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Friday, 25 May 2012

Squad Review Part 3 - Midfielders

Song - our most creative midfielder

Part three of the annual squad review sees the eye cast over our midfield players, and how they've performed for the first-team this season.

Abou Diaby
I think it is now time to call a halt. We were told that the operation Diaby was to undergo last year would be make or break. He has tried to come back following his surgery on three occasions. On each of those comebacks he has failed to make it through even one half of football.
I've criticised Diaby in the past for his seemingly laid back attitude on the pitch. I see now that I am wrong to have done that. When Diaby was playing to his true ability he was nigh on unstoppable - strong, quick, skillful. He had everything you need for a midfield playmaker. I now realise that the times when he looked anything but those things listed were because he was suffering the pain caused by his horrific injury. It is now six years since a nasty little scumbag named Dan Smith took off with the sole intention of shattering Abou's leg. That one moment has robbed Arsenal, and maybe European football, of a top class midfield player. Dan Smith now plays non-league football. I hope he has trouble with sleeping every night.
As sad as it may be Arsenal can not go on looking to the future with Diaby. He has had his worst season yet in terms of appearances. If anything the surgery he had has made him worse off than before. I would like to see him retire now as it is more and more unlikely that he can ever come back and play properly.
We also must consider the fact that you can name only 25 players in the squad - what is the point of one of those limited positions being taken up by a player who never sets foot on the pitch? That may seem harsh, but business is business, and Arsenal have surely done all they can to get him fit. It's a terrible shame, both for Diaby and for Arsenal, but there's nothing more we can do. I wish him all the best.

Tomas Rosicky
It's been something of a Renaissance from Little Mozart this Spring. There were signs of a bit of a comeback in the second-half at Udinese in August, when he dominated the midfield. We saw precious little more of it, though, until February.
Rosicky has, over the last three months of the season, turned in to the player we thought we had signed in 2006. He looks at least a yard quicker and is beating defenders by running at people. His stats for goals and assists remain poor, but it is his play that has created space for others to play the killer balls to Van Persie. For someone so small, Tomas has also added some physicality to his game, and he has the experience to know when you might just have to make a foul on the opposition.
I had written-off Rosicky as an Arsenal player a long time ago. I read some of the blog from last Summer where I had him among the dead wood that simply had to be shifted from the Club. I suppose on some things Arsene still knows. I don't think he will be first-choice next season, especially if Jack Wilshere can get fit, but he has proved his worth to Arsenal this year. Good on him.

Mikel Arteta
I am willing to admit, from the results and performances following his injury, that Mikel Arteta is very important to the way this Arsenal team plays. I'm clearly still missing what it is exactly, but his sideways passing, and slowing down of Arsenal's attacking play is crucial. I suppose, in some way, I'm admitting to being wrong about Mikel Arteta.
One of the things with Arteta is that he is performing a completely different role to that he played at Everton. Credit must be given to him for having the discipline to not play in such an attacking way as he is deployed alongside Alex Song in Arsenal's midfield. Having said that, I am still incredibly frustrated at times by his complete unwillingness to pass the ball forward. Obviously there is a time and a place for holding possession for a decent time, but I do get annoyed when there is a simple ball forward available, only for Arteta to take another touch and ship the ball sideways to Sagna or Gibbs.
When Arteta does go forward he is capable of providing and scoring goals. He got off the mark with a trademark finish at Blackburn, and finished his season with the magnificent winning goal at home to Manchester City. I would like for him to do more attacking, taking the emphasis for doing so away from Song, but I suppose I should appreciate the role he is playing.

Aaron Ramsey
I think the boyo must be the most disappointing of the Arsenal players this season. Following his impressive return at the back end of last season many expected, perhaps unfairly, that he would kick on this year. It hasn't happened. Since Christmas he has looked more and more pedestrian, while his confidence has gone completely.
There are, in Aaron's case, extenuating circumstances to be considered. Firstly I very much doubt he would have played so many games had Wilshere been fit. The volume of matches, coming back from the leg-break, will have taken their toll on him. Secondly he was being asked to fill the role vacated by Fabregas. He is only young and, as talented as Fabregas was, I'm not sure he could have taken on such a pivotal role following serious injury at a young age (Ramsey also doesn't have Pires, Ljungberg and Gilberto around him in midfield). Thirdly, Ramsey had his World turned upside down with the suicide of his mentor Gary Speed, shortly before Christmas. That's a lot for a young man to contend with.
The season didn't start too badly for Rambo. He got the winner, with a typical finish, against Marseille in a crucial Champions League game, and was still a crowd favourite. The way in which sections of the Arsenal support has turned on him in the second half of the season has been distasteful to say the least. I hope that next season, after a good Summer break (and probably an Olympic tournament) he will come back and be the player we hoped he would be before his leg was shattered (something of a pattern developing).

Alex Song
For me Song is the star of this Arsenal midfield. He has been criticised for not concentrating enough on the defensive role he has in the team, but that overlooks the fact that, without him going forward, we would never cross the halfway line. Song's scooped ball over the top to Van Persie became a feature of the season. Towards the end of the season he was looking to play it, perhaps, a little too often - not every pass can be the Hollywood moment. As I said above, there is a time and a place for the Arteta square ball.
If there is a criticism of Alex Song it is that he still gives away too many unnecessary free-kicks. I agree entirely, and it's something he really needs to address. Given our weakness against the high-ball, it is particularly careless to give away free-kicks that invite such pressure on the defence.
There is work to do for Song, obviously. In the previous season he was in a huge comfort zone, knowing his only "competition" was Denilson. This year, with Frimpong and Coquelin breathing down his neck, he hit the ground running. If Yann M'Villa is brought in then it will allow Song to continue his attacking play, knowing there is proper cover behind him. Alternatively it will provide even more competition for his place. Either way I expect Song to kick on even further.

Jack Wilshere
What a shame. I am worried about Jack. This latest operation, this time on his knee, came out of nowhere. You knew the writing was on the wall for his season when Wenger told us he would be out for ten days immediately after the New York Red Bulls game, which was the last time we saw him. Being so young, and still growing, I fear for what a serious injury will do to him. Jack is so talented that it would be a tragedy if he were to never fulfil that potential.

Emmanuel Frimpong
Frimpong is all-action and 100% effort all of the time. The fans love a player like him as he gives it everything, just like we would if given the chance. What he lacks in technical football ability he more than makes up for with pace, tenacity and an absolute will to get to the ball first.
He was red-carded on his debut against Liverpool after a ridiculous first yellow which summed up Martin Atkinson as a referee. In subsequent appearances he continued to show his physical ability, but must improve his discipline in the tackle. I was surprised when he was loaned to Wolves, as Coquelin's subsequent injury left us short-handed in midfield. He would then suffer a season-ending injury of his own.
After suffering a second cruciate knee injury Frimpong is now facing an uphill task to make it back to the Arsenal first-team again. I think he would be better served in concentrating on his football than on his Twitter account, and I would hope that someone at Arsenal is taking him in hand over the stuff he comes out with on there. He is in danger, at times, of believing his own hype - this is always dangerous for a player who has done absolutely nothing in the game. I hope he can make it back again.

Yossi Benayoun
Benayoun showed how important it is to have experienced players as part of the squad. He ended up scoring crucial goals late on in the season, which only meant further questions being asked of Wenger as to why he Yossi was continually ignored during the awful run in January.
I always liked Benayoun when he was at West Ham and Liverpool. I would dearly like Arsenal to sign him permanently, but I suspect he is a on a very high wage for someone who will only be a bit-part player. He has also stated his desire to play regular football, and that is understandable. It is something he will not get at Arsenal or Chelsea. I wish him well, whatever he ends up doing, and I thank him for his massive contribution to our third place finish. Without Benayoun in the run-in we wouldn't have got close (though I was ashamed of the Manager when he made a loan player Captain of Arsenal Football Club in the Carling Cup).

Ryo Miyaichi
Ryo looked the business on loan in Holland in early 2011, and in pre-season he made a bright start to his Arsenal career. I think Arsenal wanted to get him toughened up a bit before throwing him in, and a succession of niggly injuries have hampered his progress (he is also coming back from a leg break).
I saw him first-hand in the Carling Cup and this boy is seriously quick. He started very brightly on loan when he joined Bolton but, as their relegation fight got more desperate so did their football. He ended the campaign on the bench. There is talk of Bolton wanting him back for next season, but I see little point in that. If Ryo is not part of Arsenal's squad next season then I hope he is loaned to a Premier League side for proper experience. He made his debut for Japan this week to round off a superb 18 months for a lad who had only previously played at school level in his homeland.

Francis Coquelin
Thrown in at the deep end (and surprisingly so) at Old Trafford, Coquelin turned in a fine performance. It is no coincidence that 3-1 became 6-1 within a few minutes of his substitution that day. I have been impressed every time I've watched Coquelin, ever since his debut in the Carling Cup a few years ago.
The two hamstring injuries he suffered have no doubt proved annoying setbacks to a young man trying to force his way in. However, the fact that he was moved back in to the middle of midfield for the West Brom game shows that Arsene clearly believes in him (he also started the game at White Hart Lane, having not played since Old Trafford). Personally, I think he is even better at right-back, covering for Sagna. Potentially I can see Coquelin becoming the new Lauren, eventually moving from midfield in to the full-back role. Whatever happens, I hope his future is with Arsenal. He has had an outstanding first season with the first-team.

Oguzhan Ozyakup
The youngster was, in the end, restricted to a couple of League Cup substitute appearances. Among the Reserves he is regarded as one of those who could have a chance of making the grade.
In the midst of an injury crisis Ozyakup found himself on the bench for the home leg against AC Milan. Early in the second-half he was sent out to warm up, and was coming on, only for Wenger to change his mind. After the game Arsene claimed to have had no midfielders on the bench. Who knows how the youngster might have performed given his opportunity of a lifetime? I hope he gets another.

Chuks Aneke
Another youngster who is highly rated, Chuks made his debut in the Carling Cup. I saw him play in pre-season and he certainly carries a physical presence. He was loaned out after Christmas and did pretty well away from the Club. I suspect he will go out on loan again at some point next season, before Wenger decides if he has a future.

Craig Eastmond
Made the bench for the Carling Cup, but failed to add to his first-team appearances. Eastmond was also loaned out, and lacks the quality required to succeed at Arsenal. Time to let him go and find a career more suited to his level.

I'll review the strikers in the Arsenal squad tomorrow. That shouldn't take too long. I will get that done when I return from a visit to Arsenal where I will be doing the stadium tour. Very nice.

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