Gunnerblog End of Season Awards 2014

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It’s that time again. Ladies and gentlemen, please be seated. The results are in.

PLAYER OF THE SEASON

In a season of progress for Arsenal, there are several contenders for this award. Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny have been largely outstanding at the back, whilst Wojciech Szczesny has managed to grab plenty more crosses than unwanted headlines during a generally steady campaign.

Up top, Olivier Giroud deserves credit for a strong second season. Although his lack of speed and composure can occasionally infuriate, 22 goals is a decent return. However, it’d be odd to give Player of the Season to the one man in the starting XI we’re consciously looking to replace.

For a long time, I didn’t think I’d be able to give this award to Aaron Ramsey. After picking up a thigh problem on Boxing Day, he missed fully four months of the season. It seemed particularly cruel given the explosive manner in which he’d begun the campaign, firing Arsenal to the top of the Premier League table.

Had he stayed fit, Ramsey might have run Luis Suarez close in the battle for Footballer of the Year. What’s more, Arsenal might run Manchester City close in the battle for the title. As it was, it seemed injury had robbed him of the chance to mark his name inexorably in the ‘2013/14’ chapter of football’s history books.

However, the FA Cup Final presented Ramsey with the opportunity he needed to make this season his own. His extra-time winner capped an extraordinary campaign, and the fact that his form survived a four-month lay-off shows it was far more than just a purple patch. Arsenal have a new hero – and last year’s Young Player of the Season has graduated to senior stardom.

YOUNG PLAYER OF THE SEASON

For the first time in a long time, there aren’t really any major candidates for this award. The likes of Ramsey and Wilshere are almost too experienced to be nominated, whilst younger players like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain missed long spells of the season through injury.

Arsenal’s squad is older and more hardened than it has been for many years. The few teen talents we do have tend to be on the fringes of the squad.

Yaya Sanogo warrants a mention, having emerged from obscurity to finish by taking part in the FA Cup Final. However, he’s still a raw talent, and may require a period on loan to add finesse to his undoubted physical attributes.

Due to a lack of alternatives, I’m going to give this award to Serge Gnabry. Although injury saw Gnabry fade away from the first-team picture in the spring, he was an important member of the squad across the Christmas period. This was the season in which he stepped out of the youth system and in to the first-team. Next year, he will hope to kick on again.

WORST PLAYER OF THE SEASON

After this season, you’d be forgiven for asking: “who is Ryo Miyaichi?” Better yet, where is Ryo Miyaichi? Or why is Ryo Miyaichi? The Japanese winger was once named by Robin van Persie as one of the top three most exciting talents in world football. Now, he looks increasingly like an eager competition winner who has found himself way out of his depth. I would be very surprised if he was an Arsenal player next season.

However, Ryo is spared the indignity of this award by the fact that Park Chu-Young made a solitary appearance for us in this season’s Capital One Cup. In January, he moved to Watford on loan, before returning to Korea complaining of a skin infection. The strangest signing of Arsene Wenger’s reign can at least leave clutching this trophy.

GAME OF THE SEASON

In terms of Arsenal’s performance, I’m not sure we ever surpassed our dominating display in the 2-0 win over Rafa Benitez’s Napoli. We overwhelmed the Italians with our intelligent pressing and penetrative passing. Most satisfyingly of all, once a comfortable lead had been achieved, we showed a hitherto unseen ability to manage the game and keep the opposition at bay.

However, when it comes to pure entertainment, it’s difficult to look past the very last match of our season: 2-0 down, 3-2 up, Arsenal won the FA Cup.

WORST GAME OF THE SEASON

There are a few contenders here. The 5-1 battering away to Liverpool was devastating, whereas the 3-0 defeat away to Everton was plain depressing.

However, neither of those can match the humiliation of losing 6-0 at Chelsea. The tactical naivety Arsenal showed in that game is what makes me a little concerned about the length of Arsene Wenger’s new deal. This was a strange old season in some respects: Wembley brought dizzying highs, but Stamford Bridge saw us hit one of the lowest points since the 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford in 2011.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE SEASON

The signing of Mesut Ozil was undoubtedly a highlight. It was a transformative moment for the entire club, and allowed the Arsenal fans — who had, until that point, looked on the verge of revolting — to rejoice.

That absurdly good goal by Jack Wilshere against Norwich would also have to figure. I’m not sure I’ll ever see a better team goal than that. It was an honour to be present.

However, nothing can match the FA Cup win for pure elation. I can’t narrow it down to just Ramsey’s goal, Arsene finally clutching the cup, or the Islington celebrations. The whole weekend was fantastic. For years, Arsenal wrote off the FA Cup as a relatively minor competition. Winning it, however, felt pretty major.

DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE SEASON

I wonder why I have this as the final category. Inevitably, it means ending on something of a downer. I might have to look at that in future.

When it comes to identifying the season’s most disappointing element, I’d have to opt for our performances against our major rivals. Getting thrashed by the likes of City, Chelsea and Liverpool was agonising. Almost as painful was twice failing to beat the weakest United team in a generation.

If Arsenal are to improve upon their league placing next season, they’ll probably need to secure better results against elite opposition.

Gunnerblog End of Season Awards 2013

Cazorla vs Liverpool

It’s that time again, when I metaphorically hand out fictional awards to players who will never actually receive them or know they’ve won.

Let’s get straight on with it.

PLAYER OF THE SEASON

Last year Arsenal hand a stand-out winner: footballer of the year Robin van Persie. In the wake of Van Persie’s departure, Arsene Wenger made it plain that responsibility would have to be shared more equally throughout the team.

Nevertheless, one man rose above the rest. It’s a good job he rose, because he’s so small that frankly you’d have difficulty spotting him otherwise.

Santi Cazorla has had an outstanding first season in English football. I’d second Arsene Wenger’s sentiments in wondering aloud just how he wasn’t voted in to the PFA Team of the Year. Few players in English football have demonstrated Cazorla’s combination of style and stoicism; technique and tenacity. Cazorla is that rare thing: a flair player with real guts. His numbers aren’t bad either: in the Premier League alone, he managed 12 goals and 12 assists.

The first thing that struck me about Cazorla in pre-season was his remarkable two-footedness. He is genuinely ambidextrous, able to torment defenders by shifting on to either his left or right foot with equal ease. That two-footedness is a hallmark of the astonishing degree of technical excellence which Cazorla brings to all aspects of his game (with the disappointing and typically-Arsenal exception of set-piece delivery).

At the start of the season, Arsene understandably sought to build the team around the diminutive Spaniard, fielding him in a central playmaking role. As the campaign wore on, pragmatism took hold, and Cazorla was confined to the left wing. It is testament to his intelligence and versatility that his influence has not waned.

No player has had a more consistent presence in the first team: Cazorla has started 47 games this season. That underlines his important to the side. We simply wouldn’t know what to do without him.

Cazorla was the obvious candidate for me, although I’d also like to give a quick mention to two other players. Firstly, Per Mertesacker deserves credit for a hugely consistent year. Many expected him to fall behind Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen in the battle for places at centre-back, but instead he emerged as the lynch-pin of our defence. I can’t help but feel Steve Bould sees something of himself in the lanky German.

Theo Walcott also warrants praise for his best season to date. In just 31 starts he amassed 22 goals and 15 assists. Our collective frustration with Walcott would be better exercised elsewhere: when we needed him, he invariably produced the goods, and his decision to stay with the club was undoubtedly one of the high-points of the season.

YOUNG PLAYER OF THE SEASON

Once upon a time the Arsenal team was full of striplings, and this category was hotly contested. Previous winners include the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Alex Song and Jack Wilshere. However those kids have either graduated, grown up, or been injured a lot.

The Arsenal team these days has a more grizzled look to it. The likes of Mertesacker, Sagna, Arteta and Cazorla raise the age profile of the side considerably, and even our Carling Cup side this term had an unusual degree of experience.

Of the remaining Arsenal tyros, there were high hopes for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but he struggled to meet the unfair levels of expectation. Carl Jenkinson had an excellent start to the season that saw him earn an England call-up and a new contract, and he’ll hope to challenge for a first-team spot on a more consistent basis next season.

I toyed with the idea of giving it to Kieran Gibbs, but decided that at 23 he was probably too old. I hate seeing the PFA dish out Young Player awards to the likes of James Milner when he’s well in to his mid-twenties.

However, at the start of this season, Aaron Ramsey was just 21. He was also something of a lightening-conductor for the Arsenal fans’ frustrations. If not every misplaced pass was met with a boo, they were certainly met with a collective tut of disapproval. By the end of the season, however, he had emerged as one of the team’s most important components.

Ramsey’s season mirrors Arsenal’s own. In the first half he looked out of sorts. He was trying things he didn’t necessarily have the skill or the confidence to pull off. In the second half, pragmatism took hold. Ramsey, like Arsenal, kept it simple and reaped the benefits. Alongside the efficiency of Arteta, Ramsey’s energy and effervescence has proved invaluable.

WORST PLAYER OF THE SEASON

There are some players who disappointed this season. Bacary Sagna fell below his previously immaculate standards, and Thomas Vermaelen’s performances lacked the discipline you’d expect of an Arsenal captain and centre-half.

Then there are some players whose contribution was plain poor. Our record signing Andrey Arshavin failed to make a single Premier League start, and even when called upon rarely looked like a player itching for 90 minutes of action.

Then there is Andre Santos. When it comes to this award, it’s impossible to see past the Brazilian – and that’s not just because of his expanding waistline. I actually think the stick he received for his half-time strip session with a certain Dutchman was way overblown, but it remains impossible to defend some of his performances on the field. Although his loan spell with Gremio is about to come to an end, it seems Santos’ Arsenal career reached its own conclusion the moment we signed Nacho Monreal.

GAME OF THE SEASON

There was a period before Christmas when Arsenal played with all the self-destructive madness of a radicalised lemming. The consequence was a series of unbelievable matches. The 7-3 with Newcastle is noteworthy not only for the unusual scoreline but also Theo Walcott’s breathtaking hat-trick.

Beating Tottenham 5-2 is hard to surpass, although seeing as it’s becoming an annual thing there’s no need to lavish it with another award. Like that swotty child in school, it can’t win the Maths prize every year.

I’m going to opt for Reading 5-7 Arsenal: The game that nearly broke me. This match had everything – even a Marouane Chamakh goal. Arsenal came from four goals down to win in some style. As I wrote at the time:

The first half was abject, then apocalyptic, then embarrassing. The second half was acceptable, then alluring, then astounding. Extra-time was just plain bonkers.

WORST GAME OF THE SEASON

This season managed to provide far too many contenders for this category for my liking.

The home defeat to Swansea was probably as volatile an atmosphere as the Emirates has ever experienced. I remember leaving the ground that day wondering if Arsene would be forced to resign. The players were apathetic and the crowd were apoplectic.

However, the cup defeats to lower league opposition take the biscuit. Blackburn was bad; Bradford was worse. To lose to a team in League Two, with effectively our best team on the field, was humiliating. The fact that defeat also robbed us of a fantastic chance to win a trophy merely rubbed salt in to the not inconsiderable wound.

Also, this:

HIGHLIGHT OF THE SEASON

I was so stuck for what to write in this bit that I opened it up to Twitter. As ever, there were some cracking suggestions: Per Mertesacker’s thumping header against Spurs; Tottenham fans celebrating an imaginary goal on the final day; Jack Wilshere’s long-awaited return.

In the end, I’ve simply had to plump for the end.

This was not a vintage season for our club. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t glad to see the back of it. We celebrated on the final day, but it was more an escape than an achievement. Fourth place is often compared to a trophy, but for a club of our stature it’s more comparable to surviving a relegation scrap. We felt relief rather than joy.

DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE SEASON

There were so many – and sadly, so many that are now horribly familiar. Our utter failure to contest the major trophies is something that is becoming soul-crushingly customary.

For the sake of variety, I’ve decided to opt for an unusual choice: the plight of Abou Diaby.

When scrolling through our statistics to make my choice for Player of the Season, I was genuinely jolted by seeing Diaby’s name: I had forgotten he played for us. That rapid decline is all the more remarkable when you consider that at the start of the season he was turning in man of the match performances against the likes of Manchester City.

Sadly, since then he has succumbed to another major injury.  I’m not sure how many more there will be in his career.

Arsene Wenger has shown enormous faith in Diaby throughout his struggles, and Diaby himself has shown tremendous courage to fight back from a succession of blows. However, after this latest blow I can’t help but feel that Arsene’s faith and Diaby’s courage will be wearing as thin as the cartilage in the Frenchman’s knackered ankle.

So there you have it. Tomorrow I’ll be taking a look at the season as a whole through the prism of the blog. Till then.

Gunnerblog End of Season Awards 2012

I thought I had better squeeze these in before May is out, otherwise they’ll begin to feel outdated and irritating, like Noel Edmonds or woolen trousers. So, amidst muffled fanfare and the half-hearted applause of a fanatical few, let us begin.

PLAYER OF THE SEASON

Remarkably, in a season which will be remembered as much for calamity as class, there are several credible contenders for this award – three of whom are arguably surprise candidates.

At the start of the campaign, both Laurent Koscielny and Mikel Arteta were expected to play supporting roles to the men playing directly next to them. However, a combination of injuries and poor form meant that Thomas Vermaelen and Jack Wilshere never hit the heights expected of them – or, in Jack’s case, never even hit the pitch. In their stead, both Koscielny and Arteta stepped up to the mark with some outstanding performances. Laurent eradicated the silly errors that marred his first season to become the model of consistency, whilst Mikel’s importance to the team was underlined most pointedly by how desperately he was missed when absent. The contribution of both players did much to make up for the aberrations and absence of more illustrious team-mates.

It may seem unfathomable now, but the winner of last year’s ‘Worst Player of the Season’ Award was one Tomas Rosicky, who “made 34 appearances without doing anything of note”. For the first half of this season, that ineffective form continued, until he suddenly sparked in to life – and what life. Against the odds, Rosicky has found the best form of his Arsenal career, supplanting Aaron Ramsey and bringing verve and vision to the Arsenal midfield. He rightly earnt himself a new deal, and will be hoping to carry his tremendous end-of-season displays in to next season.

However, despite the various claims from these three pretenders, there can surely be no arguments about the fact that the crown ultimately goes to one Robin van Persie. His quality has long been undoubted, but this year he finally managed to shed the concerns over his fragility. Taking on the armband has seen him flourish both as a player and a man, and it’s hardly worth imagining how 2011/12 might have panned out without him. Saying that, depending on how the summer plays out, we might just get a pretty good idea in 2012/13. Let’s enjoy him and raise a glass to him while we can – Robin Van Persie: the best footballer in the country.

YOUNG PLAYER OF THE SEASON

This is always a hotly-contested award in this Arsenal squad, and I certainly found it hard to call.

I haven’t been entirely convinced by Kieran Gibbs’ first full season at left-back, and to be fair to him he suffered a fairly hefty injury which ruled him out for the middle third of the season. So that was him off the list.

I toyed with the idea of giving to Francis Coquelin – a young man who returned from a loan spell at Lorient fairly unheralded, and showed his mettle as a midfielder, full-back, and invaluable squad member.

And then I plumped for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: a teenager who in twelve months has gone from League One to Champions League and on to the European Championships. The thought of what he could achieve with such an impressive first campaign behind him is mouthwatering.

And then I remembered: there was one candidate I was overlooking, simply because I had forgotten that he was even young. I simply accepted him as an essential part of the team.

Wojciech Szczesny only turned 22 last month. In goalkeeping terms, he is a baby – fully three years younger than Joe Hart. To play almost fifty games, with only the odd dip in form, is an outstanding achievement for Szczesny. Next season he will inherit the number one shirt, and I can’t see him letting go of it any time soon.

WORST PLAYER OF THE SEASON

It’s never nice handing this out, but it is tradition, so we may aswell get on with it. Perrennial contenders Almunia and Fabianski didn’t really get enough game-time to bungle themselves into consideration. I thought long and hard about awarding it to Park Chu-Young, but decided he was more guilty of invisibility than ineptitude – although perhaps that’s because his greatest crimes came on the training pitch.

In the end, however, I’ve plumped for Marouane Chamakh. The Morroccan ventured on to the field 13 times more than Park, without managing to beat the Korean’s goal tally of ‘one’. He simply has not lived up to either his generous pay-packet, or his performances in the early part of his Arsenal career- and unlike Tomas Rosicky, I don’t think he’ll get the chance to prove me wrong next season.

GAME OF THE SEASON

It’s been a thrilling season, so it’s no surprise there are plenty of contenders here. It won’t live as long in the memory as others, but I for one enjoyed our workmanlike display to beat the eventual Champions, Manchester City, thanks to Mikel Arteta’s late strike.

Our entire season felt like a comeback, and it was full of microcosmic comeback games. Highlights include the 5-3 victory at Stamford Bridge, Thomas Vermaelen’s late late winner against Newcastle, and the incredible attempt to reign in AC Milan.

The undoubted winner, however, has to be Arsenal 5 – 2 Spurs. Bacary Sagna’s thumping header turned a season on its head, and set us up for a late run that would ultimately see us pip Spurs to third and the Champions League. It was a fantastic day, and a quite outstanding match.


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WORST GAME OF THE SEASON

I won’t pore over the details. It was painful enough the first time. Suffice to say that in my time as an Arsenal fan I cannot remember a game in which we were so comprehensively humiliated by a rival.

I will now consign this game to the same part of my brain that stores the image of John Terry lifting the Champions League trophy, and attempt not to mention it unless absolutely necessary.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE SEASON

RVP’s wonder-volleys?
Hammering Chelsea?
Overhauling Spurs?

Afraid not. The highlight of my season was the magical moment when Thierry Henry not only deigned to return to the Emirates turf, but dared to grace it with a goal so transporting we all felt that Arsenal, briefly, were Invincible again.

Like Martin Tyler once said, the man is simply electrifying.

DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE SEASON

I think it tells you something about the topsy-turvy nature of the season that there were as many crushing disappointments as uplifting highs. I’m going to go in, the end, for a rather abstract winner: our dreadful start. Although our poor run in January was arguably more damaging to our final standing in terms of the points we dropped, our poor start was so frustrating simply because it felt so avoidable. Our failure to sort out the future of major stars early in the summer, and enable us to focus on completing our transfer activity ahead of the deadline cost us not only points but morale, momentum, and belief. I still believe it very nearly cost Arsene Wenger his job.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that next season’s fortune’s are largely dependent on learning from our mistakes last time round. Over to you, Arsenal.