10. Robin van Persie
On returning to action in August after appearing the in the World Cup final, Robin van Persie promptly got injured. Like most Arsenal fans, I assumed he wouldn’t be seen for most of the season, and therefore struggle to find form despite his undoubted talent.
The Dutchman returned in November and slowly began to find some form to regain his place in the team before the turn of the year. Before the 1st January 2011, he only scored one goal, which was a penalty against Partizan Belgrade. However, his deflected free-kick against Birmingham on New Year’s Day sparked a magnificent goal scoring run that helped the club maintain any respectability in the disastrous run-in.
After the decline of Marouane Chamakh, we needed someone to step up and score goals, although no-one could realistically have expected van Persie to score as many as he did. In all competitions, the Dutchman scored 21 goals in 2011, equalling the Premier League record of 18 goals in a season from 1st January, and he scored in nine consecutive away games in the league.
Despite taking on Dennis Bergkamp’s squad number, van Persie has become more of a goal scorer than a creator. He scored all types of goals in the second half of the season giving the midfield suppliers more options going forward. The ability of his wand-like left foot has been well documented, but the Dutchman also scored fantastic right footed and headed goals this season. You only need to look at goals against Wigan, Wolves and Birmingham to know his volleying was also top quality.
Had van Persie not been in fantastic form in the second half of the season, it’s worrying to think how much worse Arsenal’s end of season could have been. Having known of his potential to be a world class striker for a long time, van Persie is one of the few members of the squad to have that potential turn into consistent performances. If he can stay off the treatment table for an extended period of time, goals inevitably follow. A whole season from van Persie would massively increase our chances of finally winning a trophy.
Verdict: Became a great goal scorer as well as a scorer of great goals. Now a world class player: 9/10.
11. Carlos Vela
Early on in the season, Carlos Vela scored good goals in matches that were already won when coming off the bench as Bolton Wanderers and Braga were on the receiving end of clinical finishes. However he didn’t make an impact when given the opportunity to start and could be criticised for never scoring crucial goals.
In the hope of undergoing a Jack Wilshere like transformation from a Premier League loan spell, Vela spent the second half of the season at West Brom and initially looked set to make a difference with a couple of important goals. However he was mostly limited to substitute appearances and didn’t get the experience that Arsene Wenger would have wanted.
Vela is still considered a ‘Carling Cup player’ by most fans, as he is yet to prove himself in the big games. If a new forward comes in and younger players like Ryo Miyaichi continue to develop, first team opportunities could continue to be limited for Vela. Should he not improve much in the forthcoming season, his time at Arsenal could be nearing an end.
Verdict: Plenty of potential but needs to show an end product soon to stay at Arsenal: 4/10.
14. Theo Walcott
Arguably, not going to the World Cup was one of the best things that could have happened to Theo Walcott. In terms of goals and assists, it was Walcott’s best season for Arsenal as he showed signs of being more clinical in front of goal. The big problem in the past with Walcott was his lack of end product, however that has improved.
There is still a tendency for the Englishman to dally too much when he has time to think about what he’s doing, but when he allows instinct to take over, he’s capable of scoring quality goals.
Walcott still maintains that he will be a central striker, however with Arsenal’s current formation I think that’s unlikely to happen for a few years. He did show signs this season that, should Arsenal go back to playing two up front, he could play in the centre, with Thierry Henry-esque finishes against Shahktar Donetsk and Tottenham.
His highlight of the season would have to be the Chelsea match at the Emirates Stadium. After Andrey Arshavin’s dismal performance in the previous match against Manchester United, Walcott was given the chance to start and prove himself in a big match. He gave Ashley Cole a torrid evening and grabbed a goal and an assist in a dynamic performance.
Walcott can still occasionally go missing in matches, but his end product is becoming more reliable. A formation change would help fulfil his dream of playing down the middle, but at the moment he is definitely improving as a winger.
Verdict: His best season at Arsenal, really has to push on and consistently deliver: 7/10.
23. Andrey Arshavin
The Russian is another player that is typical of the current Arsenal squad; loads of talent but too inconsistent and doesn’t have the required work rate. He isn’t known as the lazy Russian for nothing.
I wanted to be extremely frustrated at Arshavin for most of the season, but even when he wasn’t at his best he was regularly contributing to the team with a lot of assists. Invariably, when he did score, it was a top quality finish. In many ways, this arguably made Arshavin’s perceived lack of effort annoying. He is one of the few players in the squad to score or create a goal from nothing, yet there is always a sense of him sometimes wasting his talent. Despite contributing, I always felt he could be doing more.
In mid-December, it was becoming clear that Arsene Wenger was losing some trust in Andrey Arshavin. With Samir Nasri performing well and Theo Walcott improving, there was pressure on Arshavin to perform away at Manchester United, however he was frankly dismal. He was then left out against Chelsea in favour of Walcott, who took his chance brilliantly.
If Manchester United away was his lowlight, undoubtedly his highlight was Barcelona at home. It was the sort of quality finish that everyone knows the Russian is capable of and completed the greatest night at the Emirates Stadium.
Arshavin is definitely a luxury player, and is probably better coming off the bench in big games so he has to do less tracking back. Unlike Carlos Vela, Arshavin’s goals don’t tend to come in games that are already won, but at vital times. If he can show his quality on a regular basis, he can win back his place in the first XI.
Verdict: Room for improvement as he wasn’t at his best for most of the season, but still managed to contribute, and at key moments: 6/10.
29. Marouane Chamakh
If I’d rated the players based on the first half of the season, Chamakh would probably have got 8/10. However if I was basing them on the second half, the Moroccan would be lucky to scrape 4/10.
Chamakh was definitely thrown into the deep end in the first part of the season as he had to lead the line on his own after van Persie’s injury. He coped admirably as his link up play looked good and he scored a number of crucial goals. Many were thinking we’d finally signed the tall striker we’d been hoping for to add an extra dimension to our attack. Having been signed on a free transfer, Chamakh was looking like a great piece of business.
However, around December, fatigue was starting to set in after being Arsenal’s only fit main striker for the majority of the opening months of the season. Once Robin van Persie got back in the team and started scoring, it was always going to be difficult for Chamakh to re-establish himself. Just one goal in the season after the end of November tells its own story.
What’s become clear from this season is that Chamakh is definitely a confidence player. It was flowing at the start of the season, but had been drained by the end. The problem for the Moroccan is that if Arsenal continue to play one main striker, it’ll always be Robin van Persie if he’s fit. This could leave Chamakh without a run of games to gain the confidence he needs. I’d like to see Chamakh and van Persie play together as both have shown at different times in the season they can regularly find the net.
Verdict: Brilliant first half of the season, rubbish second half: 6/10.
52. Nicklas Bendtner
Like Denilson, Nicklas Bendtner has spoken out in the press about his desire to leave Arsenal. He’s always divided opinion, but it seems most fans are now swaying to the group that wants to see the Dane leave the club.
It was another season blighted by injury for Bendtner, meaning his opportunities to hold down a regular place in the team were limited. The early season form of Marouane Chamakh and the 2011 form of Robin van Persie also meant he was always unlikely to fulfil his preferred central striker role. This meant he was mostly restricted to playing on the wing, and clearly Bendtner isn’t cut out to be a winger.
However, he still struggled to make an impact wherever he played on the pitch. He did score some good goals, such as Ipswich at home and Newcastle away, but they were too rare, especially at key times in the Premier run-in.
The one over-riding memory I have of Bendtner this season is of him in the Nou Camp. After the crazy decision to send off Robin van Persie, we were somehow still in a position where one goal would have seen us through. In the dying minutes, Jack Wilshere won the ball and played a perfect pass through to put Bendtner one-on-one with Victor Valdes. However the Dane’s first touch was terrible, allowing Valdes to gather the ball without Bendtner even getting a shot away. Had he scored the goal to knock out Barcelona, critics could have been silenced, instead they only grew in number.
There will be plenty who won’t be gutted to see Bendtner leave this summer. However Arsene Wenger must sign a replacement as otherwise we’ll only have van Persie and Chamakh left as traditional strikers.
Verdict: Time to move on, had chances to live up to his own hype but failed: 4/10.
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