hello there you. Are you pleased it’s a Friday and not a Tuesday? I am. It means I get a bit of a lie in tomorrow. Plus my dad promised me a BBQ at his house in the evening on Saturday, so it will be a full day of rest, just got to get through this full day of work.
And what better way to do so than have a bit of an earlier morning ponder on our midfield for the 2014/15 season, eh?
It’s a blog that could probably take me the whole day if I really wanted to go into the minutia of detail on each player, because much like last season, it’s an area of the team in which we’ve had an abundance of players going into the start of the season. Wilshere, Flamini, Ramsey, Cazorla, Arteta, Rosicky, Coquelin, Özil and The Ox; it’s not an area that i’d have told you we needed to worry about too much in August. Plenty of depth there.
Yet Arsenal have an uncanny knack of finding a way of looking a bit threadbare, don’t we, and by Christmas we were all scratching our heads wondering how it had come to this that we were recalling midfielders from loan spells just so they could make up the numbers. Or so we thought.
Step forward the single most ‘surprise package’ player of the season, Francis Coquelin, who has shown the footballing world that sometimes it just takes the right mix of application and fortune to turn a player into a star. He was there for us exactly when we needed him. Hard-tackling, screening the back four and within a couple of games of starting, he was looking every bit the fabled ‘DM’ that we’d all been crying out for since Alex Song decided he was an assist maker and didn’t need to do any ‘dirty work’.
Le Coq loves the dirty work. His ability to win a tackle is brilliant and although many of us still want investment in that area to ensure competition, in my mind he’s earned the right to start the season as number one. Santi rightly picked up the plaudits in the game at The Etihad, but Coquelin was just as important in my eyes, protecting a defence under siege and doing so with a strength that no other player in the squad can do. Think Flamini, version 2007, only Coquelin has better distribution. The Flamster has been reduced to less than a bit-part player this season, which is probably just as well because when he has played he has looked a little bit like a headless chicken with a bit of a chip on its shoulder. We’re beyond the stages of Flamini’s persistent fouling and bookings being funny now; we needed a cultured defensive midfielder and we have one plucked from a loan in South London who does that.
But this season’s midfield story has been more than just that of an unlikely hero in defensive midfield. Step forward another unlikely hero, albeit playing in a different position rather than being unknown, and that guy is Santiago Cazorla.
When I looked at our midfield at the beginning of the season, I honestly couldn’t see how Santi was going to displace some of the other players in the squad, because Alexis had been bought and was clearly going to take up the wide left position, which Santi has spent quite a bit of time occupying in the last couple of seasons. Jack and Rambo were surely duking it out as the box-to-box midfielders and Arteta and Flamini were the natural choices for the holding role. Santi wasn’t better than Özil as the number 10, was he? Nor does he have the same energy in his play as Rosicky. So he was the player I thought would struggle.
I needn’t have worried too much though, because excellent players can also be adaptable, so I would come to pass that Santi would carve a new role in the ever-evolving Arsenal team as a deep-lying playmaker. And boy, did it ever work.
Santi is like the Football equivalent of American Football’s quarterback. When he picks up the ball with the players we have in attack in front of him, he can drive us forward, with either a quick shimmy and dribble away from an opposing player, or a sumptuous long ball across the field with pinpoint accuracy. A perfect example of this is the assist he got for Ramsey’s goal against Hull. That long defence-splitting pass perfectly weighted to the Welshman’s feet, dispatched to secure the game but born from the ability in the Spaniard’s feet. I can’t even remember which foot, because both deliver the same result, such is the artistry in those tiny feet.
He’s also shown a defensive side to his game too which plenty of us didn’t know existed. He can get stuck in and even wins the odd tackle and then if there isn’t a quick counter attacking ball on, he can just dribble around half a team single-handedly himself anyway, a lá Moneychester City away.
Ahead of those two we’ve seen patches of form from all other players. Most recently Jack has looked hungry since coming back from injury, but his performance at home to Moneychester City was a thing of beauty and showcased his ability to dictate a game if the circumstances allow. Often those circumstances are injury related and you have to think that – despite saying this every year for the last two – his season next season is an important one as he tries to find his place in the team. Much like Ramsey, I feel like Arsène is desperate to fit Jack in to the team, but unless he can sustain his fitness for longer than a few months, he might find his passage blocked by other players. Just look at Abou Diaby. He is a forgotten man. So much so I didn’t even mention him as an option in our bulging midfield selection at the start of the blog.
Right now, particularly since Ramsey has reconnected with his 2013/14 form as the season draws to a close, it’s hard to see Jack getting ahead of Aaron in the pecking order if there was a straight shootout between the two. So much like Santi, does Jack have to re-invent himself in order to nail a starting spot? Perhaps. He’s been tried in that deep-lying playmaker role for England, but whether he could displace Santi remains to be seen, because Jack’s a dribbler and I’m not sure he has the same vision as Cazorla.
But hey, the modern day game is about a squad, so that’s what you need in order to compete on all fronts and that is why Jack and the other midfielders will all get an opportunity during different stages of next season.
One player who id love to see more of, but I’m not sure how, is Super Tom Rosicky. Indeed, I’m actually quite surprised he signed a one year extension, because his game time towards the end of this season has been minimal so I’d have thought he’d want to go somewhere to get regular football. He’s good enough. His performances in the FA Cup earlier stages showed that. His goal in the fourth round against Brighton was replayed last Sunday on Arsenal Player and it was a reminder about just how technically sound he is. A cheeky ‘look away’ pass that had Phil Neville frothing at the mouth, then a superb strike a few seconds later to back up his audacity. He’ll play some part in next season, but I’ve got no idea when.
I’ve almost run out of time on the tube this morning and like I said at the start of the blog, I could probably talk until tomorrow about the different players, but before I go I’ll make room for one more:
Mesut Fricking Özil.
Lambasted at the start of the season, accepted as a maestro by the end, our German Number 10 has had the cliched ‘game of two halves’ this season. What clearly now seems to have been a bit of a World Cup hangover that carried in to his early season form, the injury layoff until the new year was a god send for him. He recouped, bulked up and was brilliant until the end of the season. He sees space and passes that no other mortal sees. He draws players near them, then weaves away to find a teammate having given them more room to do their stuff. He was integral to Walcott’s first goal last weekend and an Arsenal team with him in it is an Arsenal team that will always create chances. I love that we have Mes in our team.
Do we need replacements in midfield? Perhaps. But even if we don’t go out and buy a beast like Kondogbia this summer, I’d still be pleased with our midfield going in to the 2015-16 season.