Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Thursday December 2 2010
November has been a month of mixed fortunes for Arsenal. Successive away victories in the league and a brief soiree at the top of the Premiership have been offset by the bitter pill of a derby defeat and a Champions League campaign that has titled ever so slightly from its previously untroubled path. Home defeats to lower opposition have soured the gravy a little, but progression in the now super important, best trophy ever League Cup have sugared the pill slightly. As always, November has been something of a zoo in a jungle for Arsenal. With the team rotating heavily through the prism of three different competitions, contested in taut three day periods, it is always troublesome to pick a stand out player during a period of such concentrated action. Ironically, it is the Christmas period this year that sees things quieten down. The team has a tendency to rotate and even those players that do not rotate heavily will have a hard task in the modern game to play a blinder every three days.
Therefore, quiet consistent performers usually get the nod in November. That Arsenal have ground out tough away victories and lost most of their headline encounters would suggest that those qualities were more to the fore than any dazzling individual play would be. That said, Samir Nasri can once again be pleased with his month`s work, with another two goals to his name. Contrary to muffled grumblings, Andrey Arshavin has also been productive, a goal and three assists to his name as well as probably the best individual performance of the month at Villa Park. Sebastien Squillaci has provided some quietly authoritative performances, particularly at Goodison Park and Molineux. Bacary Sagna is a very close second for the November award. Towards the end of last season, Emmanuel Eboue was riding his coat tails, considered the first choice for home fixtures, with Sagna toughing out the away games. A combination of an improvement in the attacking side of Sagna`s game (see two sumptuous crosses for Chamakh, one at Molineux- converted, one at Villa Park- not quite) as well as Eboue`s wretched form mean Sagna is a shoe in for a starting spot. He has always been the definition of reliable in defence, but work on his attacking product- capped by a goal at Goodison- have moved him closer to becoming the complete full back.
However, my November player of the month slightly edges our erstwhile right back out. (Though not in the ridiculous hair stakes). Arsenal have the best away record in the Premiership this season; wins at Wolves, Everton and Aston Villa have underpinned that this month. The reasons for this don`t appear to have been discussed at length, but I think the attributes that Marouane Chamakh has brought to our forward line are certainly a contributing factor. To perhaps bring some context to this line of thinking, he did not start in either of our Champions League away defeats in Donetsk or Braga. (When he did appear from the bench in Braga, his knockdown for Vela should have yielded a penalty but for a referee who was, frankly speaking, a complete moron). An encapsulation of what he has brought to us was crystallized within 22 seconds of the kick off at Molineux, as Sagna could see the Wolves defence was snoozing. As he did for Bendtner`s 94th minute win over Wolves in April, Sagna swung in an inch perfect cross for Chamakh to head us into the lead.
We are already well aware of Chamakh`s qualities, his ability to hold the ball up, his willingness to cover when Arshavin or Nasri have drifted in field and Arsenal have lost the ball, his hold up play. Bendtner can bring these qualities too, but it is noticeable that Bendtner is 22 and still learning, whilst at 26, Chamakh is more complete, both as a physical specimen and as a man. He has allowed Arsenal another dimension to our attack, a cross is no longer seen as a cardinal sin. Not necessarily just in the air either, Chamakh`s prodded finish from Arshavin`s low cross in the ill fated North London derby is testament to that. But Chamakh is more Alan Smith than Emile Heskey, he doesn`t just encourage the aimless long ball. He can control the ball with his back to goal and a defender snapping at his ankles and find a team mate. Witness, his delicious flick into the path of Wilshere in the first half at Goodison, a flick that lubricated a slick, passing move. Or his lifted pass to Fabregas for the second goal in the same game. Perhaps questions can be asked as to how we utilise him better at home; comfortably his least impressive displays this month were against Newcastle and Spurs, but that would appear to be a team malaise.
The biggest compliment you could play the Moroccan is that Robin van Persie has been in and around the first team squad for nearly a month now but appeared for a total of just over two hours. Arsene has not felt the temptation to rush the Dutch striker back; Bendtner too has kicked his heels on the bench despite good scoring form upon his return from injury. Chamakh has been trusted to lead the line for this period precisely because he has been doing such a good job. Bendtner`s evident frustration is also the most back handed of compliments for Marouane Chamakh. He has recently voiced his exasperation at some of the rough treatment meted out to him from centre halves in England, but the important thing is that he is standing up to it on the pitch. It has been well documented that he has invited a number of opposition red cards and Arsenal penalties due to his penchant for getting his body between defender and ball. But preliminary concerns around amateur dramatics have not had cause to resurface. (Though he hasn`t actually dived in an Arsenal shirt as yet, he has, shall we say, "exaggerated contact" on a few occasions). Chamakh has been intelligent enough to work out that once the press decide something is worthy of attention, your card is marked and the issue appears to have evaporated. Chamakh is the sort of player Arsenal haven`t really had for some years. His worth has been there for all to see in November.LD.
August- Tomas Rosicky
September- Jack Wilshere
October- Samir Nasri
Date:Thursday December 2 2010
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