This is the second part of AFCB’s 2010/2011 Season Review, focusing specifically on the players primarily used across the centre of the park this season.
Each player has been giving a report card-style rating (ranging from A+ to E-) as well as the justification for their rating based on their progress and overall performance over the course of the season.
If you’d like to read part one of the season review, focusing on the forwards, click here.
Jack Wilshere (A)
Wilshere’s breakthrough into the Arsenal team this season was both surprising and refreshing. Forced into the side from day one after injuries to key midfield partners, he stumbled slightly at Anfield before setting the league alight with a series of energetic and effective performances from the centre of the park. We always knew he had it in him but Wilshere exceeded all expectations this season, balancing his defensive and attacking duties superbly and finding time to teach the older boys a thing or two about getting stuck in when the going gets tough. Wilshere tired as the season went on and if I’m being picky, should have scored a few more goals, but at the age of 19 he has the world ahead of him and looks sure to become one of Europe’s top midfielders.
Abou Diaby (C-)
I am such a huge fan of Diaby but the season just gone was arguably his most disappointing since breaking into the first team. Niggling injuries completely wrecked his ability to find any consistency and for a player that defines the word ‘enigmatic’ he was more often below par than above it. Diaby is still valued highly — correctly, in my opinion — by both Arséne Wenger and French coach Laurent Blanc for bringing a completely unique dimension to a team’s attack but if he cannot stay fit then he becomes a liability.
Alex Song (B)
Fabregas’ early-season injury forced Song to take on a more attacking role in the side and the Cameroonian responded with some excellent performances and some vital goals. However, the feeling is that the simpler he plays, the more he focuses on his most important task — protecting the defence — the more effective and useful to the team he is. Overall he had good season, forming a strong rotating partnership with Wilshere and establishing his standing as our premier defensive midfielder. Song needs to be a little clever about disguising the severity of his fouls, too often he is booked on his first or second breach, but he is now an undoubted first-choice player and one that took another strong step forward last season.
Tomas Rosicky (D-)
Watching Rosicky this season made it hard to remember just what a fabulously gifted and effective player he was when he joined the club. With a full pre-season under his belt and his hamstring problems long gone this should have been his best season at Arsenal for many years. Rosicky’s best quality is his versatility and energy: on his best days he fits seamlessly into the team and provides a vital, Wilshere-like presence, allowing the others around him to flourish. However, after a promising start to the season he became a picture of anonymity, adding scarcely little to the team in an attacking or defensive sense. As one of Cesc Fabregas’ best friends he has a safe position in the squad but it is difficult to quell the feeling that Rosicky’s best days are now behind him.
The one and only first-team player that I have stated does not have the quality to make it at Arsenal, Denilson had a terrible season that looks set to end with his exit from the club. Has quite simply taken two steps backwards since his breakthrough in 2008/09 and his neat-and-tidy passing cannot hide a lack of energy or desire to take the game by the scruff of the neck that is required to play in midfield in the English game. The contrast with Wilshere could not be starker and although Denilson is a markedly different player, his passion pales even in comparison to someone like Gilberto Silva. He clearly has talents and is a respectable young man but has never quite cut the mustard at Arsenal and in his final season at the club was arguably our most under-performing player.
Cesc Fabregas (C)
This might seem like a harsh mark for a player who delivered immense quality at times this season, but Fabregas’ is a player that should be judged on the high standards he has set for himself. There is no doubting we are a better team when Fabregas is present, his passing and ability to play the game at his pace makes him one of the best midfielders in the world, but he never quite reached the heights of the previous season and at crucial moments, such as in the second leg against Barcelona, let his teammates down. Unlike some other supporters I will never question Cesc’s commitment as an Arsenal player — he has given more than anyone else in the past five years for this club — and I believe his presence in the team next season is vital to us challenging for the trophies we missed out this season. He needs to step up his game and use his head a little more frequently though.
Aaron Ramsey (B+)
The feel-good story of the season, Ramsey capped his first start since breaking his leg at Stoke with a marvelous league winner against Manchester United. Made eight starts in all late on and showed what he can bring to our midfield with his strength, intelligence and willingness to take risks and should he stay clear of injuries can expect to make quite a splash next season. As mentioned, he is a player that enjoys taking risks — be it attempting a difficult through ball or taking a shot from distance — and this attribute gives him an edge, both in the manager’s mind and the supporters’ hearts, over other players who prefer to keep it safe.
Henri Lansbury (A-)
Made a fantastic impact by scoring against Tottenham in the Carling Cup before being loaned out to Norwich City. He made 23 excellent appearances for the Canaries, scoring four goals and helping them achieve an unlikely promotion to the Premier League in the process. Became a fan favourite at Norwich with his determined, energetic and effective performances (and also by celebrating with the infamous Dougie dance) and looks set to build on a terrific loan season by slotting straight back into Arsenal’s first-team squad. Like Ramsey he possesses more power and confidence than the average Arsenal player and that could him in good stead next season.
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