As the season wraps up with a 12th FA Cup win and third-place league finish, we look at how the players did over the course of 14/15.
If you had circa £60m to spend, the question is would you rather buy Angel di Maria or the best part of two Alexis Sanchezes? Tough one that.
Based on his debut season, where he made a complete mockery of the idea of a settling in period and has stats to rival the league’s player of the year in Eden Hazard, it’s difficult to understand why Barcelona let him go.
But their loss is our gain, and his performances this season have been nothing short of phenomenal. Inevitably our injury crisis and consequent reliance on him through that period took its toll over the winter months, perhaps unsurprising given the winter break he has been afforded at previous clubs, but he returned with a vengeance for the business end of the season.
His pace, trickery and fierce shooting all combine into a dangerous player, and his obvious love of the game and consequent workrate have rubbed off on his teammates and lifted the overall level of the whole team. Whether playing against minnows in the League Cup or European giants in the Champions League, his effort has been faultless.
He saved his best goal of the season for last – a stunning drive which left Shay Given no chance – to all but secure the FA Cup for a second consecutive season.
Without the blip in the New Year, he could have beaten Eden Hazard to the player of the year gong. As it is, he is probably a close second to Santi Cazorla in the club awards too, purely on the basis of consistency.
Close but no cigar.
This time last season, the Ox was bearing down on a regular first team place like a runaway train, and certainly he was heavily involved in the early stages of the season with little competition for a spot on the right wing.
Over that period he showed pace, power and trickery, and his range of passing and willingness to chase back also meant that he was an integral part of Arsenal’s fluid midfield, dropping back into midfield to allow teammates to step out into the space he has vacated. With Theo Walcott also sidelined, we missed his width on the right following his injury.
Now however he finds himself almost back at square one, having sat out the second half of the season in pretty much its entirety, and with a fight on his hands to get his place back.
His decision making and consistency were much improved over the first few months of the season. If he can now add greater robustness (does Santi Cazorla *ever* get injured?) to the mix, he can expect to see considerable game time and to become an ever more important cog in the well-oiled Arsenal machine.
Especially pleasing to see him get onto the pitch at Wembley after he played such an integral part in last year’s campaign only to miss the final hurdle.
Promising signs, must maintain trajectory.
Where to start with Theo? Out until January with his cruciate injury sustained at the same time last year, he’s barely had more than 20 minutes on the pitch at a time, let alone started.
When he has played, he has typically looked rusty and low on confidence, while his teammates appear to have forgotten how to play with him. In case they’re reading this, it’s *not* by lofting hopeful aerial crosses into a packed penalty area.
The last few games of the season have offered encouraging signs of a player almost back to his best, with intelligent runs, clinical finishing and a smile on his face. The opening goal at the weekend was a particularly good strike. We must hope he is still here on 1st September to show us more of the same.
It doesn’t feel fair to grade him when he hasn’t been given a full chance to show what he can do. Contract negotiations this summer will surely be interesting then.
Missed too much football.
Much mystery remains over the Welbeck’s signing, and it is surely one that would not have been allowed a couple of summers ago with Alex Ferguson at the helm. As it is, his arrival filled a fairly large hole following Olivier Giroud’s freak injury, and he has grown into the team over the course of the season.
The highlight is of course the winning goal at Old Trafford in the FA Cup, and for that reason alone you could consider that his season has been a success. However, he can also take a lot of the credit alongside Alexis for bringing the overall work ethic of this team up to scratch. It’s little surprise that the likes of Podolski were shipped off on loan, having been thrown into stark contrast.
His finishing needs some work, going from the sublime to the ridiculous at times, but the raw ingredients are there. Question marks remain over whether he can calm himself enough to become the expert marksman this team needs, but while he is versatile enough to play on either wing and through the centre as required, he will find minutes and indeed goals plentiful to come by.
A solid settling in season.
It’s easy to forget that our Gallic giant missed three months of the season with a broken foot, but little surprise that Arsenal somewhat struggled over that period. For all his flaws, Olivier Giroud has many strengths which are unmatched in this squad.
He might not be a deadly finisher – there are days when it’s just not happening for Oli – but even on those occasions he offers much more to the team in terms of holding the ball up, and providing a focal point for the rest of our game.
All that said, his ratio of goals to game is up there with the best. Indeed, it’s better than boy-wonder Harry Kane’s when you take out penalties. Indeed, looking up the Seven Sisters Road is a nice reminder of how a prudent signing of a decent player like Giroud is infinitely better than the wasteful signing of a rather less decent player like Soldado.
Next season will be a test of whether he can deliver his goals across the full period of a season, and indeed whether he can hold off the threat of the speedier forwards as the manager looks to tinker his team to target opposition weaknesses. Either way though, he is an integral part of this squad.
Another solid and underrated season.