August Player of the Month
Picking a Player of the Month just three games into the season seems to be a thankless task. Players are still accumulating sharpness- particularly those that appeared at this summer`s World Cup. So therefore, I was looking towards those that hadn`t indulged in the summer jamboree to claim the inaugural award for 2010-11. Based on his pre season exploits, I fully expected Samir Nasri to be very much in the running, but he succumbed to the familiar foe of injury. Now the senior partner in central defence, Thomas Vermaelen can be pleased with his month`s work, as can goalkeeper Manuel Almunia. New boy Marouane Chamakh already gives me the impression that he can fit straight into this Arsenal side with his selfless running proving to be tailor made for our fluid front three. However, this month`s award is very much a two horse race; with a photo finish to boot.
A very good friend of mine draws a monthly cartoon for the Gooner. (Murph`s Mirth for the initiated). In the last issue, he had an illustration of Arsene Wenger in one square saying, "The World Cup can see a player`s reputation increase." In the next square, Samir Nasri and Theo Walcott appear next to the manager, with the quote, "And here are two such examples." Though Theo Walcott`s reputation with the pundits still appears to be an uneasy one, his start to the season has been encouraging. It is a point of irony that, whilst being undeservedly taken to the 2006 World Cup was probably the breaking of him in the eyes of the press; his surprising omission from the 2010 World Cup squad could be his real breakthrough. With a proper pre season under his belt, Theo looks fit and raring to go. (It is a separate point of irony that England`s decision to play him for the full and U-21 sides last summer caused him such problems with his fitness. People are hung up on the notion that Arsenal inhibits young English talent, when it appears the national side do a very good job of that). His decision making appears to have improved, whilst the tendency to sprint off and leave the ball behind does not seem as commonplace as it has been in season`s past. His runs have been intelligent and it looks already as though Chamakh`s physical presence upfront has given Theo a real foil to work from, with Chamakh often dropping off into wide areas and allowing Walcott to make his runs infield.
However, despite Theo`s quicksilver start to the season, he narrowly misses the award. Instead, Tomas Rosicky takes to the podium. Always a player of undoubted talent, Rosicky`s Arsenal career has been enervated by injury. Upon gaining full fitness again last season, he began to look a washed up, shadow of himself. His once probing runs became cumbersome and conservative, the incisive passes became safe and sideways and he stopped shooting. Rumours were abounding of the Czech being quietly shuffled off to Turkey to reminisce about what might have been. I have to say the rumours didn`t trouble me much save for the sorrow of a promising Arsenal career petering out. But there were embryonic signs in the Emirates Cup of a player willing to take risks again. At Anfield, Arsenal were a goal down, dominating possession but not doing anything productive with it. Wenger sent for Rosicky and Walcott. Rosicky gave Arsenal direction, where the passing had been slow and sideways, Tomas began searching out strikers, whipping the ball into feet before looking for space to receive the ball back. It almost led to a quite brilliant equaliser when Rosicky, using Chamakh as a sounding board, picked his way through the entire Liverpool defence only to see his shot tipped over by Reina. When the equaliser did come courtesy of the keeper that had denied him so impressively, it was Rosicky`s cross into the box that allowed Chamakh to use his nuisance factor once again.
Rosicky earned sufficient corn with his cameo at Anfield to start the game against Blackpool. It was a game he absolutely ran too, playing in a deeper lying central midfield role (AKA the Cesc role). Pretty much every goal and every chance we created came from Little Mozart. His touch into the path of Arshavin for Walcott`s first goal was beguilingly subtle and weighted to perfection. It was Bergkampesque. It was also his through ball that sliced Blackpool`s defence in twain as Chamakh raced through on goal only to be brought down by Ian Evatt. He showed another subtle caress to put Walcott through on goal, only for the chance to be spurned. I was his invention that set Sagna clear on the right for Diaby`s goal. His list of touches and passes in the Blackpool game is endless. He came off the bench and into a quite different game at Blackburn. Once again his probing was impressive on the counter attack. I watched the full 90 minutes back on Bank Holiday Monday and it was striking how often he picked the ball up on the edge of his own area; on hand to pick up clearances and set counter attacks in motion. Without looking it up, I would imagine his pass completion rate, at a time when we were holding a narrow lead away from home against physical opponents, would have been close to perfect. In just a few appearances, Rosicky has convinced me to u-turn on my summer conviction that perhaps it was best for him to move on. This is the Rosicky of 2006, but a more mature version. Wenger said recently, "Last season was not the real Tomas Rosicky." He was right, and that assertion is even starker now that we have seen the real Rosicky again. Let`s hope he has the form and fitness to continue.LD.