Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Monday January 3 2011
At this stage of the season, selecting a player of the month is a troublesome task. A congested seasonal fixture list precipitates the need for squad rotation whilst, this year, hazardous conditions have led to games being postponed, which left a fortnight hole searing gently in the December calendar. The calm before the storm of four games in nine days. Indeed in the Wigan and Birmingham matches, Arsene Wenger made eight changes a piece. This renders it a curious task to choose one player who has stood out consistently amongst a tempest of transition. Bacary Sagna has started in every game this month and comes close to the December award by virtue of a consistency of performance which he has maintained since August. Emmanuel Eboue briefly challenged for Sagna`s place last season, but Banger has picked up the pace and shown the Ivorian a clean pair of heels in the race for the right back spot. A revealing glimpse of the value of competition within a squad.
Johan Djourou can likewise be pleased with his December, even though he has not clocked up half the minutes managed by Sagna. Towering performances against Fulham and Chelsea appear to have nudged him into pole position as one of the team`s first choice centre backs. Shackling Didier Drogba is a task few other Arsenal defenders can claim to have performed so diligently in recent years. Alex Song`s metamorphosis into the complete midfield player appears to become more apparent by the game. However, the winner for December Player of the Month is a man that has troubled the judging committee (errr, me) for every single award so far this season. One has the feeling that, based on current form, the PFA Player of the Year award will be making its way to North London at the end of the season, the question would be whether it ends up on Gareth Bale`s mantelpiece or that of Samir Nasri. The transformation in the French winger since last season has been marked. Last season I persistently wrote that Nasri is a player of exceptional talent that appears too afraid of taking risks. As I write now, he has 13 goals this season.
Obviously the Fulham match at the beginning of December went a long way to bagging him the award. It was a rare example of a player in a top flight match pulling the team by the scuff of the neck and winning a match all by himself. In these days of hyperbole and congratulation, one has to steel oneself and realise that there are genuinely very few players in the world capable of doing that. Both goals in that game were things of beauty, touch and composure, speed of thought. For the second goal, the crowd audibly slumped when Nasri stumbled round Schwarzer, believing he had gone too far and that the chance had passed. But Samir had the presence of mind to spin his body into an angle whereby he could cut the ball into goal. Two of the main improvements in the player this season crystallized in one swivel of the hips. Firstly, the willingness to take responsibility, unafraid of failure, he was willing to try and audacious effort in a tight game. Secondly, his subtlety and sleight of foot. He is an incredibly intelligent player on the ball, able to guide passes and change direction with a barely visible flurry of the body. Nasri is one of those rare players that can fool the spectators` eyes as they watch him. You can sit and see him take an opponent on, only to find your eyes have momentarily lost sight of the ball because he has changed the direction of body and / or ball so deceptively.
His goal against Partizan Belgrade is the perfect example of what I am talking about. I saw the replay of that goal in the stadium five or six times and even then believed that he had misjudged a flick towards Alex Song in the build up to the goal. I had to see it at the comfortable proximity of my own laptop later on to realise that he had actually foxed the defenders by feinting to flick to Song, before flicking his body round to lash the ball into the bottom corner. There are also signs of a burgeoning axis being formed between Fabregas and Nasri. Though I am confused as to why so much surprise has been expressed over this. My guess is that Arsenal fans are preparing themselves for Cesc`s departure to the extent that any other creative influence on the side is seen as a quick fix replacement for Fabregas, as opposed to a partner. Fabregas is a player that can form partnerships with anyone because, well because he`s really quite good. It`s no coincidence that the careers of Adebayor, Hleb and Flamini have taken a tumble down the khazi without his influence and service. Good players can always play together given time.
This season has seen Nasri turn from a cog in our wheel to a bona fide match winner. He has been in England for two and a half years now, having just turned 23 and is hitting an age where talent begins to ally with consistency. I watched Aliaksandr Hleb solemnly warming up to my left on the touchline on Saturday and could not but help wonder whether Hleb wondered if he might have blossomed into the sort of player Nasri has become given more time under Wenger`s tutelage. Though Wenger`s extraordinary guidance of yet another young rough gem into a polished jewel is not to be overlooked (and it is too often overlooked nowadays, so familiar has Wenger become due to length of tenure), Nasri`s current form should serve as a stark reminder to anybody who still believes international football is worth casing. Lest we forget that Nasri was omitted from France`s shambolic World Cup showing and I have seen nothing but good emanate from that extra rest and added impetus that a summer on the beach and the training field gave him. If Alex Hleb was looking on on Saturday wondering if Samir Nasri is now the player he could have been, maybe Nasri can glance up at the legacy of Robert Pires, up on its gilded pedestal and use it as something to aspire to.LD.
August: Tomas Rosicky
September: Jack Wilshere
October: Samir Nasri
November: Marouane Chamakh
Date:Monday January 3 2011
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John Henry: We Ignored Suarez Clause (Monday March 3 2014)
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