Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Tuesday May 8 2012
April was a month which began with much promise, but ended in something of a faceless sludge, as a squad of players clearly fatigued by the season`s exertions began to stumble towards the finishing line. It`s worth noting that April began in fine style, as Mikel Arteta hit a sensational last ditch winner against Manchester City at Ashburton Grove. But ever since the little Spaniard hobbled out of the Wigan game, things have gone notably awry. The shape of the team hasn`t looked the same. Vermaelen`s forays forward once looked lethal, as did Song`s penchant for the Hollywood pass.
However, without Arteta plugging in for Tommy`s more penetrative tendencies and Alex Song`s general air of "I am the through ball king, all must kneel before me" dictating his play, the Gunners have looked more shapeless and fragile. A combination of better defending from studied opposition and battle weariness has even meant van Persie has looked relatively blunt in the month of April. (Relatively being the key word here). Even the uber consistency of Sagna has wavered. Largely, in my opinion, due to a lack of protection. Prior to his injury, Walcott began to shy away from his tracking back duties, whilst Gervinho is looking increasingly victim to an African Nations hangover. Chamberlain hasn`t genuinely impressed since the Milan second leg.
All of the above considered, there were really only two candidates for April Player of the Month as far as I`m concerned. I was tempted to opt for Yossi Benayoun, who brings a measure of responsibility and maturity in the absence of Arteta. I`ve heard him described as Arsenal`s Park Ji Sung due to the manager`s preference for option for the Israeli against big opponents. When Arsenal are looking to press and harry off the ball and play a possession based game on it, Yossi is the go to man and he can be pleased with his April. His pressing and harrying led to our equaliser at Stoke. Astoundingly, he made it back to his own penalty area before Vermaelen, Song and Santos as Wigan broke for their first goal on April 16th. He also scored a marvellous goal at the Molineux.
However, I can`t look beyond probably Arsenal`s most consistent performer this season alongside Arteta. Last August, Laurent Koscielny would have been considered by many to be junior to Thomas Vermaelen in Arsenal`s centre of defence. I think many would have changed their minds by now. Koscielny is such a breath of fresh air in the team because he considers defending to be his primary job rather than just an occasion aside to more exciting tasks. He`s a pure defender that loves his job. Recall his injury time karate kick block to deny Daniel Sturridge a last gasp winner against Chelsea. Sergio Aguero is one of the Premier League`s finest strikers. Anyone remember a significant moment from the Argentine on City`s visit to North London? Me neither.
You get the same from Koscielny in every game. If a ball breaks loose and needs sweeping up, he`ll bust a gut to run after it and put his swingers on the line to clear it. When a player is as quiet in the press and as consistent as Koscielny is, acclaim tends to be hard to come by. Usually, as with Arteta, such characters are at their most notable when they are not there. Koscielny missed the Wigan match through suspension. I hardly need to remind you how that turned out. Chelsea set up by playing quick, nippy strikers that looked to catch Arsenal on the break. Koscielny beat them all in a foot race. As evidenced when Sturridge had gone past the onrushing Szczesny in the first half against Chelsea, only to find Koscielny preventing any further progress. Stoke set up with big, physical strikers that looked to get onto long balls. They got no change out of the Frenchman (Crouch beat Vermaelen in the air for the Potters` goal).
Be his opponents pacey- Kalou, Sturridge- powerful- Crouch, Walters- nippy with good feet- Aguero, Balotelli- Koscielny takes on all comers. Arsenal`s record on conceding from set pieces is a marked improvement on last year and I think Laurent`s new found assertiveness bears partial credit for that improvement. It`s been a centre half blossoming that has been a delight to see this season. From a promising first season, which had the occasional mishap, Koscielny has gone from French Ligue 2 no mark to Arsenal`s dominant centre half in under three years. There`s a reason that some in Arsenal circles have christened him "Boss-cielny" and April has seen that consistency continue. Van Persie will clearly be voted Arsenal`s Player of the Season. But the French defender will trouble the podia. The wider press may not have noticed, but Gooners certainly have. LD.
August- Thomas Vermaelen
September- Robin van Persie
October - Robin van Persie
November- Laurent Koscielny
December- Mikel Arteta
January- Tomas Rosicky
February- Robin van Persie
March- Tomas Rosicky
Date:Tuesday May 8 2012
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