AFCB writer Darragh Murray celebrates the impact of Samir Nasri so far this season…
I have, for a long time, sang the praises of Samir Nasri and with his exceptional performance at the City of Manchester Stadium on Sunday, providing a hefty contribution to Arsenal’s three-nil victory over the cashed up City. Many have been skeptical of the Frenchman over the past three seasons, but perhaps his vital goal against the Blues, as well as his consistently good form shown this season, heralds the emergence of an attacking midfielder as capable and threatening as the likes of Ljungberg or Pires.
A former housemate of mine used to quip that Nasri could be perhaps the world’s most talented lesbian footballer. Putting aesthetics to one side, there is no doubt that Nasri has cemented his spot in the squad this season. Wenger originally signed Nasri as the replacement for Hleb (who was in turn a replacement for Ljungberg), and now more than ever, the Frenchman is beginning to show the positive characteristics that Hleb had, i.e. technically adept at holding on to the ball and finding neat little passes to open up defenses. However, Nasri is also showing us the things that Hleb seemingly was unable to do, and finish his build-up work by either putting the ball on target, or putting it in the back of the net. His work with Arshavin to create the opening goal in the Man City match attests to that.
When we signed the 21-year-old Nasri back in 2008, the press had anointed him the new Zidane. There were similarities, a French player of Algerian heritage who could play pretty much anyway in the midfield. But such lofty praise for someone so young often inevitably is burdensome when your form doesn’t match expectations, something Nasri has had to deal with in his first two years at Arsenal. These seasons were marked by occasional sparks of brilliance, such as the amazing solo goal against Porto in last season’s Champions League, but also by injury. Breaking his leg at the start of last season definitely kept him quiet for the remainder of the campaign.
However, Nasri is now performing in a big way. Not only does he look a lot fitter, but also playing with supreme confidence. To bury two superb penalties into the back of the old enemy’s goal netting in the Carling Cup is no mean feat, and this performance has been rounded out by some superb goals from open play. He is now our top scorer in all competitions so far this season and has scored two more goals this season than the entire of the previous campaign (he is also, I should add, making me a bucket load of points in my fantasy football league). No wonder his supreme form has not gone unnoticed by the so-called experts.
However, the most encouraging thing Nasri’s stronger physical constitution. The same housemate always used to talk about his ‘Marseilles grit’. He may be a diminutive person, but his temperament is suitable to football at the highest level, something the likes of Hleb never seemed to have – a determination not to let the opposition bully him.
Nasri playing well is also great for the likes of Fabregas. Two creative midfield players who can pass well, create chances, but also convert these chances means that oppositions have to spread their resources in order to strangle service to the likes of Chamakh, Van Persie and Arshavin. Inevitably, this will allow a lot more scoring opportunities (not that Arsenal never have enough) and penetration for our other attackers.
Wenger has always said that his young guns would come through for the fans in the end and it’s obvious trophies mean something to the players. Seeing the likes of Nasri, Wilshere, Gibbs and Walcott coming on in leaps and bounds this season shakes the cynicism that has been growing within me with each trophy-less season. However, such a great victory over a club who are trying to buy a premiership means Wenger’s vision is becoming more and more a reality.
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A writer and retro video-game lover, Darragh Murray writes on music, politics and football – the three passions that consume his life. He writes extensively on the Brisbane music scene and – when he grows up – wants to give Denis Bergkamp a hug.