So our journey through the season (belatedly) continues. It’s time to grade the midfield. I’ve followed the club’s definition of “midfielder for this – see the link here. So you’ll have to wait another day or two for the
Anyway, here goes.
Abou Diaby: F
I’m not going to lie, I find it hard to muster too much sympathy for anyone who has become a member of a Premier League football squad. Yes, Abou has had terrible injury problems, but he also earns more money in a year than many of us will in our lifetime’s, so some perspective, please.
You can’t help but feel that this was the season that finally put to bed the idea that he will make it as a world-class footballer. He clearly is a talented player. But a crucial part of the ability to be a footballer is the ability to stay fit, and Abou cannot stay fit. He featured in less than 90 minutes of action this season without, and this is crucial in my mind, sustaining a serious injury. It was a succession of smaller injuries caused by his body’s fundamental inability to play professional football. I like him, and I feel bad that his travails have been caused by some shit-kicker who now works in a call-centre, but sometimes life isn’t fair. We need to release him in the summer, on a free if necessary. His wages need to be put to use elsewhere.
Tomas Rosicky: B-
A renaissance man? Well, not quite. The common narrative to Rosicky’s season is that he has recaptured the form that prompted us to sign him back in 2006. Yet, for all of his supposed resurgence, he has only scored 1 goal and provided 4 assists in 29 appearances in the league this year, and 1 goal and 0 assists in the Champions League. Those are hardly the numbers of a superstar attacking midfielder. That Rosicky has been so feted this year simply highlights the dearth of attacking options we’ve had in midfield. He deserved a one-year contract extension, but if he remains a first XI player, I really can’t see us doing much next season.
Mikel Arteta: A
I was skeptical of this signing when it was announced on deadline day, but I could not have been more wrong. He has been integral to the team this season. Indeed, it is possibly worrying that we needed to sign a veteran player in order to give some shape and discipline to our midfield. He is the only Arsenal midfielder who seems to know that you have to do the simple things as well as the flashy stuff in order to win matches. I really can’t praise his attitude or contribution this season highly enough, and I just hope he can continue at this level next season.
Aaron Ramsey: C
Oh, Aaron. I wrote an article back in February on this site in which I defended his contributions until that point in the season. It proved one of the more divisive pieces that I’ve written, and, unfortunately, Aaron did little to help me out in the months after its publication. Firstly, I’m still a great believer in his talent. I think he’s direct, and has the ability to play a killer pass that few other of our midfielders have. But he does dawdle on the ball and, when low on confidence as he is now, he can look bloody awful on occasion. For me, this year was his first full season in the Premier League. He still has time to become a great midfielder, and I’m confident he can prove a lot of his critics wrong next year. But, ultimately, it’s hard to pretend he had a great season this year.
Alex Song: B-
Will the real Alex Song please stand up? Is he the guy who plays killer passes in the final third, or is he the flashy git who cedes possession and doesn’t track his runners? He got eleven assists in the league last year, and in many ways appeared to replace Cesc as our main creative force in midfield. But he also appeared to go missing when we needed him for defensive duties. With Arteta performing his steadily disciplined role, Song seemed to go walkabout on more than one occasion, and seemed to forget his responsibilities when Mikel was not in the side. I think next season could be an interesting one for Song. Will he become the dominant, complete midfielder that he occasionally threatens to become, or will his ego outgrow his ability? With only two years left on his contract, a potentially decisive period in his Arsenal career is surely coming up.
Jack Wilshere: N/A
What a disaster this season has been for Jack. On June 7 last year, I proudly put on my spanking new Arsenal shirt with “Wilshere 19” emblazoned on the back. It’s sad to say, but I have probably worn that shirt more times on a football field this year than Jack has worn his own. With news of another “minor” procedure on his knee, Jack will soon have been injured for an entire calendar year. We need him back so, so badly, because I would love to see a midfield with both Jack and Arteta in it. Wilhere is our real hope for the future, more so even than Robin, and hopefully he’ll be ready to go when the league kicks off in August.
Emmanuel Frimpong: D-
He came, he saw, he got sent off. Frimpong is a player who I initially wanted to love because of the passion he has for the club. But he seems to be a youngster who hasn’t quite realized that actions have consequences, whether they are mistimed tackles on the pitch, or completely inappropriate pictures posted to his twitter account. Hopefully he will recover from his injury and come back stronger than ever, but I would be really surprised if he has a long-term career at the club, unless he is able to add a greater degree of finesse, subtlety and maturity to his game.
Yossi Benayoun: C+
Yossi became a bit of a hero towards the end of the season with some fine, vital goals in games against Norwich and West Brom, to add to his winning goal earlier in the season against Villa. He really seems to have had a season of two halves. A frustrating start to the season, followed by a resurgence in the second half. I really like him and his attitude, but if we were to offer him a new deal it would have to be on the basis that he would be a squad player. I think we can all thank him for his professionalism and performances this season, but it might be best for all concerned if he moved on elsewhere.
Francis Coquelin: C-
Parachuted in the baptism of napalm that was the Old Trafford debacle, we actually didn’t completely fall apart in that game until Coquelin was withdrawn. I think he looks a tidy, young player, who can definitely make a notable contribution to the team in the coming years. He certainly looks like a better prospect than Frimpong, for instance. That said, he has barely played this year, and he looked a little overwhelmed in the final match of the season against West Brom, which was a little worrying. A steady first season in the league then, and I’m confident he can improve.
Our midfield was better than our defence this year, but I suppose that is only to damn it with faint praise. Aside from Arteta, we simply have too many players who are not interested in doing the difficult, dirty stuff in midfield that controls a game, and prevents our opponents from scoring. Song probably typifies this more than anyone else. Just because he’s acted like a deep-lying playmaker this season, and set up a load of goals, doesn’t mean this is what’s best for the midfield or for the team as whole. Without Arteta giving us some shape, I actually dread to think of the state we’d have been in this year. Even with Jack’s return (hopefully) imminent, it’s not for nothing that we constantly linked with the likes of Yann M’Vila – we need new midfielders, and hopefully this will be an area of the transfer market that we dip into this summer.