Arsenal 2010-11 Team Overview, Part 2: Midfield

This will no doubt be the longest section of these Team Overviews, so I'll get right down to business. Arsenal 2010-2011 season Midfielders.

OUT: Fran Merida, to Atletico Madrid (Bosman Free Transfer);
IN: None

Cesc Fabregas

LAST SEASON: Cesc became the player we have all been waiting for last season. While he had long been our playmaker and the player that made our team go, Cesc reached a whole new level last season, single-handedly taking the team on his back at times and winning matches out of sheer will. He scored 19 goals and had 19 assists in 36 matches last season, so he was directly responsible for more than a goal per game last season, and to be sure his razor-sharp passes set up other goals for which he didn't receive credit. He was an absolute hero last season, playing hurt (coming on as an injured sub and scoring 2 in 30 minutes against Villa, playing 10+ minutes on a broken leg against Barca), motivating other players, carrying us to victory in the face of darkness and doom (Stoke away). He was the consummate captain, a leader of men and spokesman for the club. Apart from him playing on a broken leg to preserve a draw with Barca or his goal against sp*rs, my lasting image of Cesc was him huddling with the team after the win at Stoke. His injury drastically reduced our squad for the final months of the season, and without his galvanizing presence providing the impetus, there was a distinct lack of focus and quality. With Cesc, we are a great team. Without him, we are not.

THIS TIME: I'll not avoid the turd in the punch bowl here. I'm as mad as anyone at the way Barca players, management, and down to the janitors at Nou Camp have conducted themselves in the press this summer in trying to unsettle Cesc and drive a wedge between Cesc and the Arsenal fans. I'm especially mad that in many cases it seems to be working, judging from the hundreds and thousands of blog comments I've read saying we should sell him, he should leave if he's not committed, we're better off without him... all bollocks. Cesc has not made any statements to anyone that any of us KNOWS saying anything but that he has great respect for Arsenal and the fans, and that he loves the club, and his statement upon returning for Members Day affirmed that much, and his commitment to the club, while remaining honest with us. Arsene and the club have maintained one stance throughout: Cesc is an Arsenal player, he is under contract with us, we will not sell nor will we negotiate. And bravo to them for keeping that line. I still think we ought to bring charges against the bankrupt Catalans for tapping up, but that's not in my power to do.

The fact of the matter is that while Cesc loves Arsenal, he hasn't tasted the success experienced by our other great players; meanwhile, he's seen his youth teammates Gerard "Cunt" Pique and Lionel "Most talented douche in the world" Messi win everything in sight. Not only that, but he was surrounded by those two and the rest of the mouth-breathing Barca team from the time he got hurt in early April and throughout the summer at the World Cup. But even Cesc has to know that Barcelona either are unwilling to spend more for him than 30 million pounds (less than they spent on David Villa), which is insulting, or unable to do so because of their poor financial situation (the more likely scenario). Cesc loves Arsenal, and while the lure of home is certainly strong for him, he's committed to us for now, so let's enjoy him while he is here and not worry about the future.

We are not nearly the club without Cesc that we are with him. He is our one true superstar and our captain. And if I hear anyone booing Cesc in the pub or at the ground, that person is gonna catch a fucking slap. End of story.

Alex Song

LAST SEASON: Song made a leap from widely-despised squad player to indispensible midfield fixture last season, a completely remarkable transformation. Beginning on Matchday One: The Quickening and ever after, Song became the defensive midfielder that Gooners had been clamoring for throughout the previous season and that summer. He was simply outstanding last season in a role that typically goes unnoticed: protect the back line, break up attack, dispossess, pass the ball forward. He executed this like clockwork with quiet efficiency and a bite in the tackle we haven't had in midfield for a while. He's become one of my favorite players and a star in one of the most crucial roles in modern football.

THIS TIME: More of the same, please! There is no African Nations Cup this winter, so provided he stays healthy (knock wood), he can continue to grow and expand his considerable influence in the role. He's not flashy, but he's tough, consistent and effective. That's just three traits you don't see in enough players these days, particularly at Arsenal.

Samir Nasri

LAST SEASON: Suffered a broken leg during preseason training (the only contribution Johan Djourou made last season) which kept him out until November. He hit the ground running with some fine performances in the Champions League, but overall, his season was spotty. He had some brilliant matches (against Porto in place of Cesc) and some where he was a non-factor. I do think we are wasting Sam's talents by playing him on the wing. For me, he's a much more effective player when deployed in central midfield, and he's a better man-marker and tackler than people give him credit for. He also scored the goal of the season against Porto, weaving through defenders in the box to knock one in off the post from a tight angle.

THIS TIME: If you've seen Nasri at all this preseason, you can tell there's a difference. He looks more forceful on the ball, does less dancing with it, he even seems to read the game more effectively. Gone are the wild goal celebrations, replaced by some handshakes and a "back-to-work" attitude. He just seems like a man with something to prove. I suppose we have Raymond Domenech to thank for that, for leaving him off the French World Cup disaster. The snub seems to have put some hunger in Sami, which is no bad thing. I'm expecting big things from him this season; hopefully he'll get to show his stuff in midfield alongside Cesc.

Abou Diaby

LAST SEASON: I sometimes wonder if Abou stepped out of a Robert Louis Stevenson story with the number of Jeckyll-and-Hyde performances we tend to get from him. Plenty of Gooners were ready to write Diaby off as a failure last season due to his seeming laziness, disinterested defending, tendency to lose possession, and heading goals into his own net. But at some point, something clicked inside Diaby; like instead of the Grinch's heart growing three sizes, it was Abou's brain. Or maybe the laziness/carelessness centers of his brain shrunk, I don't know. but for 3-4 months, Abou Diaby was as good as any midfielder in England. He was everything Arsene promised he would be: strong, quick, determined, hard to knock off the ball, decisive... it was an absolute treat to watch him. But all good things must end, and after a while it seemed like Abou started believing his own hype again. The lazy returned, the carelessness. Now, I'm not a scientist, but I think I've figured it out. Diaby is what we in the science industry call a "Samson." He derives his power from a full head of hair. Bald Diaby = Bad, Afro Diaby = Good.

THIS TIME: Diaby was selected for the 2010 French World Cup disaster, and seems to be one of the few players in that team to come out looking better than he went in. What I saw of him was positive. He held the ball well, was forceful and made good decisions and passes. As he's not yet played in the preseason, it's hard to say which Diaby will show up this season. He's like the proverbial "girl with a curl": When he's good, he's very, very good, but when he's bad, he's a fucking douchebag.

Tomas Rosicky

LAST SEASON: Super Tom returned to action after a very long layoff indeed, during which many of us feared that his hamstring troubles would end a promising career. So by that standard, making it back onto the pitch for us at all was a rousing success. But this is Arsenal, and our standards are a bit higher. Still Tomas, battling for fitness all season, showed glimpses of his former self, scoring in his season debut in the away defeat to Man City and their tame referee. He was also one of the few truly bright points in our hard-fought away win at Standard Liege in the Champions League, and scored a trademark Rosicky goal from the edge of the box to equalize in a thrilling 4-2 win over Bolton in which we'd gone down 2-0 early on. I don't think anyone would claim that we saw the old Tom Rosicky last season, but it was good to see him out there nonetheless.

THIS TIME: He's played sparingly in preseason; Arsene still seems a bit hesitant to fully give him a go. While I can't blame Le Professor for this reluctance, part of me thinks Tommy needs a few full matches to bring him back up to speed. On the plus side, with Cesc just getting back to fitness and presumably being limited in the first few weeks, he ought to have his chance. He'll need to fight for playing time (Arsene really is spoiled for choice in midfield), but his versatility will stand him in good stead there. Anyone who saw Super Tom in his first season with the Gunners knows the kind of skill he can bring to the team, which is why I'm hoping that this season he truly recovers his form. We're going to need him and his class if we're to win anything this season.


LAST SEASON: Denilson shocked everyone by getting our first goal of the season, starting off the 6-1 rout of Everton at Goodison Park with a cracking shot from outside the box, set up by a lovely bit of skill from Cesc. I'm not the biggest Denilson fan out there, but for all his faults, he's not afraid to take a shot from outside the area, and he does occasionally score some brilliant goals. His free kick against Hull at home gave us a crucial lead going into halftime, and his long-range attempt in the away leg was parried by Myhill to the feet of Bendtner who struck the last-second winner. That's all well and good, but Arsene still views him as a quality defensive midfielder, and while I do trust the boss, I disagree there. Denilson supporters (Denilsonistas) will cite all kinds of numbers about the goals he scores and the attacks he stops, which is great. But as the saying goes, there are lies, damned lies, and then there are statistics. I don't need a calculator to show me that he is far too easily muscled off the ball, that he consistently breaks up OUR attacks by stopping forward momentum and passing backward or sideways (I watched a game last year, can't remember which, where not one of his passes went even slightly forward). I can see our back four left exposed when he does decide to bomb forward, which often leaves Cesc stuck deep to mind the counterattack. Even Diaby doesn't do that so much.

THIS TIME: If he is to be deployed in the holding role, he needs to hone these areas of his game. He may be a brilliant midfielder one day, but he needs to remember the job he's there to do first and foremost. If he can show the necessary focus, eliminate mental errors, and improve his passing (his forward passes are sometimes sloppy or misguided), he'll win more of the fans over than he has. He's likely to start the season injured, so he's accustomed to Arsenal tradition. He's a good boy, loves the club and is genuinely happy to be here. What's not to love about that?

Jack Wilshere

LAST SEASON: It started well for young Jack with two scintillating performances in the Emirates Cup, as he was certainly the player of the tournament, which would generally ensure more time with the first team. However, apart from the usual cup matches and the odd league appearance, the boy wonder never really came close to breaking through to the senior squad, despite his occasional brilliance. It could be argued that he'd have had more first-team action in the spring due to our injuries, but Arsene had loaned him out to Owen Coyle's Bolton, where he really seemed to come into his own. He scored goals, opened up attack, and learned to defend and really get stuck in, something that our coaches seem to have shown ebbing interest to in training in the past few years. One has to think that Jack, being the "golden boy" of our youth program, often gets targeted by opponents for rough treatment (he was struck by a player for WBA in a Carling Cup match last Sept.), so a bit of steel and an attitude will do him, and us, a lot of good.

THIS TIME: Coyle tried to retain Jack's services for this season as well, but Arsene was hearing none of it, and his involvement and impressive showings in preseason had the manager glowing, and stating that he would remain with the senior squad this season. He's had more time in central midfield in preseason matches and has excelled, but I would be surprised if Le Boss didn't play him almost exclusively out wide to begin with. He'll most certainly play in the Carling Cup matches again, but I would think that his increased inclusion on the bench for the first team will see him make quite a few appearances for us this season. I think 30+ games is an achievable goal for young master Wilshere this season.

Emmanuel Frimpong

LAST SEASON: Had virtually nothing to do with the Arsenal first team. Made a few appearances in Carling Cup matches but was otherwise toiling with the reserve/youth teams. Easiest player assessment everrrrrrr...

THIS TIME: Easily the biggest surprise of the Arsenal preseason. With Alex Song still on holidays after the World Cup (in which he picked splinters out of his ass on the Cameroon bench) and Denilson injured, Frimpong stepped into the holding midfield role and, for lack of a better word, fucking OWNED it. He was outstanding against Barnet, and Sturm Graz & SC Neusiedl 1919 (or whatever ridiculous name they call themselves to confuse English speakers) on the Austrian tour. He had a bit of a rough time in Emirates Cup against Milan (and was inneffective in the Warsaw match, but he was one of many), coming on in the 69th min. before they equalized, but was brilliant against Celtic before coming off at halftime. He's a strong one, not afraid to mix it up and reads the game well; for a young defensive midfielder, his positioning is quite good. He works extremely well with Jack, who has been his teammate since they were both 9 years old. Frimpong, like another terrific defensive midfielder, Michael Essien, is from Ghana, but has lived in England most of his life and is eligible to play for either country. Capello would do well to cap him in a friendly against Faroe Islands or some such thing to make his decision easier.

Aaron Ramsey

LAST SEASON: Much of what Aaron accomplished last season is now forgotten in the red mist clouding everything after the away match to Stoke. We seem to have a fallen hero every season, and it was Aaron's turn, like Diaby and Eduardo before him, to suffer a nasty, leg-breaking "tackle" from a thoroughly English thug. I'm not going to get into the whole affair in the press stemming from the incident (I've already covered it here).

What made his injury the more tragic, apart from his youth, is that Ramsey had made such great strides in his first full season. He had become a full-fledged part of the first team and had begun forming a lovely partnership with Cesc in midfield, and had scored some lovely goals (including the equalizer at Upton Park in the FA Cup, a match eventually won by Eduardo's header). Even in that Stoke match, before the injury, Rambo was my man of the match, moving well with the ball, exuding purpose and confidence, making crisp passes and harrying the opposition. The response from Arsenal fans is a testament to what he means to the club, and the bright future we all hope he will still achieve in an Arsenal shirt.

THIS SEASON: Doctors say Aaron is far ahead of schedule with his healing, and he is walking without crutches now. He even walked out with the team to be introduced to the fans on Members Day, and got a huge ovation from the crowd on hand. Still, it would be optimistic to see him playing competitively before December, knowing how cautious Arsene tends to be with players coming off of bad injuries... and rightly so. Still, that he will play at all says a great deal about the young man's character and will to compete. Being young as he is, and the break being as clean as it was, Aaron will heal completely. What we would have to worry about is the psychological effects from sustaining such an injury. We saw how Eduardo was affected; we can only hope that Ramsey will bounce back and be the same player he was before he was cut down. The occasional niggling injuries will be a fact of life for him after such a long layoff. This season, what is important will be how Aaron bounces back to Premiership football. But I have to say, I have a good feeling.

Part 3 of this series will focus on our back four. Well, what's left of it anyway. I'm hoping by then we might have more players I can write about.

Until next time, you stay classy, Goonerverse.