Five Players of the season
Fabregas was in the form which is often accompanied by trophy-winning teams.
19 goals and a load of assists justified how Fabregas influenced the team with his presence. Only in 2007/08 had he managed a tally of double figures or come close to being the prolific midfielder we all craved him to be.
From the brace against Everton on the first day of the season to the penalty against Barcelona, Fabregas influenced almost every Arsenal match he played in last season.
It was some form which broke Robert Pires’ record of Arsenal’s highest scoring midfielder in a league season and saw him end the campaign not only as the Gunners’ top scorer, but also without a doubt, their top performer.
And he did all this in a stop-start season in terms of fitness. One of Fabregas’ most injury-plagued seasons was indeed his most outstanding.
Is he big enough? Is he tall enough?
None of those questions which greeted Vermaelen’s arrival last summer mattered in the end, did it? The Belgian came at a time when Arsenal’s defense begged for aerial dominance and grit. In fact, that turned out to be what Vermaelen’s forte is as a centre-back.
He made a habit of winning headers and tackles throughout the campaign and even when the team went through hard times, he was that one player you just could not criticize due his consistency – which saw him miss only one game before injury ended his campaign.
And the way he often appeared to be the energtic screamer amongst his teammates, Vermaelen also proved to be captain material for the future.
“We need a DM, we really need a DM!”
Those have been constant cries from the Arsenal faithful ever since the clear-out of Diarra, Flamini and Gilberto two years ago. And even though those complaints remain today, that needed defensive midfielder is only required as back-up to Alex Song.
With Arsenal forging a more attacking frame through the 4-3-3 this season, there had to be a tigerish ball winner to keep things tidy. And very often, Alex Song proved just that.
On countless occasions, Song was the emergency defender, providing last ditch support for Arsenal’s centre-backs.
Thus, the Cameroonian joined Vermaelen in introducing Arsenal’s ‘you won’t bully us’ look in 2009/10.
Most of Arsene Wenger’s class of talent over the past five years have been skillful and attacking-minded but physically feeble players; the Hleb’s, the Rosicky’s, the Walcott’s and Nasri’s.
And even though his technical ability is comparable to the aforementioned names, Abou Diaby brings a bonus service to the table for Arsenal.
That is physical presence/height. Also, unlike Rosicky and co, Diaby shows more assurance on the ball when he surges from midfield because of the amount of power he has in shrugging off opponents.
Doing the dirty work is not a job strictly assigned to just defenders and Arsenal have often failed at the back in the past due to lack of collective physical support in defending. Thus, you can only guess what would have happened without the significant aid Diaby provided in defending set-pieces last term.
The ‘Diaby’ we knew from the season before last year was the dribbling, more attacking but incapable ‘Vieira’ and an inconsistent holder and distributor of the ball. His over-relaxed late season displays justified he is by no means the finished article but for most of the campaign, Diaby was Arsenal’s source of muscle in attack.
His critics did realize his impact during that spell (home batterings by Chelsea and United) when the Arsenal team cried out for physical presence in Diaby and co’s absence.
In addition, the Frenchman proved he is arguably Arsenal’s most accurate finisher from midfield – either from long range or the 18-yard area. Remember how he was the only one to test Shay Given – resulting in the ‘keeper’s unfortunate injury – during the dull game with Man. City recently?
His brace against Portsmouth and goals against AZ Alkmaar and Birmingham are evidences of his clinical ability in front of goal. Also, those were just a few of some vital moments Diaby produced during the season – notably, that game-winning header against Liverpool.
Like Arshavin did last term, Sol Campbell proved to be that inspiring addition from January.
Not only did he add much needed muscle – decisive in the win at Stoke – to Arsenal’s defense but Sol also injected some urgency into the team when the going got tough.
Such was his passion even at the age of 35 that he managed the performance of his Arsenal return at White Hart Lane of all places – where his bold show nearly saw him score twice. Wenger concluded that Sol was “ready to die on the pitch that day” after the match and that just summed up the sort of servant Campbell had been to the club on both his first and second coming.
Other players who could have made it: Samir Nasri, Emmanuel Eboue, and Nicklas Bendtner.
UP NEXT TOMORROW: Five Goals of the season