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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Sanogo sparks Arsenal back into life

Nope, I didn’t expect I’d ever write that title either. Following a 2-1 defeat on Saturday when, despite not playing that badly, Arsenal looked to be in a really dreadful place, Yaya Sanogo is one of the last players in the squad I’d have suggested would have galvanised the team. Yet, more through circumstance than choice with Welbeck injured and Giroud not registered, the young Frenchman started up front against Borussia Dortmund with the Gunners looking to secure qualification to the knockout rounds of the Champions League.
After the squandered chances against Manchester United, and the tension among some supporters with a growing pro/anti-Wenger split, if Arsenal had gone a long time into the Dortmund game without scoring, problems would have been exacerbated and the team’s fragile confidence could have been damaged further. The man to save us from all of this? Yaya Sanogo.
Sanogo didn’t look like a striker without a goal in over a year at the club as, inside the opening two minutes of the game, he controlled the ball well around the edge of the box before bringing Cazorla into play. The Spaniard cleverly refound Sanogo, who calmly slotted the ball under Weidenfeller.
The weather almost suited the way Arsenal fans felt going into the game as a mist hung above the pitch, but it lifted when Sanogo opened the scoring. That one moment released so much pressure on Sanogo personally, on the team and on the manager. If Yaya Sanogo could score, almost anything felt possible again.
Scoring first was vital for Arsenal. Had they done so against Manchester United, I’m certain they’d have won the game. Against Dortmund, a team that are fantastic on the counter attack, Arsenal didn’t have to leave themselves horribly open, as they did when Klopp’s team outplayed them on Matchday 1. There were still a few hairy moments, but generally in the first half, Arsenal weren’t caught out as the defence and midfield played with greater concentration.
With more of an onus on Dortmund to attack, Arsenal were able to use the quality and pace of Alexis Sanchez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to launch their own counter-thrusts. Playing in the number 10 position, Santi Cazorla was much more effective than any other game this season as he provided the link between the deeper midfielders and the front three, something that was horribly missing against Manchester United. Having got the assist for the first goal, it was no surprise to see Cazorla involved as Arsenal doubled the lead in the second half.
The Spaniard picked out Alexis Sanchez who, by his extremely high standards, had been relatively quiet up to that point of the second half. But as every world class player can do, he produced a moment of magic even when things weren’t quite all going his way. Alexis bent the ball round the goalkeeper with a sublime effort from outside the box, with the Chilean managing to find the one piece of netting that made the shot virtually unstoppable.
While Alexis Sanchez has had some good matches for Arsenal playing as a number 10 almost alongside the main striker, Arsenal had a better balance against Dortmund with Cazorla in the central position and Alexis on the left. With the Chilean’s fantastic work rate, it also provided a bit more protection for Kieran Gibbs at left back.
As a unit, the back four were much better, with the much-maligned Nacho Monreal putting in a very good shift at centre-back. He’s copped a lot of flak, but it’s not Monreal’s fault that the squad is short of centre-backs, and for someone that is obviously built to be a full-back, he’s done a very valiant job in the middle. If Laurent Koscielny really is fit enough to return though, it goes without saying that he has to play. It’ll be a bit of a shame for Monreal though as it’ll probably mean a return to the bench for the Spaniard because of the form of Kieran Gibbs at left-back, who was stood-out on Wednesday. When Dortmund did get through the Arsenal back four, they were met with an impressive Emiliano Martinez, who saved well and didn’t do anything risky with his ball distribution.
The biggest negative was, once again, the injury situation. After finally scoring, we should have predicted that things could turn for Sanogo as he limped off with a hamstring problem. The bigger concern was seeing Mikel Arteta replaced with a calf problem. With a two goal lead, seeing the captain go off did give a large sense of déjà vu from the previous home game in the Champions League when everything crumbed around him, but this time, Arsenal were sensible and didn’t leave themselves exposed.
Arteta does bring a calmness to the team though, and despite the critics lamenting that he isn’t the defensive midfield powerhouse that plenty of fans yearn for, Arsenal are a much more balanced team and more effective team with the Spaniard at the base of the midfield. After some indifferent performances against Anderlecht and Swansea, the pressure is on Mathieu Flamini to step up in the coming league games.
Overall though, it was hard to not be pleased with the way the game went. It much more like last season, when 2-0 home wins were all the rage. Arsene Wenger has tried quite a few different things with his forward line and his midfield this season, but it’s no coincidence that the best performances have come when Wenger has reverted to the set-up that enabled Arsenal to maintain their longest title challenge for a few seasons and win the FA Cup.
It could have been very different on Wednesday though had Arsenal not struck early as the self-doubt would have crept in again. Thank goodness for Yaya Sanogo.

After Leicester comes the poker

In his press conference before the 1-1 draw at the King Power Stadium, Arsene Wenger described the last day of the transfer window as being like a game of poker. If the Gunners’ performance against Leicester City is anything to go by, the Arsenal boss needs to get his game face on and have a few winning hands on Monday.
This blog does need a slight disclaimer, as for the first time in a long time, I was unable to watch the game live so was listening to BBC Radio 5 Live. To be honest, I don’t have much of a desire to watch the 90 minutes back.
All that the match seemed to do was just reinforce the obvious and whip some supporters up into a frenzy and demand action on transfer deadline day. Yaya Sanogo, at this stage in his career, isn’t good enough to lead the line for Arsenal in the Premier League while Olivier Giroud is out injured. It’s not for a lack of effort from the lad, he’s just not good enough or confident enough at the moment.
At the back, Arsenal remain one injury away disaster. Only having six players to cover four positions in a season is careless. After Laurent Koscielny suffered an injury that led to him not being able to defend well enough for Leicester’s equaliser, all four of Arsenal’s only fit defenders were on the pitch. As much Giroud’s injury has increased the need for a striker and has dominated the back pages and the discussions among supporters, the need for a centre back is definitely a more pressing one. Arsenal were fortunate to make it through last season with seven defenders in the squad. On the face of it, it looks like very poor planning to only have six this season.
The other thing that was constantly mentioned during the game was the need for a holding midfielder. Mathieu Flamini had a good game on Wednesday against Besiktas, but then struggled at Leicester. With Mikel Arteta returning soon, the need is less pressing, but a good holding midfielder wouldn’t go amiss either.
Honestly, part of me hates myself for even writing this blog because so much has been written and said about a centre-back, defensive midfielder and a striker in the last few days that it’s becoming boring. I was getting annoyed listening to the radio and having Robbie Savage mention the transfer window every time the ball ran away from Sanogo or when Leicester ran through the area that this mystery tall, powerful, destructive DM would. But, improvements or additions in those positions do have the potential to make a huge difference to Arsenal’s season.
It’s not often I write a negative blog, but having not watched the match it’s hard to pick out many positives from it, but my hope is that the needs seem so obvious that Arsene Wenger has to do something about it on deadline day. It’ll be incredibly frustrating if he doesn’t, because this team aren’t that far from being able to really challenge for the league. Those final additions could be the thing that gets Arsenal over the line. I don’t know how much Arsene Wenger gambles when he plays poker, but surely he’ll know that it’s too much of a gamble to leave the holes in the squad going into the bulk of the season. It’s time to play your cards Arsene. You’ve got 24 hours.