April Player of the Month
Ordinarily, in a month as trying as this April has been, choosing a Player of the Month is an onerous task. However, despite the stuttering conclusion to our title bid in a month which has seen us garner a solitary win, I find the choice quite a straightforward one. There are really only two candidates- possibly three if I acknowledge that Bacary Sagna has maintained his freakish consistency. Though he has yet to win a Player of the Month award this year, he might find the ultimate accolade of Player of the Season should soften that doubtless devastating blow to his sense of self worth. But in a month where most have toiled and struggled and looked anxious, heavy legged and weary of mind, Arsenal`s two leading lights have stood apart.
Robin van Persie is on a run of 20 goals in 21 games for club and country since New Year`s Day. On Sunday he broke a Premiership record by scoring in a seventh consecutive domestic away fixture. He has 19 goals and 7 assists in 29 appearances this season. In April, he found the net 4 times in 5 games, in the one game in which he didn`t score, Arsenal didn`t score. It`s pretty impossible to overstate his importance to us and well worth considering just where he ranks in the pantheon of world strikers. Van Persie does not need many chances to score a goal and he doesn`t need much of an angle to try a shot. In a month where our build up play has looked a little laboured, van Persie`s ruthlessness is one of the main reasons we`ve been in the title picture for as long as we have been. For me, he`s one of the few players whose confidence has looked unaffected in the last two months. But April`s accolade doesn`t go to the vice captain, but his superior ranking officer.
Football supporters have become so precious and sensitive nowadays that when a player hurts our ickle feelings by considering leaving, we adopt the infant attitude of saying, "Fine, didn`t like you anyway!" As such I have seen questions raised about Fabregas` quality and leadership this last month. I find it to be palpable nonsense. If Fabregas toils in either area (which he absolutely, positively does not) it`s because he shoulders the burden of being our only creative force. The only player that has the ability to unpick ten man defences, be it via a defence splitting pass or marauding run. It`s because he`s one of the only true leaders we have. People make the mistake of thinking leadership amounts to a pumping of the fists and a grimace. Not always, captains also lead by example. When the chips are down or we`re trailing a game, nobody runs further, nobody tries harder. In fact, I think there is an issue with other players rather sitting back and expecting him to do it on his lonesome, when really they should be following his example.
Fabregas has provided an assist for a team mate for every 171.6 minutes played this season. Far and away the most productive rate in the Premiership. I think one of the main issues with the team at the moment is that nobody in the Arsenal side comes close to that rate of creation. The ideas and inspiration department is his and his alone. I mentioned earlier that the only game in which van Persie didn`t score this month was the only game in which Arsenal didn`t. There is a further slab of evidence in that game too; it was the only game this month Cesc Fabregas did not start. Against Blackpool I lost count of the amount of times he split Blackpool`s- admittedly poor- defence in half by playing lofted balls over the shoulder of the Tangerines centre halves. He saw a weakness and hit it time and time and time again. It was like watching Rafael Nadal practising his serve.
Against Liverpool Cesc was far from his best. In fact, it was one of his poorer games this season. Yet how did the injury time penalty that should have won us the game come about? Fabregas driving into the area and avoiding tackles in the tightest spaces. That`s the point with Fabregas, his consistency is freakish. But even on the very rare occasions his performance isn`t up to scratch, he still gives you a match changing contribution. Even I sometimes think I have come away from a game having seen Cesc play below his lofty standards. But when I comb through the highlights package and scribble my notes for my match reports, his name appears on the page at every attack. I would venture that this month, I`ve probably written his name more times than I`ve written my own. Two more assists against Spurs had the ink from my pen re-etching that oft jotted name.
Similarly against Bolton, when Arsenal looked one paced in the face of a packed defence, it was he who took shots from range- both of which were less than an inch away from scoring. He set up van Persie`s equaliser. Once the Dutchman`s shot had hit the net, he ran to the net, scooped the ball out and waved his team mates back to the halfway line. When the game was drifting away in the latter stages, he was making the lung bursting runs forward into the box, taking defenders on, looking for the defence splitting passes. In my time watching Arsenal, I simply don`t recall a player that was so important to an Arsenal side as Cesc Fabregas is now. He marries his quality with a desire unsurpassed by any other player. The phrase "winning mentality" is etched into the Arsenal lexicon at the moment, if such a thing exists, then Fabregas has it in spades. In a month when the team have looked jaded and anxious, Fabregas has still produced. He simply always does.LD.
August- Tomas Rosicky
September: Jack Wilshere
October- Samir Nasri
November- Marouane Chamakh
December- Samir Nasri
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January- Cesc Fabregas
February- Robin van Persie
March- Jack Wilshere
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