Ranking Arsenal's Top 5 Players for January 2016
January was a mixed month for Arsenal. Although their defence of the FA Cup began strongly with two convincing home wins, their league form was less good.
The Gunners played four Premier League games in the opening month of 2016, winning just once. Although the fixture list was not particularly kind, that’s still a poor return for a club with title aspirations.
Nevertheless, some individuals were able to shine in the course of January. In this piece, we identify the five players who made the biggest individual impact on Arsenal’s month. There might be a couple of surprise names there, so read on to discover who made the cut.
5. Alex Iwobi
It might be controversial to include a player who has made only a handful of appearances in an Arsenal senior shirt. However, Alex Iwobi is steadily becoming an increasingly familiar presence in the matchday squad.
At the end of December, he made cameo appearances against Southampton and Bournemouth. January saw him start the cup matches against Sunderland and Burnley, as well as emerging from the bench in the Premier League match at Stoke City.
On every outing last month, he impressed. It’s telling that in the two cup games, Iwobi was entrusted to play in the No. 10 role. More senior squad members were available to take up playmaking duties, but Arsene Wenger clearly felt Iwobi had the creativity and calm required to thrive in the demanding position.
His decision-making is spot on and his awareness is very interesting. He’s a boy who, two years ago, not many would have said: ‘This will be.’ He develops very well. He’s very clever. I like the timing and the quality of his decision-making. He always turns where you want him to turn and he plays the ball where you want him to play the ball. He’s very interesting.
Those are the terms in which Wenger also discusses such luminaries as Mesut Ozil. It’s that intelligence on the ball that makes Iwobi, 19, such an exciting prospect.
Ozil himself isn’t included in this list, having had a relatively quiet month—perhaps Wenger saw this period as an opportunity to afford him some rest, as the German played just three games in the course of January.
Iwobi is still miles away from ascending the heights Ozil has hit this season, but he seems to have the raw attributes required to make a go of it. It will be intriguing to see what role he plays in the squad between now and the end of the season.
4. Aaron Ramsey
In the month of January, Aaron Ramsey returned to his preferred role as a central midfielder and continued to be a force for productivity.
The Welshman emerged from the bench to score in the cup tie against Sunderland, before starting the league match at Anfield where he collected a goal and an assist.
Ramsey’s impact in the final third is greater than that of the injured Santi Cazorla, but he still has something to learn about helping the Gunners to dictate the tempo in the centre of the park.
Although Ramsey has impressed individually, his partnership with Mathieu Flamini lacks the natural balance of that between Cazorla and Francis Coquelin.
With Coquelin now available again, it will be fascinating to see if he and Ramsey can strike up an effective understanding.
3. Olivier Giroud
Although Olivier Giroud missed one fantastic chance against Liverpool, overall he enjoyed a good month. By the way of example, the very same game saw him score two goals, the second of which was absolutely outstanding.
The way Giroud took the ball under control, spun and turned and deftly bent it beyond Simon Mignolet was reminiscent of Dennis Bergkamp at his finest. The France international doesn’t always deliver in the finishing department, but this was a devastating example of how good he can be.
Three goals in January is a decent return for a player who must be feeling the strain after a demanding couple of months.
He was particularly unlucky to be withdrawn as an early substitute against Chelsea. When Per Mertesacker was dismissed, Arsene Wenger’s decision to sacrifice Giroud was met with outrage by the Arsenal fans. That tells you something about the regard in which he is currently held.
2. Joel Campbell
Joel Campbell has been one of the positive surprises of Arsenal’s season. His ascendance is not entirely dissimilar to that of Francis Coquelin in 2014/15.
Like Coquelin, Campbell was frequently loaned out and written off by many observers, but he has subsequently taken advantage of an injury crisis to demonstrate his value to the squad.
The Costa Rican possesses an unusual but intoxicating cocktail of attributes. He’s an instinctive and imaginative attacker, and has shown an eye-catching ability to split a defence with an incisive through ball. His pass for Aaron Ramsey’s goal at Anfield was particularly good, and he ought to have helped create another in the same game but for a glaring miss from Olivier Giroud.
However, Campbell complements his creativity with hard work. It's not unusual to see him hare back the entire length of the field to protect his full-back. He's also a surprisingly strong tackler, sliding in to rob opponents of the ball before springing to his feet and dribbling back up the pitch.
His performance at Liverpool will live long in the memory. It felt like the game in which Campbell truly announced himself as an Arsenal player.
Campbell rarely completes 90 minutes in an Arsenal shirt, but that's forgivable. It's usually because he's utterly exhausted.
With Alexis Sanchez fit again, it remains to be seen if he can retain his place in the side. Thus far, he's undoubtedly been there on merit.
1. Petr Cech
Where would Arsenal be without Petr Cech?
The Gunners may only have made one major signing last summer, but what a signing it’s proved to be. All month long he has been an important an authoritative figure at the back, even when Arsenal’s collective defensive displays have suffered somewhat.
His performance at Stoke may have been his best yet in an Arsenal shirt. In a closely fought 0-0 draw, his saves were all that prevented Arsene Wenger’s men from suffering a demoralising defeat.
The major disappointment of the month for Cech will have been losing to his former club Chelsea. However, even in defeat his value was evident. When Arsenal’s players fell to their knees at full-time, it was Cech who went around picking them up to ready them for the next challenge.
He knows that the title race is a marathon not a sprint, and the Gunners still have every chance of finishing the league on top.