Arsenal Season Review 2011/12
What a relief that’s all over! When we were languishing in the bottom half at the end of August a third place finish seemed a very long way off. Somehow we forced our way back into the top three and managed, just about, to drag ourselves over the line. Now the dust has settled here are our reviews of the players who wore the red and white of The Arsenal this season.
His first full season as Arsenal’s No.1 and I don’t think he disappointed anyone. He didn’t have an awful lot of pressure on him from other keepers but in fairness, he didn’t show many signs of losing focus. His penalty save away to Udinese added confidence and justified some of the hype. Despite a pretty ropey defensive record this season, there aren’t too many occasions where he was at fault. He needs to work on his distribution but for a keeper of 21, the signs are positive.
Having a good quality first choice keeper is a relief but we will need to address depth in this role. Alumina will be looking for an alternative employer as his contract expires and I don’t think Mannone will ever quite be up to the standard required. Fabianski is likely to want to leave for first team Football so there is room for Martinez to step up and a new keeper to come in and challenge the Pole.
It goes without saying that Gibbs has had his season disrupted by injury but even so, I don’t have too many complaints when he’s played. He’s obviously very comfortable going forward and looks more dangerous than Clichy did before him. Defensively he has suffered from being criminally over exposed by AWOL defensive partners and marauding midfielders. As ever, the question mark is about fitness. If he can get the best part of a season under his belt he’ll be an asset for years to come.
Santos is almost a caricature of a Brazilian full-back. As the cliché goes, he plays with a smile on his face, loves to get forward and doesn’t mind having a go from distance. There are obvious question marks about his defensive application but after a few dodgy outings early on I think he showed some improvement. He’s hardly a safety first type of player but he has an impressive knack of nicking the ball on the front foot. I don’t see him as a first choice but, like most of the players that came as the window closed, a new season should help him improve.
By my reckoning, there isn’t a better right back in Europe. Of course, Dani Alves is pretty good for Barca but is he strictly a full back? Even if Alves is a right back, Sagna still gets my vote for not being a cheating ball sack.
The curse of the Arsenal full-back struck Bac down twice this season and we suffered terribly as a result. Not only did the disruption to our back four see us ship far too many goals it also inhibited the play of those ahead; Walcott’s form dipped noticeably without support from his regular right back. Let’s just hope Sagna gets fit and returns as dependable as ever.
He wouldn’t be an Arsenal full back worthy of the name if he hadn’t suffered injury at some point so let’s hope he’s got that out of the way early. His performance away to Udinese was exceptional for a lad being exposed with so little experience and he coped pretty well in very strange circumstances at home to Liverpool. Obviously the United game was a low point but he was hardly an exception there. Jenkinson looks a competent defender and supplies a decent cross, even if he does attempt them a bit too readily. I think he has a bright future ahead of him and seems to have settled into the club pretty well.
This time last year I wrote that we should be wary of expecting Thomas to return from injury and solve all our defensive problems. There is no doubt that he is a player of great virtue, he has great spirit and determination, but I do think he makes too many bad choices. His forward runs can be hugely influential but he has to learn to pick his moments. I’m not one to say defenders should just stay at home and never attempt to influence things at the other end; I just think there is room to decide when is the right time to leave your station unmanned.
One of the success stories of the season. Last season he took a bit of time to adjust to the rigours of the English game but still put in some impressive displays. This season he made those impressive performances the norm. There is a good argument that Koscielny is now our best central defender.
When you talk to people who don’t watch Arsenal every week they assume that Per has been a bit of a disaster. Defenders often grab headlines by scoring goals and making brave last ditch tackles. It takes a different player to snuff out the opposition threat simply by good organisation. He’s unlikely to make a lung busting dash into the box or acquire a blood soaked bandage as a symbol of his credentials but he might just be the steady hand that our defence has cried out for. Slightly controversial but, with everyone fit, he’d be in my first team.
It’s funny how times change. Towards the end of last season Djourou got an injury at Man United leading to fears that we couldn’t cope without him. This season, people seem to have lost all faith in him. There’s no doubt that he’s not been at his best but it’s worth remembering that the majority of his outings this term were at right back. He’s clearly not comfortable in that role. When he’s come in at centre back it’s often been into a disrupted back line; it wasn’t only Djourou who struggled in those circumstances. He certainly has room to improve but as a fourth choice centre half, I think he’d be hard to improve on.
Sebastien Squillaci barely played this season, in fact his only outing in the Premier League was as an emergency substitute at left back. If we can get a buyer I think he’ll be on his way this summer. Ignasi Miquel played a handful of times and again suffered from having to play as a full back. Given a loan spell I think he could be a useful centre half in the future. A special mention for Nico Yennaris who came into the back four in very difficult circumstances; he never looked out of his depth.
At times this season Alex Song has looked the complete package. He’s mobile enough to get around the pitch, makes big challenges and has added a fine range of passing to his game. He’s nominally our defensive midfielder but he has demonstrated far too much ability elsewhere to be restricted to that. With the intelligence of Arteta alongside him he’s free to go box to box. One of our priorities this summer will be a genuine anchor so that we can let Song have the freedom that’s been so important going forward this term.
If Arteta was a last minute panic buy then I suggest we wait until the end of August to do our business again this summer. Most neutrals would have admired him at Everton, he’s an elegant passer and a committed professional. He’s been the key to so much of the good stuff we’ve done this season. Many of us assumed he was being bought in to play as the most advance of our midfield three however he proved his talent went beyond that role by sitting deeper and acting as the proverbial oil in the engine. Without him we have fewer options and look vulnerable when we lose possession. He’s become a key player and it’s a joy to watch him stroke the ball about.
It’s been a bit of a tough season for Rambo but then again, these weren’t ideal circumstances. The first full season back after a career threatening injury for a kid of only 21 should see have seen him eased back into first team duty. Unfortunately, because of our incredible injury record, Ramsey played 44 times in all competitions. Had Diaby and Wilshere been fit – or if Coquelin hadn’t been required to play most of his games at full back – Ramsey would have made half of those appearances and been protected when his form dipped. When he’s been good, he’s been very good. At his best he’s dynamic and never hides. At such a young age he already has many attributes of a player of more advanced years. With more options in the middle next term I think we’ll start to see the best of Ramsey.
One of the highlights of this season was the Lazarus like revival of Tomas Rosicky. Towards the end of last season many expected him to leave, the same applied to the January window. Rosicky stayed and went on to be one of our most important players in the run in. His performance in the Tottenham and Milan games were as good individually as anything else we saw all season. His pressing was infectious and every time he had the ball he looked to drive towards his opponents and make things happen. I don’t think many would have predicted it but we’ll head into next season with Rosicky a key part of the squad, not sat in the over populated Emirates departure lounge.
After arriving on deadline day it was surprising that he didn’t play an awful lot in the first half of the season. When we went through our periodic slumps it seemed to me that his composure and professionalism were just what we needed to steady the ship. Like Rosicky, his turning point came at home to Tottenham. Arguably as important as Tomas on that day Yossi provided some much needed nous and carried it through the run in. As much as I’d like him to stay I don’t think it’s likely. There should be plenty of competition in the wide roles next season so let’s hope his approach has rubbed off on those around him. It’s been a pleasure to have Yossi here and we can only thank him for his contribution.
There is no doubt that this kid has all the attributes to be a first class player for years to come. He has pace, he can dribble, he can pass, he’s resilient, likes a shot and he’s versatile. His Carling Cup performances in the first half of the season were impressive but the true measure of his ability came in the home defeat to United and the second leg against Milan. In both games he looked capable of making something happen and petrified defenders with his running. He should play more next season but he’ll still need to be handled carefully; easier said than done considering the pressure an early England call up will bring. He seems to have a good head on his shoulders so I don’t think the Euro’s will be anything but a good experience for him.
Abou Diaby barely featured which is incredibly disappointing. I have no doubt that he possesses enough ability to be a fine player but whether he can ever be relied upon to play enough to prove himself is another question. Francis Coquelin looked accomplished every time he played; it’s just a shame he had to play at full back so often. Less disruption to the squad next term should see him play more in the middle and continue an impressive start to his Premier League career. Emmanuel Frimpong was unlucky with injury again but looked pretty good in his outings for both us and Wolves. There’s no doubting that he has a lot to learn, on and off the pitch, but his obvious talent shouldn’t be lost because he displays a little too much youthful exuberance at times. At least he seems to enjoy himself.
Robin Van Persie
Where else do you start when assessing the performance of Arsenal forwards? He has been simply phenomenal this season, as he was in the second half of the last campaign. He has embraced the role of captain whole heartedly and looks every inch the model professional. The small issue of his contract looms over the club at present and all we as fans can do is hope that his obvious affection for the club and the godlike status he enjoys here are enough to influence his decision. His choice this summer could elevate him from fan favourite to all time legend of the club.
Probably Theo’s best season in an Arsenal shirt. His form was helped by more playing time and fewer injuries. A collection of assists for Van Persie and important goals in games against Chelsea and Tottenham suggest he has more end product than some would have you believe. There is still a question mark about his consistency but this wasn’t helped when Sagna was out. Theo is definitely showing signs of continued improvement as he matures. His contract is still an issue that needs to be resolved.
His work in the early part of the season was encouraging as he showed an ability to carry the ball into dangerous areas. The obvious problem is end product. Whenever he gets the ball I’m confident he will take a player on however, when he does, his final ball is often wasted. He could also do with polishing up his shooting boots as he missed a glut of good opportunities this season. Disappointment at the African Cup of Nations disrupted him, despite some good performances in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, and he never truly settled back in to the Arsenal team. Despite an inconsistent season I think Gervinho can be a good player for us although he’ll need to improve on his 4 goals and 6 assists to fend of the challenge of Oxlade-Chamberlain and Podolski.
It’s almost impossible to give a decent appraisal of Chamakh given that he only actually played 5% of available time in the Premier League this season. Actually, perhaps that is the only appraisal that’s required. With Robin straining every sinew and clearly running on empty in the last few games it says a lot that Chamakh was never trusted to ease the pressure. In his defence, the form of Van Persie and the need for results combined to make the inclusion of the Dutchman essential every week. There were limited opportunities for the Moroccan to play himself into some form but that said; when he did come on he looked aimless. We’ll be open to offers this summer but I’d be surprised if we’re inundated. It’s a shame considering how well his Arsenal career started.
Park Ju Young
I’m willing to put my cards on the table here and admit that I was quite happy when we signed Park. My argument was that he has a decent CV. On reflection it seems I may have been suffering from TFW – Transfer Window Fatigue. At the back end of August 2011 I would have been happy had we tempted Lee Chapman out of retirement.
It seems quite obvious that Wenger too thought his career record was enough to take a punt on however seeing him close up convinced him that he wasn’t up to the English game. Similarly to Chamakh, it must be hard to prove yourself with so few opportunities but apart from a fine goal against Bolton in the Carling Cup he looked well off the pace. I suspect we’ll never unravel the mystery of Park Ju Young.
The decision to let him go back to St. Petersburg seemed slightly controversial at the time. It happened after the window had shut without us adding a striker and with a top four finish anything but secure. You would have thought that retaining an international forward was essential however Arshavin was so out of form it was a relatively safe bet that we wouldn’t be missing an awful lot. Of course, there were the characteristic flashes of quality – his assist for Henry in Sunderland a highlight – but generally it’s hard to think of what else he offered in 11/12. For a player of such quality it’s disappointing to have to accept that his time is up at Arsenal. I’m sure he’ll go on to rediscover his maverick qualities elsewhere but there is little room for a luxury in the current Arsenal set up.
The fairytale return of Henry was met with trepidation by some. He was somewhat condescendingly assumed to be in semi retirement and that days in the top flight numbered. My hunch was that he wouldn’t have the physical capability to drift past prime defenders but that he would have the know how to make things happen. The goals against Leeds and Sunderland were great examples of that. When Chamakh played he looked passive. Contrast that with Henry who instantly put his opponents on the back foot with his positioning and offered an out ball to those in midfield. The goal on his return was as beautiful a sporting moment as I can remember and his last minute winner at Sunderland proved hugely significant in the end.