Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Season Ratings: Midfielders

Alex Song

8/10. It's been amazing how much he's improved this season, attacking- wise. The unfortunate thing is that it seems to have come at a cost defensively. He isn't as sure in defence or as no- nonsense, often holding on to the ball too long and losing it in dangerous positions. His assist count is very impressive however and has been crucial to Arsenal's success this season and, in particular, Robin Van Persie's success.

Mikel Arteta

8/10. Brought in just after Fabregas and Nasri left and has had to fill the void left by Wilshere's injury. He's become one of my favourite players for the way he hardly ever makes a mistake, gives his all, is a lovely footballer to watch, plays it simple, scores a few goals, passes the ball well and his handling of responsibility and pressure has been phenomenal. He covers for Song a lot, his positioning is excellent and he has been so crucial to Arsenal's team, mainly for his keeping of the ball and his defensive abilities. He's been a vital cog that's improved as the season's gone on. He's been particulalrly good in the big games like Chelsea away, Tottenham at home, Man City at home and AC Milan at home. It's no coincidence that Arsenal have very much struggled to win when he hasn't been in the team this season.

Aaron Ramsey

6/10. He's a tricky one, because with Ramsey, you have to bare in mind that he broke his leg a couple of years ago and missed a year at a crucial time of his development (look at me, sounding all Arsene Wengery!) and is still really young. He frustrates me a lot but in the first half of the season I thought he did well. He had a great game at Chelsea in the 5-3 win, playing a lovely pass for the first goal. He scored a last minute winner in Marseille in the Champions League group stages and had a really good spell around October/ November/ December, including scoring in the North London derby at S***e Hart Lane. Unfortunately, in the second half of the season, perhaps because he's not been getting in the team as regularly due to Rosicky's rejuvination, he's struggled to impress and has been below par. He's another player, like Song and Rosicky, who has always looked better when playing with Arteta. So he'd get a 7 for the first half of the season, but a 5 for the second, hence a 6 overall.

Tomas Rosicky

8/10. What a rejuvination he has had! I've never known anything like it. A year ago we were talking about whether we should sell him or not, branding him a s'deadwood', but he's been sensational in the second half of this season. I thought he played well in the first half as well, he just didn't stand out as much. The only thing lacking from his game is goals, he's not much of a goal threat. But the way he drives the team forward, the way he creates space, the way he passes the ball, works very hard and does his defensive duties well is excellent. He's got a few assists and a couple of goals, but that's only half the story, anyone who knows football, knows Rosicky has been great since February.

Francis Coquelin

7/10. He's done well generally in the games he's played. A season of progress and looks ready to play a bit- part role. Good backup to Song and can play fullback as well. He's filled in well and played pretty well wherever he's played, even when asked to play out of position at right back and left back.

Emmanuel Frimpong

7/10. Similar to Coquelin, only he has played less. His red card against Liverpool aside (when he actually played well otherwise), he's played well when he's been called up to the side. Impressive against Man City in the Carling Cup especially and I think he'll look better when he's playing alongside Wilshere, whom he's very familiar with, as he showed at the Emirates Cup where he looked twice the player when combining with Jack the lad.

That concludes my midfielders season ratings. Next up will be the 'front 3ers' i.e. the main attackers, Van Persie, Walcott, Chamberlain, Benayoun etc. (Arshavin should be fun!)

Monday, 21 May 2012

Season Ratings: Centre Backs

I'm continuing my season player ratings- athon with the centre backs today. So here goes:

Laurent Koscielny

9/10. He's probably been Arsenal's most improved player of the season. He's been outstanding at centre back and I don't know how he didn't make it into the Premier League Team Of The Year. He's been playing in only his second season in English football and has had to deal with something like 19 different back four combinations happening around him, his centre back partner has been changing a lot and he even had to play a few games at right back, where he did pretty well. He's put in some terrific challenges, shown great attitude and defended like a warrior, whilst also notching the occasional goal. He was good last year, but often made mistakes, whereas this season he's been very good without the mistakes. Perhaps a couple of poor games early on against Man Utd and Blackburn, but he's also kept Arsenal in games at times and been a pivotal figure in the good parts of our season. His role in the equaliser against Man Utd at the Emirates epitomises his season, a great saving challenge, brings the ball out of defence and plays a lovely ball out to Rosicky and then about 10- 15 seconds later, the ball's in the back of the Man Utd net.

Thomas Vermaelen

7.5/10. He was sawly missed last season. i think if we'd have had Vermaelen fit all season last year, we'd have probably won the league. I once regarded him as the best centre half in the world, his 09/10 season being fantastic (especially baring in mind it was his debut season) and he hardly ever puts a foot wrong, whilst bailing the team out time and time again. But his performances late this season have been poor by his standards. He's made some positional errors and has been unlike his usual self, looking quite eratic at times. However, throughout the rest of the season he's been fabulous, especially baring in mind his early season injury woes as well as missing almost the entire season last season through injury. He's also scored a few very important goals, such as winners against Newcastle and Everton. His late season blip just sees him miss out on an 8, by his high standards.

Per Mertesacker

6/10. This was a player I was very excited about when he joined. i thought 'finally, an experienced, established centre half who I've heard of and who plays for Germany as first choice'. But he's been mistake- prone and has looked like a disaster waiting to happen at times. He's had a few decent games, but hasn't lived up to his £10 million price tag and hasn't played the way an experienced, first choice German centre half should do. He's disappointed me with howlers against Norwich and Sunderland, whilst having quite a lot of dodgy games where he got away with errors (like Sunderland at home and Tottenham away off the top of my head).

Johan Djourou

5/10. where do I start? Still not good enough, still needs to be sold, still embarassing, and it's shown AGAIN this season. Yet he'll still be here in a years time, with me saying the same thing. It's the Wenger way. He hasn't played that many games thankfully, but has looked dodgy when he has. He's mostly played out of position at right back to be fair, but he's still been pretty poor wherever he's played.

The other centre halves that have featured this season are Sebastien Squillaci and Ignasi Miquel, but both have only played a small number of games and have shown that neither are good enough. Both have been 5/10's and need to be shifted on.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Season 11/ 12 Player Ratings- Goalkeepers and Full- Backs

In this article, I will be rating each player that has played in goal and in defence for Arsenal this season out of 10. 10 obviously being the highest, 1 the lowest.

Wojchiech Szczesny

8/10. Someone who has come on leaps and bounds over the last year and a half and has been a massive part in Arsenal's season. His incredible penalty save at Udinese in August in the Champions League qualifier comes to mind, one of Arsenal's biggest games in years gone by and he managed to stop a very good penalty to make sure Arsenal maintained their strong lead in the tie. Not only that, he made another incredible save at home to Sunderland in October just before half- time to prevent Arsenal going 2-1 down, before we then went on to win 2-1. He has made a lot of very good saves, commanded his area very well, which has been a failure of Arsenal's goalkeepers since the days of Jens Lehmann.

He's made a few errors, which are stopping him from getting a 9, like at home to Norwich recently and the phase he has of very riskily passing the ball out, but getting away with it. Sometimes he has given it away and put Arsenal in trouble that way, which is probably the only thing that's stopping me from calling him 'world class' at the moment. He needs to stop doing that so often next season, because it puts the side in defensive jeopardy sometimes and it's bound to cost us at some point if he keeps doing it. But overall, it's been a great season for the confident Pole.

Lukasz Fabianski

6/10. It's hard to give Fabianski a high rating because he's hardly played. He's only managed a handful of games in the cups and one in the Champions League (where I think he made an error and came off injured early on). He's done OK when he's featured, we don't know how much pressure he's putting on Szczesny for the number one spot, because it would help Szczesny's performances if he was threatening to budge him out of the team.

Vito Mannone

5/10. He's only made one appearance I think, which was as a substitute in the Champions League at Olympiakos when he came on and was at fault for a goal. I've never really thought he looked good enough for Arsenal.

Bacary Sagna

7/10. He's been out injured for four months or so and yet still looked like one of the best right backs in right backs business. I've always loved Sagna and thought he was the best right back in the Premier League, as well as being perhaps the best right back in the world. He had a bit of an off- night at home to Wigan back in April but other than that has defended as brilliantly and reliably as ever, whilst improving his attacking attributes this season, as I think his crossing has got better. He also notched an incredibly important goal against Tottenham in the 5-2 win against them back in February, argubly Arsenal's most important goal of the season.

Carl Jenkinson

7/10. It's been his first season at Arsenal and in the Premier League, and he's impressed me. He's been playing back- up to Sagna, so has been given quite a lot of games this season, mainly at right back, while Sagna has been out. He looks defensively solid,reliable and quite quick. He's well built, strong, determined and doesn't take silly risks, a no- nonsense defender. He's also improved his attacking attributes while at Arsenal, inclduing his crossing, passing and runs forward. He looked to me like he peaked in the West Brom home game, after he had a good run of games, but then got injured unfortunately. But he's done well when in the side, especially considering his age and inexperience in the Premier League.

Kieran Gibbs

7/10. Like Sagna, his season has been blighted by injury but when he has played, he's shown real talent once again. He's my favourite Arsenal left back and agree that he's first choice material. He's been caught out coming too far inside on the odd occasion this season, coming too close to Vermaelen and leaving a big gap behind him, but other than that he's been very good. Like Sagna, he'd have probably got an 8 if he had played more games, he just needs to keep himself fit more next season/ He additionally notched two goals (Shrewsbury and Aston Villa).

Andre Santos

6/10. He's a good full- back going forward, but quite lousy defensively. A panic buy from Wenger in his summer of madness and it's shown. The bloke just can't defend, he isn't suited to this league because he doesn't have the determination, winning attitude or seriousness about his game. What irritates me about him is how casual and lackadasical he is in possession, he looks like he's just having a knock about in the park with his mates, trying to show off. He's quite dodgy defensively and has nearly been very costly on a number of occasions (Marseille away and Aston Villa at home in the league are just two examples). Having said that, he's grabbed 3 goals, a couple of which were very important and I remember him making a great block just in front of me at Wigan back in December to keep it at 0-0 (we went on to win 4-0) so he's had some ups, but I'm afraid he isn't really good enough for Arsenal, in terms of quality of defending and attitude.

Nico Yennaris

7/10. Obviously, he's only made a few appearances, mostly in the cups, but when he has come into the team, he's been impressive. He came on at home to Man Utd for Djourou at half- time when he'd been given the run- around by Nani in the first half and he managed to keep him a lot quieter than Djourou did. He played well at home to Aston Villa in the FA Cup I think and has looked pretty good when he's come in, especially when you consider he isn't really a full- back, as apparently he's more of a centre midfielder.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Bayern Munich v Chelsea: A win/ win situation

Saturday's Champions League Final is a win/ win situation for Arsenal football club and it's supporters. Either Chelsea lose it or Tottenham miss out on Champions League football next season.

Either of those scenarios works out for us. I personally want Bayern to win it. I can't stand the idea of Chelsea being crowned 'Champions of Europe', particularly when you consider how average they've been this season. We'd have to listen to their fans sing stuff like 'Champions of Europe' next season and they'd be able to attract top quality players to mount another Champions League winners challenge and a Premier League title challenge, hence making it harder for Arsenal to be able to do the same, due to increased competition.

However, on the plus side, this would mean Tottenham's season will not only have gone down the toilet, but it would have been flushed securely. They would be in serious danger of losing the likes of Luka Modric, Gareth Bale and maybe one or two others, as well as finding it hard to attract Champions League standard players. This would be very good news for Arsenal as it would mean they'd find it harder to attract the same sort of players that we would be going after, like Jan Verthongen, hence making it easier for us to sign them and strengthen. It would also make them weaker competition next season and make it harder for them in future seasons to challenge for Champions League football, trophies and the bragging rights of finishing above Arsenal.

If Chelsea do lose the final, they're looking at Europa League football next season after a 6th place finish this season, hence making them a much less attractive proposition for managers and players. Think about how hard it will be for them to attract a top manager and top players. They'll really struggle to challenge for trophies and long term success if they can't attract good enough players.

But overall, I would rather Tottenham be in the Champions League, than Chelsea win it. Partly because of the thought of a team I hate winning it to become Champions of Europe, but also because I see them as a bigger threat long term to our hopes of becoming title challengers and winners in the future.

So, either way, it's win/ win, something positive has to come out of the final, therefore we can just sit back and relax, knowing one of our most hated teams will suffer.

Ooh to be a Gooner eh?

Monday, 14 May 2012

Mind The Gap

During writing my 'Fine Lines' article on Friday, I fantasised about writing this article after the game against West Brom entitling it 'Mind The Gap' to signify the ironic twist of Arsenal over- taking Tottenham this season to finish above them after taunts of 'Mind The Gap' from the Tottenham fans earlier in the season.

And 3 days later, here I am... minding the gap... between Arsenal and Tottenham, the day after the annual 'St. Totteringham's Day'. OK, it's not the pinnacle of success, but it comes as a great relief to finish above Tottenham, who supposedly had their best team in decades, whereas Arsenal supposedly had their worst team in 20 years and yet still finished above Tottenham in third place with 70 points.

It's a great achievement really, considering the restraints the club have been under this season. At the start of the season we lost Fabregas, Nasri and Clichy and we've had argubly our second best player in Jack Wilshere missing for the whole season through injury. Add to that playing for a month or so without ANY full- backs, Sagna being out for four months, Vermaelen missing 2 months, Arteta missing a few weeks and having an unsettled back- line throughout the season and you've got a pretty good achievement managing to finish third above other teams who didn't lose vital players and spent a lot more money than us, like Liverpool and Chelsea.

Yes, we've won nothing, but it's been a season of transition. We lost our best player, Nasri and Clichy and had Jack Wilshere injured all season. This means we had a lot to deal with in terms of replacing those players and attracting top players to the club. Yet we still qualified for the Champions League and finished third, despite having such heavy competition.

This is not to say I'm all of a sudden a great Wenger enthusiast, because I'm not. He's at least partly to blame for our very messy, dis- organised start to the season when our squad had been slightly dis- mantled. But I'm going to focus on the positives today, because there are a few.

Winning yesterday to secure third means a whole bunch of opportunities and chances open up to us that probably wouldn't have had we failed to qualify for the Champions League. One of these, and this is the most important, is we have a much better chance of keeping Robin Van Persie now. This is because:

  • We are a more attractive club to be at because we're in the Champions League.
  • Because we're in the Champions League, we're more likely to be able to sign better players, spend more transfer money and pay better wages.
  • And if we do this, we'll be a lot better equipped to challenge for trophies next season and, potentially, future seasons after that.
Therefore, yesterday allowed these opportunities to be opened up to us. We can build a better team now, sign better players and become a trophy winning side. Even if it just the FA Cup or Carling Cup, that'd still bring us a lot of joy to win it and push us on in future seasons to win more trophies. This would also make us an even more attractive club to join, hence improving our future prospects in terms of winning trophies and becoming a more successful, better club.

It seems really silly to say it, but it's true, that's what yesterday's win did for the club. Things are looking very bright... as long as we can keep Robin Van Persie. And if I was Ivan Gazidis or Arsene Wenger, I'd be doing everything I could to persuade him to stay, because he is SO important to Arsenal Football Club, it's almost unbelievable.

We shouldn't be in this position, the club and the manager have messed up here in getting us into a position where we are so heavily reliant on one player, but we're here now, they can make up for that by persuaidng him to stay, and if they can do that, then everything is looking very rosy indeed. Oddly, perhaps more rosy than things will be looking for Man Utd infact. Chelsea too, if they fail to win the Champions League next week. Our competiton could be weakening just as we're strengthing as teams like Chelsea and Tottenham could fail to attract top players while finding it very hard to keep hold of key players.

So things are looking good at the moment.

Mind... The... Gap.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Fine Lines

Well it’s a massive weekend in the Premier League this weekend. There’s the title race in the balance, the race for third spot and fourth spot, the relegation battle and the Merseyside battle.

The most relevant to us Gooners is indeed the race for third. If Arsenal win, they’ll finish third, no matter what the White Scum and Newcastle do. I’ll be at the Everton v Newcastle game on Sunday, cheering on Everton, but more importantly, very quietly cheering on Arsenal in my mind, telepathically urging the ball into the West Brom net as many times as possible. My heart will be skipping beats whenever the scores come on the big screen at Goodison Park; it’s a good time not to have heart condition, although I might have one come 5pm on Sunday afternoon.

The reason for this is because, in my opinion, it’s Arsenal’s biggest game for six years. The biggest game since the heart-breaking night in Paris when Arsenal lost the Champions League final to Barcelona, despite a heroic performance with ten men for most of the game. If we fail to get in the Champions League, it could be catastrophic for the club. It could precipitate the departure of the clubs most important player in Robin Van Persie and it will make it a lot harder to attract players of a very good standard to the club, players would start choosing clubs like Tottenham ahead of us in the transfer market. And yes, that’s the other aspect, it’s Tottenham who are the most likely team to take our place, should we fail to beat West Brom on Sunday, which wold make it all the more painful and hard to take. Overall, it would be a lot harder to challenge for trophies in future seasons, or at least next season.

On the other hand, it could be a blessing in disguise. It could mean Wenger leaves the club and it could mean we start taking competitions like the FA Cup and Carling Cup more seriously and maybe win at least one of them. We’d also have a decent shot at winning the Europa League. But then again, it would probably mean Van Persie (and maybe a few others) leaving the club, while replacing them with players not quite as good. So it would probably be a bad thing.

If we win on Sunday, everything’s looking rosy. It gives us a better chance of keeping Van Persie, it makes us a more attractive club to join for other players, and we could have the chance to build a squad that’s capable of challenging for major trophies again. Players like Yann M’Vila and Jan Vethongen could be catching the Piccadilly Line tube down to Arsenal Station and getting off with big smiles on their faces as they walk down the road to the Emirates Stadium. Who knows?

It would also mean that scummy lot down the road would have to settle for the Europa League and deal with the fact that Arsenal are still officially a better team than them and that they blew a ten point lead over Arsenal and have the words ‘Mind The Gap’ repeatedly said to them by mocking Gooners and Goonerettes. Ah the sweetness that would bring…

In terms of what I think will happen, I just don’t know. My heart and my head are saying different things. I have a good feeling about it overall, my gut feeling is that we’ll finish at least fourth and get in the Champions League, though I just get the feeling I’m going to be happy on my way home on Sunday, which would imply that we’ll have finished third. I can see us losing, which is where my head interferes, it’ll be a tough game and Roy Hodgson’s farewell game at West Brom, so they’ll probably be up for it and it’s a tough place to go (as cliché as that sounds).

Overall, my gut feeling at the moment is that we’ll win. And even if we don’t win, I have sneaking feeling that Tottenham will sum their last 2 and a half months selves up by choking it and dropping points at home to Fulham. I also think the most Newcastle will get at Everton is a draw. The odd thing is, we could lose 1-0 at West Brom if Tottenham only draw and Newcastle don’t win and still finish third on ‘goals scored’ ahead of Tottenham as our goal differences and points totals will be equal by then. However if we lost 2-0, they’d finish above us, so it’s very fine lines.

But it’s all just speculation and I will be posting my official predictions on Twitter tomorrow afternoon.

Here’s to hoping that Arsenal manage to win at West Brom on Sunday! And whisper it, but if Arsenal are winning comfortably and Tottenham are drawing or losing, part of me may be wanting Newcastle to go and beat Everton so that Tottenham would finish 5th and stand no chance of Europa League football. My Dad wouldn’t like that! Though I do want Everton to finish above Liverpool for him, so that may stop me from wishing them to lose. But it’s a highly unlikely scenario anyway.

Come on you Gooners (and Everton and Fulham!)