Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Friday May 27 2011
With the dust gently settling on the window sill of 2010-11, it`s time to look back at some of the recriminations and the retrospective glories. It`s been one of the more topsy turvy campaigns I can remember as an Arsenal fan; for every Barcelona and Chelsea, there was a Spurs at home and a Birmingham Cup Final. Whilst the season must ultimately be viewed as a failure given our position in late February, it`s perhaps worth while rating individuals` contribution, or lack thereof, to the colourful kaleidoscope that was 2010-11.
1. Manuel ALMUNIA- The season could not be rightly argued as anything other than an unmitigated disaster for the hapless Spanish keeper. His skill set is not quite the perpetual disaster area some would have you believe- though not of adequate quality to represent a supposedly title chasing side. But playing for Arsenal is about a little bit more than quality. When Almunia has made mistakes, much like Manninger and Senderos before him- he has allowed them to haunt him and guide his every action thereafter. His Arsenal career appears to have been littered with a series of convenient injuries, which suggest he needs cosseting and protecting from the glare. Compare to Szczesny whose last minute bungle at Wembley lost us a Cup Final. His reaction has been to entirely forget about it. Almunia`s season will be remembered for a fumble against West Brom (mitigated perhaps by an elbow injury) and the last significant act of his Arsenal career was to go walkies at the edge of the Hawthorns penalty area. He looks like a man who has wanted this nightmare to end since last August. I don`t think he`ll have to wait much longer. 4 out of 10.
2. Abou DIABY- Perhaps the best summation of his season can be made in April. Against Blackpool, Liverpool and for the first half against Spurs, he was arguably the best player on the pitch. Then he got injured. Again. Against Fulham his prompting midfield play created van Persie`s goal, but by then it was too late. Michael Essien`s assault on an already terminally damaged ankle saw him sit most of the season out injured. Every time he came back, a muscle niggle sent him packing swiftly back to the medical room. The nadir of his season of course will be viewed as the idiotic red card against Newcastle (though the temptation to slap Joey Barton must be very real). There again, we were 4-0 up, you don`t expect a red card to hurt you quite so much when four goals clear in the second half. You`ve the feeling there`s a good player there somewhere, but I fear Dan Smith`s horrific lunge put paid to a promising career before it had really begun. 5
3. Bacary SAGNA- In a season that has fluctuated in ups and downs, Sagna has been something of a constant. Constantly fit, constantly playing, constantly performing. One of Arsenal`s stand out performers and one of the mainstays you would back not to explode like a Chinese firework when the pressure level rises. His crossing, a notable weakness in his game when he first arrived, has improved to the point that, slowly, everybody`s started to catch on. Even with his left foot, Banger can deliver a mean cross. In a team defined by its flakiness and inconsistency, Sagna has been as solid as a rock and one of the season`s huge bright points. 8.5
4. Cesc FABREGAS- Another season ravaged by muscle injuries, the toll of annual international tournaments and huge club demands have wreaked havoc with a season that has, nevertheless, still delivered so much. An assist every 171.6 minutes played this season give you all the evidence you need that Cesc is the utmost creative force in the Premier League. Without him, Arsenal look bereft of ideas. With him, the players rather give you the impression that they cower in his shadow- happy to pass him the ball then run and hide in a corner. Many have questioned his leadership skills which I think to be incredibly unfair. The point is he`s probably one of only two leaders (three if you count Vermaelen) we have. The manager made some pointed comments that the burden- and Cesc`s unflinching willingness to take it on- have been too much for him this season. I didn`t take that as a criticism of Cesc, more a criticism of his team mates who have allowed him to try and struggle with that burden. As Shay Given will tell you, you usually find your reputation is enhanced when you don`t take any risks, don`t try to do anything commanding and therefore, don`t fail. Fabregas has the potent combination of talent and a winner`s desire. To lose him would leave us reeling. 8
5. Thomas VERMAELEN- One of the season`s big "what ifs?" Having only played 5 games this season, it`s impossible to rate his contribution. But one can only wonder whether Arsenal`s vulnerability to set pieces would have been quite so pronounced with his organisational skills and physicality. He wasn`t as perfect last season as some would have you believe- he suffered maulings at the hands of Rooney and Drogba owing to a proclivity to get too tight to his markers. But it would have been interesting to see how he would have learned and adapted in his second season. "Thomas Vermaelen, we`ve missed him all year" came the cry at Craven Cottage. I`m inclined to agree.
6. Laurent KOSCIELNY- It`s been an odd season for Koscielny. Man of the match performances against Barcelona and Manchester United at home, no player has clocked up more minutes this season. That`s quite some baptism of fire for somebody that was plying his trade in Ligue 1`s mid table this time last year. On the other hand, he has given away, by my count, five penalties and been red carded twice. There was also the devastating mix up between he and Szczesny in the Carling Cup Final. However, I have been impressed by the raw materials of Koscielny. The manager said he was a broken man after the Carling Cup Final, but that did not translate into any of his performances. He strikes me as a guy that stands up to be counted and that`s a very desirable quality in a Premier League centre half. Koscielny has elevated the level at which he is playing twice in quick succession, which gives one the impression he`s a quick learner. A solid season this year, I`ve a feeling that he`ll have an excellent season next year. 7.5
7. Tomas ROSICKY- The season began promisingly enough for Rosicky; a mature player admittedly happy to be a squad member, he turned in some impressive displays in the early season- even bagging himself my August Player of the Month award. Rosicky`s charms have become more subtle, dropped into central midfield as the probing, passing sort that keeps the ball ticking over in the opposition half and makes the team play. Much like the role Modric has performed with such distinction for Spurs this season. However, as the season drew on, his charms became too subtle. His passing lacks the penetration it used to and having registered one goal in 18 months, he simply does not offer enough impact in the final third for the position he plays. Since February, he has been a ghost in the Arsenal squad, which suggests he isn`t longed for North London any longer. A same, a good player there, but one that has probably been forever lost to injury. 6
8. Samir NASRI- Much like the team themselves, a promising start that rather tailed off. Had the votes been cast in January, Nasri would likely have been crowned PFA Player of the Year. His previously intricate play had begun to pack a punch as he found the ability to burst beyond his centre forward and into the opposing penalty area. Witness his give and go with Fabregas for the goal at Manchester City; the threshold of his campaign with two beautifully crafted goals against Fulham. Each an exhibition of poise and technique in the area. A quick brain and quick feet. At St. Andrews on New Year`s Day, he and Fabregas might as well have been playing with their own ball. It was like watching Henry and Pires in their pomp. Nasri had become a genuine match winner. However, with Cesc not in the side, Nasri`s play lacked the same punch. As the season unfolded, Nasri was overshadowed by a fit again Robin van Persie. You get the impression Nasri has another small leap to make before he can claim to be one of Arsenal`s true indispensables, but nevertheless he`s made a massive leap towards that status this season. Working on the assumption of a 9 for the first half of the season and a 7 for the second half. 8
10. Robin van PERSIE- 21 goals in 22 games. A goal every 97 minutes- a comfortably better ratio than Golden Boot winners Dimitar Berbatov and Carlos Tevez. Goals in his last 9 consecutive away matches- a record and one that could yet continue. What more do you really want me to say? An injury robbed us of his services for the first three months of the season and even for six weeks or so after his comeback, he was managed with kid gloves and used sparingly. Since New Year`s Day, van Persie`s form has been unmatched. Right foot, left foot, headed goals (remember his towering header at St. James Park), conjured on his lonesome, latching onto through balls, poachers goals in crowded penalty boxes. He does the lot. Perhaps the only irony is that his free kick taking appears to have nose dived. But if Nasri was Arsenal`s foremost player for the first half of the season, van Persie was without peer for the second half. The interesting point though maybe how van Persie`s game might be effected if we revert to 4-4-2 next season? Van Persie has yet to strike up a convincing strike partnership in his whole career to date. 8.5
11. Carlos VELA- Started the season fairly promisingly, with goals from the bench against Blackpool, Braga and Bolton. However, with Chamakh in fine form in the early part of the season, Vela simply couldn`t get any game time. There appeared to be something of a stand off with the manager when it was decided he would go out on loan in January, with Vela preferring to go to Spain, whilst Wenger wanted him to prove himself in England. Then there was an unseemly piece of attempted profiteering from his agent that put the kibosh on a loan spell with Bolton. They got Daniel Sturridge instead and, it has to be said, they got the fatter end of the wedge there. Vela didn`t make the Baggies 18 for their last two games of the season. Which all but confirms his Arsenal career is finished. Hell of a lot of ability, but he doesn`t strike me as the type with the hunger to reach the levels of the game he could. Shame. 5
14. Theo WALCOTT- A markedly improved season for Theo, who has found consistency at last. 13 goals is a none too shabby reminder of how clinical a finisher he has become. Peeling off of the right flank, swerving his runs to perfection, Walcott`s very presence shifts an opposing defence back ten yards. For evidence, review Barcelona`s Maxwell staying pretty much camped on the edge of his own area, his shorts a foul shade of brown at the prospect of Walcott leaving him for dead. Perfunctory areas of his game, such as his ball control and his passing which were previously erratic, have been refined and his tendency to fade out of games is slowly deserting him. However, there is still room for improvement- he still gives a rabbit in the headlights impression at times. I don`t ever recall seeing an Arsenal player looking as scared in a match as I saw Theo at Stoke. His crossing still requires some work too; he still occasionally just lashes a ball in without looking. But the bottom line is that, when Theo is fit, Andrey Arshavin sits on the bench. That`s clear progress in a nutshell. 8
15. DENILSON Pereira de Neves- A season of regression for the Brazilian. The return to fitness of Aaron Ramsey, the emergence of Jack Wilshere and the consistency of Song have left Denilson feeling the distinct chill of shadow at London Colney. I don`t particularly think the 4-3-3 system has suited his qualities either; a 3 man midfield leaves our midfield trio with more ground to cover and I don`t think Denilson has had the stamina to perform that function since his back injury. Lack of playing time really hurts a player when they hit 22 or 23 and we`ve seen that in Denilson this season. He was hauled off at half time at the Hawthorns and never seen again. Judging by his recent comments, that was to be his swansong. 5
Part 2 coming soon. Don`t forget to vote for your Player of the Season in the poll at the bottom right of the page. I will do a write up on your winner- whoever it be.LD.
Follow me on twitter @LittleDutchVA
Date:Friday May 27 2011
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