Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Is Ramsey Cesc in Disguise?

There has been plenty of kinds words said about Aaron Ramsey this season. Rightly so as well. Although not everyone has been supportive of his career. Ramsey was quite frequently the focus of some of the Emirates crowd, as they channelled their frustrations of the team through one player. In the midst of this Wenger tried to accommodate Ramsey and stuck him on the wing, a trait afforded to some of the Frenchman's favourites like Abou Diaby.

The one aspect of Ramsey's game that needed to improve was his goalscoring. Particularly for a side that has lost a lot of goals from the side in recent years. Did you know that of the 27 goals Aaron has scored for us 11 of those came over the course of the first five seasons? That got me thinking of another midfielder, one that wasn't really noted for his goal getting but then suddenly sparked into life and added a new dimension to his game. Have you guessed who that former Arsenal man is? Yes, it's non other than the infamous Francesc Fabergas Soler. Here's the comparison between him and Ramsey in terms of games to goals.

Now, there is a danger of over analysis with statistics but it can't be denied that there are similarities. In Cesc's fifth season he scored 13 goals, which is what he mustered over the course of the previous four seasons. I've already touched on Ramsey finding his goalscoring touch but I was quite surprised to find there are only two goals separating them over the course of the first six seasons but with Ramsey having over 40 games to make up the difference.

I called upon the Cesc comparison as it reinforces Wenger's beliefs to stick with players. As fans we often judge players by their ability to score goals. You'll see it during the World Cup, just watch the rave reviews for defenders that score. Often it masks deficiencies, take Thomas Vermaelen for example. He scored eight goals in his first season, from quality headers to 30 yard left foot curlers. We were having the wool pulled over our eyes. Joleon Lescott is another,  Everton got a great deal because he scored goals, a great added bonus but defenders need to defend first and foremost. Wenger has been ridiculed for not being able to spot keepers. We may now be on the way to resolving that but it's certainly been a low key season on that front in terms of errors but if there was one area Wenger of the field that Wenger excels in, then it has to be centre midfield. Players like Vieira, Gilberto, Fabregas and now Ramsey. Players that had to learnt the ropes off a more experienced head before taking the reigns themselves. That's what makes Ramsey's upturn in production even more impressive. Ramsey did have Cesc for a bit but over the course of the last three seasons Ramsey's very much learnt the hard way and benefited from Cesc's departure.

The most crucial time for Aaron came when he was trying to get games in order to overcome the physical and mental scars that come with a broken leg. Particularly as we had refused to extend the loan at Forest, as Abou Diaby was injured. Eduardo's Arsenal career took a nose dive after a similar leg break. Something wasn't quite right and he was sold to Shakhtar. Instead Wenger sent Aaron on long to Forest, where he would see little game time mainly due to the inclement weather. Wenger remarked

“We did not get the number of games we wanted from him because of the snow,” said manager. He is a snow victim and we are as well consequently. But I am not tempted to do it [extend his loan]. If Abou Diaby was not injured I would certainly have considered it but not now.Aaron is not completely ready yet [for the Premier League] but he has been practising every day with the group for two months. I hope that when he comes back he should be ready in February.”
Ramsey of course then went on loan to Cardiff towards the end of the January transfer window but was now driven by the challenge of regained his place in the Arsenal team.
“If going out on loan again for a month to get a few more games helps me get back into shape quicker and into the Arsenal team then I will do that”
Usually these quotes are quite generic but if anything, time has taught us that this was actually the case.  Ramsey has gone on to play 125 times for Arsenal since these two loan spells. Wenger got this case spot on. There were many times when Ramsey could have been dropped but Wenger had faith and whilst I'm usually a fan of accountability for poor performances, he never really did anything disastrous, he just needed to get out of the rut he was in.

The future for this side is getting brighter, I have my doubts that the current crop are genuine contenders for a title but there is a transfer window to rectify that (I hold no hope on this front) but what I have seen lately is that we've started adding plenty of goals in other areas. Theo broke the 20 goal barrier in 12/13 and he has a very good understanding with Ramsey and the two are yet to play at the top of their game with each other. So if Ramsey can maintain his 15 goals, Theo with his 20 (difficult returning from injury I know) and Giroud adding a further 20 then we have 55 goals. It's a start, as we've often looked around thinking where are the goals coming from but there are threats now and genuine ones at that.

The foundations are in place for us and with Ozil getting a season under his belt, he's only going to get better. It's been an exceptional season for Aaron but it's whether or not he can maintain this level. Sides will be paying far more attention to him and if he overcomes that then we are in for a real treat. He deserves every penny of whatever salary he is on and it's great that he has the summer off because as the international players return in their drips and drabs from World Cup duty, at least we have our most in-form player ready to hit the ground running and ready to carry the side at the beginning of the new season. Let's not forget that if any of our players get to the World Cup final, history tells us they miss the first couple of games of the season due to little preparation but we have Champions League qualifiers to contend with.

Aaron Ramsey has been a real success story. One we should all enjoy and it was somewhat fitting that he scored THAT goal. Now he's thrilling us with some wonderful goals, amazing stamina and brilliant vision. I haven't even mentioned that we paid 5m for him as well. Maybe this time we've got the type of player we can keep for the rest of his career. Now that would be a turn up for the books.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Arsenal Player Power Rankings 2013/14

So another end of season blog? Have you had you fill? Well for those new to this feature we assess our players based on merit not ability and favouritism is also put to one side. To add to this we have last seasons Power Ranking to refer to and we’ll see if players have improved or regressed over the last twelve months.

So without further ado it gives me great pleasure to introduce our star-studded panel.

@yorkshiregunner, @addy88, @goonerdave66, @yankeegunner, @alan_alger_, @thesquidboylike, @mzk90, @giantgooner, @bradley08, @attwood10, @k4yn3r@LucaHelvetica and me @mj_afc

They all rated our players from 1 (being the best) to 10 and you'll read more from them a bit later.

So here is a quick run down of the Top 10 from the 2012/13 season

10th - Wilshere
9th - Giroud
8th - Podolski
7th - Gibbs
6th - Ramsey
5th - Arteta
4th - Walcott
3rd - Koscielny
2nd - Mertesacker
1st - Cazorla

There has been plenty of movement and only a couple of players remain consistent with last season, which tells me that this is a true reflection of player performance.

Hall of Shame - No Votes

Viviano, Vermaelen, Jenkinson, Monreal, Kallstrom, Sanogo, Bendtner and Gnabry didn’t receive one vote between them. Not surprising for the most part but Monreal has regressed more than any other player over the last twelve months.

When I said that none of the above received any votes that’s not strictly true. @yorkshiregunner in his own quirky way kindly voted for one of our players to receive the ‘Contributions to Air Shots’ award and it goes to *drum roll*

Yaya Sonogoal

@yorkshiregunner added “makes Shola Ameobi look like Robbie Fowler. Added an Air Header to an impressive array of air shots too. I look forward to seeing an air penalty from the Postman.”

Poor old Yaya. Maybe he’ll make the top 10 next season. Or maybe not. Hopefully he goes on loan , or even better he is sold.

Missed the Cut

Lukasz Fabianski - He did make @yankeegunner's top 10 but sadly nobody else’s. I think Fab must have made him a fortune in that semi final win over Wigan. It’s the only explanation. Swansea awaits.

Oxlade-Chamberlain - Brazil bound Ox had an injury hit season and didn’t get enough minutes to further his case for a top 10 finish. Maybe next season.

Flamini - Pro’s and con’s to Mathieu’s season. The Flam/Arteta partnership never really delivered but he certainly added a tenacity to our play but that got the better of him on occasions.

Podolski - Poldi got three top 10 nominations, including one from me. I thought he kicked on in the 2nd half of the season but his early season injury cost him his chance to retain a top 10 place.

Wilshere - Jack also received only three votes and despite some particular highlights such as the goal of the season, he’s another player to fall out of the top 10. Injuries have cost Jack but I think the performance of another midfielder has put Jack completely in to the shade.

Rosicky - Sadly Rosicky fans, he doesn’t make the top 10 and I didn’t even need to fix the vote. Three votes and ranked as high as 7th.

Walcott - If it wasn’t for that injury against Spurs, he’d have been well up the board but he isn’t. Lets hope he gets up to speed as soon as possible when he makes his return to the team.

So, you’ve heard who hasn’t made the grade. Now lets see how our top 10 takes shape.

Arsenal 13/14 Power Rankings

10. Gibbs (down 3 places) 

@goonerdave66 - I am genuinely angry at Wenger on the left back rotation this season. Gibbs I see as a very good left back who has the potential to be a great one. Whereas Monreal I see as an average one with no potential. When he decided to give Nacho a run of games when Gibbs was not injured,  I simply did not understand it. The left back debate for the EC became about Shaw v Cole and Gibbs was the forgotten man, yet Shaw himself expected Gibbs to be ahead of him as he was in the previous England squad. However what is done is done and although his own manager may have cost him a seat on the plane to Rio, he will be fresh to Arsenal come August. I want him to play more times than not and personally would not lose any sleep if Nacho was sold. I think Gibbs could be our left back for years to come.

@thesquidboylike - The latest in a long line of good-to-excellent Arsenal left-backs, this was the season where Gibbs truly made the position his own. Having seen off the, ahem, threat of Andre Santos, Gibbs began the campaign as an equal to Nacho Monreal in the eyes of many. But 2013/14 saw the young Englishman cement his place in the team, and included the vital and oft-forgotten opening goal in the CL qualifying tie versus Fenerbahce. Unfortunate to be barely mentioned in contention for England’s World Cup squad, his future for both club and country is bright.

9. Arteta (down four places) 

@goonerdave66 - A few years ago I advocated Arteta for the DM role, a suggestion met with some derision at the time. 2 years on in the main he had no let us down. He reads the game superbly, tackles well and his distribution is top notch. However the one thing he lacks to take us to the next level in this role sadly is pace. He was immense at Wembley and no one deserved the climb the steps and life the trophy more than Mikel but I do think if we are to fight out the EPL we need a younger, stronger model next season. For me Arteta will be, like Rosicky now, a player you are always happy to see, know won't let you down but would not be in your first 11 week in week out.

@attwood10 - A good, reasonably solid season from Arteta. He's such an intelligent player and there's a reason he starts every game when fit. Often criticised because he's not a "big beast of a DM", but his defensive stats for us might surprise some (most tackles per game this season in PL). At 32, he's definitely declined over the past year, but was again a very important player for us this season and certainly played his part. I do, however, suspect he could become more of a "squad" player next season as we look to sign a long term replacement.

8. Sagna (up five places) 

@k4yn3r - versatile rock this year, especially as he had other distractions. Was impressive at CB

@alan_alger_ - The first time Sagna has played over 3000 Premier League minutes for Arsenal in a season, contributed one goal, three assists and took part in games where 15 clean-sheets were kept. On balance that looks like his best ever Arsenal season, although a strange quirk in the stats (possibly due to the increased minutes on the pitch) says it’s his worst season in terms of being on the pitch when Arsenal conceded a goal – 39 in total. My overall feeling is that he is a solid right-back worthy of a place at a top-six club in the division. Although I’m puzzled by the huge clamour from fans at the end of the season for him to stay (far better Arsenal players have been allowed to leave with barely a whimper), especially on increased terms. There must be a better right-back out there for us, I’d be looking for one who contributes more offensively. That said – Jenkinson is NOT the answer.

7. Cazorla (down six places) 

@mzk90 - Bit of an enigma. Has all the skills and the low centre of gravity, but too often can be caught in possession and brushed off the ball if teams make him turn back towards our half. Would see him as a sub if right player comes in or out wide left if they don't. That said, scored probably the most important goal of the last few years at Wembley.

@addy88 - Not as good as last season but especially in the second part of the season the little Spanish magician was magnificent. Cazorlas contribution in this part was quite big, initiating with both goals against Fulham at home and ending with the with the goal which got us one back against Hull giving us the hope and belief to win our first cup in nearly a decade. But everything comes with a downside, Santi tends sometimes to play dangerous passes on the Arsenal side of the field. If Cazorla can stop this bad habit and can connect to the performance of the end of this season, Santi can give so much to the Arsenal and there will be many more happy memories with him.

6. Ozil (*NEW ENTRY*) 

@giantgooner - He doesn't run around like a chicken with his head chopped off so the Ashtons of the world accuse him of laziness, but week in, week out Ozil dictates our play and unleashes moments of pure genius on the
pitch. Even more intelligent commentators seem to have underrated what he brings to our team. Make no mistake, this is a world class player at his peak, and if last year was an adjustment year he was still the most important attacker on the pitch for Arsenal bar Ramsey. But he also needs to stay fit - and staying on till halftime against Munich despite the hamstring injury wasn't helpful for either him or the team.

@yankeegunner, - Mesut Ozil arrived at arsenal amidst expectations that he would play slightly better than a Henry-Fabregas-Vieira hybrid. He may have warranted his transfer fee for the emotional lift he gave the club and the supporters alone. Realistically, it was always going to be impossible for him to measure up to the hype that surrounded him, particularly in his first season and specifically without a world-class centre-forward to finish the chances he could create. Because of the immense expectations, Ozil faced heavy criticism. Some of it was deserved, but most of it was absurd. Ozil improved Arsenal tremendously. He may not have dominated games as often or to the extent that was hoped, but he was always dangerous. His game certainly suffered from a lack of pace in the front three, particularly after Theo Walcott was lost for the season. And it’s fair to say that when Aaron Ramsey when down, he struggled further. His lowest moments came in some of Arsenal’s bigger games, and that added to the criticism he faced. But I think it’s fair to say that he was the least of the strugglers in those performances. It’s also fair to suggest that Ozil faced criticism largely because of his body language and languid style. He’s certainly no Jack Wilshere or Aaron Ramsey. He doesn’t show a lot of emotion on the pitch and he’s a master at conserving energy. He drifts into space intelligently and once in that space, uses his superior control and vision to keep the ball and play the right pass. He doesn’t rely on constant running, which means that his contributions often go unnoticed. Ozil did reserve one of his best performances for the FA cup when he dominated Everton. And he was equally scintillating against Napoli at the Emirates. Ozil finished the season strong which suggests that he was starting to fully acclimate to the style of the premier league and adapt to his new teammates. His statistics were respectable for a first season and when reviewed without the filter of ridiculous expectations I think his first season was an unqualified success. the best news is that there’s surely plenty more to come from him next season. Especially with the return of Walcott’s pace and the addition of all those other world class attacking players the manager will bring in this summer…


5. Giroud (up four places) 

@attwood10- My views on Giroud are well known, but despite my criticism of him, I do admit and recognise that he is very good at what he does. He's a superb link up player and, with the right players around him, he's again proved that he can be very effective. His numbers have improved from last year and, thankfully, he stayed fit all season. He scored some key goals for us and definitely played his part this season. However, his finishing in 1 v 1 situations simply isn't good enough a lot of the time. That should be bread and butter for an international striker and it has cost us this season. Shouldn't be first choice but should be a good option for us.

@mj_afc - Personally I absolutely love Giroud and I think the grief he gets is completely unnecessary , particularly when you consider there are no other viable options and all we do is effect his confidence. He's taken on Aaron Ramsey's boo-boys, who funnily enough have vanished off the face of the earth. Reality is they just picked a new player and when you consider that Giroud's has won more points than any other Premier League player, then I think we can afford him a little bit more room to manoeuvre. He's led the line brilliantly and has worked great as the axis in our attacks. He's not a Suarez by any means but he has his value and scoring over 20 goals this season has proved invaluable. Yes, a world class striker may have scored more but who's to say that would definitely be the case. Giroud showed in the cup final that he looks more of a threat with another striker up there with him and if we can get 'that' player then I think we'll be more potent with two up top.

4. Szczesny (up eight places - top 15 last season)

@yorkshiregunner - Best keeper in the PL last season. Wasn't to blame for the drubbings, really stepped up a level this year. Distribution improved too. Wouldn't swap him for any Keeper in the PL

@alan_alger_- In the past few seasons our keepers have been more likely to be remembered for the mistakes they have made, Wojciech included. Although there was an overall feeling that he was the best of the bunch - he had to prove it. That’s exactly what he has done in 2013/14. At a rough estimate his contribution in league matches has been worth at least ten points. It’s therefore strange that the FA Cup success achieved this season has been with his compatriot Lukas Fabianski in goal. Fabianski’s appearance at Norwich in the final game of the season denied Szczesny the ‘golden glove’ award outright (shared with Petr Cech) for the most clean sheets, still a worthy accolade

3. Mertesacker (down one place) 

@mzk90 - Played 51(+1) games this season which is awesome for such a big man. Leads with calm authority and shows what it means to him without resorting to the antics of WS or Poldi. Ignoring the penalty in SF and the drunken giraffe impression last minutes of final, he was solid as a rock all year.

@thesquidboylike - Show me an Arsenal fan who doesn’t love our BFG, and I’ll wager that they are phonies. Whilst last season saw Per establish himself as a guaranteed starter at the centre of the defence, this one has further embedded him in Arsenal hearts. A seemingly perfect combination with Laurent Koscielny – away day capitulations notwithstanding – plus a vital equaliser in the Cup semi and a genuine love for the Club make him the modern day Mr Arsenal. His leadership skills have blossomed too; whilst he has notionally been third-in-line for the armband, I fully expect him to be bestowed the honour on a full-time basis next season.

@bradley08 - We had a terrier as our pet for over 15 years. He wasn't the prettiest dog in the world, he certainly wasn't a fashion statement like a chihuahua or a poodle. He wasn't exactly brisk either, he once was beaten in a race across our garden by my two year old nephew who fell over three times whilst trying to stay upright. He was not your archetypal "dog". And yet........

He had an uncanny knack of knowing where the optimal place to be in the house was at all times. If dinner was being served, he was under the kitchen table waiting for scraps. If we were going off for a drive, he was sitting outside the car waiting for us.

Also, my mother is deaf, so she needed a visual aid to tell her if someone was at the door. Our dog was so good at this, he was most often found sitting at the window, looking out for any potential visitors so that he could raise the alarm. We didn't need a doorbell, we had him.

Rusty died two years ago. He's still missed to this day. It isn't his presence that we miss, it's the consistency of his input into our lives that's gone. He was there every day, every week, every year. We got so used to him that we took him for granted, it's only now that we look back and see how much he added to our lives.

Per Mertersacker is the Arsenal family pet. Scruffy, slow, awkward, sometimes doesn't wake up before lunchtime (stupid 12:45pm kickoffs) yet at the same time, he's assuring, consistent, always in position to help, and never missing when needed. Just because we get the same solid performance out of him week in and week out, that doesn't mean he shouldn't appreciated for what he brings to the club; consistent, unspectacular consistency.

2. Koscielny (up one place)

@k4yn3r - Kos the boss, dominant and scores the most vital of goals. The Boss has been immense this season.

@addy88 - Koscielny - the second part of the best centerback partnership in the premier league. Quite often the defensive performances get overlooked. But Arsenals defence was the thing, that carried us forward and Koscielny had IMHO the biggest part in this and he further scored the most important goal of the season, the goal that brought 30 more minutes in the FA Cup Final. On the over hand sometimes he likes to make reckless tackles which lead to unnecessary penalties or dangerous free. Kicks for the opponent (but it seems he works on that with Steve Bould).

Overall I still can't believe that Koscielny was four years ago a 2nd division defender and now a France regular. Arsenal can be very lucky to have a player like Koscielny, a true leader which deserves the name Boscielny.

@bradley08 - A picture tells a thousand words, right? How about two pictures? Because to sum up how good Koscielny has been this season, we have to recall this:

Ugh. Imagine that picture burning a hole in your memory. Imagine that picture gnawing away at you every minute of every day. That picture was Koscielny's defining moment at Arsenal. WAS.

Now it's this:
Whenever we look at how good players are, it's very easy to focus on tangibles, like technical ability or statistics. What has separated Koscielny from the rest this season is the intangible stuff that tends to be used as clichés; heart, passion, bravery etc. But to play in the role that Kos plays, as the centre-back who attacks the ball in front of the back line, you can't play scared. If there's a ball to be intercepted, you have to commit to getting there first, without the fear of cocking up making you hesitate. He was 6th in the league this season in interceptions per game, way ahead of other luminaries such as Kompany, Terry, and Vidic, yet he only gave away on average 0.9 fouls per game.

And then there's the second picture above. In one frame, we see the intelligence to make the right decision, the bravery to follow through with it, and the courage to not worry about potential injury. That one frame is a better description of Koscielny's season than any stat or any article will ever be. And most of all, it's what he deserves.

And the Winner Is....

1. Ramsey (Up five places)

@yorkshiregunner - Injury robbed him of the PFA player of the year award, another 10 goals and in all honesty Arsenal a title.

@giantgooner - I don't think I have enough space to describe how amazing Aaron Ramsey's progress was this season and what a special player he has become. Trying to pick Ramsey's goal of the season is a challenge in its own right; I'd be choosing between the volley against Liverpool, dribbling past 3 Norwich defenders in the box in October and the stunning backpedalling volley against Norwich again at the Emirates this spring. But on top of that he does more running than anybody else on the team, is an exceptional defender and is creative to boot. Now all he has to do is do it again, and this time stay healthy for the entire season!

@yankeegunner - Aaron Ramsey was quite simply the best player at Arsenal during the 2013-2014 season. His improvement from the previous season was nothing short of amazing. Ramsey always displayed a tremendous engine but the end product he added to his game was quite stunning. Literally the only downside to Ramsey’s season was the injury that shortened it. Otherwise he was the perfect
player. It’s nearly impossible to think of a poor performance by the Welshman. And when he wasn’t at his absolute best, he still had a habit of delivering the decisive contribution to a match. The FA cup final is a perfect example. It wasn’t his most impressive or impactful display, but there he was, scoring the winner deep in extra time with a sublime finish. That was Aaron Ramsey this season. Ramsey scored so many wonderful goals that it’s hard to choose one as his best, or indeed to choose his finest performance. But for some reason I have a soft spot for the goal he scored against Liverpool in the Premier League. Like all great players, Ramsey made his teammates better. Ozil improved when Ramsey was there to do the running and Giroud improved when Ramsey was there to run on to his trademark flicks and back heels. Ramey’s emergence is a huge fillip for the club and credit to the manager who believed in him enough to extend his contract at a time when many supporters were convinced he wasn’t good enough for Arsenal. The only question about Ramsey now is whether he can continue to play at this level long term and whether he can stay fit for an entire season. If he answers those questions in the affirmative, Arsenal supporters might start to get used to open top bus parades.

@mj_afc - What a turnaround for the player who had his role questioned by a lot of supporters. Who can forget the dark days of Ramsey on the left wing at Everton and QPR. Now he's in the middle and he's thriving. He was a huge loss to our midfield and attack. His willingness to run ahead of the ball has been vital. It's created space for him and others and his return was like a breath of fresh air. When I think of our best moments of 13/14 I think of Liverpool, Dortmund, Hull all of which included Ramsey goals. He has delivered and we just need to ensure there's enough rotation in order to keep him fit throughout the season. If any player deserved to score the winner in a cup final, then that man was Aaron Ramsey and with the armband potentially up for grabs, should he be in contention? I'll leave you with this video of Ramsey from Arsenal Player

So there you have it, do you agree with our top 10? Maybe you could submit a top 10 of your own in the comments box below. It's been an entertaining season and with silverware at the end of it, who can complain? 

To complete the power rankings here is the scoring matrix for the panel. I'd also like to thank all of the panel for taking part in this blog as it wouldn't be half as interesting without the views of others.