Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Monday December 5 2011
One of the greatest measures of how well Arsenal have performed during a calendar month is how many players are realistic candidates for the Player of the Month award. November provides a swollen candidature indeed. The assertions are of course that Arsenal are a one man team and, of course, the man central to that media line has enjoyed another fine month, with five goals and four assists to his name. Arsenal also didn`t score in the two games he didn`t start in November. But as ever, the press line doesn`t take the trouble to dig a little deeper into the truth.
As 7am kickoff points out in here the creative elements of the team are hugely contributing. To that end, Gervinho`s contribution is worthy of commendation this month. Theo Walcott too would be many people`s choice for November Player of the Month. A regular run of games in a team that now has a more direct approach (that is to say, that looks to get the ball to the centre forwards quicker) has developed his game no end. Ever since the goal at Stamford Bridge, Walcott has found a new lease of life and those frustrating "trip over the ball" moments are becoming more sporadic. The fact that he has provided 11 assists in 2011 points to a much better final ball and that was demonstrated no better than in the whipped cross for Vermaelen`s equaliser against Fulham.
Arsenal have benefitted from good combinations all over the pitch. Mikel Arteta has been central to that, adding assurance in midfield. Arteta`s pass completion rate is amongst the highest in the league and, according to opta, nobody has completed more passes in the opposition`s half (87% completion rate). He has also notched two goals in November; but it`s his defensive work as much as anything which has only just started to draw the attention it deserves. In a sense, Arteta is defining the redefined Arsenal. Less fuss, less frills, less brittle.
The return of Thomas Vermaelen too has contributed to Arsenal`s added solidity. Vermaelen is a player that just oozes class. I get the impression he could play any position on the pitch and not look out of place. Likewise, Alex Song is coming ever closer to the complete midfield player. He`s helped himself to a couple of assists in November too. Song can now plunder forward on occasion (which he`s capable of doing to good effect) knowing that Arteta will tuck in behind him. The piece I linked above also highlights the speed of Andre Santos` acclimatisation.
Though all of the above can consider themselves worthy candidates, all take a backseat this month relatively speaking. My Player of the Month for November has been building up a head of steam with form now for some months; often without the credit he`s been due. Indeed, after the last minute mix up in the Carling Cup Final, it`d have been very east for Laurent Koscielny to crumble. Even his manager publicly admitted in the wake of the error between him and Szczesny that "Szczesny is taking it a lot better."
The 8-2 humbling at Old Trafford could similarly have seen him go the way of Senderos and Manninger. Talented players that just did not have the psychological resolution to cast their mistakes aside. Koscielny, it appears, is made of the right stuff. I always felt he had the qualities, which he showed last season. But this season he has accelerated his development into a fine defender indeed. The level of determination in his play is eye catching. Against Manchester City in particular, where he fronted the £65m strike force of Aguero and Dzeko. The only time they carved the defence open arose when Koscielny was attacking a corner. His anticipation of situations is beyond compare for me.
He has already shown a tremendously brave attitude (remember last season, a goal we conceded at home to Fulham. Koscielny was heavily concussed in the build up to their goal, but still tried to play on as his legs began to desert him). He attacks the ball with determination, but also with calmness at the same time. It`s a potent combination for a defender; to be able to maintain that level of fight without losing your cool in a situation. It`s a trait I think he shares with Vermaelen.
All of this shows in the fact that Koscielny averages around 3.2 interceptions per game. His reading of the game and his desire to get the ball. It also means he wins a phenomenal amount of aerial duels. But in November, Kos has also had to learn to adapt to a new position. With injuries to Bacary Sagna and Carl Jenkinson, Koscielny has shifted over to right back and, again, he hasn`t looked out of place- presiding over wins away at Norwich and Wigan Athletic in an unfamiliar position.
As with many players, Koscielny is only just starting to garner the credit he deserves from Arsenal fans. This is largely because fans are sensitive creatures. The French defender was quickly written off last season and people really do struggle to give credit to those that they have written off. Increased usage of internet, plus social networking has led to everybody having a platform for their opinion- which is a good thing. But it also means there is more opportunity than ever for your words to be flung back at you when you make them a matter of record on the internet. It appears the coping strategy for this is to eschew the fickle option and just refuse to dish out the credit. Andre Santos is finding credit for his improvement equally difficult to come by. (Incidentally, this piece makes for good digestion on his improvement). The wider press are still to observe Koscielny`s improvement. We`ll acknowledge it here with the November Player of the Month award. LD.
August- Thomas Vermaelen
September- Robin van Persie
October- Robin van Persie
Follow me on twitter @LittleDutchVA
Date:Monday December 5 2011
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