Arsenal Awards 2011/12
With the 2011/12 season now well and truly over it's time for me to present my Arsenal awards for the season. It was a real topsy-turvy season for Arsenal for Arsenal, and their third placed Premier League finish was the very most that could have been hoped for in reality. In the dark days of last August I think most Arsenal fans would have been very happy to settle for their eventual league position.
Altogether I have 14 awards to present for various achievements, and they're all from my own perspective of course.
Best Defensive Player
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There are a few contenders for this award with Wojciech Szczesny, Bacary Sagna and Laurent Koscielny all having a good chance of winning it. I suppose Sagna's injuries should really count him out, and while Szczesny was good there is still plenty of room for improvement. For me Koscielny was head and shoulders above all of the other defenders at the club, as he personified the art of defending at times.
His reading of the game is second to none, and the timing of his tackling is excellent. He should be the first choice central defender in Arsenal's team sheet every week next season with others fighting for the right to play alongside him. To add to his excellent season he also managed to score the goal that ensured Arsenal finished third and qualified for next season's Champions League.
Best Midfield Player
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When both Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri were sold, Arsenal looked certain to hand their midfield duties over to Jack Wilshere. His season-long injury meant that somebody else had to step up to the plate, but there weren't too many contenders for the role. It was hoped Aaron Ramsey would be the man to do the job, or that Tomas Rosicky would regain his form from few years earlier.
Ramsey had an up and down season, and Rosicky came to the fore after the turn of the year, but it was a deadline day signing who proved to be their midfield inspiration. Mikael Arteta is believed to have taken a pay cut to join Arsenal from Everton only hours before the transfer window closed, and he grasped the chance to play at a higher level with both hands. His ability to control the tempo of the game for Arsenal was crucial at so many times, and they really struggled when he was injured for the last few games.
A midfield consisting of both Arteta and Jack Wilshere next season could be a really exciting prospect for Arsenal and their fans.
Best Attacking Player
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There can't be any doubt about the winner of this award after Robin van Persie scored 30 Premier League goals for Arsenal. He was the top scorer in the Premier League, and some of the goals he scored were quite incredible.
He has suffered setback after setback with injuries over his Arsenal career, but he has managed to stay injury free for the last 18 months. He has been in incredible goalscoring form in that time, and hopefully he will decide that his future should be spent at Arsenal.
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Despite both Koscielny and Arteta playing very well all season long, there can only be one choice for this award too. RVP had the season of his career so far, and there is every possibility it could be his last season for Arsenal too. His goals almost single-handedly carried the team at times if the experts are to be believed.
It would be great if he signed a contract to see out his career at Arsenal, and helped the club to achieve the success he wants to achieve himself. Whatever happens Arsenal will go on, and RVP's season will be remembered as probably the best one in his career.
Most Improved Player
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When a player turns 30 he is usually past his best, and Toms Rosicky will be 32 later this year. He has spent the last four ears either injured or unable to find the form of his earlier career. In the second half of this season in particular he managed to rediscover some of the form which tempted Arsenal to spend so much money on him six years ago.
He was able to take control of the midfield in games, and play the role vacated by Cesc Fabregas. When the team needed some forward momentum in the second half of the season he was the player putting in the effort to drive others on. Hopefully his new contract will inspire him to even better things next season.
I was lucky enough to be at the Emirates when RVP scored what I consider to be Arsenal's best goal of the season. Alex Song floated a ball over the top of the Everton defence with 20 minutes left in the game which marked Arsenal's 125th anniversary. As the ball fell to RVP he unleashed a magnificent volley in to the far corner of the net to leave Tim Howard helpless.
The technique on display from RVP for that goal was something most players can only dream of, but he has shown all too often what he is capable of. It was a fitting goal to celebrate three points on such a momentous occasion for the club and the fans too.
Laurent Koscielny showed what a fine art tackling can be on many occasions throughout the season, and deserved to be named Arsenal's best defensive player. However, the sheer importance of the tackle by Kieran Gibbs in the final game of the season means he has to win the award. With time almost up, Gibbs slid in to put his body on the line and deny West Brom what looked like a certain equaliser.
That tackle was probably the difference between third and fourth place for Arsenal, and its value cannot be underestimated. Gibbs may still be young, and a little defensively naive at times, but he showed how much he wanted to win the game with a fantastic tackle.
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Arsenal had some very good performances during the season, and it's never easy to pick the best one. The 5-3 win away to Chelsea was a highlight, and so was the 3-0 win at home to AC Milan. The best performance in my opinion though was the 5-2 at home to Spurs.
After 20 minutes Arsenal were 2-0 down despite having played very well. Spurs goals came from a lucky deflection, and a penalty awarded after a Gareth Bale dive.
Arsenal went into the game 10 points behind Spurs, and it looked like that gap would increase to 13 points after the game. Surely it would have meant third place was beyond Arsenal, but that didn't matter in the end. Arsenal came storming back with two goals before half time, and then they added another three in the second half.
Within weeks the Spurs had collapsed, and Arsenal had passed them to move into third place. Arsenal may have struggled to hold on to third place, but they kept hold of it and Spurs were destined for the Europa League yet again.
Most Memorable Moment
There were quite a few memorable moments during the season, but one sticks out in my mind more than all of the others. During Arsenal's 5-3 win at Chelsea there was an incident which will live long in my memory.
Arsenal had come back from 2-1 down at half time to lead 3-2 until Juan Mata scored an equaliser for Chelsea with 10 minutes left. Only five minutes later RVP ran on to a back pass which was meant for John Terry, and rounded the keeper to make the score 4-3 to Arsenal. As RVP ran through, the sight of Terry falling flat on his face in a hopeless attempt to stop him was the sight which will live long in my memory.
Most Frustrating Player
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When Arsenal signed Gervinho from Lille last summer I couldn't help wishing they had signed Eden Hazard instead. Gervinho had played very well for the French double winners, but Hazard was the real class player in their ranks. Gervinho has looked very good at times during the season for Arsenal, but the lack of end product can be very frustrating.
He is very good at using a burst of pace to beat his opponent, but he seems unable to pick out the killer final pass. When faced with good goal scoring chances he rarely looks composed, and usually grabs at the shot before missing. I'm hoping his second season will offer a lot more because he looks like he has the potential to be a very good player.
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I suppose Bacary Sagna could be considered to be very unlucky to have broken his leg twice during the season. Abu Diaby barely kicked a ball all season long because of his continued run of injuries. The unluckiest player player had to be Jack Wilshere though, as his injuries meant he missed the whole season.
He may have picked up his knock on the Emirates Cup, but the original injury happened on international duty. He had just played almost every game in the previous season for Arsenal, and looked ready to be their midfield leader when Cesc Fabregas left. His progress has been set back by a whole year and he will miss Euro 2012, as well as possibly missing the start of next season.
Player Who Should Have Been Used More Often
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When Arsenal signed Akex Oxlade-Chamberlain last summer I didn't think he would be used very much during the season. I assumed he would gradually become a part of the first team squad as Arsene Wenger look to slowly introduce him. As Arsenal's injury problems mounted Chamberlain got a look in sooner than expected when he came on as a sub in the debacle away to Manchester United.
The result was nothing to do with him, but it was a long time before he got another chance in the Premier League. When he did play again he showed glimpses of what Arsenal can expect in the future, and certainly looked like he should have started more than six Premier League games. His performance in midfield at home to AC Milan an excellent one, but he never got the chance to play in that role again.
I thought that Wenger may have been protecting him from the rigours of first team football at his tender age, and possibly hoping to keep him from the eyes of the watching England manager. I think he may not have played too often to make sure he didn't get chosen for England for Euro 2012, but the gamble didn't work. I certainly would like to have seen a lot more of him, and I'm sure I will next season.
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Pat Rice eventually hung up his tracksuit at the end of the season, as Steve Bould became Wenger's new assistant. Rice joined Arsenal in 1964, and except for a spell at Watford towards the end of his playing career he was an Arsenal man for 48 years. He will be missed by fans and players alike, and it will be very strange to see the Arsenal bench without him on it next season.
A very special mention has to go to West Brom's goalkeeper in Arsenal's final game. Ben Foster had an excellent season for Albion, but thankfully he picked up a knock before the final game of the season. His replacement was Marton Fullop, and he was in a very generous mood on the day.
Fullop managed to almost throw the ball into his own goal twice during the game, as Arsenal scraped a 3-2 win. If they hadn't won that game they would have finished in fourth place, and been consigned to Thursday night Europa League football.
That's it for today.
See you tomorrow.