Monday, June 30, 2014

The 2013/14 Season Review (3) - Players

In the final part of our season reviews, we look back at our individual players' performances.

The player of the season

Aaron Ramsey

Although he missed a large chunk of the season (14 weeks to be precise) through a thigh injury, he deserves to be named as our player of the 2013/14 season because of his influence on the team. He was already an instrumental part of Arsenal's strong run-in last season, but he became irreplaceable this season because of his goal-scoring form and tireless forward runs. Ramsey scored 10 goals in the Premier League, 5 in the Champions League, and an extra-time winner in the FA Cup final, becoming Arsenal's second top scorer only after Olivier Giroud. The Welshman also provided 9 assists. Newly found confidence was an important factor behind his improved finishing and decision-making in the final third.

Ramsey's impact on the team was obvious as his return from injury coincided with Arsenal's resurgence after the devastating run of form in the February-March period. It has already been enough talked about as to what if Ramsey had been fit all season, so we don't repeat it here, but we just say that his drive and runs beyond Giroud were sorely missed. We need to keep him fit all through the season or find a sufficient cover in order to sustain our title challenge throughout the next season (Jack Wilshere provided a temporary cover and did his job well for a short period but he is yet to be of the same calibre as Ramsey's and he fell the victim of injuries himself unsurprisingly). 

The most improved player of the season

Per Mertesacker

The German centre-back featured in more games (52) than any other Arsenal player this season. Since he established a central defensive partnership with Laurant Koscielny in the latter stages of the last season, Arsenal have enjoyed stability in defence and the pair achieved an impressive feat, an unbeaten run of games since 22 January 2012 until 8 February 2014, when both of them completed 90 minutes. It was good news that the 6 ft 6in defender signed a new long-term contract, which he described as a "reward", in March 2014 and Koscielny followed the suit in May 2014.

His disciplinary record was also excellent. The BFG conceded just 12 fouls all season in the Premier League. When he had uncharacteristically given away a penalty in the FA Cup semi-final, he strove to find a chance to redeem himself and for the team to come back into the game. His never-say-die attitude was rewarded in the form of his 83rd minute equaliser. As the club captain Thomas Vermaelen has fallen in the pecking order, the BFG wore captain's armband for Arsenal on a few occasions this season, when vice-captain Mikel Arteta was not available. His leadership quality has also started to be recoginised.

The German defender grew in stature this season. He often took criticism in the previous seasons because of the notorious lack of pace, but his intelligent reading of the game made up for it, helped by a complementary partnership with a pacy defender, Lolo. The BFG was a runner-up in Arsenal Player of the Year, followed by his defensive partner.

The young player of the season

As Arsene Wenger opted for the experience of older players in the crucial time of the run-in, there were no stand-out young players this season. However, some young players had their moments.

The Ox's season was plagued with injuries. He missed the first 5 months due to the serious knee injury he sustained during the opening game against Aston Villa, while his run-in was disrupted by a groin injury. However, in between those spells on the sidelines, he shone in a clash against Crystal Palace, scoring two goals from his future position in central midfield. He was also outstanding in the 2-1 victory over Liverpool in the FA Cup 4th round and causing the Bayern Munich defenders all sorts of problems in the first leg of the Champions League round of last 16.

Serge Gnabry scored his first senior goal against Swansea in September. In the absence of injured Theo Walcott, the German teenager was deployed on the right wing and his physical strength and technical ability caught eyes. The highlight of his season was arguably his fearless display against Tottenham in the FA Cup 3rd round. At one time, there was a talk about the prospect of him breaking into Germany's World Cup squad, but his season tailed off as Wenger opted for experience, combined with the German teenager's knee injury in April. As he was awarded a long-term contract in October 2013, we will hopefully see more of him next season.

Gedion Zelalem made his senior debut against Coventry in the FA Cup 4th round as the first player who was born after Arsene Wenger took charge. His vision and passing rage captured the fans' imagination in the pre-season. As a result, he was dubbed as the next Cesc Fabregas. The German-born 17-year-old signed his first professional contract with the Club in March 2014, but his first-team action was limited this season.

We discuss Yaya Sanogo's season later. Another youngster worth mentioning was Thomas Eisfeld, who scored a dramatic equaliser in Arsenal's penalty shoot-out win over West Brom in the Capital One Cup 4th round.

Ryo Miyaichi's season was utterly disappointing despite his promising display in the pre-season. Wenger planned to loan him out in the January transfer window, which never materialised. The Japanese forward's season was cut short by a hamstring injury in March.

New signings

Mesut Özil

His first season may have not lived up to our expectations or his price tag of the club record of £42.5 million, but it was not an unsuccessful season by any means. He scored 7 goals in all competition, but what distinguishes him is his ability to create chances. As he is dubbed as the King of Assists, he was Arsenal's top assist provider this season, setting up 9 goals in the Premier League, 2 in the Champions League, and 1 in the FA Cup.

The signing of the German playmaker excited the fans and the players alike, while it raised a question among critics about the massive spending in what seemed to an area where Arsenal had plethora of talents, when a striker was more urgent agenda for the north London club's transfer activity. Still, we thought his silky touches and elegant moves were worth every penny. He was simply a joy to watch. However, his form dipped in the mid-season and his confidence registered all-time low after his penalty miss against Bayern Munich. After suffering a hamstring injury in the second leg of the Champions League round of last 16 in March, he was sidelined for 7 weeks. When he returned from injury, however, he produced a man-of-the-match performance in the Gunners' 3-0 win over Newcastle.

Hopefully, in the next season, Özil will be more adapted to the Premier League's physical requirements, including the absence of winter breaks. Also, he is expected to benefit from Theo Walcott's pace and runs behind the opponents' defence, when the England winger has fully recovered from a cruciate knee ligament injury.

Mathieu Flamini

Amid mounting expectations for Arsenal to make a marquee signing last summer, the majority of the Arsenal fans were initially underwhelmed with the news of the re-signing of the French midfielder, who had been allowed to train with Arsenal after his contract with AC Milan came to an end. Arsene Wenger described the signing as a no-brainer, but we were somewhat apprehensive about what the 29-year-old midfielder could bring to the team. We didn't have to wait long to find the answer as he showed what he could offer the team in his first appearance for Arsenal in the five years: a steel. He also provided a much-needed vocal leadership and organisation. He was soon to be heralded by the fans as the best signing of the season, especially when considering how much it cost us to bring him back to the Emirates.

The highlight of his season was arguably his equaliser against Man City at the Emirates. He also scored a screamer against Cardiff. On the other hand, one of the lowest points of his season might be scoring an unfortunate own goal against Swansea in the last minute when we thought Arsenal had secured all three points they desperately needed, after coming from behind. Also, his sending-off in Arsenal's draw with Southampton at the end of January ruled him out for three matches during Arsenal's injury crisis and subsequently forced Arsene Wenger to bring in Kim Källström on loan on the January transfer deadline day. He was also suspended for two games in April after picking up his 10th booking. We love the French midfielder's no nonsense approach to defending, but we have to admit that he is often found wanting in technical prowess. For some reason, the boss seems to prefer Arteta, whenever the Spaniard is available. As a result, Flamini's playing time was limited to substitution appearances in the final part of the season.

Yaya Sanogo

Then 20-year-old French striker joined Arsenal in July 2013 from Auxerre, on a free transfer. With his bad reputation for injuries, which led the French second division outfit to release him, we suspected that he could turn out to be another Abu Diaby. He made his debut as a late substitute in the 3-1 victory over Fulham in late August, but a back injury he suffered during international duty in September kept him sidelined for more than 5 months. Nevertheless, he showed a glimpse of his potential against Liverpool in the FA Cup 4th round and against Bayern Munich in the first leg of the Champions League round of last 16, when he led the line. He made a positive impact in the FA Cup semi-final and final, when Arsene Wenger played him alongside Olivier Giroud in the rare 4-4-2 system. He desperately needs a goal to build his confidence.

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