Ranking Arsenal's 8 Most Valuable Players
In this article, we’ll be taking a look at the eight players in an Arsenal jersey that contribute the most to the team.
Just a point to note before the article: Jack Wilshere will not be included just yet. I love him as a player, but I honestly just feel that we can’t accurately judge his play after two games when he was out for a year and a half before that.
Give it a few more months, and I’ll be happy to put him near the top if he returns to 2011 form.
8. Bacary Sagna
It’s a bit strange to put a player on this list who has only played two games this season.
But there was no way Sagna wouldn't find his way onto the list, for the simple reason that he is the only world-class full-back on the Arsenal roster.
His positional sense and attacking play on the wing remains one of the best in the Premier League. Carl Jenkinson is exceeding expectations, but I predict that Sagna's eventual return to form will yield much better defensive results for the Gunners.
In a few words: The only one of his kind on the squad.
With Robin van Persie wearing Manchester red, the onus of influencing most of the play in the final third from the center-forward position has fallen squarely on the Ivory Coast man's shoulders.
Suffice it to say he has done rather well.
When Gervinho gets the ball in a position right of centre and then cuts in on his right foot, he's a veritable nightmare for practically any defender to mark.
However, despite the five goals he's scored this season, I can't rank him higher because he has been responsible for stagnating Arsenal's attacking play numerous times with his excessive dribbling and unwillingness to play the simple pass.
If Gervinho learns to run at defenders with his head up, he'll not only be Arsenal's best forward but one of the best in the Premier League.
In a few words: A live wire, but polishing is required.
6. Wojciech Szczęsny
The Polish man has come a long way from that awful mix-up at Wembley that cost his team the 2011 Carling Cup against Birmingham City, has he not?
Of course, he's not a finished product yet (so there are still the occasional mistakes), but when he's playing, Szczęsny is a solid presence between the sticks.
Wenger can't wait until he can see him back in the XI, so he doesn't have to rely on the inconsistency of Vito Mannone.
In a few words: The Michael Corleone to Mannone's Vito, Fabianski's Sonny and Martinez's Fredo: Arsenal's best 'keeper by far.
5. Thomas Vermalen
Ah, the captain himself.
Some people are probably writing me off for not having him higher, but the truth is the Verminator's performances have been slightly lacking this term.
Now, I'm as big a fan of the Belgian as anyone, and I admire and appreciate his dedication to Arsenal. However, doesn't one feel that his tendency to make rash tackles is costing Arsenal?
Remember the Chelsea games? Laurent Koscielny was the one who received all the blame for not following Torres and then directing the ball past his own 'keeper, but it was Vermaelen's poor tackles that cost the Gunners both those free kicks.
Now, he's still the captain and provides a heck of a lot from a leadership standpoint, but as of now his reading of the game is not up to the mark. I fully expect him to return to form that brings him near the top of the list.
Becoming the goal threat he was in his earlier days at the club also wouldn't hurt.
In a few words: He'll be back.
4. Lukas Podolski
Losing Robin van Persie would not be easy for any team under any circumstances.
However, having an absolutely world-class player in Lukas Podolski who can play anywhere along the forward line definitely helps soften the blow.
Obviously Podolski is taking some time to adjust: being the focal point of a team in the Bundesliga is a radically different experience for a player from being a part of an ensemble cast in the English Premier League.
But yet, we have seen glimpses of that dead-eye finishing and great positioning that made him one of the highest-scoring players in Germany. It's only a matter of time before that is harnessed here at the Emirates.
Podolski is one hell of a striker, and it won't be too long until he proves it at Arsenal.
In a few words: With the service he has, expect the goals to flow.
3. Santi Cazorla
This is the third Spanish midfielder who has featured for Arsenal in the last two years. Arsenal has had a good history with such players, as the first netted them a cool 30 million euros from Barcelona, and we'll get to the other in a bit.
As for Cazorla himself, let's just say the early buy-of-the-season chatter about him is not exactly completely unwarranted.
His skillful dribbling, pinpoint passing and venomous shots have provided the Gunners with exactly what they've been missing since Cesc Fabregas quit in 2011.
The fact is that Arsenal look a different team with Cazorla playing: his aggressiveness gives the midfield purpose, and the partnership he's struck up with Mikel Arteta—and in time, hopefully with Jack Wilshere, as well—has handed Arsenal a possession advantage very few teams could match.
To me, Cazorla is very easily the best player on the roster, but that doesn't make him the most valuable.
This is no fault of his; it's just that the ones ranked above him are more irreplaceable: between Wilshere, Rosiscky and Ramsey, the Gunners could at least replace part of what Cazorla brings to the table.
Don't let that take anything away from a nearly flawless attacking midfielder though. Just sit back, relax and watch him grapple with Juan Mata and Robin van Persie for the PFA Player of the Year award.
In a few words: The new Andres Iniesta. Really.
2. Per Mertesacker
It has been a common criticism that since the Henry-Viera-Bergkamp era ended, Arsenal has suffered from a flimsy and easily breakable back-line.
That, unfortunately, would be true. A younger Sol Campbell was the last centre-back the Gunners employed who could actually impose his will on a game.
Kosclieny was too inconsistent. Gallas was technically sound but didn't have a command over the pitch. Vermaelen, as I said before, is far too prone to rash tackles that generate bookings and free kicks.
However, it may be a bit too soon to say, but it seems Arsene Wenger has found the solution to his problems in the form of the giant German. It may have been a year late, but since the start of the season, Mertesacker has been absolutely imperious.
His reading of the game is brilliant. He doesn't make too many fancy tackles simply because he doesn't need to. He knows exactly when to go in and halt the play and exactly when to hang back and wait for the attacker to bring the ball to him.
As I said, it may be too soon to say, but Mertesacker is looking like the real deal. The only game when Arsenal's defense was literally all over the place was against Chelsea, and big surprise, Mertesacker was on the bench!
The intelligence and security he brings to the back line simply cannot be replaced. Maybe against small teams Vermaelen and Kosclieny can hold down the fort, but in the big games, Mertesacker is Arsenal's most reliable centre-back, by far.
In a few words: The deserved No. 2, who can't be ranked any lower or higher.
1. Mikel Arteta
What, you were expecting someone else?
Arteta isn't the deadly finisher that Podolski is, the flashy playmaker that Cazorla is, nor does the bring the kind of physical will that Mertersacker does.
Despite all that, what he does is truly indispensable to Arsenal, and there is really no other player on the roster that can match it.
Right now, Arteta is rather comfortably occupying a holding midfield role. It's quite incredible that he was able to move there after playing most of last year ceding that role to Alex Song, and instead has been a central playmaker.
Truthfully, he's not only moved there, but he has also flourished. He's averaging the most tackles and interceptions per game of any midfielder in the Premier League, and more importantly, he's retained that good old Spanish eye for a good pass.
While Cazorla and now Wilshere are the ones playing the deadly through-balls and setting up the strikers, it's Arteta who sets the tempo of the game.
He's the one who ensures Arsenal maintain big amounts of possession by always finding an out ball. He's the one who actually gives licence to the other two to romp forward merely because without his presence there would be far less security for the back four.
He leads the Premier League in passes completed, pass completion percentage, and interceptions by a midfielder.
And on top of that, he remains one of the best free-kick takers in the Premier League.
How many other midfielders in Europe offer this much? Bastian Schweinsteiger, Yaya Toure and Xabi Alonso? You really would have trouble thinking of many more. The variety of qualities Arteta brings to the table make me pretty certain that he is deservedly the No. 1 player on this list.
In a few words: Probably not the best, but certainly Arsenal's Most Valuable Player.