February Player of the Month
Picking a Player of the Month for February is once again a difficult task. I conducted a quick straw poll via the twitter earlier today and drew a cornucopia of varied responses. February has been a strange month. Three very satisfying league wins have been overshadowed somewhat by two very meek surrenders in cup competitions. In terms of individual performances, there have been few standouts. The return of Bacary Sagna has given our backline a semblance of balance again. Laurent Koscielny continues to look like one of the finest defenders in the league.
Mikel Arteta is, I`m told, the first Premiership player to arrive at 15,000 completed passes for the season; which gives you a mere snapshot of his worth. The form of Tomas Rosicky has seen him move from occasional squad player to bona fide first teamer. I nearly opted for sentiment and opted for Thierry Henry, who left us on a jet place once again this month. Though there are no hard and fast rules around the Player of the Month award, I did vow to myself not to make awards based on sentiment. I confess to sometimes looking to a player who has consistently applied good form over a longer period than a month by way of ongoing recognition- which goes some way to explaining the award given to Arteta in December and Rosicky in January.
For that reason I nearly opted for Alex Song, who has 8 assists this year and completes an average of 0.8 through balls per game- the highest in the league. Arsenal often face congested midfields, a problem Aaron Ramsey has probably encountered. Song`s newfound ability to find a ball from deep where he is pressed less than his colleagues has been a potent weapon. However, the point of Player of the Month is to, quite simply, select the individual that has played the best. I simply cannot look past Robin van Persie. This is the 9th van Persie takes the award since August 2007. Robin is identified by all and sundry as our main threat and has found himself heavily marked as a result.
Despite the feverish attention of opposition defenders, he still manages to make an impact. In a fairly staid performance at the Reebok Stadium, the Gunners were struggling to create in the second half. The only time they really came close after the interval was due to a beautiful turn and dragback, followed by a right footed chip which had Bogdan beaten before it clanked off of the crossbar. In the following fixture against Blackburn Rovers, the captain was at his poaching best again. Two six yard box tap ins in the first half following the sort of movement that creates such easy chances. Walcott the provider on both occasions, but van Persie makes himself so easy to pick out.
In the event that the chance requires more than a tap in though, van Persie can always provide. Again responding to a right wing cross in the second half, this time from Coquelin, having shown his putting abilities, van Persie opted for the open faced wedge, tilting his boot at the moving ball and wedging it into the top corner with his right foot. Finishes of this class have become his trademark. Two years ago, Arsene offered that van Persie combines the technical élan of Bergkamp with the killer instinct of Henry. You can see exactly what caused him to forge that effusive conclusion.
In Milan, the captain was the only Arsenal player to leave with a smidgen of credit. The only moments of danger and quality from a beleaguered Arsenal came, predictably, from the Dutchman. First when Henry flicked Song`s pass into his path. The ball rose high and you just knew van Persie`s connection would be true, so consistent is the quality of his connection. Sure enough his volley was only thwarted b a fine save. He also found himself foiled from a difficult header from Chamberlain`s cross. Arsenal mustered three shots on target, all from van Persie. None of them were easy chances. Essentially, he did his job. In the cup game at Sunderland, he cut a frustrated figure in a midfield that was easily stymied, yet his clever reverse pass for Gervinho yielded our only chance of the game.
Then we come to the North London derby. Van Persie appeared to take Tottenham`s early ascendancy personally, attempting to drag Arsenal back into the game single handedly. A couple of close shots and a dented post attest as much at 0-2. The equaliser was a moment of quality that only he could provide you. The strength, the touch, the control, the pivot and the inch perfect shot. Only van Persie could have applied such technique, but big players produce that sort of skill at the right time. It`s all very well chipping a goalkeeper when you`re 3-0 up (cough Carlos Vela, cough, cough). But to demonstrate such grace under fire is the mark of world class. Van Persie is easily fitting of that description. His movement caused the Spurs defence to part for Walcott for Arsenal`s 4th too.
I`ll confess it`s almost tedious to write POTM articles for van Persie. It would be difficult to expand on his qualities were he not able to provide a new treasure trove of goals and skills to get you purring every month. Witness his bewildering ball control in the centre circle in the Spurs game that had Sandro, Parker and Modric all swiping at thin air. Put simply, I think he`s the best player currently not participating in an El Clasico. I hope he`s still not involved in that fixture this time next year. LD.
August- Thomas Vermaelen
September- Robin van Persie
October- Robin van Persie
November- Laurent Koscielny
December- Mikel Arteta
January- Tomas Rosicky