Yesterday’s excellent Post by RC about how Sylvain Wiltord may have been under-appreciated during his time at Arsenal set me to thinking: who is the ‘Wiltord’ in the current squad?
Who is our most under-appreciated player right now?
We can rule out Smith Rowe, Saka, Leno, Martinelli, Gabriel, Partey and Tierney because the love-in surrounding that group of talented stars would make a harlot blush.
Holding is not quite at that level of acclaim but also seems to have earned the respect of fans this season and has cemented his first team place.
Likewise, despite poor recent form, I would not include Aubameyang because during his time at Arsenal he has been greatly appreciated and ‘rated’.
And for the purposes of this Post I am ruling out Willian because I am talking about players who are underrated in terms of what they have achieved at (and contribute to) Arsenal, not what they have done elsewhere in their careers. As for Mari and Cedric, we just haven’t seen enough of them yet in the red and white.
I, perhaps controversially, do not consider Maitland-Niles, Willock, Nelson and Nketiah to be in the conversation (although I would love them to get there in the near future).
So the list of contenders I came up with is: Xhaka, Elneny, Lacazette, Pepe, Luiz and Bellerin. You could include Chambers and Mustafi in that group if that’s your thing, but I’m not.
Now to whittle down that final selection:
Pepe? Clearly he has talent, but (through no fault of his own) he’s saddled with that £72m price tag which raises expectations that he just hasn’t met. He has shown flashes of real ability, but not enough.
Bellerin? I’m not sure you can call Hector underrated during his time at Arsenal and his form in the last couple of seasons (since his serious injury in fact) has been inconsistent. Pass.
Luiz? For all that he infuriates fans with crazy mistakes, he was outstanding in our FA Cup triumph last summer and has been pretty steady this season. A possibility, but he falls somewhere between being not quite good enough to be underrated and not quite bad enough as well. No.
Xhaka? A Marmite player for supporters, but manager after manager has deemed him an important component of their plans. The trouble is I don’t think we can view him as underrated. We know his strengths and weaknesses, what he can and can’t do for the team. Some of us value that contribution, others are fed up with him, but we have his measure. So, it’s a no.
That leaves Elneny and Lacazette and these are my two favourites for the spot of ‘most underrated’.
Elneny because of his un-showy, workmanlike performances, his athleticism and his apparent lack of ego as well as the fact that he seldom loses possession; Laca for being one of those players who – even though he’s no Thierry Henry – contributes important goals and is always prepared to work hard for the team. He has some very poor spells of form, but always seems to come through them.
It’s a toss up, but I’m going for Laca. In fact (as I believe someone said in comments), he is not dissimilar to Sylvain Wiltord and, in the Invincibles team, you could imagine him performing a similar role to Sylvain.
I have watched many games where Laca’s finishing has been off, he has been isolated up front and generally out of sorts, but you never see his head go down and he never stops trying to close down opposition players.
Am I right? Over to you.