came closest to unlocking it with a surging run from midfield, beating three players before seeing his shot cannon off the inside of the post. His runs from midfield, both with and without the ball this season, have been too much for opposing defence`s to handle. His sangfroid in the area also created a golden opportunity for Rosicky in the Villa match. After Friedel had foiled Arshavin`s effort, the ball looped into the area and Fabregas had the presence of mind to cushion the ball into Rosicky`s path- unfortunately he could only smash the ball against the cross bar. I`m not going to lie and canonise Cesc`s performance against Manchester United, he was snuffed out by a crowded United midfield- that his partners Song and Denilson offered him little in the way of assistance I believe to be mitigating. Fabregas, though rarely effective, looked vaguely bothered. That is to damn him with feint praise but on the day it made him stand out in a cavalcade of shitness. His continued determination to be a one man force of nature will need to continue for Arsenal to garner silverware, it`s a big pressure on him but a pressure he appears to relish. However, if his team mates continue to stand to one side and expect him to give consecutive virtuoso displays, burn out may be likely.LD.
Previous Players of the Month.
August: Alexandre Song
September: Robin van Persie
October: Robin van Persie
November: Francesc Fabregas
December: William Gallas