The SMR Arsenal Squad Review – Attackers

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. Finally, it’s the attackers.
 
9. Lukas Podolski
After a great start to the season with an excellent brace at Fulham, Podolski seriously banjaxed his hamstring and wasn’t seen again until Boxing Day. A goal came on that day, as did other important ones in the run-in. Despite having to spend much of the season as a substitute, he forced his way back into the starting line-up near in the latter stages of the season, going on an excellent scoring run in April.
There are still questions about the best way to use Podolski as his work-rate is often queried on the flank, but his appearances as the lone striker have been pretty anonymous. With more competition for places, he did well to get back in the team, and remains lethal if manoeuvred into position to release that hammer of a left foot.
Season Rating: 6.5/10
 
12. Olivier Giroud
Giroud remains an easy target for criticism, however a lot of that is born out of the fact that he was the only good quality option as a lone striker in Arsenal’s squad for the whole season. Considering the burden he had to take on in that role, Giroud had a good season.
He is never going to be a player that will beat defenders with pace in behind, which is why his combination play with Theo Walcott was missed so much in the second half of the season, as the two together complemented each other well in the team. Mid-season private life problems did co-inside with an unhelpful loss of form, but overall Giroud put in a good shift as the lead front man all year. He just needs some help to share the load next season.
Season Rating: 7.5/10
 
14. Theo Walcott
This looked to be the season that we really saw the best of Theo Walcott. He was taking more responsibility in the team, creating more chances and scoring regularly when he was fully fit. Rather than just being a quick player, he was making more intelligent runs in behind defences and the end product was regularly there from him.
It’s just a huge shame that his season was wrecked by injury. Walcott is unique in the Arsenal squad for his raw pace, and even though someone like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is quick and will be an excellent player, Walcott’s added experience and tendency to sit on the shoulder of the last defender was hugely missed in the second half of the season. Hopefully it won’t be long into 2014-2015 that we see Walcott flying down the wing again.
Season Rating: 6/10
 
22. Yaya Sanogo
In the FA Cup final, whilst it was a surprise to see Sanogo thrown into the action to form a front two with Olivier Giroud, there were signs that this raw striker could be a good player. For the most part, he’s looked a bit out of his depth, and not scoring a goal is hardly ideal.
However, he also suffered from the fact that he shouldn’t have been the only real option as a back-up to Giroud. Sanogo does have a good turn of pace, is strong and can cause defenders problems. There are a lot of technique issues to be ironed out, but he’ll be better for playing in big games in the cup run and the Champions League this season.
Season Rating: 4/10
 
23. Nicklas Bendtner
I’m staggered that he was even seen in an Arsenal shirt again this season. However, for all his problems, he did score a couple of important goals, especially the late one at home to Cardiff.
However, any professional footballer who goes on a trip abroad that isn’t authorised by the club, drops their trousers and then starts rubbing their junk on a cab needs to have a serious look at themselves. No-one will miss Lord Bendtner next season.
Season Rating: 1.5/10
 
Listen to the Sam’s Match Reports podcast end-of-season awards special!
Part 1 – Part 2 – Part 3

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Different heroes complete a crucial Christmas

The run of festive football is always a test of a club’s squad as injuries build up and players get fatigued quickly playing every three days. In this difficult period, Arsenal have emerged with ten points from twelve and remain top of a close and tense title race. Had late goals not been scored against Cardiff City to secure a 2-0 win on Wednesday, Arsenal would have been third, however an unlikely hero saw them regain top spot.
Against West Ham, Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski came up with goals to turn the match around. Olivier Giroud netted against Newcastle to win the points. With the game looking set for a draw, the unlikely hero was Nicklas Bendtner before Theo Walcott added a second goal against Cardiff.
There has been an understandable concern about what Arsenal would do without Giroud, however whilst his link-up play was missed against Cardiff, the Gunners don’t have a reliance on him for goals. As the festive period has shown, there are plenty of players who can step up and score crucial goals. Behind the first XI, there are now players in the squad that are feeding off the confidence of the rest of the group and are able to make a difference when they are called upon.
In the case of Nicklas Bendtner, so often the pantomime villain in the Arsenal squad, his status as a hero against Cardiff was as unlikely as it was welcome considering how the game was going. We all know that it was far from ideal that Bendtner was left in the Arsenal squad at the start of the season, and for all the (often deserved) criticism he’s got for on-field and off-field actions, the Dane does deserve credit for how he helped changed the game on Wednesday.
Coming off the bench after Lukas Podolski had struggled to make an impact as the central striker, Bendtner gave Arsenal a focal point to use in their attacks and someone to aim for when putting crosses into the box. His all round game isn’t as good as Giroud, but even though it’d be beneficial for Arsenal to sign a striker this January, Bendtner has to be considered as a genuine option to replace him when needed. Against Cardiff, he looked energetic, keen to get on the ball and pounced in the box when David Marshall parried Bacary Sagna’s header to smash home the opening goal with a few minutes left.
The problem with Bendtner is that Marshall landed on the Dane’s ankle after the goal was scored. That goal will have done his confidence wonders and made him feel like an important part of the team, however the ankle injury could mean he’s sidelined for a few weeks. Normally, an injury to Nicklas Bendtner is nothing to worry about, but with Giroud still recovering from the knock picked up at Newcastle, Bendtner could have been useful as a like-for-like lead striker. Hopefully his and Giroud’s injuries aren’t seriousness enough to rule both out of Saturday’s North London derby.
With different players stepping up to be heroes in the last couple of weeks, the Arsenal squad has shown some strength in all areas of the pitch. Against Cardiff, Arsenal definitely missed Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil in midfield as the play wasn’t as fluid going forward, however Jack Wilshere gave one of his best performances for ages. Coming off the bench, Tomas Rosicky added an extra impetus to the team and looked to be more direct in finding Theo Walcott as an outlet on the right.
Walcott was one of the players to lead the charge as Arsenal increased the pressure on Cardiff in the second half. Even though there wasn’t much space in behind the opposition defence, Walcott ran directly at the full-back, put in some good crosses and his delivery from corners was improved and could have led to a goal for Per Mertesacker in the second half. His clinching goal near the end was deserved for the way he took responsibility to drive Arsenal forward. Since regaining his place in the starting line-up at Manchester City, Walcott has five goals in five games.
Even though it wasn’t a fluent performance, this game was another example of this Arsenal team being different to previous years. Missing the top scorer, record signing and lead striker, Arsenal still found a way to win the game. In horrendous weather conditions and against a team determined to impress their soon-to-be manager, this was a match that in previous years wouldn’t have brought three points. Manchester City andChelsea won’t go away in this title race, so every win takes on an extra significance. Over Christmas, both City and Chelsea have applied pressure and Arsenal have responded.
It will now be interesting to see how Arsene Wenger approaches the FA Cup game with Tottenham. I’d like to see a full strength team fielded, despite the busy schedule of games that Arsenal have had. There has been some rotation over the last couple of weeks, so there should be some fresh legs. It’s a match that’s made for the likes of Flamini and Rosicky, so the team selection should be a strong team that won’t slack and will be up for the derby. If Giroud misses out, hopefully Nicklas Bendtner will be fit. That’s not something I thought I’d say at the start of the season!

Arsenal rotate but stay on track

It was always going to have to happen at some point. Olivier Giroud needed a rest, and with crunch games with Everton, Napoli, Manchester City and Chelsea to come, a home match with Hull City in theory presented the best opportunity to bring in Nicklas Bendtner. Within two minutes of kick off at the Emirates Stadium, you wondered why Arsenal fans were worried about having to play the Dane up front.
Carl Jenkinson whipped in a superb cross from the right and Nicklas Bendtner just had to get his head on the ball to redirect it past the goalkeeper. The Emirates Stadium crowd erupted in surprise as much as joy when the ball hit the back of the net.
For the rest of the game, whilst Bendtner clearly didn’t offer the Gunners as much as Giroud has done this season, fans were more forgiving towards him because he’d got the early goal. There was a poor miss following a rebound and odd misplaced pass, but Arsenal fans couldn’t have hoped for much more from Bendtner. Giroud was able to rest and Bendtner got some confidence, not that he’s short of that normally though!
The central striker wasn’t the only position that Arsenal rotated in as Arsene Wenger made five changes from the win over Cardiff. The two full backs were changed with Jenkinson and Monreal playing, with Flamini and Rosicky also appearing in midfield. The changes didn’t affect Arsenal’s fluid style of play, and by scoring so early, the team were quickly into their stride. With Arsene Wenger using most of the players that came into the team as regular substitutes, most weren’t rusty so were able to slot into the side.
Hull weren’t up to much during the game, emphasising how poor Liverpool must have been at the KC Stadium to lose there on Sunday, but that was mainly because Arsenal dominated possession. Flamini and Ramsey kept things ticking over in midfield with Rosicky, Cazorla and Ozil occupying the three attacking midfield positions and constantly rotating to move the Hull defenders around.
The German stood out and added a goal to go with his two assists at Cardiff. His goal was calmly taken with a calm finish following a sublime Aaron Ramsey pass. Whilst it wasn’t the most intense game, the match was another good lesson in English football for Ozil. He’s still adapting to the Premier League game, but for someone that had been criticised by some for struggling, he’s scored three goals and assisted six in the top division this season.
Santi Cazorla hasn’t hit the heights that he did in his first season during this campaign, but he was busy against Hull and showed signs that he’s getting used to the rotation in Arsenal’s attacking midfield three. Last season, virtually all of Arsenal’s serious attacking moves went through the Spaniard in the centre of the pitch, but now there are more options for the Gunners when going forward. Whilst it has benefited the team, Cazorla hasn’t shined as much. He was much improved on Tuesday night, and it’s encouraging for the rest of the busy festive period to have a confident Cazorla.
Just finally, Arsenal kept a clean-sheet, again. The combination of Szczesny, Mertesacker and Koscielny excelled once again. It was clear in the last ten minutes, even with the game looking beyond Hull, how desperate the Arsenal defence were to get another clean sheet. Even against a team that posed few tests, the concentration of the defence was excellent to keep their good run going.
The game definitely felt like one that Arsenal just needed to get out of the way before the tougher tests in December, but that didn’t stop the team putting in a professional performance. A clean sheet, a rested striker, some effective rotation and three points. A good night’s work for Arsenal.