As the first half of the 2014-15 Barclays Premier League season is in the rear view mirror, let’s take a look at the highs and lows of an up-and-down campaign so far for Arsenal F.C.
Most Valuable Player: Alexis Sanchez. This is most likely the easiest choice out of all of the categories. Alexis has been a smash hit since arriving to north London from Barcelona in a £35 million move over the summer. The versatile player has netted 15 total goals (10 in the Premier League) and seven assists during his first season with Arsenal. Not only has Alexis provided the goals and assists, but the Chilean is an outstanding team player and possesses a world class work rate on the pitch.
Most Underrated Player: Kieran Gibbs. A strong case could be made that Mathieu Debuchy deserves the crown, as the Gunners are yet to record a loss this season with the Frenchman in their lineup; however, Gibbs never seems to receive the credit that he deserves as a quality left-back. The England international is one of the most consistent players in the Arsenal side and should be in contention for the PFA Team of the Year at season’s end.
Most Disappointing Player: Per Mertesacker. What has happened to the BFG? Mertesacker has been extremely consistent since his arrival from Werder Bremen in 2011, but the 30-year-old German has not played up to his capabilities so far this season. Arsenal’s vice-captain has made poor decisions in defense, looked slow (more so than usual), and has not defended corners as well as he has in previous seasons.
The defining moment of Mertesacker’s season so far is when he inexplicably ducked out of the way of an incoming corner kick which ended up giving Liverpool’s Martin Skrtel a free header to score the game-tying goal in injury time on December 21st. With fellow center-back Laurent Koscielny struggling to stay fit, the Gunners need Mertesacker to step up and finish off the rest of the campaign on a high note.
Worst Injury: Laurent Koscielny. Because there have been so many injuries to the Arsenal squad this season, this is the toughest question to answer. I chose Koscielny’s achilles injury because the Gunners are so thin at the center-back position and having the Frenchman fit is extremely vital to the team’s ambitions and goals. When Koscielny was forced to miss action because of the injury, Arsenal was forced to play Calum Chambers, Mathieu Debuchy, and Nacho Monreal out of position in central defense.
Mesut Özil (knee), Olivier Giroud (foot), Theo Walcott (knee), and Jack Wilshere (ankle) have all been massive injury blows to the team as well; however, with Arsenal’s squad depth in midfield and forward positions, the Gunners have managed to cope with the quartet missing a number of matches during the first half of the season.
Biggest Loss: The 2-1 defeat to Swansea City. The loss to the Swans hurt the most because the Gunners were up 1-0 late in the match, only to see the team from Wales score twice within three minutes to prevail with a 2-1 victory over the north London club. Arsenal’s defense looked horrendous in that match (again with Monreal playing out of position), as well as their concentration and organization being questioned by many around the league.
Some may say that the defeats to Manchester United and Stoke City were worse losses, but the Swansea match epitomized just how disorganized and thin the team’s defense is this season.
Biggest Win: The 2-0 win over Borussia Dortmund. The victory at home to Dortmund came at a time when Arsenal were severely struggling with form, as they were coming off back-to-back Premier League defeats to Swansea and Manchester United and there was not much hope heading into the big Champions League fixture.
The Gunners controlled the Dortmund match from beginning to end and it was the start of a run that has now seen Arsenal win seven out of their last nine matches (including only one loss during the stretch).
First Half Grade: C+. The Gunners were thought to be contenders for the Premier League title this season, however, Arsenal is currently sitting in fifth place in the Premier League standings (trailing fourth place Southampton only on goal difference). An early knockout in the Capital One cup was also disappointing for the club and longtime manager Arsene Wenger has received plenty of criticism for his team’s inconsistent play.
Injuries have crippled this Arsenal squad as well. Nonetheless, Arsenal has qualified for the knockout phase of the Champions League and finished off the first half of the season on a high note, having only recorded one loss since November 22nd.
Outlook for the Second Half: While fifth place surely is not an ideal situation for the Gunners and their fans, things are starting to look up for the club. With Mikel Arteta, Mesut Özil and Aaron Ramsey all set to return to the team from their respective injuries shortly, the Gunners are looking poised to continue their streak of good play heading into the new year.
Arsenal also received a boost in the Champions League with a perceived “lucky” draw for the upcoming knockout phase when they avoided powerhouse clubs such as Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and Real Madrid and face off against Ligue 1 team Monaco.
Wenger must look to the January transfer window to strengthen both the center-back and defensive midfield positions. If the Frenchman does so (and the boys can stay healthy), Arsenal can make a strong run in the three remaining competitions of the season: the Premier League, Champions League and the FA Cup.
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