Fellow arsophiles, I want to pose a simple question:
In a season of ups and downs, false dawns and unexpected revivals, which Arsenal player has turned out to be the biggest surprise package (in a positive way)?
I’m not talking about the likes of Vermaelen and van Persie, of whom we all expected great things. I want you to consider the players – whether already in the squad or newly signed – for whom you had NO high hopes, but who have gone on to confound your pessimism.
The grit that turned into pearls, as it were…
You can register your own choice in the Poll below, but let me offer my own shortlist for the contenders…
The Little Mozart – or Schnitzel, as I am assured is also his nickname – was high on the list of players most supporters wanted to see shipped out last summer. Unlike Fawlty Manuel and Sideways Den, footballing abilities were not the issue with the little Czech – it was just that he seemed as fragile as a Ming vase. And on the odd occasion when he was not too cracked to get a run out, he usually seemed a peripheral figure: the Ming on the wing. Fast forward to today, and we see a player showing just what he can do when he stays fit and gets a run of games in his preferred position. He’s now one of the first names on the team sheet, which makes a change from having his own engraved name plaque in the treatment room.
Like TR7, our young English left back has often given the impression of being made of glass and was on first name terms with all the medical staff, their wives and husbands, their cousins and neighbours, even their pets. But since he got back in the side our results have improved and he has begun to show why Arsene Wenger has persevered with him for so long. In recent games he has begun to really look the part.
This cocky French cockerel was not on most fans’ radar at the start of the season and it was generally assumed that Frimpong was ahead of him in the midfield pecking order. But while Frimpong’s inexperience was exposed in some early season games, Coquelin took every opportunity that came his way, whether deputising at fullback or playing in his preferred midfield role. Undoubtedly the season of first team football at Lorient is what put him ahead of his young English rival, but he looks to have the quality to be a first team regular in the future. Sadly both he and Frimpong have been unlucky with injuries.
OK, I know this is a bit of a controversial one. But so many people were so down on him in the close season and at the start of this campaign that I feel it’s right to include him. Personally I have never understood the level of abuse he gets. Being a winger means you are always trying to do the pointy-ended bits of the game – beating defenders, putting in crosses, making goal assists, hitting the back of the net. Inevitably, things don’t always come off, but with eight goals and 11 assists his contribution should be recognised. If you doubt his importance, just look at how Robin van Persie values him.
Quickly christened ‘The BFG’, our supersized German centre back was written off by some before he had even kicked a ball for us. He was too slow, not good enough in the air despite his height, he wouldn’t be up to the speed of the English game etc etc. Up until his injury, however, big Per showed us that he is, above all, a footballer of the highest quality. I know many supporters believe Koscielny and Vermaelen are our first choice CB pairing, but I really feel Mertesacker adds a level of composure to our transitional play from defence and is brilliant at reading the game and I would start him alongside either of the other two.
A young fullback, signed from Charlton Athletic with only a handful of first team games under his belt… what was Arsene thinking of? Well, our Carl is a Gooner through and through and when he has had opportunities to play he has shown great promise. His engine is fantastic and, for my money, he’s the best crosser at the club. He’ll be England’s right back in a few years time.
A Brazilian we had never heard of, signed from the Turkish league. Surely this was another piece of craziness on our manager’s part. And when he turned up with what looked like 20lbs of hashish in his shorts the doubters were even more skeptical. But Santos quickly won people over with his adventurous style of play (it was his goal that got us back on track away at Chelsea) and his infectious enthusiasm.
Isn’t it funny that many of the same people who were furious when we signed Oxo (“we need proven quality, not another punt on some untried youngster for Chrissake”) were exactly the people booing when Alex was subbed off for Arshavin towards the end of the home game against Manchester United. We knew he was very highly regarded at Southampton, but many thought he would be “one for the future” or “Walcott mark two”. Instead he has already made himself a fan favourite and is another player who has everything it takes to be an Arsenal great.
OK, that’s it.
If you would like to suggest a different candidate please click on the “Other” option below and make your suggestion in the comments.