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Arsenal Duo Sign New Deals and Bendtner Confirms Departure

Despite all the doom and gloom that crept into the world of Arsenal after a disappointing loss to Stoke, some off the pitch proceedings have brought smiles back to the faces of Arsenal fans worldwide.

Unless you’re living under a rock with no access to Internet, colored TV or any social media platform, you must have heard that the Gunners have handed new long term contracts to two influential players, Tomas Rosicky and Per Mertesacker.

Shortly after both players put pen to paper, the club released this statement,

We are delighted that Mertesacker and Rosicky have committed their futures to the Club. They are players of exceptional quality and experience, and have consistently proven themselves at the highest level. There is a great feeling of togetherness and belief in the group and this news will only help to strengthen this further.”

With the way things are going with the Bacary Sagna contract situation, the Arsenal hierarchy were mindful of avoiding another scenario of that nature, so it was paramount that they secured the long term futures of valuable assets such as this pair.

Tomas Rosicky has been at Arsenal longer than I can remember. Arsenal was smart enough to sign him just before the 2006 FIFA World Cup and the Gunners licked their lips as they watched Little Mozart decimate defenses in the soccer fiesta with his sleek style of play, wonderful passing range and one hell of a thunderbolt from his right foot.

It didn’t take him long to announce himself to the Emirates faithful with a surface to goal missile against Hamburg SV. Rosicky rose to prominence in the 2007/08 season when he was part of that midfield quartet that almost won the Premier League. A nasty knee injury robbed Arsenal off his services for the best part of 18 months and on his return to full fitness, he suffered a couple of niggling injuries here and there.

With his advancing years, Rosicky had a renaissance in the 2011/12 season where he replaced an Aaron Ramsey struggling for form, fitness and confidence. Rosicky played a similar role last season and he has endeared himself to the fans in more ways than one.

I and many other Arsenal fans out there (especially Austin Onono) will be happy to know that Rosicky will continue to grace the Emirates for a couple of more years. Some may say he’s 33, I know he’s ageless.

Per Mertesacker on the hand arrived as a “panic buy” following the 8-2 capitulation in the hands of Manchester United. The Big Friendly Giant is ridiculed for his lack of pace and agility but he made up for it with his intelligence, height, composure, coordination and ability to read the game superbly.

Alongside Laurent Koscielny, both players have forged a strong understanding and their joint attributes have made them impregnable and indispensable, even to the extent where the club captain can’t even command a first team berth.

Rosicky, 33, and Mertesacker, 29, have donned the captain’s armband for their nations on several occasions and even at club level from time to time. Having these leaders on the pitch for a long time would have a positive influence on the team, especially their advancing ages.

I wish both players all the best in their future endeavors with the club.

While Rosicky and Mertesacker would be basking in the euphoria of extending their futures with the club, the same cannot be said for Nicklas Bendtner that has suddenly found himself out of favor again.

As expected, the outspoken Dane was quick to voice his concerns,

I’m not going to stay at Arsenal – first team football is what I’m after. 

The plan is for me to move on. I’m ready for a new challenge. I know of the conditions.

To keep my spot I need to play regularly. My self-esteem and my confidence as a footballer has not changed, but there are many who think all I do is party. 

That I am completely indifferent to football, and it’s the wrong version of reality.

When I find my right club, I am sure that everything will be all right in itself, if there are no more injuries.”

The tale between Bendtner and Arsenal took a twist when Arsene Wenger offered him a chance to return to the team after he had declared that he wasn’t going to play for the club. With his Samurai looks, ponytail and the awkward looking beards, the fans saw a player that looked like a ‘new signing’ and he did pretty well against West Bromwich in the Capital One Cup.

After a couple of substitute appearances, Bendtner had a rear start against Hull City and scored a neat header from a Carl Jenkinson cross. Bendtner won a place in the hearts of the fans when he scored that vital late goal against Cardiff but injury hampered his chances of getting a consistent run of games.

Since his return to full fitness, he has seen his Giroud deputy role occupied by Yahaya Sanogo and after seeing the young lad get a rear start ahead of him in the FA Cup clash with Liverpool, Bendtner’s fears of losing his place we’re realised when Sanogo was favored ahead of him in the vital clash against Bayern Munich.

With the Gunners trailing against Stoke, Wenger had already thrown Mesut Ozil and the Ox into the fray, so his last throw of the dice was either Sanogo or Bendtner, and we all know who he brought on.

As my buddie, Bhydemi Brainz stated,

“Why give confidence to a player who would probably  end up in another club this simmer when you can give confidence to someone who has a future with us?”

The nail has been driven into the coffin of Bendtner’s career with Arsenal and as a free agent, a player of his ‘talents’ would be used elsewhere. He’s a decent striker that could do well in another club that gives him regular game time but that club would not be Arsenal.

Sayonara 

The Curious Case of the Mertesacker – Koscielny Defensive Partnership

Solid as a rock: Per Mertesacker (right) and Laurent Koscielny (left) have not lost a league match for almost two years when they have both started and finished a game for title-challenging Arsenal

Rock solid!

As we head into game week 22 in the Premier League, the Gunners are still surpassing everybody’s expectations as they have shown resilience to remain at the top of the table, despite the fact that all teams in the top seven recorded victories over the weekend.

In the wake of the recent victory over Aston Villa, Arsenal’s captain of the night, Per Mertesacker, believes that his team change take any challenge,

“Nobody dropped any points so there was a bit of pressure. The team could feel that but we responded. I think everyone was expecting that we would drop points but we kept going.

“In the first half we did extremely well and put a lot of pressure on them. We took the lead by two goals and that was decisive.

“It was very important to respond and for the other teams to see that Arsenal is alive and that we can respond to anything. We just look at ourselves and think we are good enough to respond to any challenge they give us.

“It is really tight at the top. At the moment, there is no chance to drop any points. We have to show the other teams that when we feel the pressure we can respond. That is vital so I’m really happy with the fighting performance in the second half and how resilient we were.”

Despite the fact that Jack Wilshere and Olivier Giroud would take the plaudits for the goals they scored on the other hand, kudos must go to the unsung heroes, Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny for the great jobs they are doing at the back. For those that don’t know, the Gunners have undefeated in every league match in which Koscielny and Mertesacker have completed 90 minutes, since a 2-1 home defeat against Manchester United on January 22, 2012. That period has included 28 games, 20 of which have resulted in victories.

Both players complement each other in a ‘stopper and cover’ type of defensive partnership and their understanding is telepathic to say the least. In the past, Arsenal has always had issues with their central defensive pairings but this is the foundation the Gunners could use to surge for the Premier League title this season.

The last time the Gunners had a rock solid defensive pairing after the Tony Adams – Steve Bould / Martin Keown era was the Sol Campbell – Kolo Toure defensive partnership that saw the Gunners go unbeaten in the entire 2003/04 Premier League campaign. As the years went by, players like Phillippe Senderos, William Gallas and the shambolic French combination of  Mikael Silvestre and Sebastien Squillaci graced the Emirates but they out up poor showings.

When Thomas Vermaelen arrived from Ajax in 2009, he seemed like the real deal with his aggressive style of defending that was reminiscent of the Nemanja Vidic of old, but when the responsibility of being Arsenal’s captain was bestowed on him, he started over complicating things, and it affected his form. Let’s not forget that his fitness has been a major concern as well since his lengthy Achilles tendon injury in his second season with the club.

Missing out: Arsenal's club captain Thomas Vermaelen has had to make do with a place on the bench

Despite his poor form last season, Vermaelen’s captaincy acted like a shield around him and he continued to make more glaring errors but after another putrid showing at White Hart Lane in March 2013, Arsene Wenger decided he had seen enough and he axed his captain and first-choice goalie for the good of the team. An injury to Lukasz Fabianski paved the way for Wojciech Szczesny to return to the team but the Mertesacker – Koscielny combo hasn’t looked back since that famous win at the Allianz Arena.

EPL central defensive partnerships and their records. (Culled from the Daily Mail)

Since both players featured consistently, Arsenal has conceded fewer goals and they currently have the best defensive record in the Premier League. The hallmark of their combination this season was showcased in the month of November, when the club conceded only one goal in seven matches.

Per Mertesacker uses his height to great effect and his experience has been key for the Gunners since his arrival as a “panic signing” from Werder Bremen in 2011. He made the most interceptions (57) last season at the club and it’s amazing to know that he only made one defensive error in his 3,028 minutes of playing time last season. Mertesacker’s weakness remains his pace, but he has made up for it with his ability to read the game and anticipate situations superbly.

Laurent Koscielny on the other hand is one of the quickest defenders you’d ever see and his recovery ability ranks him among the best in the Premier League. He’s also a very good tackler of the ball and his intelligence allows him to anticipate situations with consummate ease. He scores the odd own goal and makes some erratic decisions at times, more he has done more good than damage in his time at the club.

To wrap things up, here are the stats of both players in the Premier League this season, with some assistance from WhoScored,

 

 

Per Mertesacker

Laurent Koscielny

Appearances (subs)

19 (0)

18

Tackles made (per game)

28 (1.5)

32 (1.8)

Interceptions made (per game)

29 (1.5)

51 (2.8)

Fouls committed (per game)

5 (0.3)

16 (0.9)

Clearances (per game)

123 (6.5)

124 (6.9)

Blocked shots (per game)

3 (0.4)

14 (0.8)

Total Passes (accurate passes)

899 (832)

699 (647)

Pass Completion percentage

92.5%

92.6%

Bookings (Yellow/Red)

(1/0)

(0/1)

In 21 Premier League games played thus far, Koscielny and Mertesacker have been mainstays in the team. While Mertesacker averages at least 1.5 tackles per game, Koscielny closes in on at least two tackles and their clearances in every game is at least seven. Their passing stats are also very impressive as they are close to 93% accuracy.

It’s time to compare the Mertesacker – Koscielny combo with the leading Premier League defenders in other clubs, John Terry, Vincent Kompany, Phil Jagielka and Martin Skrtel.

Now it’s time to compare Mathieu Flamini’s stats (league only) with the rest of the holding midfielders Arsenal were linked with this summer.

 

Mertesacker

Koscielny

Kompany

Terry

Jagielka

Skrtel

Appearances (subs)

19

18

12 (2)

21

19

19

Tackles made (per game)

28 (1.5)

32 (1.8)

28 (2.3)

18 (0.9)

28(1.5)

21 (1.1)

Interceptions made (per game)

29 (1.5)

51 (2.8)

23 (1.9)

24 (1.1)

35 (1.8)

31 (1.6)

Fouls committed (per game)

5 (0.3)

16 (0.9)

8 (0.7)

8(0.4)

7 (0.4)

16 (0.8)

Clearances (per game)

123 (6.5)

124 (6.9)

77 (6.4)

148 (7)

174 (9.2)

201 (10.6)

Blocked shots (per game)

3 (0.4)

14 (0.8)

5 (0.4)

14 (0.7)

8 (0.4)

21 (1.1)

Total Passes (accurate passes)

899 (832)

699 (647)

469 (407)

1092 (975)

1020 (889)

850 (780)

Pass Completion percentage

92.5%

92.6%

86.8%

86.7%

87.2%

91.8%

Bookings (Yellow/Red)

(1/0)

(0/1)

(3/0)

(2/0)

-

(1/0)

These are leading defenders in their various Premier League sides and you can see the closeness in these stats. Koscielny remains the best tacklers (1.8) among the six and he has also made more interceptions than any other player on this list. However, he and Martin Skrtel commit more fouls than the defenders on this list.

Skrtel leads with clearances and is followed closely by Jagielka.

With Koscielny and Mertesacker, Gunners can rest assured that they have a solid base to work with, but we can only hope that they remain fit, because when one of the them is missing, the effects are usually disastrous. Arsenal’s loss to Manchester United at Old Trafford this season is a testament of that.

Sayonara.

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Football and Charity: Per Mertesacker Gives to his Stiftung Foundation

Big F*cking German Tee – Order yours today

Every thoroughbred Arsenal fan can attest to the fact that Per Mertesacker has grown to become one of the most influential players in the team since his transfer deadline day move from Werder Bremen in 2011. His towering height mitigated a long-term problem the Gunners had as aerial balls over the top became a thorn in Arsenal’s flesh with the team’s defenders not having the adequate height to deal with such issues.

After playing 27 games in his first season with Arsenal, Per Mertesacker’s season reached an abrupt end when Arsenal visited Sunderland in that pitch good enough to raise cattle. He recovered in time for Euro 2012 but he failed to make any appearance with Holger Badstuber and Matts Hummels playing every game for Germany in the tournament.

Mertesacker began last season’s campaign alongside Thomas Vermaelen and they worked in tandem to get three clean sheets on the bounce at the start of the season. If you thought Mertesacker’s performance against Liverpool (away) was superb, his outing against Manchester City (away) was one of his best in Arsenal colors, as he made so many Per-fect Merte-ceptions in the course of the game.

He proved his worth to the squad when he wasn’t on the pitch as Arsenal struggled in his absence with Vermaelen and Koscielny failing to click with each other. When they played with each other, they lacked the calmness, coordination, composure and positional discipline the BFG had.

He also added goals to his game with three headers against Tottenham (twice) as well as the match winner in the crucial game against Fulham (away). This season, Mertesacker became a mainstay in the team and he has excelled admirably in his defensive duties.

He’s known for being a very clean defender but he got his hands dirty with his first red card in Arsenal colors. However, that game will be forever remembered for the innovative tackle he attempted with his back. It was a truly remarkable season for the big friendly giant and I hope he builds on it.

This season, Mertesacker has grown in stature and has even worn the arm band a couple of times, as he’s one of the “leaders” of the team. According to WhoScored this season, Mertesacker has played nine Premier League games ans he has attempted 10 tackles (1.1 per game), 14 merte-ceptions (1.6 per game), three fouls (0.3 per game), four blocked shots (0.4 per game) and a whooping 39 clearances (3.9 per game). He has also made 452 passes (414 successful) which gives him a pass completion percentage of 91.6 percent.

Decisive: Per Mertesacker headed Germany's winner against England at Wembley

Per heading Germany’s winner against England in Wembley

Mertesacker recently got a place in the spotlight following his match-winning goal against England but he has also been on the news for his most recent act – giving to his charity organization as he turned his moniker into a brilliant fund raising strategy for the Stiftung Foundation.

Due to his massive Gulliver-like stature, Per Mertesacker is fondly known as the Big F*ckin’ German and he even has a fan song that is to the tune of Wyclef Jean’s “Guantanamera“.

With this in mind, Mertesacker and SpielBaum have worked together to come up with “Big F*ckin’ German” T-Shirts whose earnings would be channeled to the Stiftung Foundation. The shirts come in four different sizes – Small, Medium, Large and Xtra Large and they also come various colors ranging from deep red, black, olive and navy.

It has a Goonerific feel

I’m in love with the deep red T-shirt because it gives me that Arsenal feel and I’ve already placed my order. It gives me more comfort to know that purchasing this T-shirt would help a child in the Stifting Foundation and I advise you do the same.

Here’s to Arsenal’s Big F*ckin’ German – Per Mertesacker.

Sayonara.

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New Deal for Mertesacker and Thoughts on Giroud’s ‘Fatigue’

Giroud hasn’t scored in 3 games and all hell breaks loose

Following the 8-2 mauling in the hands of Manchester United, Arsene wiped the dust off Arsenal’s cheque book to sign five players that had their impacts on the team in one way or another.

Mikel Arteta was instrumental in the box to box role alongside Alex Song, Andre Santos deputised well in Kieran Gibbs’ injury absence, Yossi Benayoun came into the fold in the tail end of the campaign, Park Chu-Young went into oblivion and lastly, Per Mertesacker brought his calmness and composure to a defense manned by the hot-headed duo of Thomas Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny.

After some early season struggles as you’d expect from a player coming from another footballing culture, Mertesacker found his feet and started putting some stellar performances but an ankle injury suffered in the aberration of a pitch called the Stadium of Light brought his debut season with Arsenal to an abrupt end and it almost affected his participation for his nation in Euro 2012.

Last season, Mertesacker found a new lease of life and blossomed as he became synonymous with first team action and he excelled admirably alongside Vermaelen or Koscielny as his calmness, coordination and composure was supplemented by their agility, grit, anticipation and determination which became instrumental in Arsenal’s surge for a fourth placed finish last season.

With Mertesacker signing an initial four year deal worth 65,000 pounds per week in 2011, he was going to have a year left on his contract at the start of next season. Lessons from the past (a la Clichy, Van Persie and Nasri) has thought Arsenal what could happen when a player has a year left on his deal so the Gunners are keen to take swift action, as they are bracing themselves to speak with Mertesacker’s representatives over a new bumper contract.

Irrespective of the fact that he’s going to have one year left at the start of next season, Mertesacker has been one of the success stories of the 2013/14 season and he was sorely missed in the recent defeat at Old Trafford. Thomas Vermaelen has reiterated his desire to fight his way back to first team action but I don’t see him displacing the Big Friendly Giant anytime soon but he’d definitely get his chance as the season progresses.

With 94 caps for Germany, Mertesacker is just six games shy of joining the elite set of footballers that would notch up a century of appearances for their nation. Only Philip Lahm, Lukas Podolski, Miroslav Klose and Bastien Schwiensteiger have reached the 100-club in the current crop of Joachim Loew’s squad.

Moving over from defense to attack as Arsenal has done so efficiently this season, Olivier Giroud has come into the spotlight recently, in the wake of his run of games without a goal. His last strike for Arsenal came in the narrow 2-0 win over Crystal Palace but in the Gunners three consecutive fixtures against Liverpool, Dortmund and Manchester United, Giroud has fired blanks, even though he gave the match-winning assist to Aaron Ramsey in the Signal Iduna Park.

His performance at Old Trafford didn’t inspire any confidence as he looked out of sorts and off the pace most times. Nicklas Bendtner was summoned to ameliorate the situation but he didn’t fare any better. Bendtner’s national team manager, Martin Olson, has urged the player to leave Arsenal but he hasn’t threatened to drop him from the squad if his first team opportunities don’t improve.

In the wake of Giroud’s lethargic performance against Manchester United, his best buddy in the team, Laurent Koscielny, has stated that the French forward, hasn’t been on the goals recently and with Giroud featuring consistently week in week out, he clearly feels that he’s ‘fatigued’ and could do with some rest.

Sadly for Giroud, that can’t happen anytime soon. Starting a game with Nicklas Bendtner is like waiting for a time bomb to explode and he’s currently on the edge with the fans as he has also become a lightning rod for vitriol and abuse from the fans.

Giroud also has a crucial 2014 World Cup qualifier to contend with as he has been preferred to Kazim Benzema in the French setup recently. The French national team lock horns in a two-legged affair with Ukraine with a place in the World Cup up for grabs.

It’s fair to say that Giroud has featured in a lot of games this season and could be entering the ill-fated ‘red zone’ but the injuries suffered to Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski coupled with Arsenal’s failure to recruit a center forward (no disrespect to Yaya Sanogo) has made Giroud’s situation rather precarious.

Arsenal has key fixtures against Southampton after the international break and this will be followed with games against Marseille, Cardiff, Hull, Everton, Napoli, Manchester City, Chelsea, West Ham and Newcastle before the New Year and I don’t expect Giroud to play every game, because the last time I checked, he’s not a cyborg.

In Walcott and Podolski, the Gunners have lethal finishers but the problem remains that they can’t bring their midfielders into the game like Giroud if they start at the center forward position. They also lack the aerial prowess to dominate opposition defenders and they can’t hold up play like Giroud.

Arsene Wenger will have to sort things out in January but till then, the Gunners will have to make with what they have.

Sayonara.

Rating Arsenal’s Defenders’ Performances in the 2012/13 Season

A bedrock for next season?

Arsenal and defending – two words that don’t go in tandem with each other.

Arsene Wenger has built his football on free-flowing attacking football and times without number, his team has been caught out at the back and there are even times when the Gunners shoot themselves in the foot as they become plotters of their own downfall.

As expected, injuries, suspensions and decline of form took its toll on Arsenal’s defensive rearguard and Arsene Wenger managed to use almost all the defenders in the club’s payroll at some point in the season.

While the big guns featured regularly in the Premier League and the Champions League, the Capital One Cup served as a breeding ground for some young guns and fringe players, and the dead-rubber game against Olympiakos also saw deadwood like Sebastien Squillaci get a run-out as well.

While Per Mertesacker cemented his status as Arsene Wenger’s first choice defender, Thomas Vermaelen partnered the gentle giant by the mere fact that he was the skipper, because his form painted a different picture. When the manager realized how appalling his skipper had become, he made the bold move to axe the Belgian in place of a resurgent Laurent Koscielny.

While Wenger shuffled between his defensive trio of Mertesacker, Vermaelen and Koscielny, there was no room for Johan Djourou that was shipped out to Hannover 96 and the defender has reiterated his desire to remain in Germany. As for Sebastien Squillaci and Ignasi Miquel, they are living on borrowed time.

In the fullback positions, Bacary Sagna’s second leg fracture last season paved the way for Carl Jenkinson to get some first-team action under his belt. On Sagna’s return, he was drafted into the team and failed to replicate that the form of the yesteryear. On the left, Kieran Gibbs was an automatic starter but his fitness was a thorn in his flesh allowing Andre Santos to put up his calamitous outings on a consistent basis.

With Andre Santos failing to impress and Gibbs suffering one of his trademark injuries, Wenger wasted no time in delving into the transfer window to acquire Nacho Monreal’s services.

This is the second installment of a four-post series focused on Arsenal’s performances in the 2012/13 season. I’ve already shared my views on the performances of the goalkeepers but today’s post is focused on Arsenal’s defensive rearguard.

Feel free to share your comments.

Thomas Vermaelen – 39 Apps, One Goal

With club captain, Robin van Persie, departing to join Manchester United, Arsene Wenger was forced with a decision to make regarding the man that was going to lead his team in the 2012/13 campaign. I was looking forward to a new era under the reins of a captain that signed a new deal without thinking twice, stating his love for Arsenal was his primary reason.

He has the aggression of Nemanja Vidic, leaped off the ground easily like a kangaroo, has a gung-ho attitude, good technique on the ball and offered a threat in the opposition’s goal.

The Verm was part of the Arsenal side that kept three clean sheets on the trot but an illness prevented him from playing in his team’s crucial visit to the Etihad Stadium, and his able replacement, Laurent Koscielny, scored the goal that earned Arsenal a share of the spoils. Koscielny and Per Mertesacker played very well that day but Wenger inexplicably chose to bench the “slow” German against Chelsea, as he was probably scared of the pace of the Blues’ attack.

Playing Vermaelen and Koscielny together was like a time-bomb and the captain was culpable for two schoolboy errors that led to both goals scored by Chelsea. They struggled again as a pair when Olympiakos visited the Emirates and despite the fact that the Verm was the weaker link of the two, Koscielny was sacrificed for Mertesacker when the Gunners visited Upton Park to play West Ham.

When Arsenal visited Old Trafford in a game marred by the escapades of Robin van Persie, it took only three minutes for the Red Devils to take the lead when Vermaelen handed RVP a nice assist on a platter. Fast forward to the Capital One Cup quarterfinal clash with Bradford City and despite scoring Arsenal’s late equalizer, Vermaelen missed the penalty that saw his team crash out of the competition.

More appalling performances particularly against Liverpool (home) and Manchester City (home) followed but the last straw was undoubtedly his atrocious outing against Tottenham (away). Wenger axed him from the squad from that moment on and he could only manage a game against Norwich (home) because Mertesacker was suspended.

I must truly say that the Verminator has been a big disappointment in his first season as captain of Arsenal Football Club.

Rating – 4/10

Per Mertesacker – 44 Apps, Three Goals

After playing 27 games in his first season with Arsenal, Per Mertesacker’s season reached an abrupt end when Arsenal visited Sunderland in that pitch good enough to raise cattle. He recovered in time for Euro 2012 but he failed to make any appearance with Holger Badstuber and Matts Hummels playing every game for Germany in the tournament.

Mertesacker began the campaign alongside Thomas Vermaelen and they worked in tandem to get three clean sheets on the bounce at the start of the season. If you thought Mertesacker’s performance against Liverpool (away) was superb, his outing against Manchester City (away) was one of his best in Arsenal colors, as he made so many Per-fect Merte-ceptions in the course of the game.

He proved his worth to the squad when he wasn’t on the pitch as Arsenal struggled in his absence with Vermaelen and Koscielny failing to click with each other. When they played with each other, they lacked the calmness, coordination, composure and positional discipline the BFG had.

He also added goals to his game with three headers against Tottenham (twice) as well as the match winner in the crucial game against Fulham (away). This season, Mertesacker became a mainstay in the team and he has excelled admirably in his defensive duties.

He’s known for being a very clean defender but he got his hands dirty with his first red card in Arsenal colors. However, that game will be forever remembered for the innovative tackle he attempted with his back. It was a truly remarkable season for the big friendly giant and I hope he builds on it.

Rating – 9/10

Laurent Koscielny – 34 Apps, Four Goals

Laurent Koscielny was Arsenal’s best defender by a far mile last season and he had grown from strength to strength since that his horrendous error in Wembley against Birmingham City. After signing a long-term deal with the club, he didn’t begin the campaign well as an injury hindered his progress.

He marked his return to first-team action with a late equalizer against Manchester City (away), forging a formidable partnership with Mertesacker. His inspired performance at the Etihad coupled with Vermaelen’s return to the team saw the manager sacrifice Mertesacker in the home clash against Chelsea. Despite the fact that Vermaelen was at fault for the set pieces that led to the goals, Koscielny also had a hand in both goals as he failed to mark Fernando Torres probably for the first and the ball deflected off his shin into the net for the second.

This led to the Frenchman spending a lot of time in the dugout but he featured and scored a vital goal in that pulsating encounter against Reading (away) in the Capital One Cup. When he was recalled back into the first team following Vermaelen’s dip in form, he grabbed the bull by the horns and took his chance against Bayern Munich (away) with an outstanding performance capped by a headed goal late on.

Since then, Koscielny became an ever-present figure and he contributed immensely to Arsenal’s cause with that assist for his defensive partner, Per Mertesacker, against Fulham as well as a plethora of vital interceptions in defense. To crown a great season for the Frenchman, he scored the goal that secured Champions League football for his team for the season in a row.

Rating – 8/10

The goal that guaranteed Champions League football

Bacary Sagna – 30 Apps, No Goal

In recent times, Bacary Sagna has been marred by long-term injuries that has taken its toll on his career. Suffering two fractures on the same leg must have been a horrific experience but as we all know, football isn’t really a forgiving sport.

With Carl Jenkinson deputizing admirably in Sagna’s absence, many wondered if the Bac Man would replicate the form that won him a place in the 2008 PFA Team of the Year. After a couple of Under-21 fixtures under his belt, Sagna made his long-awaited return against Queens Park Rangers (home), much to the delight of the Arsenal faithful.

Sagna’s continued run of games dented Jenkinson’s progress but unlike the young Englishman that swung crosses into the box with consummate ease, Sagna’s distribution was downright erratic with the ball ending up as a throw-in most times. Then came the torrid run of performances, as Sagna was consistently caught out against Chelsea (away), made Gabby Obertan look like Ronaldinho when Newcastle came to town and his poor clearance led to Gaston Ramirez’ goal when the Gunners visited St. Mary’s.

Amidst the horrible vein of form, Sagna got his moment of redemption when an injury to Koscielny forced Arsene Wenger to play him in an unorthodox center back role with Jenkinson drafted to the right. The fullback’s naivety played a role in him being sent off for two bookable offenses and with Aaron Ramsey becoming a make-shift right back, Sagna was a colossus in defense alongside Mertesacker.

As he continued to struggle with form, Sagna got on every Gooner’s bad books when he foolishly squandered possession to Robin van Persie before hacking him down in the box, forcing the ref to point to the spot. This has been a season Sagna couldn’t wait to come to an end.

Rating – 4/10

Carl Jenkinson – 21 Apps, No Goal

Despite the fact that Carl Jenkinson hasn’t had as much game time as he would have wanted, this has certainly been one hell of a campaign for this young lad.

While Sagna nursed his leg injury, Jenkinson deputized in his stead, putting up committed performances that endeared him to the Arsenal faithful. His work rate was exemplary and he covered every blade of grass like his life depended on it.

His fairy tale campaign reached its zenith when he was called up by Wily Ol’ Woy Hodgson for his maiden international appearance and he featured in the Zlatan Ibrahimovic-inspired performances in Sweden’s 4-2 win over England. I still can’t get over Ibrahimovic’s incredible 30-yard overhead bicycle kick goal, and it gets better with each passing replay.

Jenkinson also signed a long-term deal with the club but his performances against Swansea (home) and Sunderland (away) showed that even if youthful exuberance is the order of the day, there’s no substitute for experience.

What I can take from this season is that Arsene Wenger can rely on this young lad to put in a great shift when the need arises. With Jenko in our ranks, the future is very bright.

Rating – 7/10

Kieran Gibbs – 34 Apps, One Goal

For those that don’t know, this was the first season Kieran Gibbs had over 30 games for Arsenal in an entire campaign. He’s a player that has become synonymous with injuries and he showed that yet again this season, forcing his manager to delve into the transfer market when he nursed a thigh strain for six weeks.

Gibbs has been highly impressive this season and his output on the final third has drastically improved as well, with the Englishman having five assists to his name this season. For a considerable chunk of the campaign, Gibbs was a mainstay in the team but when he suffered a lengthy lay off, the manager signed an experienced Spanish left back, that has brought stiff competition between both players, which also brought about stellar performances from both players, for the good of the team.

Gibbs also scored a screamer against Swansea in the FA Cup and it looked like a goal worth winning a football match but Arsenal’s lax defending brought Swansea back into the contest. With Monreal bracing himself for his first full season in England, Gibbs will be in for a challenge and I’m sure he’s relishing it.

Rating – 7/10

Nacho Monreal – 11 Apps, One Goal

January 30, 2013.

Arsenal host Liverpool in a Premier League encounter of huge significance to both sides. The visitors open the scoring with a deflected shot from Luiz Suarez then Kieran Gibbs suffers an injury forcing the manager to make a tactical change. With the only defensive options on the bench being Laurent Koscielny and Andre Santos, many Gooners (me included) rightly believed that the Frenchman would be summoned, thereby making Vermaelen play the left back.

The fourth official raises his board up and Andre Santos comes into the pitch much to the fury of some fans that haven’t forgiving him for his antics in Old Trafford. Within moments of his introduction, Jordan Henderson skips past him with ease and instead of trying to win the ball back he doesn’t even make a decent challenge. With a stroke of luck, Liverpool is two up.

Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott save the day but Wenger has seen enough from the atrocious Brazilian and he delves into the transfer market to buy Nacho Monreal. Just two days after his arrival, he makes his debut in a baptism of fire against Stoke (home). He was part of that defense that held the fort against Sunderland (away) but he couldn’t play against Bayern (home) because he was cup-tied.

After making the match-winning assist against Aston Villa (home), he becomes part of that defense that struggled badly against Tottenham. Following Arsenal’s Champions League exit, Monreal scores the first goal against Swansea the first of many goals Arsenal scored in its surge for fourth place.

With Gibbs returning to fitness, he and Monreal battled for the right to become Arsenal’s No. 1 left back and this competition brought the best in both players. While Monreal offers a keen sense of security and stability at the back, I feel he should improve in his distribution on the final third. The battle with Gibbs continues next season.

Rating – 7/10

Andre Santos – 12 Apps, No Goal

To be honest, Andre Santos is one of the most lovable characters in Arsenal.

His lovely smile, his hilarious tweets and nice attitude off the pitch. I still have fresh memories of all three goals he scored last season – the match winner against Olympiakos (home), the vital equalizer in that RVP-inspired win over Chelsea (away) and the equalizer before half time against West Brom (away) on the final day.

This season, things have gone awry for the Brazilian and his performances on the pitch have been nothing short of appalling. His poor positional awareness and dismal defending has cost his team times without number with his performances in the games against Schalke (home), Manchester United (away), Liverpool (home) and Brighton (away) bringing him to the bad books of Arsenal fans.

His performance against Manchester United was so putrid yet he couldn’t even wait for the game to be over before requesting for RVP’s jersey, as that probably meant more to him than the game.

After another bad showing against Liverpool, the manager went to the transfer window when Gibbs suffered an injury, clearly indicating that he had no further plans in his team.

In his touching goodbye message to the club and the fans, Andre Santos thanked everyone for their support and hopes to come back soon. For the good of everyone concerned with Arsenal, I hope that Gremio signs him on a permanent basis.

Rating – 2/10

Sebastien Squillaci, Ignasi Miquel and Johan Djourou – Collective total of Six Apps

Ah! The deadwood.

Arsenal bought Sebastien Squillaci with the hope that would use his “experience” to guide the younger defenders in the team as well as putting up a good shift when the need arose. Squillaci was so poor that his only appearance this season coming up in a dead rubber fixture against Olympiakos. Thank Heavens his contract is expiring soon.

Rating – 0/10

Ignasi Miquel is a youngster tipped for great things but I still don’t know when he’s going to realize that potential. All he can boast of this season was a start against Coventry (home) in the Capital One Cup and a late substitute appearance against Sunderland (away) when the Gunners wanted to preserve their priceless 1-0 lead. Not good enough.

Rating – 2/10

Johan Djourou was Arsenal’s most consistent defender in the 2010/11 season. When he got injured in the tail end of that campaign, his team struggled which highlighted his importance to the side. Last season, he struggled in make-shift positions as a fullback and wasn’t even convincing enough when he played as a center back, earning an unwarranted red card against Fulham (away) that put his team under intense pressure.

This season, Djourou could only make two appearances in the Capital One Cup before he was shipped out to Germany. Shame.

Rating – 1/10

So there you have it, the second of four posts focused on different playing positions in the team. My take on the midfield comes up next.

The voting sequence for the 2012/13 End of Season awards is still ongoing, so feel free tomake your votes count in the polls.

Sayonara.

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