Friday, 30 May 2014

2013/14: End of season awards

Here we are. Another roller-coaster season has halted, and it's time to review it.

Since this is my first season of blogging, you should know that these season awards are going to be an annual thing. Every year on the 30th of May, you'll find this on the site. And since I've analyzed this Arsenal season as minutely as possible, now that another campaign is over, it's time to distribute the individual fictional accolades.

The various sections of prizes are given below, and the winners are handpicked by me.

Let's go.

Best player of the season:

NOTE: This award is handed to the player who put in the best number of performances throughout the campaign. It is given to the person with the most talent, as well as the most likeable personality.

I really like this Arsenal squad, I think I've made that clear at every single opportunity. Naturally, there are a lot of players that come to my mind, worthy of this award.

Rosicky and Podolski deserve credit for filling in seamlessly, in times of need. Lukasz Fabianski redeemed his 'Flappyhandski' image by a solid season, the highlight of which were two penalty saves against Wigan. I still believe that he should have been picked above Szczesny in the pecking order and given a new contract.

Our unsung heroes, too, could use a mention here. Sagna, Szczesny and Flamini were key in stabilizing a defence rocked for years. I'd also like to spare a thought for the still-injured Theo Walcott. Had he been fit and firing for the second half, I'm certain he'd have taken this award.

I thought quite a bit about giving the award to Aaron Ramsey. After all, the all-action midfielder had comfortably his best season ever, not to mention became a symbolic figure of Arsenal's resurrection. Also, you know, that goal against Hull, which won us the cup, apparently. Wait, we won the cup!?

However, a lengthy 3 month injury meant that he lost out on the crunch part of the season, which was ultimately when our title challenge fell apart. Of course, the injury wasn't his fault, it was Wenger's. However, I regrettably was forced to pull him from the running. Yes, folks, Aaron Ramsey finishes runners-up here.

Few would have expected Per Mertesacker to be the player of the season for any blogger back in August, but for me, this award is well-deserved.

"But he was involved in the Anfield, Etihad and Stamford Bridge drubbings", you'd retort. Well, actually, no. I've already said (and proved) that our away day blues were directly related to Wenger's tactical naivety, as well as his inability to motivate his players.

However, the reason Mertesacker's been my best player was because of his personality. Under the astute coaching of Steve Bould, Mertesacker has evolved as a man as well as a player. With his slow pace hid by Koscielny's speed and his superb positional awareness highlighted, Mertesacker's become a cool presence on the field. However, I, for one, was particularly pleased with his reaction to Ozil not respecting the away support at the Etihad. That's the sign of a true warrior.

Mertesacker's like a big brother on the pitch. He scolds at you but always wants the best. He's like this rock-solid leader, who's now become the cornerstone of Arsenal's back four. He may be wearing it temporarily, but for me, he's fully deserving of the captain's armband.


Worst player of the season:

NOTE: This award is handed to the player who has had the least impact and is becoming a liability to the team. Also in consideration should be the number of performances the player has made. Emiliano Viviano, for example, cannot be a candidate for this award since he hasn't played, well, any games.

This season, there were surprisingly few candidates for this award, which is a good thing. Don't even think for a second that Ozil and Giroud are going to be nominated here, for however underwhelming they might have been, Wenger is hugely responsible for most of it. Plus, they're statistics are impressive, I can't ignore that.

Nicklas Bendtner and Yaya Sanogo are possibilities, but due to them having played so few games in the season, it's hard to judge them. Besides, Yaya Sanogo at least tried to make things happen, and hardwork is always appreciated, even if he is incredibly raw.

I thought about giving it to Nacho Monreal, who had a desperately poor second half of the season. Not helped by Podolski unwillingness to track back, Nacho was badly exposed on the left and didn't do much to cover it. A lot of goals in our away day nightmares had come from the left, if one notices.

However, one person had an even worse season than Monreal. Harsh as it may sound, this season's worst player was Mikel Arteta. A regular starter, yet overrun in midfield, panicky under pressure and offers nothing but spot-kicks. With his precision passing disappeared, I have to concede, the guy's become a liability. Better defensive midfielder needed urgently.

It's not like I wanted to give this award to him, but so many played well for the club that Arteta, frankly, was the only option. I still can't understand why he's picked above Flamini in the pecking order by Wenger.

Revelation of the season:

NOTE: This award is given to the person who, despite all odds, rectifies a lot of his faults, shocks the critics and becomes an integral member of the team.

I think the above notation describes one Gunner perfectly - Aaron Ramsey.

There can surely be zero competition. Who could possibly contend with Ramsey's resurrection? Flamini, perhaps, but no one else. The guy's torn apart defences and scored tremendous volleys with such ease, it was frightening for a while. We all knew the potential was there, but so much potential?

I hadn't foreseen it.

Seeing that he cruelly missed out on the Player of the season, this seems fit to be a consolation prize. At this moment, I can claim without hesitation that this guy is better than Cesc Fabregas.

Letdown of the season:

NOTE: This award is given to the player fans had high hopes of, but ultimately failed to live up to the hype. He didn't necessarily have a bad season, but could have, and should have done much better.

There are a few nominees for this. Jenkinson could be considered, as this season should have been the one where he provided people hope, in the wake of Bacary Sagna's imminent departure. Jack Wilshere may be another candidate, but I personally reckon he would have had a strong finish had he not gotten himself injured on international duty.

Mesut Ozil, perhaps, then. After all, even though he was going through an adaptation period, there were times when it was evident that he did not care about Arsenal. There wasn't any burning desire in his play, no concentration while passing, and zero tracking back. However, it was Wenger at fault for that, not Ozil. Wenger overplayed the guy until he could barely walk, and almost forced a hamstring injury out of him. Giving this award to our record signing in an adaptation period might border on injustice.

This particularly hurts me, as this season's disappointment is my favourite player - Santi Cazorla. Considering his debut season, he's been a huge disappointment. The Cazorla-Ozil axis didn't really work until the end, and even though Wenger shunted him to the left, better performances were expected.

I still think that renewing his contract was the right call, as players like Cazorla are hard to find. However, I expect much better from him in 2014/15. Let's hope his free-kick against Hull marks a turning point for him.

Best match of the season:

Note: This award is given to the most entertaining match, or the one that provided most happiness and optimism.

Bloody obvious choice. The FA Cup Final, no matter how we won it, will always go down as a memorable day in my personal Arsenal book. It was the first time I had seen The Gunners lift a trophy, and till date, was the best day of my life. Ever.

God, I hope we see more of these matches next season.

Worst match of the season:

The losses this season were few, but almost all of them caused huge pain. Indeed, aside from losses to Dortmund and Chelsea (in the Capital One Cup), I think all other losses were met with anguished responses.

The loss to Aston Villa was a complete nightmare. If you dare to recap that day, I suggest you read this. I really thought I had hit rock-bottom as an Arsenal supporter then, but our away days against top opposition kind of raised the bar. Everton away was a pretty bad day too, after seeing Wenger's Arsenal collapse so easily against a starkly inferior side.

Most people would readily agree that the 6-0 defeat to Chelsea takes the cake. I don't, maybe mostly because I had already predicted it would happen and had braced myself. Honestly, when the goals poured in, I was just sitting there emotionless, amazed at how much I hated myself for being right.

However, Liverpool at Anfield was as unexpected as it was disastrous. It's pretty clear that on paper, we are the better side. However, to see a team with Ozil, Wilshere, Chamberlain, Mertesacker and Koscielny concede 4 goals in 20 minutes without reply was frightful. Bar Ramsey and Walcott, we had our strongest team out there, with a huge incentive. And we were an absolute shambles.

Highlight of the season:

NOTE: This award is given to the moment, the person, the action, or the decision that had a vastly positive impact on the team, a moment that the season will be remembered by.

There were many highlights this season. Topping the league for a long time, Aaron Ramsey's resurrection, playing Bayern Munich were all moments that could be considered worthy for this award. Notable were also hilarious David Moyes and Tim Sherwood fails, and also the Emirates Stadium starting to feel more like home.

I toyed long and hard about giving this award to our FA Cup run. After all, Arsenal was defined as a trophyless team by the mainstream media, so to break that streak at last is fantastic. However, winning the FA Cup does not get this award because of 3 reasons:

1) As opposed to what people think, winning the FA Cup will not recreate the glory days. It will just be more of the same, unfortunately.

2) I have already given the FA Cup credit in the 'Best match of the season', so giving it even more would be partial.

3) Breaking the trophy drought took 9 years, but there was something else that happened this season that took longer...

Mesut Ozil's signing was reminiscent of Dennis Bergkamp's, with almost a 20 year gap in between. After all, both of them were creative attack-minded players and came to the club with huge pedigree. In addition, buying Ozil, like Bergy, was a real statement of intent and one that had huge implications on our first half of the season.

When he came in for 42.5 million, it almost didn't matter how well he would play. His arrival shot confidence through the veins of every single person connected to Arsenal, and awoke a sleeping giant. The team as a whole became rejuvenated and were given a profound psychological boost. And since Ozil's arrival was the first marquee signing I have ever seen as an Arsenal supporter, this one definitely takes the prize.

Imagine if we buy at least two more world-class players this summer. It'd be double the impact of Ozil. I mean, fuck.

Lowlight of the season:

NOTE: This award is given to the moment, the person, the action or the decision that had a negative impact on the game, and broadly the season.

There were quite a few candidates for this. Our summer transfer window, for one. Even the One Direction team knew that Wenger simply had to buy a striker, but we swayed from one deal to another with increasing embarrassment. Wayne Rooney, Luis Suarez, Gonzalo Higuain and Demba Ba were up for grabs; so to try for all of them and fail miserably was humiliating. I think it's safe to say that the transfer negotiating side of our club is completely dysfunctional at every level.

Finishing fourth after topping the pile for 128 days was another disappointment; this really should have been our year. Besides, seeing Arsene Wenger not learn from his mistakes, employ the same tactics and man management was sickening to watch.

My winner, however, was the abject January transfer window. Perhaps what made it even more irritating was that it felt so avoidable. For huge chunks of the month, we had Draxler, Morata and Berbatov for the taking, but Wenger chose to keep his faith in Sanogo and Bendtner, probably his worst decision of the season. To cap it all, he brought an injured Swedish player on deadline day for 'backup'. 

This tweet from Piers Morgan - 8 days after the January transfer window - sums it all.

Had we bought Morata we would have finished higher than fourth, I am certain.

Goal of the season:
This season sure had its fair share of quality goals. Aaron Ramsey almost deserves his own space here, he scored some belters against Norwich, Sunderland and Fenerbache, and also chipped in a late one against Hull. My favourite Ramsey goal, however, is the volley he scored against Liverpool. That was when I genuinely felt these Arsenal boys had grown to men.

Mesut Ozil's first goal of Napoli, the very first goal I described on this blog displayed some truly fine football. Giroud scored two outstanding goal, one against West Ham, and an equalizer against Southampton which isn't given much credit. Not to mention Theo Walcott, who scored an incredible 3-2 goal at the Etihad. Considering the circumstances, that one went under the radar a bit.

Tomas Rosicky's goals against Tottenham, especially the one at White Hart Lane, were special moments. His goal against Sunderland, at the end of some fantastic pinball passing, was another one for the running.

My undoubted winner, however, remains Wilshere's against Norwich. It's just impossible to describe, really. The words 'spectacular', 'magnificent' and 'fabulous' don't do justice to it.

'Godlike' does, though.


And there you have it. This season, overall, was certainly better than the last nine, but what pains me is that it could have been so much more. Everyone knows that, so let's hope Wenger can take us the extra mile next season by showing ruthlessness in the transfer market.

Tomorrow, I will view the season blogged as a whole, kind of a copy from Gunnerblog's Season Blogged flick. Till then, enjoy the off-season, and take it easy.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )