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Thursday, 26 May 2016

Squad Review Part Three - Midfielders

How we missed these two

The third part of the annual end of season odyssey sees my take on the midfield players in the Arsenal squad this season. There are a lot of them so let's get on with it.

Tomas Rosicky
TR7 was kept on for another year as Wenger exercised the option to extend his contract. Unfortunately he was once again absent for almost the entire campaign due to injury. That has been a consistent theme during his ten years with Arsenal which is such a shame when you consider the ability of the man. I was upset that he wasn't given a place on the bench for the Villa game so that he could get his much warranted crowd ovation. He did get a silver cannon for his contribution to Arsenal and the esteem he is held in by the other players was clear when they formed a guard of honour for him wearing his shirt. Thanks Tom and good luck. Hopefully we'll see him back in September for the game against AC Milan legends.

Mikel Arteta
The Arsenal Captain was largely restricted to writing his programme notes for most of the season. His only starts were in the Champions League and League Cup while a seemingly chronic calf problem kept him out for most of the time. It looked for a while that his swansong would be a less than convincing contribution to the defeat at West Brom. Thankfully he was granted the chance that Rosicky didn't get and he came on to a hero's welcome with a few minutes remaining against Villa. That his final touch as a professional footballer (Arteta has retired as a player) should be to score a goal was a great way to finish - I refuse to acknowledge it as an own-goal by the Villa goalkeeper. It was incredible to see the normally unflappable Arteta in floods of tears at the end of the game. He has served us brilliantly since joining from Everton, adapting his game unselfishly to suit the needs of the team. I don't begin to understand why Wenger can't find a place for him on a coaching staff that includes the likes of Banfield and Primorac, so he leaves with all our good wishes. Thanks Mikel, you've been a fine Arsenal Captain - class in every way.

Jack Wilshere
Another season wrecked by injury and tarnished by unwanted headlines for his behaviour when out and about. I can only hope he isn't going to waste his brilliant talent simply because he can't get through his head that he has a responsibility as a professional footballer. I love Jack and he was a stick-on for the England squad as long as he could get fit before the season ended. Any idiot doubting why he is there has never seen him play - Jack is THAT good. His presence at Euro 2016, assuming he doesn't get injured again, could actually benefit us going in to the new season as he will be fit and ready to hit the ground running. For me he should be the new Arsenal Captain, but it isn't going to happen.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
The Ox had a great start to the season with the winning goal at Wembley against Chelsea. It was all set up for him to run through this season and be the star player we all know he should be. Instead he has seemingly gone backwards. Joel Campbell correctly took his place in the side for a while and Alex has looked a forlorn figure when he has played. At the same time it is a cruel blow that injury has seen him miss another international tournament, though I'm not sure his form would have got him in anyway as it's turned out. He has been linked with a move to Leicester but I would be annoyed if he was allowed to leave - there is still time for The Ox to make it big at Arsenal but he has to stay fit and fight for his place.

Aaron Ramsey
This bloke frustrates me more than any other Arsenal player right now. We know he can do it but he insists on trying to be too clever at every turn. I'm sick of the back-heels and fancy flicks which consistently see us lose the ball. Of course one of them came off in great style at Tottenham with his magnificent goal there but that was the exception to the rule. Wenger seems determined to shoe-horn him in to the side in any way he can, regardless of the detrimental effect on the way the team plays. He slows us down going forward and doesn't work hard enough in defence. His lack of pace also shows him up in the Arsenal midfield and he often looks like he's wading through treacle when in a straight race for the ball. Of all the players in the Arsenal squad Ramsey is the one I wouldn't be upset to see leave. Controversial? Only among those who don't go regularly.

Santi Cazorla
How we missed the little Spanish wizard. I have to say that, up to the point of his injury, I felt he wasn't playing as well as the previous season. The 3-0 home win over Man Utd was an exception in that run where he was outstanding. However, once he was out of the team you began to realise how good he is. For someone so small he never shies away from a tackle and his quick feet get us going forward. He can beat a man which immediately creates space for himself and others. When he was finally back for the last game of the season we saw what we've been missing. It's a shame for him that he has been overlooked by Spain thanks to his injury. Maybe that will serve as motivation for him to show his best again next season.

Mathieu Flamini
Wenger said at the start of the season that he wouldn't play. Flamini stayed nevertheless. Within a month he had scored two goals, one a fantastic volley, to beat Tottenham at White Hart Lane and his song was sung long and loud by the travelling Gooners. He ended up playing fairly regularly, or at least being in the match day squad, for most of the rest of the season. You can never fault Flamini's desire and effort. He was unfairly pilloried for the penalty at home to Barcelona. If all the players put in the work that Flamini does then maybe we might still have won the Title. He's done really well in both his spells at Arsenal as far as I'm concerned and I wish him all the best. And if he does become a billionaire through his business interests I hope he comes back and buys Arsenal off the disinterested American.

Francis Coquelin
The other man we missed badly once he was injured. We all knew it was a gamble to go in to the season without signing a genuine back-up or competition for Coquelin. Wenger didn't do it and it cost us. When he did come back he missed Cazorla alongside him at times, but why he was dropped for a number of games I just can't work out - my suspicion is that he probably had a word or two to say to the slackers in the squad and we all know Arsene doesn't like that sort of thing. The signing of Xhaka will seemingly give that competition to Coquelin (who should have been another contender for the armband) and he might just have a battle on his hands to start next season. I love Coquelin and I hope he rises to the challenge - it is a joke that he is yet to get a call-up to the France team given his contributions over the last 18 months.

Mohamed Elneny
The only January signing didn't make a league appearance for weeks after his arrival. When he did play he seemed to like a shot or two on his debut in the FA Cup against Burnley. This was quickly banned by Wenger and he settled in to the more controlling areas of our midfield play - by that I mean he became the master of the sideways pass. He doesn't give away the ball when he passes it and this endears him to large sections of the crowd and to Arsene Wenger. As I've said here before, however, it's all a bit Ray Wilkins for me. There is little creativity from him as he rarely plays the ball forward. At the moment he lacks the physicality for a Premier League midfield player - a pre-season spent bulking up might make the difference there. His superb goal at Barcelona points to the fact that he can do the spectacular when he puts his mind to it. Hopefully we will see a different player now he has had the time to settle in properly.

Ismael Bennacer
He came on as a sub in the loss at Sheffield Wednesday when Oxlade-Chamberlain and Walcott both limped off early. Bennacer has the diminutive stature of Santi Cazorla but not yet the physical strength. As a result he was overwhelmed on the night by experienced Wednesday players but was one of Arsenal's better performers. I can't see him making it here, however, as he hasn't set the pulse racing in his under-21's appearances since then.

Glen Kamara
The young Finn started the game at Hillsborough and, although he very much tried his best, he was a long way out of his depth on the night. Wenger should have given him some respite long before he finally took him off late in to the match. He spent the second half of the season on loan at Southend but made only 3 appearances (according to Wikipedia) which doesn't smack of a big future - I don't know if maybe he got an injury there. He is 21 later this year and, with the plethora of midfield options ahead of him at Arsenal, seems unlikely to break through.

Ben Sheaff
The young Englishman was an unused sub at Sheffield. He's a bit of a free-kick specialist who has also been used at right-back late in the season for the under-21 team. Next season will be a big one for him if he is to make an impression on Arsene Wenger.

Chris Willock
He has come to the fore in the junior sides in the second half of this season and made the bench in the FA Cup. Willock is quick and skillful, maybe a little one-footed (though that never stopped Van Persie early in his career) but with a good eye for goal. He is an exciting prospect and I am certain he will be involved with the first-team in pre-season. If he can lay a marker there then promotion to the squad list at the start of next season is not out of his reach. A loan spell no doubt beckons at some time after the early rounds of the League Cup.

Of the players that were involved last season, and in pre-season, there have been three notable loans. Gedion Zelalem played a full part in Glasgow Rangers successful campaign and started the Scottish Cup Final last week. Ultimately, however, he hasn't kicked on to the expected level and I'd be surprised if his Arsenal career lasted beyond next season. Ainsley Maitland-Niles spent the season at Ipswich and was a regular in the squad up until a reportedly bizarre incident involving his mother, who is also his agent apparently. This was not the first time she is alleged to have "had words" with his bosses after being reportedly ejected from the Arsenal training ground during an under-21 game last year. He was the furthest advanced of the youngsters in the previous season, with an ability to play in a number of positions. I hope this hasn't damaged his career beyond repair at Arsenal. Finally Jon Toral was a late call-up to the pre-season tour last year having been surprisingly left out initially. He went on loan to Birmingham for the season and has had an outstanding time there, winning the player of the season awards at St Andrews. He could have done no more to try and impress Arsene Wenger, but I doubt his future will be at Emirates. He can console himself with the knowledge that very good Football League career is his if he wants it.

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