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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Free-flowing Gunners show why hopes are rising for next season

It is easy to always just say “there’s always next season”, especially without winning the league for a while. But there is a growing sense of optimism around Arsenal that the current squad do have the potential to launch a truly serious challenge for the title in the next campaign. The form in the second half of the season has been superb, and the football has often been sumptuous. Monday night’s stroll at Hull just served to emphasise the optimism.
The relegation-threatened hosts had won their previous two games, and would have been hoping to follow victories for most of their relegation rivals over the weekend with one of their own. It looked set-up to be a game where the underdog gets stuck-in, ruffles Arsenal’s feathers and causes them problems. Instead, Hull rarely got near the ball, especially in the first half, as Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil in particular, orchestrated a beautiful Arsenal symphony.
With the pace of Alexis Sanchez and the guile of Aaron Ramsey in support, Arsenal’s midfield put on an exhibition. When Hull dallied and panicked in possession, Arsenal were quick but calm in regaining the ball and launching devastating attacks on the bewildered back three.
Arsenal’s first half lead was gained with some fortune as Michale Dawson deflected Alexis Sanchez’s free-kick over his goalkeeper, but the original foul was made following Ozil’s sharp work to release the Chilean to run dangerously towards the box. Arsenal’s second goal was also aided by a deflection, but there was beauty in the build-up to the goal.
Santi Cazorla, almost playing like an American Football quarter-back, took one look from the halfway line and clipped a perfect pass with his left foot over the defence, for Ramsey to run onto off coming off the right wing. The Welshman’s control was excellent, allowing him to manouevre into a shooting position in the Hull box. Via a flick off Robbie Brady, the ball nestled into the net.
Aaron Ramsey was again selected on the right of midfield, and while it still doesn’t quite seem right, he is completely justifying why Arsene Wenger is trying desperately to find a space for him in the team. Ramsey has developed the very useful knack of making things happen, and for someone who is considered to have had quite an average season, his goal return from midfield is very healthy, reaching double figures again.
Moments after going 2-0 up, Cazorla played another stunning though ball, slicing open the Hull defence to put Alexis through. He was denied by a good save from Harper as he tried to chip the ball over the goalkeeper. The Chilean wasn’t going to be denied again before half-time though, as Ozil jumped on a loose pass from Huddlestone to release Ramsey, who in-turn fed the perfect through ball to match the diagonal run from Alexis. With Dawson left trailing in Alexis’ wake, Sanchez strolled around Haper and rolled the ball into the net for a thoroughly deserved 3-0 lead.
Hull did sneak a goal back in the second-half through a Stephen Quinn header, but that owed more to David Meyler not being penalised for a poor challenge that left Laurent Koscielny injured in the build-up.
The Gunners never really looked in any danger of throwing the game away, and on another day would have scored plenty more goals. There were a few passing moves that led to chances which, had the finishing been better, would have of been candidates for goal of the season because of the flowing football that proceeded them.
There were plenty of flicks and one-touch passes, with one outrageous no-look flick from Ozil to Alexis during a counter-attack really standing out. The German was named PFA fans player of the month for April, and it’s clear he’s filled with confidence. He’s working hard for the team off the ball, and producing brilliance when on the ball. It’s no coincidence Arsenal’s upturn has coincided with his return from injury.
Speaking of returns, it was good to see Jack Wilshere make a reappearance in the first time-team following injury. He replaced Ramsey on the right and looked very sharp with some direct running and excellent footwork. Knowing he’s not first choice in midfield at the moment should spur Wilshere on to make an impression whenever he gets an opportunity, and he definitely did that at the KC Stadium.
Hull may well go down, but growing optimism for Arsenal about next season isn’t just founded on beating a relegation-threatened team 3-1. It has come from the winning nine of the last ten games, and doing so in some considerable style. It might have taken slightly longer to occur because of injuries and the players becoming accustomed to playing alongside each other, but put Cazorla, Ozil, Alexis, Ramsey and Giroud in the same team, and magic can happen.
Oh, and happy St Totteringham’s day. 20 years in a row.

Arsenal withstand Palace pressure to claim the points

I’ve always thought that the idea that 2-0 is a dangerous score in football is a slightly misleading one. While it does pose a tactical question about weather to keep attacking, the scoreline should be a clear indicator that you’ve got control of the game and don’t need to be nervous for the rest of the match.
But, the next goal in a match at 2-0 can be the tipping point. At Selhurst Park on Saturday, had Alexis Sanchez applied the finish to a swift Arsenal counter-attack having been played through by Mesut Ozil, the Gunners would have been out of sight in the second half against Crystal Palace with a three-goal lead. Even though it came late, Palace did get the next goal in the match to make it 2-1, and in the remaining minute of injury time, caused a major scare for every Gooner when Glenn Murray headed against the post.
Despite the 2-0 lead gained in the first half, Arsenal struggled to find any fluidity in the second half and invited the hosts onto them. Alan Pardew, who usually seems to get his team’s fired up for matches against Arsenal, had got his team to charge round the field and put pressure on the Gunners at every opportunity. The match did become a bit more stretched in the second half, but his side were able to keep up the frantic pace for the whole match, which was almost rewarded in injury time.
While Arsenal did get pinned back, the backs-to-the-wall defending in the second half was generally very good from Arsenal. Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny dealt with almost every cross that the hosts sent into the box, not giving the strikers much of a sniff until the last attack of the game when Murray headed against the post. After a pretty torrid opening spell of game against Wilfried Zaha, Nacho Monreal tightened up his side of the pitch and nullified the winger’s threat.
In front of the back four, Francis Coquelin continued his excellent emergence into the team with an important performance. He was fortunate early in the game to avoid a yellow card for a high tackle, which given he picked up a subsequent card made a difference, but the Frenchman was typically combative and made plenty of important interceptions, blocks and tackles near the edge of his own penalty area. He was disciplined, and most importantly in such a competitive game, looked up for the fight.
While David Ospina’s introduction into the starting XI has coincided with a good run of form, I think the first choice goalkeeper is far from a closed book at Arsenal. The Colombian generally has done everything with the minimum of fuss since breaking into the team, but there were a few panicky moments on Saturday that would have had Wojciech Szczesny looking on with interest. I’m not quite sure why he came out to head the ball away from the edge of the penalty area in the second half, falling over Mertesacker in the process, and he missed the cross that almost led to an equaliser. I’m sure Ospina will keep the position for the moment, but if a misjudgement costs a goal, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Wojciech Szczesny reinstated.
The pressure Arsenal came under in the second half followed a first half that didn’t have too much goalmouth action, but the frenetic pace of the match made it quite a compelling watch. The visitors settled into the match well and turned early possession into the lead when Danny Welbeck applied pressure to the unsuspecting Souare, who then felled the forward as he looked to advance into the area. The foul was on the line of the penalty area, which prompted Mark Clattenburg to point to the spot. As he has done with every penalty he’s taken this season, Santi Cazorla found the net.
With the attacking quintet of Cazorla, Ozil, Welbeck, Alexis and Giroud, Arsenal always looked dangerous when they had the ball near the Palace box, but on a very bobbly and slippy pitch, they couldn’t quite apply the final pass or finishing touch to some promising attacking moves until the very end of the half. Alexis found Welbeck’s excellent diagonal run into space, and Olivier Giroud was on hand to gobble up the rebound from Welbeck’s saved shot to collect his 50th goal for the club.
In the second half, that attacking five did have some chances to kill the game off on the counter, but again the finish, final ball, or in one case for Giroud in the middle of a flowing move, the pitch stopped Arsenal from extending the lead.
With Theo Walcott left on the bench, alongside Tomas Rosicky and the returning Jack Wilshere, it’ll be interesting to see what Arsene Wenger does with his team for the Champions League tie with Monaco on Wednesday. He might be reluctant to play such an attacking line-up in the first leg of a European tie, but with Cazorla, Ozil and Giroud all in good form, and Alexis almost impossible to leave out, it only leaves space for one more from Welbeck, Walcott, Rosicky and Wilshere. If Wenger wants a bit more control, then Rosicky will play, but if he wants to be attacking and look to make a fast start to the tie, Welbeck or Walcott will get the nod, and it’d be harsh to drop Welbeck after a positive performance at Palace.
Even though the Champions League draw was kind to the Gunners, they’ll need to be better than they were against Crystal Palace to secure progress to the quarter-finals. That said, Arsenal did show character to get the points against Alan Pardew’s team as it was a tricky game, played a pretty dodgy pitch, and other results in the league mean it could be a vital victory.