Monday, 8 June 2015

2014/15: End of season awards



Well, here we are. Building on last year's awards, this is my way of closing the book on this season. Obviously since the season ended so late it was difficult for me to put together a piece so soon - the Champions League final didn't help.

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

To use the phrase "there can surely be no competition" may be a bit extreme, because there were players who had impressive seasons. Francis Coquelin solved our midfield problems. Laurent Koscielny ironed out his mishaps to become one of the best in the league. Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud were at their best in the second half of the season. Santi Cazorla bounced back from a terrible season to being simply undroppable. And to be honest, had Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain managed to keep his ligaments intact, he could have given the winner a tough time to claim this.

As it turned out, Alexis Sanchez was the runaway winner here. "Runaway" is right, for it was his excessive hustling and harrying to top his plentiful goal-assist ratio that truly caught the eye. What makes this award all the more pleasing to distribute is that he was a player everyone wanted to do well.

They needn't have worried. Ozil may have had a sublime half-season, but Sanchez truly stepped up to the plate when his team needed him the most. He dwindled a bit in the second half and others chipped in, but he ended the season strongly, highlights of which were important goals against Liverpool, Reading and Villa.

His passing is set to improve under Arsene Wenger, and unless he does not entirely burn out in the Copa America, there's every chance we could see the same Alexis next season. I cannot wait for the day he's called electrifying.


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. Joel Campbell, for example, cannot be a candidate for this award since he's hardly featured. The irritating self-imposed clause of not including players who've hardly featured throws out the usual suspects of Yaya Sanogo and Lukas Podolski out of the window.

I've time and time asserted that this is probably the best squad we've assembled in the last 10 years. Having said that, there were some disappointments. Wojciech Szczesny's discipline more than his goalkeeping howlers pushed him out of the frame. Jack Wilshere may have ended the season with a goal to remember, but was largely underwhelming in a make-or-break season. I can't bring my heart to award this stinker to them, though, for I still see promise in their Arsenal futures.

One player who got a fair amount of games but didn't cut the mustard was Mathieu Flamini. Despite Coquelin's timely emergence, Arsenal still needed a defensive midfielder, and Flamini was always going to be a short-term fix. I don't have anything against the guy. Indeed, the fact that he "won" the award goes to show the level this squad is on, in terms of personnel.



It's time to cut our losses with him. He came in on a freebie when we needed him and did a good job of it, but this had to end sometime. To at least compete for the league, a better competitor to Coquelin is needed.

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.

It could have been Hector Bellerin for his cameo at right back rendering him undroppable. It could have been Nacho Monreal for learning from his stint in center half to become a very, very solid left back for Arsenal. Hell, it even could have been Oxlade-Chamberlain or Calum Chambers, had their playing time not being truncated for various reasons.

However, it's hard to look beyond one man for this award. I say "one", but the workrate Francis Coquelin suggests he cannot be one man. His energy, his solidity and most iconically, his Coqblock slide tackles have put a firm cork on Arsenal's DM problems for now. We need reinforcements, sure - but even if we fail, the contingency's not that bad. Not bad at all.


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 were more contenders for this award than I had initially thought. Kieran Gibbs failed to push on from a decent 2013/14. Jack Wilshere had a largely insipid 2014/15, not helped by his injury woes. Per Mertesacker's incompetence was perhaps more down to the tactical set up than him alone. And despite my faith in him to come good, Szczesny's failure to progress has made his future dicey.

Harsh as this may sound, I've decided to reluctantly hand this to Danny Welbeck. When he arrived, I had (perhaps foolishly) thought he could signal a change in Arsenal's approach play. Aside from lobbing balls to Giroud and hoping for him to pinball it to a midfielder, I thought Welbeck's pace could instigate a much more freeflowing Arsenal, reminiscent of the early 2000s.

I was disappointed. Perhaps I bought into the hype everyone generated without having an opinion of my own, but his uninspiring performances as a striker was disheartening. He had a fairly average season glossed by that memorable winner at Old Trafford.

Don't get me wrong - he offers squad depth and has an admirable engine in him, but that's it. He's wishy washy. He's second rate. And this season was meant to be the one that propelled him further than that.

Unless he taps into something bigger than himself, I'm afraid he'll always be no more than "dat guy".

Best match of the season:

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

Manchester City 0-2 Arsenal. I'm expecting all the backlash.



Look, I effing loved retaining the Cup and beating Manchester United in the process. However, I'm not ashamed to admit that I felt the solid win at the Etihad promises more for the future than the FA Cup.

This was the first time that Wenger showed that when under the spotlight, he can work out the nitty-gritties and have a game plan. There was a proper way to go about this game - maintain your shape, let them have the ball, force them out wide, and pick them centrally on the counter. It didn't quite pan out at Stamford Bridge, but worked a treat here.

And look, if we employ a similar attitude against all the big teams next season, we have a huge chance to compete for the league until the last kick of the ball. Scrapping out draws and wins against Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United could be vital in the long run. While Wenger is not attentive enough to reframe his tactics against every team he faces, the fact that he's at least willing to do it against the big boys is more encouragement to me than swatting aside an appalling Villa.

Retaining the Cup was given its credit further below (spoilers?), and I simply wanted a way to hand a fictional award to Arsenal's win in Manchester. This was my chance.

Worst match of the season:

NOTE: This award is given to the most anguishing, disappointing or damaging game for the club. Perhaps also one that rubs salt in old wounds. 

The first half of the season was definitely agonizing. Slumping to a declining Dortmund, blowing a cushion against Anderlecht, and predictably capitulating against Swansea, Stoke and United. These games made me wish I had a black box in my mind to dump them all in and toss in a corner.

Ironically enough, the 3-1 loss to Monaco happened in a much happier second half of the season. Don't let that fool you though - this game was turd, and the fact that it happened yet again when the pressure was on the club was a suspicious coincidence. This really should have been the season when we made a Champions League run. Seeing that we've fallen to Pot 2 for next season, I suspect Arsene Wenger will have an excuse up his sleeve for not competing next season too.

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.

Retaining the cup must be a platform for next season, although I doubt it will be. Nevertheless, it was a brilliant day, an eerily cool display and the fantastic scenes later really made my day. Honestly, this is what football should be about, not passing off bank balances and stadiums as zeniths.



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.

Once again, Arsene Wenger's inability to challenge for the very top prizes i.e. the Premier League and the Champions League is what adds a "what could have been" spin on this season. Despite having excellent players and an excellent backroom team, Wenger's refusal to do what's necessary to make the percentile difference to the top has cost him another chance to sign off from Arsenal with a bang.

Despite my ill-feelings toward him, I genuinely hope his legacy won't be a mass exodus owing to a distinct lack of ambition from him. I understand if he's not capable of winning the league, but he at least needs to have his focus at the right place to convince the players we do have that this is the place to be.

Goal of the season:

NOTE: This award goes to the most technically perfect goal or one scored after some sublime passing. However, the importance of the goal with respect to the game (or season) is a major factor.

Thank God I chose to not post this around the 30th of May, otherwise Alexis vs Villa would not have gotten its well deserved merit. Aside from it being on the biggest stage England offers, the sheer panache and craziness Sanchez managed to conjure on that strike was truly mind-blowing. Shay Given's resigned smirk says it all - this was one of the most "triffic" goals the FA Cup has seen.

While Freddie Ljungberg's curler against Chelsea remains my favourite, this certainly comes close. I'm still convinced that after Sepp Blatter saw that goal he realized the true meaning of football and stepped down in shame.


Picture of the season:

NOTE: This award is given to the most iconic photograph in Arsenal's 2014/15 season.

To be perfectly honest, I thought of this award because I wanted a reason to not type an awkward exit post to this blog. Might continue this in season's to continue, too.

So here you go, Gooners. Feast your eyes on a picture you would have thought brilliantly Photoshopped had it popped up on your screens two years ago.



 
-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]