Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Monday April 26 2010
April has not been a kind month to Arsenal, whilst March brought a geyser of hope in an oasis of title glory since 2004 with some gutsy displays; April has seen our season unravel like a ball of yarn. Despite the numerous showings of courage in adversity from Arsenal this season, they are going to have to again stand court with the accusation that when it comes to the crunch, they have a limp wristed punch. April yielded a solitary victory, with Nicklas Bendtner`s injury time winner at home to Wolves in the first game of the month. Since then, the resounding defeat to Barcelona, the wounding reverse at White Hart Lane and the unfathomable capitulation at Wigan- probably the most infuriating defeat in Arsene`s reign, followed by a drab, end of season 0-0 with City have removed the wind from the sails of the good ship optimism. Already supporters` minds are turning to the summer transfer window as people carve fantasy wish lists onto their arms via the new You Tube sensation from the Mexican Premier League. (Because of course those that draw up these fantasy lists are avid viewers of obscure overseas leagues).
But what of the current squad? Whilst the team performed far from admirably in April (Wenger`s post match quote on Saturday was telling, "When you lose two games back to back in April, you don`t win the title.") which individuals excelled? Indeed, a more pertinent question when discussing the current team is who stayed fit for long enough to impress? April`s player of the month award is a strictly two horse affair and there is little more than a rizla paper between the two main contenders, both at differing spectrums in their careers. On the one hand, Nicklas Bendtner has been Arsenal`s great light of 2010, his last twelve appearances have returned nine goals and five assists. He has shown adeptness as a penalty box striker, following in rebounds and contesting crosses with a vigour unseen in N5 since Ian Wright`s departure. But his assists also show his awareness and intelligence have improved. Whilst in the red corner we have the born again Sol Campbell, shedding his autumn leaves and making one last tilt towards sunlight before he is consigned to the chipper of the Match of the Day sofa or Talkshite radio to mumble mealy mouthed platitudes to a zombiefied audience.
It`s a flip of a coin style contest, both players deserving the accolade, neither deserving to miss out. I suppose the fact that Bendtner amassed the less important arsenal.com official player of the month for March might just tip the scales in favour of Sol Campbell for Vital Arsenal`s April award. (Who needs a Mercury Music Prize when you can have an Ivor Novello, eh Sol? The surprise signing of Campbell in January has proved to be something of an eccentric master stroke, a bit like when Jarvis Cocker invaded the stage for Michael Jackson`s 1995 Brit Awards performance and waggled his bum at the audience. I think Campbell has demonstratably brought a closeness to the squad. For the first time in a good few years, Campbell`s head seems clear when he speaks. He knows he is not going to play every week, he knows his limbs probably aren`t able. But he also knows that he has other qualities to bring to the squad and he has been intelligent and altruistic enough to bring them with vigour and gusto. Even in his prime, Campbell was a warrior and a winner, now he has the experience to ally to that desire and he has relished a sort of advisory role to Arsenal`s young squad.
Whenever Arsenal score, have a look to see who is first on the scene to celebrate. (His goal celebration for Bendtner`s injury time winner against Wolves an absolute classic). In the pre match high fives in the centre circle, look whose fists pump the hardest and whose face is contorted with desire. There are times when administering the pre match high fives when you feel a little sorry for the recipient, so imposing is Sol`s frame. Campbell has been forced into action more times than he or Wenger will have bargained for back in January, but injuries are par of the course at Arsenal and Campbell has become a regular name on the team sheet. But not only has he been asked to play, his responsibilities have been even greater. He has been asked to augment the loss of Gallas, one of the team`s great leaders and winners. Arsenal have also lost Fabregas, Vermaelen and Arshavin, so even more has been asked of him as a leader. It is a test he has responded to faultlessly. Questions have been abound surrounding Campbell`s mobility, but those questions have been raised due to his age, witness Campbell out sprinting Gareth Bale in the 92nd minute at White Hart Lane. Carlos Tevez, a nippy player himself, did not find a way around Campbell once on Saturday. (Though it could be countered that you`d need a taxi to get around Sol Campbell).
Campbell`s performance at White Hart Lane was one the best individual displays by an Arsenal player this season. From the first minute once could see the motivation permeate him. In the warm up, he jogged from touchline to touchline, fearlessly fronting the hatred at close quarters. Arsenal won a free kick inside thirty seconds, Campbell stepped up, even though he had no intention of taking it, he wanted to hear the first flurry of disapproval to kick him on. Throughout the game he was a picture of heart, guts and fight, refusing to surrender the ball, fighting tooth and nail with any Tottenham player with the temerity to try and take possession within his personal space. He nearly came away from White Hart Lane with a goal too but for Huerelho Gomes` heroics. Sol was Arsenal`s least deserving loser on the night, his manager tellingly transmitting a message to his younger players by way of implication in his fulsome post match praise, "He was ready to die on the pitch to win tonight and that`s what you want from your squad. He has shown that again by example and he is a big influence, on the pitch and in the dressing room as well."
In the next match at Wigan Campbell was given the ceremonial arm band but the truth is, he had been captaining the team prior to having the cloth fastened to his arm. His performances have bought universal praise; with most of us in agreement that he has earned another year with Arsenal as a back up centre half. I would also contend that England could do a lot worse than take him to South Africa, if Ferdinand or Terry are suspended or injured for a World Cup Quarter Final, you could bank on Sol to put in a performance. With Beckham out of contention, the role of "been there, done that elder statesman" is a tantalising niche for Capello. That`s a long way from the confused individual that walked out on Notts County in September. This is Sol`s swan song and he`s playing like a man who knows it. It`s been a pleasure to see the best years of his career in an Arsenal shirt, I just don`t think any of us expected those years to stretch out as far as 2010.LD.
August: Alexandre Song
September: Robin van Persie
October: Robin van Persie
November: Cesc Fabregas
December: William Gallas
January: Cesc Fabregas
February: Thomas Vermaelen
March: Gael Clichy
Date:Monday April 26 2010
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