The SMR Arsenal Squad Review – Midfielders

With the season over and a trophy in the cabinet, I’m going to assess the season for each member of the Arsenal squad and rate them. I’m sure there’ll be some disagreements about some of my ratings, so feel free to comment at the bottom with your thoughts. Moving up the pitch, it’s the midfielders.
 
7. Tomas Rosicky
The Czech has been an excellent player to have around the squad in 2013/2014, and is someone that can be relied on in big games. Rosicky can be brought on to control the tempo of the game if Arsenal are leading, or he can add urgency to the team with direct bursts forward. As he moves towards the latter stages of his career, it’s great to see Rosicky making an impact at the club considering his previous injury problems.
Rosicky is developing an excellent knack of scoring against Tottenham, contributing two crackers this season. The FA Cup goal was a result of his relentless pressing high up the pitch before a calm finish, and the goal at White Hart Lane was a rocket. It was one of the few Arsenal goals that made me stand up and shout THRIKER!
Season Rating: 7/10
 
8. Mikel Arteta
Arteta is beginning to divide some opinion amongst Arsenal fans, with some suggesting he’s getting a bit old and slows the play down, but others saying he plays a key role in keeping the team ticking over. Arteta is undoubtedly one of the players that Arsene Wenger trusts most as the Spaniard does quietly do a very important job for the team.
He’s not the big destructive defensive midfielder that many want, but Arteta will rarely be found out of position and putting the team under pressure by misplacing a pass. His penalty taking is also excellent, with the twice taken one against Everton in the cup showing his coolness under pressure. He’ll gradually play less as he gets older, but Arteta remains a big part of the Arsenal squad as a respected vice-captain.
Season Rating: 7/10
 
10. Jack Wilshere
It’s been a strange season for Jack Wilshere. He’s had his fair share of injury problems again, but there have been real signs of improvement. Wilshere hasn’t been dominating games as many fans thought he would do in his career, but like Aaron Ramsey was last season, he’s almost in the consolidating period after a very long injury.
Wilshere has added more goals and assists to his game this season, with the brace against Marseille being particularly impressive, along with the finish at the end of the liquid football goal against Norwich.
Next season will be a big one for Wilshere. If he can stay fit, he can build on the good progress made in 2013/2014.
Season Rating: 6.5/10
 
11. Mesut Ozil
The German attracted, and still attracts, too much criticism for his performances in 2013/2014. Expectations were always going to be high after arriving for £42 million, and whilst he might not have lived up to them for some people, Ozil still had a huge impact on Arsenal.
He clocked up assists and brought more out of others around him. This season was always going to be about adapting for Ozil, and the signs are good that he’ll be even better next season. His control is incredible, and his passing is not far short of Bergkamp-levels at times. That fact he’s at the club will make Arsenal a more attractive tea, to join for players in the summer transfer window, as they know they’ll get chances with Ozil in the team.
Season Rating: 7.5/10
 
15. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
It’s been a frustrating season for the Ox. A lengthy injury on the first day of the season was far from ideal, especially after looking dangerous and getting an assist early in that match.
He recovered well to make a difference in the second half of season, especially in the cup run against Liverpool, Everton and Wigan. I’m not sure about the insistence that he’ll ultimately be a central midfielder, as even though Oxlade-Chamberlain is good enough to play there, he’s at his best when committing defenders and running into space. Hopefully he’ll be fit to play at the World Cup, and be fit enough next season to further develop. The Oz is an exciting player and one that makes things happen when he plays.
Season Rating: 6/10
 
16. Aaron Ramsey
What else is there to say about Aaron Ramsey? The transformation has been incredible. He’s been confident, committed and sensational in almost every game he’s played. It’s just a huge shame he was out for four months of the season. He’s gone from being a semi-reliable squad player to a world class game-changer. More of the same next season please, Rambo.
Season Rating: 9/10
 
19. Santi Cazorla
Cazorla wasn’t quite at his influential best in 2013/2014, and that was partly from not having much of a summer break following a long first season in the Premier League. His quick feet still dazzled as he was deployed more on the flank than he was in his debut season, because of the arrival of Ozil.
He can occasionally go missing in games, but his technical quality and ability to use both feet mean he’s always a danger in games. The FA Cup final free-kick was also stunning. Forget any criticism of the goalkeeper, that was a hell of strike. At his best, Cazorla is a beautiful player to watch.
Season Rating: 7/10
 
20. Mathieu Flamini
It seemed like a slightly strange signing at the time, but bringing Mathieu Flamini back to the club was a good move from Arsene Wenger. He brought passion, organisation and commitment to the team at the start of the season, especially when Arsenal seemed fragile at that time.
He appeared less in the second half of the season, and as much as it was funny seeing him get booked every game, the ill-discipline did cost the team with the red card at Southampton. However, anyone who comes on for a second North London derby, kicks lumps out of a lot of Spurs players and pushes someone out the way just to get a clear run-up to fly in for another tackle against Tottenham is an instant hero.
Season Rating: 6.5/10
 
24. Abou Diaby
It was brilliant to see him even play twenty minutes this season. Any sustained playing time Arsenal get out of him next season will be a bonus. Diaby does have a huge amount of talent, and incredible motivation to comeback from what he’s been through, but his body does not support him being a professional footballer.
Season Rating: 4/10
 
29. Kim Kallstrom
He was not the striker Arsenal fans wanted in January, and having been signed with a broken back, it was going to be difficult for Kim Kallstrom to make an impact at the club. He made a few useful Premier League appearances and scored his penalty in the FA Cup semi-final. Kallstrom didn’t do much else, but did as much as fans could have hoped for from him.
Season Rating: 5/10
 
31. Ryo Miyaichi
Made no real impact on the first team except for some Capital One Cup appearances. Unfortunately for him, I can’t see Ryo making it at Arsenal.
Season Rating: 2/10
 
44. Serge Gnabry
Gnabry did make some encouraging performances in the first team, and scored an excellent first goal at Swansea. He still has a lot to learn but Gnabry is an exciting player for the future. It’s good for him to have a strong German connection at the club as well.
Season Rating: 5.5/10
 
Listen to the Sam’s Match Reports podcast end-of-season awards special!
Part 1 – Part 2 – Part 3

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Returning Ramsey calms Arsenal worries

It’s easy to blame injuries for Arsenal’s demise in the title race this season, and even easier to just blame the absence of one player for the major stumbles the Gunners have taken in the second half of the campaign. I don’t want to be so simplistic about what’s happened to Arsenal’s season, but on seeing the performance of Aaron Ramsey at Hull on Sunday, it’s difficult to ignore the huge impact his injury had.
Unfortunately, asking the ‘what if?’ question doesn’t hide the thumping defeats suffered at Liverpool and Chelsea, but Arsenal fans should just rejoice that the Welshman is back and looking like he’s never been away. His first league start since Boxing Day also included a first appearance for Mesut Ozil since his hamstring injury picked up away to Bayern Munich, and the pair provided Arsenal with a freshness and sharpness in attack that has been horribly absent during recent troubles.
Ramsey has rightly grabbed the headlines for this contribution to all three goals in the comfortable 3-0 win, but the match was a reminder of the way Ozil glues this Arsenal team together going forward. At Hull, Ozil made himself available to take passes, and his clever movement made the space for others to burst into and cause problems. For the first goal, his run wide made space for Cazorla and Ramsey to move into the centre, before the German played a perfect ball inside to create the opportunity. Ozil then instigated the breakaway for the excellent second goal before half time. After his time out with injury, Ozil was lively, should have been awarded a penalty and got a valuable hour under his belt. Having such a comfortable lead early in the second half was ideal for Arsene Wenger as he could substitute his record signing and keep him fresh for the final four games.
Ozil’s own performance was also helped by having Aaron Ramsey ready to charge through the midfield to offer options in the final third. For someone that has played so little football since Christmas, the Welshman’s performance really was remarkable.
It was almost like a confirmation that Ramsey really was as good as we remember him from the start of the season. I was slightly fearful that his run of form was just that, and not something that he could match again. His performance on Sunday suggested otherwise. Ramsey is arguably the most complete midfielder in the league with his defensive and attacking contributions.
Whilst the Welsh Messi was central to everything good that Arsenal did in the game, after the Gunners hauled themselves over the line against Wigan in the FA Cup semi-final, the whole team is looking more confident. Lukas Podolski was one of the poorest performers at Wembley, and was quoted in the media as being unhappy at his substitution in that game. In fairness to the German, he has responded brilliantly with four goals in two games since and made it very difficult for Arsene Wenger to drop him for the rest of the season.
In many ways, it was a classic Podolski performance at Hull. He didn’t appear to be heavily involved in the game, but when the chances dropped to him near the box, his finishing was brutally clinical. His first strike in particular, finishing off the flowing counter-attack, was a reminder of the ridiculous power he has. When playing with Ramsey, Ozil and Cazorla, there is less pressure on Podolski to be more involved around the pitch, helping the balance of the team as the German is undoubtedly most dangerous when he can just sniff chances near the box or the flank with that left hammer.
Even though the win was very comfortable during the second half, there were some worrying moments in the first half, but the Arsenal defence did well, with Wojciech Szczesny especially excelling. Serious kudos too to Mikel Arteta, whose disciplined performance enabled the front five to cause havoc in front of him, and for someone who takes some serious pride in his appearance, to do so after brutally having a tooth knocked out was impressive stuff.
For the media, the fact the two sides will meet in the FA Cup final made a good narrative, but in reality Arsenal will have a different game with Hull at Wembley in May. Arsenal know the league situation of having to get late-season wins to secure European football very well. The added pressure of a cup final will add a huge extra dimension to the fixture, although going into it with two league wins over Hull should give the Gunners some confidence before the showpiece game.
However, before we walk down Wembley Way again, there is important league business to attend to. Everton won’t go away in the pursuit of the Champions League, so the match at Hull could have brought more nerves after a week that just about brought two Arsenal wins, albeit coming from losing situations. The return of Ozil, and particularly Ramsey, calmed all those nerves as the team played with the confidence and security that was evident in the earlier months of the season. It made such a difference to really be able to enjoy an Arsenal performance, especially at a time in the season when pressure is meant to be increased.

Arsenal huffed and puffed but couldn't blow Chelsea away

During the build-up up to Monday night’s game at the Emirates between Arsenal and Chelsea, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see the game get postponed. The pitch was fine, but the horrendous weather meant travelling to and from the game presented difficulties for fans. The vast majority did make it to the ground, however were hardly rewarded with a good game. This match deserved to be 0-0.
Arsenal were some way off their best performances this season and couldn’t break down a Chelsea team that came for a draw, and would only win if they scored following an Arsenal error.
It was classic Mourinho and wasn’t surprising. After conceding a lot of goals to Sunderland and Stoke recently, the indication from quotes from the Chelsea manager in the media was that he was going to have a defensive focus, and leaving Oscar and Juan Mata on the bench immediately showed that. A sensible tactic considering the wind, rain and form of the Chelsea defence? The 0-0 draw shows that it was, but it made for a terrible game to watch. For it to be a good spectacle for fans to watch, Arsenal had to score the first goal and ideally score it early. They didn’t, and therefore it was a poor game.
Arsenal struggled initially to create dangerous attacking moves forward with Ozil dropping deep to try and influence play in front of the three Chelsea central midfielders. Aaron Ramsey had one of his worst halves of football for a long time and most of the intricate link-up play that Arsenal tried simply wasn’t coming off. The team have clearly been affected by their most difficult run of games, but hopefully they can re-find their mojo against teams outside the top five in the festive period.
The major positive for Arsenal to take from the performance was the clean sheet. Whilst Chelsea only looked to play on the counter attack and didn’t attack with the pace and verve that Manchester City did at the Etihad, it’s encouraging that Arsenal didn’t concede after shipping six in the previous game. Thomas Vermaelen started in place of the injured Laurent Koscielny, and even though he doesn’t have the same understanding with Per Mertesacker that Koscielny has, and that only comes from playing matches together, the Belgian performed well and there were moments where the old Vermaelen was evident. He looked bullish in the tackle and was quick to make interceptions. The captain can be pleased with his return.
Apart from not winning, the biggest negative was Olivier Giroud failing to convert the two best chances Arsenal created in the game. The second one was a good save from the goalkeeper, however he should have hit the target with his first and not screwed the shot wide. The build-up was good, the pass from Ramsey was excellent, but the finish was missing. Giroud is still getting through an incredible amount of work for the team leading the line on his own, but he needs a goal. Any which way it happens, he just needs a goal to get some confidence back. The return of Podolski means that the German is an option for his finishing, but he doesn’t do the all-round centre forward play as well as Giroud. Hopefully the Frenchman can find his scoring touch again over Christmas, but with January looming, it’s a reminder to Arsene Wenger that he should be looking at a striker in the transfer window.
The Gunners weren’t helped by some strange decisions from referee Mike Dean who, as much as ignoring some of the usual Mourinho team tactics and niggly fouls, got two major decisions wrong in the space of 30 seconds. For both, he was well positioned and saw them clearly, but didn’t act appropriately. John Obi Mikel’s tackle on Mikel Arteta was pretty disgraceful and should have been punished with a red card and Theo Walcott, whilst he did exaggerate the contact to try and make it clear that there was a foul, was definitely brought down by Willian in the box.
Considering the FA commission banned Jack Wilshere for two games for a needless gesture towards Manchester City, to have some real credibility in the game I think they should be retrospectively punishing dangerous tackles like Mikel’s on Arteta. Wilshere’s gesture deserved to be punished, but it didn’t hurt anyone in the way that tackle could have done. Hard tackles are fine, late and dangerous ones that are aimed at the opponent rather than the ball aren’t and the FA still needs to sort out their way of dealing with them.
The referee can’t be used an excuse though. He didn’t help, but the Gunners still could have created more chances, or taken the ones they did make, to win the game.  The blustery and soaking conditions weren’t ideal, but as Chelsea sat back, Arsenal couldn’t whip up a storm to break through the visitors’ bus in front of the goal.
Arsenal aren’t quite top at Christmas, but are level on points with the leaders with the harder run of games out the way. Having not taken advantage of a chance against Chelsea, they now must do so over Christmas as other sides around them play each other.