Sorry for the delay Gooners – attempting to watch every single match of Euro 2012 certainly has taken it’s toll! Here is my final part of who I think should stay and who should get their coat.
9. Park Chu-Young: I’m sure I’m not the only one that was baffled by this one. However I’m probably the only one that’s actually seen him score a goal for Arsenal, in the Carling Cup v Bolton. I hoped this was the beginning, that he could potentially become a valuable player for the end-of-season run-in. Instead there were sporadic pointless ‘appearances’ on the bench and a classic example was the 7-1 against Blackburn. We’re 6-1 up with 30 minutes left, you’d have thought this would have been a perfect opportunity to bring him on, boost the confidence against a side praying for the end but instead on comes Benayoun and Henry. There are lots of cynical theories regarding him going around, but for me the bottom line is if he isn’t good enough ship him out to get on with his National Service. Go
10. Robin van Persie: What can be said about RvP that hasn’t already been said? An outstanding season, capped off with 30 goals and a glut of awards its frightening to imagine how our season would have gone without him, he was rightly the first name on the teamsheet. The last 18 months have shown just how good van Persie can be when his fitness is uninterrupted by injury, treating us to some of the most sublime goals we’ve been deprived of since Messers Bergkamp and Henry left. Even when he tired towards the very end of the season he still pulled out that cheeky penalty against Wolves. A world-class talent, it remains to be seen whether he’ll sign a new contract (and lets hope he does), but if we can get at least 2 of the other players to play with the same clinical intensity as him just imagine what we could be capable of? Stay
14. Theo Walcott: Another frustrating season punctuated with criticisms, some warranted and some not. Can show so much at times and deliver so little that he is another player who divides Gooners. In terms of combined goals and assists this was one of Walcott’s more productive seasons, and when you compare him to a player like Stewart Downing (and our own Andrei Arshavin – more on him later), he is actually a very valuable player. Of all the quick players I’ve seen down the years though he seems to be the only one where his pace looks like a curse rather than an asset at times. Confidence is everything, and it is disheartening to hear the crowd getting on his case. So it certainly was a highlight when he transformed from shrinking violet to clinical finisher in the 5-2. More of the same please Theo, you’re getting better. Stay
15. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: Was quietly frustrated at being held back earlier in the season, but what a decision that was by Arsene as like Benayoun he was fresh for the run-in. I remember seeing him against Shrewsbury and he was strong and had an eye for a long shot, very exciting to watch. Capped that performance with a great goal and has rarely disappointed in his gradually increasing appearances since then. His big moment came in the United game at the Emirates, when the crowd were incensed at his removal for Arshavin. He’s become someone that fans look to change the game – I admit regularly found myself watching the touchline nearest the Arsenal bench in the second half to see if Pat Rice was about to call him back to strip down and come on. The worry is that this is a lot of pressure on young shoulders, but the signs are that he is coping well with it. Another upshot of his good form is that it seems to coincide with Theo’s fine end of season end – perhaps The Ox’s direct nature is pushing Theo? An explosive start to his Arsenal career. Stay
23. Andrei Arshavin: Another underwhelming season. The 4-goal spree at Anfield is now a very distant memory. It’s a real shame, as many fans hark after those sort of performances, and for the longest time I always hoped they were just around the corner. At least with the 2010-11 season his goals/assists stats were actually quite good even with his ‘relaxed’ demeanour. Fans can almost forgive a lazy disposition if a player is coming up with the goods – but 1 league goal between August and February is just not good enough for a man of his talent. A low-point for me was 60-odd minutes into a match (I forget which one) the subs board went up and he appeared to run to the touchline, perhaps believing the number 23 was up when actually it was 29. All too often it would seem like he would run out of steam after the hour mark. Against United at home, I suspect the crowd weren’t just angry at The Ox’s removal – Arshavin replacing him also had something to do with it probably. A crying shame, as like many others I loved him when he first arrived – I’ve felt for a while that he needs a change of scenery, a theory backed-up by his more fruitful form at Zenit. Thanks for those times when you couldn’t stop scoring at Anfield, the screamer at Old Trafford, the winning goal against Barça Andrei, all the best. Go
27. Gervinho: For me a decent first season. After a Premier League baptism of fire (I’m pretty sure he’d never faced a player like Joey Barton before) he was playing well, there was a period where he couldn’t stop finding RvP in the box. Went off the boil a little bit but the killer was the African Nations Cup – that missed penalty shot down his confidence and he never equaled his early season form after that. The only attacking player at the club who almost appeared to travelling backwards when he was bringing the ball forward, he seemed afraid to shoot at crucial moments. Some of our greatest players have had worse first-seasons and a great start is no guarantee of a fruitful Arsenal career (see below) but if he can recapture his early form and eradicate his bashfulness in front of goal he will be an asset. Stay
29. Marouane Chamakh: The 2011-12 season not being a terribly good one for Chamakh would be an understatement. In fairness opportunities to start have not been plentiful such was the extraordinary form of Robin van Persie. However, he was on the bench a lot and when Arsene did send him on, there was always something lacking. Towards the end of the season it certainly wasn’t effort, preferring to help out in midfield when he could see he wasn’t being effective up front. Some people forget that when RvP was injured early in 2010-11 Chamakh lead the line very well, and I had hoped this was on it’s way back after the consolation goal in 4-3 defeat at Blackburn. Sadly I feel that, like Arshavin, he needs a change of scenery. Go
12. Thierry Henry: Even though it was a very brief loan period I’ve added him in to end on a high note, such was his impact. Despite the apprehension in some quarters as to whether or not it was a good idea to come back he proved to be the decisive element in two matches and topped off the 7-1 against Blackburn (although that has since been awarded to Scott Dann – bet he’s pleased about that). His winning goals produced fantastic moments of euphoria, the returning king’s goals-to-games ratio put the then-misfiring Fernando Torres to shame. His excellent start to the MLS season was the product of a great ‘pre-season’ at the Emirates. In fact, he was so good my Henry DVD is now missing some great goals!
That’s it for my look at the squad, probably lots to agree/disagree with there. From an attacking point of view it looks like some of my suggestions can come to fruition with the arrivals of Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud. Generally speaking though, I don’t think an awful lot needs to change. A few new players, clearing of the deadwood and a continuation of that winning mentality from the 5-2 onwards and I feel we can certainly push on next season.
Here’s part 2 of my look at the potential ins and outs of the squad, where I look at our midfield.
2. Abou Diaby: One of those players who divides fans; some say he is a decent player who has been unfortunate with injuries; others say that his injury record is such that it is about time we cut our losses. I have to say I’m in the latter camp and think we should cash in our chips. Quite how we do that though, I’m not sure. Has scored the odd decent goal but barring a Rosicky-esque rejuvenation, and given that trimming the wage bill would be a very good idea, I’d be happy to see him go. Go
7. Tomas Rosicky: He was about to come on against Swansea at the Liberty Stadium and I remember saying to my brother and cousin that we should just get rid, as for an attacking midfielder he offered no real threat up to that point. How wrong I was. What a second half of the season he had! First name on team sheet after RvP for me, and I was awestruck by his industry. Never stopped moving, like a typhoon in midfield. I felt with him on the pitch anything could happen. Cynics reckoned he was playing for a new contract, but what was even better was that he played like this even after it was signed. The best tribute I could pay to him is that I was more nervous about the Wolves game when he didn’t start, and I reckon his recent form is actually better than at any point in his Arsenal career. Stay
8. Mikel Arteta: I was annoyed when people dismissed this as a panic buy, as I’ve always rated him as a classy player. He turned out to be one of those quietly brilliant players, going about his business almost unnoticed…that is until he wasn’t there. It was no coincidence that Arsenal only won one match he didn’t play in last season, and it was not just due to his attacking element, but also his defensive-midfield work, which allowed Song to go forward. Without him, and with Song looking to play the ‘Hollywood Pass’ further upfield, the defence was horribly exposed at times. He’s no Fabregas (yawn), but still a very valuable signing. Stay
16. Aaron Ramsey: Thought he started well early on in the season, who could forget his last minute winner away to Marseille in the Champions League. With Nasri and Fabregas gone and the resulting added match time I feel he ran out of steam in the second half of the season. Despite this, I thought some of the vitriol he received from certain parts of the Emirates was frankly unacceptable. Admittedly he was making errors but he is an honest player trying his heart out for the shirt, and it seemed all the goodwill he had after his horrific injury appeared to have completely eroded from some. Hopefully he will come back stronger and confident after his Olympic experience and ram the boos right down the critics’ throats. Stay
17. Alex Song: A solid season from Song. His defensive game is well-documented, but he added a real attacking threat, along with the lethal Song-van Persie connection. Seems to have become a real box-to-box midfielder, although with Arteta out for the final straight of the season, his positioning sometimes exposed the defence. Feel he just needs to know when to play that ambitious pass, as too often he would try incisive through-balls rather than playing a simple and safe pass. Stay
19. Jack Wilshere: Such a shame we lost him for the whole season. And because of a pre-season match! We’ve really missed him at times this season, and I’m pretty sure Ramsey wouldn’t have had to play so much if he’d have been fit. Can’t wait to see him next season. Stay
26. Emmanuel Frimpong: A great prospect, just disappointed he seemed destined to get sent off at home to Liverpool early in the season, which during the match came as no surprise to anyone in the stadium. Saw glimpses of what he will offer though, especially against City in the Carling Cup (his battle with Nasri was funny to watch) and a productive loan spell at Wolves before his unfortunate injury. Stay
30. Yossi Benayoun: Another one who ended the season in fine form. He was frustrated he wasn’t playing more at the beginning of the season, and I must admit I was beginning to wonder what was the point in him being at the club. The upside was that he was fresh for the run-in. And he played brilliantly, full of endeavour and effort, a real threat. Rumour has it that he would rather go to a lower club and be in the first team every week – whilst guaranteed starts won’t happen at Arsenal, I still hope he will reconsider. He is a valuable player, too good to be wasted at Chelsea and deserves to be playing in the Champions League. Stay
Francis Coquelin seemed to cover in defence more than his actual midlfield position but has played well and has a fearlessness about him, so it will be interesting to see him push on next season.
That’s it for my take on our midfield, keep an eye out for the final part of my ins and outs, focusing on the attack.
We’re well into the close season, with the Euros imminent West Brom is but a distant memory. But who should we keep and who should be we saying “thanks for everything” whilst pointing to the door? Here are my thoughts on the 2011/12 squad, with a view to who should stay/go.
1. Manuel Almunia: Not a single appearance for the Arsenal this season, only one spot on the bench. Had some decent games, quite liked him for the reason that he was someone everyone could relate to. A man who ousted the better player through sheer hard work and a positive attitude. However, his errors were high profile and well-documented – he just wasn’t good enough to be a No. 1, none of the top sides would have had him. He goes with good wishes, but not before time. Go (already released.)
13. Wojciech Szczęsny: A solid second season, he has grown in terms of the authority and stature he possesses. And we’ve needed it, given the problems we’ve had in defence this season. I would say though that in the last few games his focus has been a bit lacking, his kicking a little suspect and he’s nearly come unstuck, booting the ball at onrushing attackers. That said, his shot-stopping has been immense and always good for a quote (see his post-match interview regarding his save against Lee Cattermole against Sunderland (H) for my personal favourite). We’ve still got the real deal between the sticks, and I fully expect him to right-fully assume the no.1 shirt. Stay
21. Łukasz Fabianski: Pretty much whatever has been said about Almunia can also be said for Fabianski. Has made the odd decent save but unfortunately he was far too inconsistent and as a result, he never inspired confidence in his defence. It is said that Fabianski feels that his international chances are being hindered by not playing enough club football. Given that the very same player stands in front of him at both club and international level I think its fair to suggest that he move on, if anything not to see his tormentor on a daily basis. Go
3. Bacary Sagna: One of the most consistent full-backs in the Premier League, I feel he’s back to his best after not the greatest season by his lofty standards. A player who loves the club and always puts in a shift, I never want to see him leave! Stay
4. Per Mertesacker: May have been quite surprised by the pace of the Premier League and it showed as he was exposed a few times. On the flip-side, I’m a big fan of Mertesacker’s no-nonsense tackling and there were certainly instances where he saved our bacon. His untimely injury against Sunderland was unfortunate as I felt he was just getting into his stride. Ok, so he isn’t the fastest but neither was Tony Adams – a good Euros and a better reading of the game to make up that extra yard and I think he’ll turn out to be a great player for us. Stay
5. Thomas Vermaelen: Whilst I must admit defensively he hasn’t covered himself in glory towards the end of the season, it must not be forgotten what a difference he made on his return to the side from injury in 2012. Winning every header, last ditch tackling and just generally settling and organising the defence, it was a pleasure to watch this classy centre-back at work. And that’s before we mention his goals…Stay
6. Laurent Koscielny: What an incredible transformation in the space of 2 seasons. In 2010/11 aside from a couple of games generally he was not strong in the tackle, looked out of his depth and had a lack of confidence. These words do not describe the 2011/12 version. Some of Koscielny’s tackling has been simply outstanding this season, and he just looks fearless. It is a testament to him that he is not just in the side to partner Vermaelen, he is there on equal merit. His metamorphosis has had me gobsmacked at times…it really has been a while since we’ve had a decent no. 6! Stay
11. Andre Santos: When he first arrived, he was one of those classic Eboué-like full-backs – decent at going forward, just not all that interested in defending. But the 5-3 seemed to be a watershed moment – not a very good defensive performance in the first half, an excellent goal later and it seemed to sort his defensive head out. I quite like his style of defending – text-book it ain’t, but you would not want to run into him. Always seems to have a smile on his face, just reckon he needs to be a bit leaner in his second season. A good start. Stay
18. Sebastien Squillaci: Another player who might as well not have been there. The writing was always on the wall – once Per Mertesacker was brought in, and with Johan Djourou already there, his slip down the pecking order was complete. Even with the injuries to Vermaelen and Mertesacker, Arsène preferred other options. And when his moment came away to Fulham, whilst he could have done more with the Fulham’s first, he gift-wrapped their winner with an inexplicable across-the-box assist to Bobby Zamora. Admittedly he had not had a lot of game time and criticism here is probably a little harsh, but I do think it’s fair to say for his own sake, probably best to move on. Go
20. Johan Djourou: Has actually been a valuable back-up in recent seasons, but unfortunately for him he wasn’t as good at it in 2011/12. In fairness to him he has been played woefully out of position, and it showed, culminating in his removal at half-time due to ‘injury’ filling in at right-back against Man United at the Emirates. To his credit I suspect he never complained about playing there, and you wish for players that just do what they’re told rather than challenge the manager. My gripe with him is even at centre-back I’ve always felt he was what I call ‘big-for-nothing’, easily beaten in the air for a man of his size. A nice enough bloke by all accounts, but if Ottmar Hitzfeld really thinks Djourou should leave and he happens to agree, (provided we have another centre-back) I wouldn’t stand in his way. Go
25. Carl Jenkinson: So you’ve mainly played non-league football, the highest level you’ve ever played at is League One, and now you’re playing at Old Trafford. And we’re not having a great day. Tough situation for any young player. Whilst eyebrows had been raised with his acquisition and immediate placing into the first-team squad, Gooners love a trier and he does give his all. And the positive soundbites and “My whole family are Gooners” stories aside, he is quite the crosser of the ball. He’ll not be replacing Sagna anytime soon, so I’m happy with him as back-up and who knows, could he be next season’s Koscielny? Stay
28. Kieran Gibbs: Continuing the fine tradition of young left-backs we’ve had at the club, always liked him. Yes, his injury record is not great but it’s worth remembering than he is still only 22 and will get stronger. My only concern is like the previous incumbent, when going forward Gibbs does at times leave a lot of space behind him. However, I think he is greatly benefiting from increasing Premier League game-time and will build on a good season. Stay
As for the other younger players, I feel that Ignasi Miquel is quietly building well on previous seasons’ appearances, and I’m certainly keen to see more of Nico Yennaris, whose lively 2nd half substitute performance against United at home certainly caught the eye.
That’s it for the back, stay tuned for my thoughts on our attack.
Morning Gooners, here is the second part of my season highlights.
4. Arsenal 3-0 AC Milan (Champions League 2nd round 2nd leg, 6th March 2012)
After a derisory, meek 1st leg surrender in the San Siro, the second leg was pretty much a formality. No-one really believed we could make the tie competitive, but it was an opportunity to restore some sort of pride, and perhaps give Milan a little fright along the way. And Arsenal certainly did, going 2-0 up inside the half hour. Once Robin van Persie had converted that penalty before the break the stadium was delirious. I was so out of breath I nearly passed out, and it was only half-time! We dared to dream of a historic reverse in the tie, and though it was not to be, at least Arsenal could leave the pitch with their heads held high.
3. Robin van Persie v Everton (Arsenal 1-0 Everton, Premier League, 10th December 2011)
What a goal this was. One of the early examples of that brilliant Song-van Persie connection. I was lucky enough that my seat offered me a great view of RvP’s volley, right on line with its direction. The long floated pass, the sweet connection with that wand of a left foot, even the way it cannoned in off the post, I was completely dumbfounded. Quite simply, world class brilliance.
2. Thierry Henry v Leeds (Arsenal 1-0 Leeds, FA Cup 3rd round, 09th January 2012)
It’s approaching the 70th minute mark and it’s not looking good. Arsenal cannot find a way through and Leeds are already thinking about a potential replay, always a game we can do without. Thierry Henry, the returning hero, comes on. Was this a good idea to come back? Would he be way off the pace in English football? Would he ruin his legacy? If there was a doubt about Henry’s prowess someone forgot to tell Leeds, who looked immediately intimidated by his presence. Then on 78 minutes Alex Song hits another one of those hot-knife-through-butter passes, Thierry reacts the quickest and rolls back the years with a classic trademark side-foot shot to send the Emirates Stadium absolutely crazy. When it was announced that he was on the bench everyone wanted him and only him to score. Henry did not disappoint and provided me with one of the greatest moments I’ve ever witnessed in the stadium. TH14 may have long left his throne, but with his subsequent performances, TH12 had come back to reclaim it.
1. Arsenal 5-2 Spurs (Premier League, 26th February 2012)
For me probably just goes ahead of Henry’s winner, simply because of the desolation I was feeling after half an hour. 2-nil down to a rampantly confident Spurs, typified by Adebayor’s ultimately premature post-penalty jig in front of us at the North Bank. At that point it was looking like this could be worse than the 4-4, and even surpass the 3-2 defeat last season when we’d thrown away a 2 goal half-time lead. Just before half-time Bacary Sagna and Robin van Persie drag Arsenal back into the game with a force-of-nature header and a sublime curled shot respectively. The North Bank had gone hysterical at this point, as instead of Tottenham running away with it, we were now in the box-seat. What followed was a complete destruction. Tomas Rosicky completes his rejuvenation with a deserved goal and Theo Walcott punishes them to hit the 4th. Typically, everyone around me wants a 5th to quash any memories of the 4-4 and Theo responds with another fantastic finish. We then had 20 minutes to bask in the glory and eyeball the Spurs fans in the away end (those that actually remained). This is the match where Arsenal woke up – had Spurs have gone on to win comfortably I’m convinced we would not have finished 3rd. This was The Turning Point, and a highlight not just of this season, but of the entire time I’ve supported the Arsenal.
So those are my highlights. Admittedly I may have missed out a couple that might have been on your lists (Mikel Arteta‘s strike against Manchester City, RvP’s late winner vs Liverpool to name two), but it just goes to prove that despite a having frustrating season we can still have the pick of some truly exhilarating moments. Thank God we aren’t Wolves, thank God even more that we’re not Tottenham.
Ooh to be a Gooner indeed.