Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The 2012/13 Season Review (3) - Players

In this part of our season review, we look back at the individual performances of some of our key players during the 2012/13 season and assess how our new signings fared in their first season.

The player of the season


Santi Cazorla

He was voted the Player of the Year by Arsenal fans. The online voting on Arsenal.com revealed that Laurent Koscielny was a runner-up, followed by third-placed Theo Wacott and Mikel Arteta. Koscielny was a strong contender for our Player of the Season as his stellar defensive displays formed the critical part of our impressive run of form in the last three months of the season, as well as his match-winning strike on the last day of the season to secure a Champions League spot. In terms of consistency throughout the season, however, Santi Cazorla has just pipped him.

The Asturiano joined Arsenal during the last summer at a reported transfer fee of  £12 million. It was another masterstroke by Arsene Wenger, taking advantage of M├álaga's dire financial situations. He flew into Arsenal's pre-season camp in Austria to join his team-mates before the official announcement was made.

It took no time for the Spanish magician to hit the ground running in English football. He was an instant fit into Arsenal's style of play and named as the Man of the Match on his debut against Sunderland. He scored his first goal in an Arsenal shirt against Liverpool early September, as well as providing an assist for Arsenal's first goal of the season by Podolski in the same game. Santi went on to pick up the Man of the Match award further nine times later in the season. With his vision and technique, we have finally found a perfect replacement for Cesc Fabregas in his compatriot. On top of that, the 28-year-old Spaniard is equally good with either foot, which makes it very difficult for his markers to defend against him.

His stats confirm that he had an exceptional first season in the Premier League with 12 goals and 11 assists. Also, he featured in all 38 league games, which was no mean feat for somebody who came from a league that has a winter break.

His challenge next season will be how to shine in big games against our title rivals. Also, oddly dead ball specialits tend to lose their touch as soon as they have joined Arsenal and Santi is no exception. Hopefully, his corners and free-kicks will improve next season.

The young player of the season


The Ox was our young player of the season last year, but there was no stand-out young player this season. As we list below, all our new signings were experienced players with no young potentials, which used to be Arsene Wenger's speciality. The fact was significant, which we hailed as a sign of the Club's ambition for silverware. Although the season did not quite pan out as we expected, at least it shows that the Club can now financially afford to buy a few established players. The Ox didn't even get enough chances to show what he could do this season, making just 11 starts and 14 substitute appearances in the Premier League. There was simply no room for young players, or fringe first-teamers, for that matter, to even sit on the bench this season.

Although chances for the first-team action were few, a 17-year-old German, Serge Gnabry showed a glimpse of his potential against Norwich and Schalke, impressing in the Next-Gen series. His compatriot, Thomas Eisfeld made a difference when he came on against Reading in the 7-5 thriller in the Capital One Cup. Jernade Meade had a decent game at Olympiakos despite his size.

At the beginning of June, Arsenal announced that they would release 10 young professionals, including Sanchez Watt, Jernade Meade and Conor Henderson, following the departures of Martin Angha, Craig Eastmond, Jordan Wynter, and Elton Monteiro. It is extremely difficult to make it at Arsenal in particular these days, but hopefully, some of the young players will break into the first team next season.

The most improved player of the season


Aaron Ramsey

I know there are still Ramsey haters out there, but 29% of voters for Arsenal.com's Online Fans Opinion Poll were absolutely right in naming him as the most improved player of the season. Laurant Koscielny came second with 26% of votes, but he was already the most improved player last season. Theo Walcott deserved his place in third as his finishing improved significantly and he was more consistent throughout a game this season.

In terms of meteoric rises, Carl Jenkinson perhaps deserves a mention in this category. He made a huge step in his career last season from playing in non-league to facing Udinese in the Champions League in the space of less than 12 months. His highlight of this season was arguably producing an outstanding performance against Bayern Munich and contributing to Arsenal's famous 2-0 win at Allianz Arena. However, the Essex-born 21 year-old's playing time was limited this season once Sagna's had recovered from injury. The French full-back was obviously ahead of Jenks in the pecking order despite a dip in his form, to our frustration. As Sagna has only 12 months left in his contract and his contract extension seems to be making little progress, it is likely that the next 12 months will be important for Jenks' career.

Much-maligned Ramsey cemented his starting place in his favourite central midfield alongside Arteta in Arsenal's late charge for the top-four finish, after playing in various positions. Earlier in the season, he was deployed on the wings apparently in order to learn how to speed up his play as there is little time on the flanks to make decisions. It seemed to have worked as he cut out a bad habit of dwelling on the ball. He even played as the right-back more than once. Indeed, this season he added a new dimension to his game. His defensive prowess improved significantly, with his tackle success rate of 90.7% putting him right at the top of the league table and among Europe's elites. The Welshman admits that he is finally free from the memory of the double leg break when he goes into tackles. The defensive improvement helped him to secure the deeper midfield role.

After a full season under his belt last season, recovering from the horrific injury, this was his second full season in the Premier League. It was obvious last season that his form suffered towards the end of the vigorous campaign, but this season he grew stronger as the season wore on. In fact, stamina was one of his assets for a willing runner throughout a game.

His game improved in all aspects. His passing success rate of 88.2% was only second to Arteta's 91.5% in the team. Not only passing accuracy but the quality of his passes also improved. His passes were largely sideways last season, but he made more forward passes this season, including a few risk-taking ones, an evidence that confidence was coming back to him.

New signings


Lukas Podolski
His arrival was announced on 30 April last year before the 2011/12 season ended. He was virtually a last January signing. He had been the centre of transfer gossips all through the 2012 transfer window, but it never materialised. His transfer fee was believed to be in the region of £11 million.

After the two disappointing goalless draws in the opening of the 2012/13 season, he delivered a fine goal against Liverpool as a left winger. His first goal at the Emirates was an exquisite free-kick, setting the stadium alight. However, his first season at Arsenal fell somewhat short of fans' expectations later on partially because of his ankle problems. Some claims that the German international fell out of Wenger's favour due to his poor work rate, but we don't believe so. His desire to play as a central striker was publicly known, as well as the fact that he is not so keen on playing on the flank because of defensive duties, but he was excellent when he played on the left wing, overlapping with Gibbs.

He was given chances to play his favourite central striking role in the wake of Gioud's three-match suspension at the end of the season, but it only resulted in us feeling the need of more firepower even stronger. His first season didn't exactly live up to his international reputation as the youngest player to achieve 100 caps, but 16 goals and 10 assists in all competitions was not a bad result for the first season in English football, considering that his playing time was relatively limited.

There are still rumours about his move away from the Emirates, but we hope that he will have a better season in an Arsenal shirt next season.

Olivier Giroud
He was signed for Arsenal last June from the French Ligue 1 champions, Montpellier, with a reported transfer fee of £12 million. Standing at 6ft 3in, the French striker was expected to provide a focal point of Arsenal attack and a strong physical presence. We were excited to have this type of centre forwards we hadn't had in recent years.

His first goal for Arsenal didn't arrive until 26 September against Coventry in the Capital One Cup, with his first league goal on 6 October. Although 17 goals in all competitions was not a bad outcome for his first season in English football, the number of chances he missed and his touches or lack of them hugely let us down. Hopefully, there is more to come from him in his second season.

Santi Cazorla
Our best new signing. 

Nacho Monreal
The Spanish full-back was signed on the last day of the January transfer window. The move came as a welcome surprise for us, fans, who were feeling gloomy, facing a bleak prospect following the news that Kieran Gibbs' injury was likely to sideline him longer than initially anticipated. Obviously the future with only Andre Santos left available as a specialist left-back had worried Arsene Wenger as well. He signed the Pamplona-born 26-year-old on the deadline day and sent the Brazilian on loan to his home country.

Nacho had a tough baptism in English football within 48 hours of his arrival in London by facing  Stoke, but he was unfazed by rough treatment of the notoriously physical opposition. He got off to an excellent start in his life in the Premier League with two consecutive clean sheets. However, he was guilty of two goals we conceded against the north London rivals, although you have to have sympathy for him having had to play alongside unpredictable Vermaelen. Nacho scored his first goal in an Arsenal shirt against Swansea.

In our opinion, Kieran Gibbs is Arsenal's first choice left-back with his pace and improved positioning sense this season, but Nacho provides a reliable cover for him. Although the Spaniard struggled against Andros Townsend in our 1-0 defeat of QPR, he is normally sound defensively. He is a decent back-up for the injury-prone English left-back. Moreover, his eligibility in the Champions League will come handy in the next season. Our left-back position is sorted.