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Saturday, 13 June 2015

Squad review part three - Midfielders

Spanish connection
Part three of the annual squad review focuses on the midfield players that have made the first team (and a couple who didn't) this season. There are a lot of them...
Tomas Rosicky
I couldn't work out why TR7 was seemingly frozen out when we were so poor before Christmas. The same applied in certain games later in the season when his particular brand of running at defenders might have been just what we needed on the pitch. In between times he was very much part of the set-up and was instrumental in some decent performances. He also got his share of goals from his fleeting appearances, with his volley at Brighton a real highlight. Arsenal have taken up their option to extend his contract for a further year, but I don't know if it's fair to keep a player of his age when you don't intend to use him as much as you should. I'm a big fan of the Little Mozart so I'll be gutted if he does leave. Whatever happens, he's been an asset to the Club, albeit one who has missed far too much football.
Mikel Arteta
The Captain didn't really get in to things this season. He has suffered with what seems to be the same injury since the last game of the season at Newcastle a few years ago. As ever he didn't let anybody down when he did play, but we've not seen him since before Christmas. Arsene described him as "available" for the FA Cup Final but there was never a chance of him being involved. Having given up his right to pick up the trophy last year it was great to see Mertesacker insist on Arteta getting his share this time around. As a player who has changed his game entirely for Arsenal he is more than deserving of another year at a Club he has come to love.
Jack Wilshere
If only Jack could stay fit. This time it wasn't so much down to his glass ankles as a terrible (and unpunished) foul by Paddy McNair as he was tearing Man Utd a new one from the middle of the Arsenal midfield. Jack is still a fantastic prospect and, when he can get a spell without injury, he is the man to partner Coquelin at the base of the midfield. I want to see him shooting more often - as he proved against West Brom he can score stunning goals. The business at the victory parade was of interest only to the media and the idiots at the FA. There is more talk of him being sold to Man  City than I would like and that would potentially be business on a par with selling David Rocastle. Jack should be our next Captain and that's that.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Another player who seems to find it hard to remain uninjured. When he is fit he is getting close to unstoppable. That run he went on that ended with the Monreal goal at Old Trafford was absolutely incredible. He has pace, power, skill and can score goals. I still believe he would be more effective from the centre of the pitch, but we have so many players competing for those positions. Out wide he is still outstanding. It was great that he was able to recover sufficiently to take his place on the bench at Wembley after missing out so cruelly last season. To come on and set up the fourth goal showed you just how much quality he has. He deserves a full season of fitness next time out and, if he has it, he could be the best English player in the Premier League.
Aaron Ramsey
He started with goals in the first two games and looked like he was going to pick up where he had left off the previous season. As it was he struggled a bit and, at times, went back to his old ways of trying to be far too clever with the ball instead of sticking with the simplicity that had been the hallmark of his success in 2013-14. I feel he is too concentrated at times on scoring himself a goal when it would be far better for the team if he just did the easy things. In the latter part of the season he spent a lot of time out on the right and, for me, that didn't do him or the team any favours. In the Cup Final, however, he had a very decent game and was instrumental in the pressure on the Villa defence that saw us retain the trophy. He should have another Cup Final goal himself, but I reckon the medal will be enough consolation. He is linked with Barcelona but surely only an idiot would go there knowing they have to replace Xavi.
Santi Cazorla
The little Spanish magician wasn't at his best when he played in the first half of the season. He didn't impose himself on matches and was often on the fringes. The we went to Man City and he ran the game, playing his best ever game in an Arsenal shirt. From then on he was pretty much superb for most of the rest of the season. His work rate became a joy to behold and he has learned to tackle players, often breaking up attacks around the edge of our penalty area. His quick feet are often mesmeric and he did chip in with the odd goal from open play in spite of playing a deeper role. He was named man of the match at the Cup Final and I suspect even he was a little surprised by that. Another man linked with a move back to Spain, it would be a blow to us if he chose to go home.
Mathieu Flamini
The man who should have benefited from the injury to Mikel Arteta didn't quite get the success he might have hoped. He got injured himself which let in Coquelin and, to be fair, at times he looked like a player who had regressed to the one who was at Arsenal years ago. I like Flamini as he never stops trying. I'd like to see him concentrate on his own game at times - he often spends too long directing everyone else and forgets his own task. At the same time he is an excellent squad man and the kind of communicator every team needs.
Abou Diaby
Yes, Abou did play a game for the first-team this season. His only appearance was for the League Cup tie with Southampton. He went off after about an hour and was then injured yet again. I saw him play in a Reserves game at Emirates late in the season and he was simply a class above. He is now out of contract and officially released, though talk remains of a pay-as-you-play deal. I've written about it at length before but it is a tragedy that his career was wrecked by that thug from Sunderland. Abou would have replaced Patrick Vieira, I have no doubt about that, and he would have gone on to be a World star - one of the Spanish clubs would have snapped him up years ago. I wish him well wherever he ends up.
Serge Gnabry
Serge didn't actually make it back to the first-team this season after a long-term injury. He played a lot of under-21 games in the last few months of the season and was around the squad on Cup Final day. He is now at a crossroads in his career and it will be interesting to see if he is at Arsenal or loaned elsewhere come September.
Francis Coquelin
What a season for this young man. Heading in to Christmas week he was playing for Charlton Athletic and clearly surplus to requirements at Arsenal. Then a plethora of injuries saw him coming off the bench for Arsenal at Anfield and he's never looked back since. Regular readers will know I've long been a fan of Coquelin but even I was surprised by the level of the impact he made. He really did turn out to be the missing piece of the jigsaw in our midfield, displaying a discipline and toughness in the tackle that provided the missing cover for our defence. Next season is the real test for him - can he go on from here and repeat his performances again? Can he get better? It could just be that Arsene Wenger, purely by chance, has found the replacement for Gilberto at last. And how he enjoyed Wembley!
Gedion Zelalem
When he was left out of the squad for the League Cup game I thought the writing was on the wall for him. He then came on and played in the Champions League at Galatassaray and played a few nice passes. In the under-21 games I saw him play I thought he looked weak and slow - not unlike Ozil does quite often. I'm still not sure he will make it at Arsenal and next season a loan spell will be crucial to his development. Jurgen Klinsmann rates him highly for USA but whether or not he can fulfil that potential we all saw two years ago is now a very moot point.
Krystian Bielik
He was signed in January and given a squad number despite Arsene saying he wouldn't be in the first-team. I saw him play at centre-back for the under-21's and I think he'll be more involved with the senior set-up from the start of next season.
Glen Kamara
Made the bench as an unused substitute at Galatassaray. Unlikely to succeed as an Arsenal player.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles
Young Ainsley ended up playing Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League football this season. He can play in midfield or defence and looks a physically imposing prospect. He is certainly one of the more promising youngsters at Arsenal right now, but he has sadly become known more for an apparent fracas involving his mother at the Arsenal training ground. A loan at some point next season will probably be in the offing.

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