Archive for June 11th, 2010

Gunnerblog End of Season Awards 2010

248 comments June 11th, 2010

And so, before the World Cup kicks off and Arsenal’s 09/10 season fades in to nothing more than a distant memory and an overpriced End of Season DVD, I’d better hand out some prizes.

Last season ended with such a slump that it didn’t feel appropriate to hold any kind of Award ceremony – even a meaningless online one. However, enough time has passed that rewarding this squad no longer makes me feel quite so uneasy.  Plus, y’know, it’s tradition.

Player of the Season
To contend for this award in your first season is quite an achievement, but that’s exactly what Thomas Vermaelen did.  He arrived with a transfer fee bigger than his reputation, and the likes of Tony Adams casting doubts over his height and stomach for the fight.  At Ajax he’d spent a lot of time playing left-back, and I wondered aloud whether he might even be converted to a holding midfielder.

From the first time I saw him play, in a pre-season friendly at Barnet, I realised how wrong I’d been.  Vermaelen was a combative ball-winner; a leader as well as a technician.  His first few games for the club won him a reputation as a goalscorer, but his form across the season earnt him a place in the PFA Team of the Year.  Vermaelen already looks to be one of Arsene’s best signings, and a potential Arsenal captain.

Alex Song has won both the Worst Player and Best Young Player awards over the past few seasons, which gives you some idea of the trajectory of his improvement.  Impressively, he continued that trend again this season, stepping up to become an integral part of the side.  The 4-3-3 formation allowed him to develop in to the country’s best holding midfield player.  As his confidence grew his technique emerged, whilst his strength and determination are an example that several team-mates ought to follow next season.

The winner, however painful it might be to acknowledge it, has to be Cesc Fabregas.  19 goals from 36 appearances, with as many assists.  If indeed he does bow out this summer then it will be on a personal high.  Like Song, he flourished in the new formation, liberated of his defensive responsibilities and free to wreak havoc in the final third.

His technical ability was never in question.  But this year he seemed to mature as a man.  It was his first full season as captain, and he embraced the responsibility, dragging his team-mates back from the brink on more than one occasion.  His final contribution of an epic campaign, a broken-legged penalty against his hometown club, had a poignant symbolism reminiscent of the previous incumbent of the number 4 shirt’s goodbye kick.  One sensed then that Vieira knew his time was up.  Fabregas still has so much more to give.  My God I hope he stays.

Young Player of the Season
Incredibly in an Arsenal side stereotyped as being full of talented youngsters, there aren’t many obvious contenders for this award. Aaron Ramsey’s promising season was interrupted by a broken leg, Jack Wilshere made more appearances for Bolton than for Arsenal, whilst Theo Walcott’s poor season recently hit its nadir with World Cup exclusion.

The winner, for the second consecutive year, is going to be Alex Song. He began the season as a 21 year-old and finished it aged 22, which I think is young enough to be termed a ‘Young Player’ – James Milner take note.

I’ve already eulogised his performances – he’s finally replaced Gilberto Silva as the defensive fulcrum of our midfield, and is still young enough to improve the areas where he’s occasionally lacking – positional awareness and the like.  I’m genuinely delighted to admit that he is now showing what made Arsene persist with him for so long.

Worst Player of the Season
Deciding upon this award is always creates a dual feeling of cruelty and catharsis.  When the winner is so clear, however, it’s a less difficult process.

If someone had told me about the string of mistakes made by Lukasz Fabianski, I would find it hard to believe a goalkeeper couple be quite so consistently bad.  But the Pole managed it.  It all went wrong that night in Porto, and his confidence and credibility never recovered.  He became a target, and a vulnerable one.  Incredibly, Arsene seems set to keep him at the club – maybe just because convincing anyone to buy would be nigh-on impossible.  Drastic improvement required.

Game of the Season
If you enjoy a big win, the 6-1 opening day hammering of Everton or the sparkling 5-0 victory over Porto might take your fancy.  Those were perhaps the most effective demonstration of the attacking threat this team can provide.

There were other games where we showed a mental steel that’d make any fan proud: a stirring victory at Stoke in the wake of Aaron Ramsey’s injury springs to mind.  However, it doesn’t feel representational of our season to choose one of these gritty victories when our run-in was typified by losing our nerve.

I’m going to go for the home leg with Barcelona: possibly the most glamorous tie held at the Emirates Stadium thus far.  Barca were brilliant, giving a football exhibition of the highest quality, but we would not be beaten, and that aforementioned Cesc penalty was a brilliant way to round off the night.  The second leg didn’t go quite as we planned, but for that night at least hope was preserved.

Worst Game of the Season
It’s never fun trawling through traumatic memories.  There are painful flashbacks to a celebrating Emmanuel Adebayor during our thrashing at City, the thumping defeats we suffered to United and Chelsea across the season, and I still dream about replacing Manuel Almunia in goal and stopping that Danny Rose volley from rocketing in to the net.

However, one game is head and shoulders above all others for its sheer nightmarish improbability.  2-0 up away at Wigan with ten minutes to go and a chance of staying in the title race, we managed, against all odds, to lose 3-2.  Even mentioning it again makes me feel a wee bit sick.  I hope we never have cause to speak of it again.  Certainly not in a, “Hey, this is just like when we lost at Wigan” kind of way.

Highlight of the Season
With no trophies to hold aloft – with the shameful exception of the Emirates Cup – this is a tricky one.  I’m gonna go with my gut and say the return of Sol Campbell: not only because it was very heart-warming to see a once-revered Gooner given the chance to arrest his decline and fix his legacy, but because he reminded the players, the manager and the fans what it takes to be a winner.  He may now move on to pastures green-and-white, but he’ll be remembered for all the right reasons now.  We need more like him.

Disappointment of the Season
Where to start?  There are some players whose contributions represent a disappointment – and I don’t just mean Fabianski.  It was gutting to yet again see Robin van Persie suffer a serious injury, whilst Theo Walcott spent the year alternating between the medical room and poor form.

The injury to Aaron Ramsey was a gut-wrenching blow – not only because you fear for his massive potential, but because he was starting to push on and become an important part of the team.

In the end, however, the disappointment of our season was what went some way towards defining it: our failure to compete in matches against the biggest teams.  We were beaten four times in the league by United and Chelsea.  Only once was it close, and on that occasion our own defensive naivety is what cost us.  If anyone doubts that the top two belong above us, I suggest they watch one of these games again.  It was a cold, painful, clinical lesson.

So there we have it.  At least there’s room for improvement, eh?

For those of you who are interested in a bit of a broader perspective, the not-even-nearly-patented Gunnerblog 09/10 Month-by-Month Review is still available here.

Gunnerblog End of Season Awards 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

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