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

In the final end-of-season review post, it’s time to assess how the forwards did for Arsenal in 2014-2015. As with the rest of these posts, each player will get a review, a one-word summary and a rating.
9. Lukas Podolski
The German’s thunderous left foot wasn’t seen much in 2014-2015 as he was shipped off to Inter Milan on loan in January. Podolski is an incredibly frustrating player as he can rip the net out the ground with the power in his left foot, but he can drift through games and you’ll forget he’s playing. That ability to disappear may ultimately mean he leaves the club permanently, but he did offer a few reminders of his finishing in the Champions League with a vital winner at Anderlecht and a thunderous strike at Galatasaray.
One-word summary: #OnLoan #Aha
Rating: 4/10
12. Olivier Giroud
Despite a good goal-scoring season, Olivier Giroud continues to divide opinion among some Arsenal supporters. Most seem to be behind the Frenchman now, but he can be an easy target for criticism if things start going badly. Giroud also has the ability that when things go badly for him, he can look like a pub player, as happened in the game at home to Monaco. But that was just a blip in an otherwise excellent season. He recovered quicker than expected from his freak injury against Everton and contributed vital goals, including the header away to Manchester City. He also went on a superb scoring-run as the season headed towards spring time. He has been helped by other taking some of the goal scoring burden off him in the last season, and he’s played better without as much pressure on him. Arsenal now have different options in the squad if Giroud does have one of his off-days.
One-word summary: Sexy-and-he-knows-it
Rating: 7/10
14. Theo Walcott
Due to a combination of injury recovery and the good form of others in the squad, Theo Walcott had to be patient in 2014-2015. The season overall didn’t reveal anything we didn’t already know about Walcott; he’s lightning quick, needs confidence to play well and he’d prefer to play as a central striker. When he did get his chance to play during the season, there were quite a few anonymous performances, but after getting the confidence of a deflected cross going in against Manchester United, Walcott looked transformed as he banged in an excellent hat-trick against West Brom and opened the scoring in the FA Cup final.
One-word summary: Patient
Rating: 5/10
17. Alexis Sanchez
I can’t remember a new arrival into the Premier League having such an impact in their first season. Alexis Sanchez came with a good reputation, but as he was always over-shadowed by Messi et al at Barcelona, it was difficult to know quite what to expect. It turned out that the Premier League was very much to his liking. His all-action displays carried the team in the first part of the season before they contributed to the winning run in the second half of the season as others around him picked up the slack. His attitude and effort around the pitch have been an inspiration to others, and a nightmare to opposing teams. He’d already had a great season, but Alexis saved his best for last with that serving rocket he unleashed at Wembley in the FA Cup final. What a player.
One-word summary: Awesome
Rating: 9/10
22. Yaya Sanogo
Well, he scored a goal. Not just in Emirates Cup either, an actual first-team Champions League goal. Apart from that, we didn’t see much from Yaya Sanogo as he went for a rather uneventful loan spell to Crystal Palace in January. The effort is always there from him when he plays, but still has a lot to do to convince people he has a future at Arsenal.
One-word summary: Limited
Rating: 3/10
23. Danny Welbeck
It’s hard to know how to rate Danny Welbeck’s first season at Arsenal because a glance at the stats shows less than 10 goals, which isn’t great for a £16 million forward, but my overall feeling when watching him play has been positive. He’s quick, works hard for the team and always looks to contribute and get involved in the play. I think goals will come as the rest of his game is developing well. It was also good to have a different option to Olivier Giroud up front.
Gains an extra half mark for scoring the winner at Old Trafford.
One-word summary: Encouraging
Rating: 6.5/10
28. Joel Campbell
Despite a good World Cup, Joel Campbell didn’t get much of an opportunity in the Arsenal first-team after a going out on a series of loan spells to become eligible to play. When he did get some minutes, there were a few good touches, but nothing to really set a game on fire despite quite a lot of hype over him in the past. He then went on a rather unspectacular loan spell in the second half of the season, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he heads off permanently in the summer.
One-word summary: Anti-climatic
Rating: 3/10

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Rampant Ramsey lifts the Arsenal gloom

Going into the game away at Galatasaray, it was difficult to know how much Arsenal could actually get out of it. The game was almost a dead-rubber, and with a mix and match squad of first-teamers, fringe players and youngsters, I was struggling to see how much could be gained from the match to improve the rather toxic mood around Arsenal Football Club in the days after the capitulation at Stoke.
As it turned out, a rampaging Gunners team with a point to prove destroyed the hosts in a clinical and hugely encouraging first-half display. Galatasaray were pretty accommodating hosts with an indifferent performance, but they came up against a well-motivated team who looked determined to right Saturday’s wrongs, even though half of Tuesday’s starting XI hadn’t started the game at the Britannia. The win wasn’t enough to top the group, but the 4-1 triumph was a timely reminder of what Arsenal can do to teams if they get in the groove, and should lighten the mood among supporters.
At the forefront of the first half barrage which took Arsenal to a 3-0 half-time lead was Aaron Ramsey. It’s been well documented how, much like the whole team, he’s had an indifferent season, but there were signs in the wins against Dortmund and West Brom that he was beginning to find some rhythm in his game again. He then broke his goal drought with a fine strike at Stoke before, alongside Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, absolutely dominating the game in the first half in Istanbul.
Inside the opening few minutes, he found space to drive at the defence and set-up Lukas Podolski for the opening goal. With a little over ten minutes on the clock, Ramsey then made a late burst from midfield, the sort we became accustomed to seeing last season, to get on the end of Oxlade-Chamberlain’s pass and calmly roll the ball into the far corner. For the first time in he season, it finally felt like the Welsh Messiah had risen.
With a goal and an assist already in the bag for Ramsey, he did something that out-did most footballing deities. The ball dropped out of the Galatasaray box, and with his weaker left foot, Ramsey produced the perfect fizzing volley into the top corner from over 30 yards out.
It’s been easy to forget in the last few days that football is, predominantly, meant to be fun. With all that’s been written, said and posted on YouTube by Arsenal fans in the aftermath of that Stoke defeat, any outsider looking in would wonder why fans bother watching football if all is does is get people wound up. But, on Tuesday night, Aaron Ramsey reminded us why we bother. Sometimes you see things that are outrageous, that are supremely skilful and things that can put a smile on people’s faces. Whatever your views on the manager, the formation, the team selection or the transfer policy are, you can still enjoy and marvel at such a wonderful goal, and feel proud that it was an Arsenal player that scored it.
Having Ramsey finding some form again is vital to the team, and in his 45-minute run-out, it seemed like all the pressure that could have been holding him back this season was lifted in a majestic performance.
The other star of the show was Lukas Podolski. Even though Ramsey’s second goal was stunning, it wasn’t good enough to be the hardest struck of Arsenal’s four goals. Podolski’s opener looked like it was fired by a player looking to prove a point. The German took one touch after Ramsey’s through ball and released all of the kraken he’s been saving up this season to thunder the ball into the roof of the net.
To score so early in the game, and with such a powerful shot, was a statement from Arsenal that they weren’t just in Turkey to play out a dead game, but they were there to make a point. That point was relevant individually for the likes of Podolski and Joel Campbell, and collectively to show they could quickly put the debacle of Saturday behind them.
Even though Arsenal were understandably much quieter in the second half, mainly because of Ramsey and Flamini being replaced at half-time by youngsters Zelalem and Maitland-Niles, Podolski was still able to bag a brace by going on a direct run towards goal, exchanging passes with Sanogo and calmly slotting the ball past the goalkeeper with the last kick of the game. In the busy Christmas period, the German will surely get some league starts after this clinical display.
Wojciech Szczesny and his back four will have been disappointed to not leave with a clean sheet after a disciplined performance, helped by Arsenal being able to allow Galatasaray to attack before springing the deadly ounter-attacks on the hosts. Per Mertesacker looked much more like his normal self after a very dodgy game on Saturday, and he came up with a fantastic sliding defensive block from point-blank range during the one moment of panic in the Arsenal box in the second half. The defence can take heart from the fact that the one goal they did concede was almost unstoppable as Sneijder’s free-kick almost matched Podolski’s first half goal for power and placement.
I think Arsene Wenger got the team selection right, as even though there was a fleeting possibility of topping the group, there really wasn’t much use to risking the likes of Alexis, Giroud, Welbeck and others given the current injury problems. He was able to give much needed minutes to the returning Debuchy along with are front three, while giving youngsters a chance alongside a few experienced first-teamers to bolster the squad. To have such a commanding lead at half time was also ideal for Wenger as he didn’t need to risk Ramsey and Flamini in the second half.
Obviously there’ll be tougher tests and that game clearly won’t answer the majority of questions that fans have after Saturday, but it should put a smile back on the faces of Arsenal fans. Besides, if you can’t smile and marvel at Ramsey’s ridiculous thriker of a second goal, then you might as well not bother watching football. The healing process takes time, and Tuesday was the best start to it that we could have hoped for.

Podolski powers Arsenal to an undeserved win

For 88 minutes in Belgium on Wednesday, Arsenal were dreadful. While for most part the Gunners had a degree of control on the game as Anderlecht rarely threatened, Arsene Wenger’s team struggled to make any impact going forward. Apart from Alexis Sanchez, the team looked laboured, and all the fluency problems that have blighted the season’s performances were on full display in Brussels.
I’ve mentioned the midfield issues numerous times on this blog and on the SMR Podcast this season, and there was nothing to allay my concerns about Ramsey and Wilshere’s ability to play together. With no Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla on the left, there was no-one providing a proper link between the midfield and Danny Welbeck up front. There wasn’t a pivot in the team and Arsenal couldn’t get any incisive attacking moves going.
As the game was threatening to meander after an immensely forgettable first half, Anderlecht sensed Arsenal were there for the taking with 20 minutes to go. Some very slack Arsenal defending allowed them to walk down the right side and cross the ball in for Najar to score from a free header.
Moments later, the defending got worse as Vanden Borre shanked an effort against the post. Arsenal were so static and seemed to watch the Belgians try and fail to walk the ball in. Per Mertesacker hasn’t been the same as last season post-World Cup, which he very honestly and candidly spoke about after the game, while we all have discussed numerous times how Nacho Monreal isn’t a centre back and shouldn’t be considered an option there. Against Anderlecht, Calum Chambers also had a nightmare defensively. With no other options and players struggling for form, Arsenal can’t rotate the back four.
It’s not just the back four that’s a concern defensively though. The whole team needs to be switched on, and for ten minutes after Anderlecht scored on Wednesday, everyone in red and white was all over the place.
There doesn’t seem like there’ll be a quick fix to how the team is playing at the moment, apart from just trying to scrape through fixtures and regain form by playing matches. It feels like a vicious circle at the moment as, to get into good form, Arsenal have to play through the bad form. While that’s the case, it’s frustrating not knowing how long that could take.
Until the 89th minute, that frustration was growing as Arsenal seemed miles away from things picking up. Then, as against Hull at the weekend, it took for Arsenal to be on the verge of defeat to wake up. The full-backs finally made a purposeful foray forward to provide some width, Calum Chambers whipped in a fantastic cross and Kieran Gibbs arrived to place a perfect side-footed volley into the bottom corner. At that moment, one point looked horribly undeserved, and it was going to have come about from a moment of real quality that looked out-of-place compared to the rest of the game.
Then, the Gunners somehow found a get out of jail card in injury time. Despite not making any impact on the pitch before Wednesday, Lukas Podolski had boosted his popularity with the fans during the week with a hilarious and honest response to Tottenham transfer rumours on twitter. The German did, however, need to to show his worth on the pitch as well to stop any stories about him leaving the club. When 1-0 down, I was staggered it went past the 80 minute mark before Podolski was brought off the bench. Fortunately, he entered the fray in the nick of time.
Even though the winning goal didn’t have the quality of the first goal, Arsenal suddenly had intensity in their play at the end of the game and got players into the opposition box. Gibbs got forward again and clipped a ball to back post. Alexis Sanchez kept the move alive by powering the ball across the box before the it landed at the feet of Podolski. The German’s first touch was good, and rather than trying to do anything complicated or panicking in front of goal, Podolski instinctively smashed the ball into the roof of the net off his cannon of a left foot. His work rate is often questionable and he does have the ability to go missing in games, but give him a chance on his left foot, and he will score goals. In Arsenal’s current run of form, having someone efficient like Podolski could be what the Gunners need to have a more balanced attack and have someone who makes the most of the few chances that might come his way.
After a horrible performance, Arsenal finally showed some signs of fight. After the last few weeks, it’s hard to care about the performance when the team were able to secure a win. There are issues at the back and in midfield, and I’m not sure when they’re going to end, but it was brilliant to see Arsenal sneak a win. Too often, Arsenal haven’t got what they deserved from matches, so it was quite refreshing to see the Gunners get a win that was immensely undeserved. The win might not be a turning point, but without much else this season, it at least gives fans hope that it could be. While there’s Lukas Podolski’s left foot, there can be hope.