SMR end-of-season review 2014-2015: The Midfielders

In the penultimate post reviewing the 2014-2015 season, I’m going to assess the performance of Arsenal’s midfielders. As with the previous ones, there’ll be a short review of each player’s season and a one-word summary.
7. Tomas Rosicky
It was a frustrating season for Tomas Rosicky as he didn’t get as much game time as he wanted, or deserved. Despite being one of the oldest players in the squad, he still brings energy to any game with his driving runs forward and turn of pace to change the tempo of an attack. During the random start to the season, Rosicky was unlucky to not play more often as Arsene Wenger seemed determined to shoe-horn Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere into the same starting XI, despite both not quite being at their best. When he did get an opportunity, Rosicky made telling contributions with goals against QPR and Everton, and a sublime performance away to Brighton in the FA Cup.
I’m pleased he’s got another year at the club, and hopefully Arsene Wenger won’t be so reluctant to use him because of the different dynamic Rosicky can still bring to any Arsenal performance.
One-word summary: Persistent
Rating: 6/10
8. Mikel Arteta
Mikel Arteta’s season was ruined by injury, and the form of Francis Coquelin in his position means that it is likely Arsenal will go through another season with the club captain operating mostly from the bench. People shouldn’t be so quick to write Arteta off though as he remains a steadying influence on the rest of the team. This was typified by the Anderlecht capitulation at home in the Champions League. Arsenal were playing ok and were 3-0 up when Arteta went down injured. Anderlecht scored with the Spaniard on the ground and went on to draw 3-3 as Arsenal’s midfield disappeared when Arteta left the field. He will still be a quality player to have in the squad next season.
One-word summary: Respected
Rating: 5/10
10. Jack Wilshere
Another midfielder whose season was disrupted by injury. As with everyone in the early part of the season, there were glimpses of Wilshere’s undoubted ability without any consistency. The brilliant performance and goal at home to Manchester City was mixed in with pretty drab performances like Anderlecht away. Apart from his finishing, Wilshere was playing well in the game he had his ankle mangled in against Manchester United, so to see him on the side lines again was incredibly frustrating. His return was excellent though. Given how settled the side looked around April, Wilshere made some energetic cameos off the bench force his way into the starting XI before scoring that thunderous, net-busting, goal against West Brom.
Forget the newspaper rumours about Manchester City, there’s no way Arsene Wenger would let a home-grown player with this amount of talent leave.
One-word summary: THRIKER
Rating: 6/10
11. Mesut Ozil
Mesut Ozil typifies the two halves of Arsenal’s season. He looked off the pace after the World Cup before getting injured at the beginning of October. Ozil also wasn’t helped by playing out on the left as Arsene Wenger tried to get all of his attacking midfielders in the team. The time off the pitch injured did allow Ozil to bulk up and look refreshed when he returned in January. Several gorgeous and instrumental performances followed including a goal and an assist at home to Aston Villa, a spirited showing in the attempted fightback in Monaco, the glorious free-kick against Liverpool and *that* flick against Hull City. He almost saved his best for the FA Cup final as he strolled around Wembley in complete control of the game. He seems to have got to the grips with the Premier League and is a joy to watch play.
One-word summary: Silky
Rating: 7.5/10
15. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
2014-2015 was the first season that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was able to hold down a regular starting place for a sustained period of time before injury (what else?) disrupted his progress. The Ox was one of the positives to emerge from the early season performances with some excellent displays. Before his last injury of the season, Oxlade-Chamberlain was superb at Old Trafford in the FA Cup as he bagged an assist and forced Louis van Gaal to substitute left-back Luke Shaw at half-time after he was rinsed by the Ox. He’ll still only be 21 at the start of the next season, so there’s plenty of time for further progress as he’s got all the attributes to be a phenomenal player for the club.
One-word summary: Maturing
Rating: 7/10
16. Aaron Ramsey
It was a strange season for Aaron Ramsey as it’ll probably go down as a disappointing one, but there were still some brilliant moments. He didn’t quite hit the goal scoring heights of the previous campaign, but it’s telling how high his standards have now become that he reached double figures from midfield and it’s still a disappointing campaign. Ramsey had moments where the old tendencies of giving the ball away and shooting wildly wide returned, but generally he was a driving force in the Arsenal midfield. Even when playing badly, he has a knack of making something happen or emerging on the scene at the right time to make a pass or have a shot. Overall, Ramsey is unrecognisable from the player he was two years ago. Oh, and there was that goal at Galatasaray. Phwoar.
One-word summary: Bearded
Rating: 7/10
19. Santi Cazorla
2014-2015 was the Spaniard’s best season for the club. Without Mesut Ozil for a lot of the first half of the season, Cazorla was able to be the attacking hub of the team again, which helped him regain his mojo after a slightly slow start to the season and the terrible World Cup efforts from Spain. The dominant showing at home to Newcastle, which was topped off by a glorious chipped goal and Paneka penalty, was a particular highlight in that period of the season. When Ozil returned, Cazorla remained central, but dropped deeper and showed what a sensational footballer he is. He would have been the obvious man to drop out when the German returned from injury, but Cazorla made himself un-droppable with consistent, brilliant performances. I believe that his display away to Manchester City was the best all-round performance from any midfielder in the Premier League in 2014-2015.
One-word summary: Majestic
Rating: 8/10
20. Mathieu Flamini
Flamini is now nothing more than cover in central midfield. He’s clearly a respected and popular member of the squad, and he did a good job in the previous season after signing on a free transfer, but I don’t think it was a coincidence that some of Arsenal’s worst performances in 2014-2015 had Mathieu Flamini at the base of the midfield. He did provide one of my funniest moments of the season though by coming on to play on the right wing against West Ham and scoring a tap-in a minute after arriving into the game. You can never question him for commitment or effort on the pitch, but he’s now the third-choice holding player in the squad.
One-word summary: Usurped
Rating: 4/10
24. Abou Diaby
The case of Abou Diaby makes me very sad. He could have been majestic in Arsenal’s midfield for many years, but some bad tackles and his body letting him down has meant his career at Arsenal could be at an end. He did get more game time in 2014-2015 than in the previous season, but it was only by a matter of minutes and still totalled less than 70 minutes. It’s unlikely he’ll play in the Arsenal first team again, but that isn’t a reflection on his character and commitment to try and play again.
One-word summary: Saddening
Rating: 2/10
34. Francis Coquelin
The story of the season. I’d almost forgotten he was at the club until he suddenly appeared at left-back in the Capital One Cup against Southampton. A loan move to Charlton seemed like the final step towards a permanent move away from the club in January before injuries to overs intervened, and suddenly the Coq was in the squad for a Premier League game. When he got his chance, he took it with interception after interception, tackle after tackle and disciplined displays that took pressure off the rest of the team. Like Cazorla, his performances made it impossible to drop him from the starting XI. Whether Coquelin can maintain his high standards into next season will be interesting to see, but he thoroughly deserves his chance to continue to patrol the midfield after a stellar second half of the season.
One-word summary: Immense
Rating: 8/10

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Disappointing cup exit shows rustiness of fringe players

No cup defeat is nice or welcome, but it’s hard for Arsenal to have any complaints about going out of the Capital One Cup on Tuesday after the 2-1 defeat against Southampton. The Saints looked like a more cohesive team with the much-changed Gunners line-up not creating enough to merit going through.
The main concern for Gooners from the performance was the showing from the fringe players in Arsene Wenger’s squad that needed the game time. It’s easy to criticism them, but in fairness it is difficult to come in from the cold and perform at your best without some match practise, especially against a well organised and in-form Southampton side. But, it wouldn’t have been unreasonable of Arsene Wenger to have expected more from Tomas Rosicky, Lukas Podolski and Joel Campbell.
Rosicky’s off-colour performance wasn’t because of a lack of effort as the Czech captain buzzed around the field in his normal style, but he was just off the pace and his judgement wasn’t as sharp as he’d want, which unfortunately led to Rosicky mistiming a challenge in the penalty area and gifting the visitors their equaliser from the spot.
As for Lukas Podolski, he seemed to disappear as the match went on, and he was hardly involved in the early stages as it was. The German can be an incredibly frustrating player to watch as he is a good finisher and has an absolute hammer of a left foot, but he’s always had a strange ability to go missing. He seemed to pass that trait onto Joel Campbell in the first half, as the Costa Rican didn’t take his opportunity to stake his claim to be more involved in the first team. Campbell saw more of a ball in the second half but Arsenal looked so much more dangerous as soon as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came on to replace him on the wing.
Of the fringe first teamers who got a run out on Tuesday, incredibly, the least rusty was Abou Diaby. Sitting deep in midfield, the Frenchman sprayed a few good passes from deep positions and gave a tidy performance in his first start since 2012-2013. I’m a big Diaby fan and am desperate for him to get some luck and stay fit for a sustained period of time. If he does, he showed fans on Tuesday that he can a valuable option in central midfield with a physical presence that’s unmatched by other midfielders at the club.
Despite the defeat, Abou Diaby wasn’t the only positive from Tuesday. With the North London derby on the horizon, I was staggered to see Alexis Sanchez start the game, but the Chilean gave another example of his considerable talent with an absolute peach of a free-kick. He lacked support from others around him up front for most of the evening, but he still looked like the most likely Arsenal player to make anything happen. He’s still acclimatising to English football, but four goals so far for Arsenal is a good start. He’d bring the house down with another on Saturday.
In a competition where Arsene Wenger usually likes to blood the youngsters, it was mainly the back four which had a youthful appearance with three 19 year olds alongside Francis Coquelin, who had to fill in at left back. Considering the inexperience, they dealt with Southampton pretty well as it was only a penalty and a long range thunderbolt that gave the visitors the win. Isaac Hayden stood out in particular with an assured first start for the club.
Even though they did well, the lack of cover in defence was exposed by Wenger having to field such an inexperienced back four. They all acquitted themselves well, but Arsenal shouldn’t be in a position where a collection of 19 year olds are the next in line after a couple of injury in defence.
Considering the lack of cover at the back, not having an extra game in the next round of the Capital One Cup could help the squad stay fresh, but in midfield and attack, there are plenty of Arsenal players who could have used a cup run to boost their chances of playing in more first team games. It’s a shame Arsenal are out, but a derby win on Saturday and this game will be quickly forgotten.