Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Stick or Twist

With the rumour mill suggesting that Yossi Benayoun is available for a mere 1m transfer fee (The fee of Eddie McGoldrick in 1993) I look back at the Israeli’s season at Arsenal and evaluate whether or not it would be a sensible move for us to make a move or wave goodbye.

Deadline Day

As part of our desperate shenanigans on deadline day, we signed Benayoun on a season long loan deal from Chelsea. Many eyebrows were raised and rightly so. We found out he hadn’t undertaken a medical at Arsenal, as he was away with Israel at the time and he was coming off the back of a season where he missed seven months due to a ruptured Achilles tendon. That evening Benayoun tweeted

                “Staying in London...will sign soon ... I will twitt when it happens”

Now there are several clubs in London but one only is really of any importance. The Arsenal twitterati went into overdrive and Yossi went on to tweet

                “I sign with arsenal, very happy and excited about it, but now my head is only in the game against Greece on Friday, thanks for the support.”

That capped what was a frenetic 48 hours and our business was concluded.  Our focus was now on getting some points on the board and climbing the Premier League table.
New boys warming up prior to our game v Swansea.

Squad Player

I think it’s fair to say for the most part of the 11/12 season we had a square peg in a round hole. He was a player that Wenger seemed confident to play in a cup games but reluctant to give a starting role come the Saturday. Yossi was very much a ‘squad player’ much like that of Marouane Chamakh if you get where I’m coming from. That said it was a cup game (and a meaningless one at that) that seemed to breathe some new life into Benayoun’s Arsenal career. We played Olympiakos away, you remember the ‘Santos’ game. In my opinion he was having a rough night but then he scored an absolute peach, the sort of goal that only a quality finisher can produce, a finish that smacks of ability not a fortunate goal by any stretch. That goal seemed to get him on the radar but he didn’t feature in the next two games but then he was introduced with nine minutes to go at Villa Park and he managed to score a header (from a corner) to secure us all three points. We were starting to unearth a midfielder/winger that could score goals, take not Mr Rosicky.

A Starting Berth

Off the back of Benayoun’s effort’s he was rewarded with his first two starts of the season in the Premier League against Wolves (H) and Swansea (A). Although his start against Wolves was due to Theo Walcott taking ill the night before but nevertheless he still set up Gervinho for our only goal in disappointing 1-1 draw. Following the Swansea disaster, Benayoun wouldn’t start another game for forty two days. The surprise was his next start was it was our biggest game of the season, Sp*rs at The Emirates. I needn’t say any more about that game but he provided us with a cutting edge to our attacks; he was busy and industrious, just what we had been missing.  We then went on to win at Anfield with Yossi in the side.

A Pivotal Role

Out of the last seven games of the season he started six games, only missing out on one game due to the fact we played Chelsea. Yossi started that stretch of game by performing well against City, although he contrived to take part in one of the misses of the season along with Vermaelen, I still don’t know how that opportunity passed us by. This was followed by a very tidy finish away at Molineux and with that game he completed his first full 90 minutes in the Premier League for Arsenal, quite remarkable.  Then Part III of our poor spell’s started against Wigan but he certainly wasn’t found wanting unlike many others.  When we were exploited on the break for their opening goal, it was Benayoun who was challenging Di Santo as he tapped home and he wasn’t there by chance, he’d legged it from the edge of Wigan’s box. He was also up from some hard graft at Stoke, where he linked particularly well with Rosicky and we secured a draw. He scored another beauty against Norwich after one minute to give us a lead, on a day that should have seen a routine win but instead turned  into a gut wrenching point, to think we thought Sp*rs would capitalise on our mistake eh? Silly fools. Yossi capped his final game of the season with a crucial opener at The Hawthorns, he chased what was a lost cause, a cause that created uncertainty and led to our opening goal. His name was sung aloud by the travelling fans and the stand was bouncing . Towards the very end of that game, we put ourselves under a lot of pressure by sitting back but when we managed to boot the ball clear, Benayoun killed it dead as if it was nothing special (fairly standard for a Premier League player). We went on to win a throw and the game was over. The place went nuts because he'd released pressure, put us back in control and secured us 3rd place. Something we rarely see, usually it's Gael Clichy slipping on his backside and the opposition punishing us but this for once was different.
Benayoun nets the opener against West Brom

Pro’s and Con’s

Sadly if you look at the signing from the point of view, I think the con’s outweigh the pro’s. He only completed two Premier League games all season, which for one reason or another will probably count against him as he doesn’t come with light wage packet. That said his ability to score goals, all be it in only a handful of starts but that cannot be overlooked.  The likes of Rosicky and Ramsey have both been deployed on the wing at some stage but neither can manage goals in the preferred position let alone out wide. Then we have the Chamberlain factor, I truly believe Wenger did all he could to stop AOC going to the Euros but alas he failed. Ox has been used on the left and he has had success, it remains to be seen if it’s Chamberlain v Walcott or Chamberlain v Gervinho. If it’s the former then it would be good to have Gervinho and Benayoun competing for the left wing spot. I wanted to use Yossi’s age against him as a reason not to sign him but Rosicky is 32 in October and he recently secured a new deal, so I don’t see why that would be any different for the Israeli.  You also have to factor in the possible emergence of Joel Campbell, I'm not sure whether we will get a work permitfor him but if we did I'd expect him to partake in a couple of Carling Cup games and the FA Cup 3rd round before going on loan to another Premier League side. Your left with more questions than asnwers and I haven't even mentioned Lukas Podolski.


Personally, I think we should sign him. There’s been a very healthy connection between him and our supporters. He has undoubted qualities and if we are to compete for honours we need players who can chip in with the fair share of big goals and performances. A two year deal is probably the best he could hope for and I’m sure we could manage to taper his wages slightly. I just hope the club tries to makes this transfer happen. Van Persie commented on Benayoun after his goal in Greece and he said:

                “It was really good for Yossi scoring because he has been training unbelievably - trust me, he is absolutely unbelievable.”

High praise indeed but it adds weight to his signing. He delivers on and off the pitch probably because he comes across as a good honest, hardworking pro. We need players like this as it is something we have been lacking in certain areas of the field.  I think he can also do a job as the creator in the our midfield trio, especially considering Wilshere's amount of setbacks we can't rely on Rosicky all season. That said, the only trouble is he seems to be referring to us in the past tense but then that could just be the usual contractual naviety that we often see displayed by our club.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

It's over

Koscielny on hand to tap home.
Like most supporters I can’t say I’ve particularly enjoyed this season.  We’ve been written off by many , we were mocked by our near neighbours #mindthegap and yet we finished 3rd. I would say this season has been a failure but we have improved our league position from 12 months ago. The damage was done in the summer with the sales of Fabregas and Nasri coming once the Premier League season had actually kicked off. Then the fact we couldn't reinvest until Champions League qualification was sealed via a very difficult clash v Udinese. The thing with yesterday's game was that although the result of the game would decide our fate, it wouldn’t have been the reason behind our failure to seal a top 4 finish. In a way yesterday was typical Arsenal performance that we've come to hate, the usual scrappy defending with the ability to score goals (although credit must go to Martin Fulop). One thing that has improved this season and it was there in abundance yesterday is the resilience of this side, our ability to get points from losing positions emphasises that. We conceded two quick goals yesterday but we managed to get ourselves back in the game and deservedly equalised when Santos smashed home. It was then fitting that one of our stars of the season grabbed the glory though, Laurent Koscielny is easily our most improved player this season and he prodded home to make it 3-2. Of course with Arsenal nothing is easy going and superb blocks from Koscielny and more importantly Gibbs helped ensure we ran out winners and claimed that “all important” 3rd place but it could have be so different.
Rough Patches
It’s always widely assumed that a team will encounter a rough spell at some point during the season but we didn’t have one poor spell or two but three and they were all pretty gruesome. In the previous season we never managed to win four consecutive games in the Premier League but this season our below par efforts centred around five game spells. After five games of the new season we had taken four points from fifteen. Then at the beginning of the New Year we replicated that effort with another four points from fifteen. Finally our end of season form produced six points from fifteen. All in all, three poor spells producing fourteen points from forty five available. Which makes finishing third all the more remarkable. You can only really put that into perspective when other teams around us claim to have had a fantastic season and its real achievement to finish in the top four. I’m under no illusions, there is a lot of work ahead for this side but I hope we learn from our mistakes (wishful thinking I know) and realise that our squad isn’t good enough to compete at the highest level. When fit we have a pretty good starting XI but it is quickly exposed with injuries that we so regularly suffer and we’ve not been able to play our strongest side at any point this season.

Lows of the Season
3rd:   Losing at Blackburn
2nd:  The performance in Milan
1st:   Manchester United

Notable mentions: NLD (A), Swansea (A), Sunderland (FA Cup)
Automatic Qualification
Why is this so important? It’s important because we don’t have to endure a qualifier and the possibility of not mixing it up with Europe’s finest. It’s even more important that the revenue it brings is guaranteed here and now. Our spending towards the end of last summer’s transfer window had more to do with beating Udinese than it did with the horrendous outing we had at Old Trafford. We’ll also be in Pot 1 when the draw comes around, ensuring we should have an “easier” group.  These are all positives and the signing of Podolski indicates that we are in the market to sign top quality players. Wenger’s work starts now and I hope the future of RvP is resolved sooner rather than later. If he is to go, then go early and allow us to rebuild. We can’t underestimate what today has done to stabilise our summer, I just hope van Persie signs a new contract. and he has gone on record to say he’ll sit down with the club later this week, so let’s see how that goes well.
What A Moment!
Despite our failings there have been many highlights, none bigger and better than the North London Derby and Bacary Sagna proving to be the catalyst on a chaotic day. It epitomised the team spirit we now have, as it did with many of our late victories. We had Benayoun’s late header at Villa Park, van Persie’s spectacular volley at Anfield, Henry’s final touch in the Premier League at The Stadium of Light and Vermaelen's late surge up field to seal a last gasp win over Newcastle. That turned four points into twelve and we shouldn’t forget that on days like today. Also up there has to be our performance at Stamford Bridge, we had already lost at Man United and Sp*rs and we travelled more in hope than expectation on that day and I still can’t quite believe we scored five but it did bring back a lot of belief back to this side and that was exactly what this side needed at the time.

Highs of the Season

3rd: Henry's goal v Leeds
2nd: Chelsea (A)
1st: Beating 5pu2s 5-2

Notable mentions: Milan (H), Udinese(A), City (H) and Dortmund (H).

Player of the Season

3rd - Mikel Arteta

Arteta scoring at Ewood Park
He was very much the 11th hour transfer and it could have gone so wrong. Arteta joined with a questionable injury record and many thought he would be a direct replacement for the already departed Fabregas. However, Wenger sprung a surprise and he played him alongside Song and he acted more as an insurance policy to protect the defence. Arteta grew into his new found role and Chelsea away proved to be the pivitol moment in his brief Arsenal career. He began to believe he was good enough to play in a big side, having coasted along in Everton's side for a few years. Arteta's passing has been a pleasure to watch and he has scored some quality goals too. He could be the best panic buy in a long time, certainly beats Kiwomya, Helder and Hartson. As it stands looking ahead to next season he is one of the first names on the team sheet next season and you can't pay him a bigger compliment than that.

2nd - Laurent Koscielny

Blackburn away was a very dark day for us and none more so in playing terms that for Koscielny but since that day he has been colossal. His reading of the game has been first class, it has been his outstanding quality this season. He also does the ugly side of the game by getting stuck in, throwing himself infront of the ball when it matters and he isn't afraid to take a card for the good of the side. Personally I think Koscielny performs better along side Mertesacker but I think it's highly unlikely we will ever have them as our first choice centre back pairing. Finally we have someone to fill the number 6 jersey and if he continues progressing at his current rate he will be the 2nd best centre half in the Premier League, although some will argue he already is. Expect to see a lot more shirts with the Frenchman's name on next season.

1st- Robin van Persie

van Persie audacious penalty at Molineux
"He scores when wants, he scores when waaaants, Robin van Persie, he scores when wants." Despite his lack of team honours he has won the odd few awards this season, none bigger than the PFA Players' player of the Year. Whether he stays or goes his contribution will not be forgotten and if he is to go, we will know that we can't match the players ambition and ultimately the fans too. Arsenal said they'd never allow a repeat of last summer and now we find Walcott and van Persie in the same position as Nasri last year. This is his side and it's built around him. He is our first true captain since Vieira and the side thrives off him. He seems to have shaken off the injury prone tag and if he does stay next season and beyond, then we will need to manage him properly because he's not going to get a good rest. Summing it up, if it wasn't for him we'd not have Champions League football next season and we may not have had the chance of celebrating St Totteringhams Day. Thanks Robin.

Overall, Wenger has worked wonders with the resources and the situation that transpired in the summer . I remember the amusement that we created at the beginning of the season but he believed in his players when we all doubted his sanity. Yet again, he was proved right and that's why Arsene will always know best.