And as it was in the beginning
So shall it be in the end
Thus spake The Jam in 1982 and it sums up the situation at the start of 2006 and the year’s completion. Fifth place in the League, no chance of winning it, six defeats at the start of the year, five at its conclusion, thirty five points plays thirty six; Quarter Finalists in the Carling Cup, through to the Knockout phase of the Champions League. The Jam also used to be introduced as “the best f****** rock ‘n’ roll band in the world“. There were times in the last twelve months when you felt like screaming that Arsenal were the best football team in the world, and there’s your proof. There were also times when the cry should have been that the players performance was nothing short of a disgrace to the name of Arsenal Football Club. The last twelve months has not been dull, that’s for sure.
The year contained more ups and downs that a busy night in Kings Cross; five minutes in Paris conspired to make it ultimately unsuccessful on the pitch in terms of trophies won but extremely successful given the squad for the year and events off of the pitch. To have finally cracked Europe to the extent of reaching the Champions League final, a match marred by the sending off of one of the key players for getting there probably encapsulated the whole season in one match; a number of good opportunities, the squads potential in evidence but ultimately a disappointing outcome.
The peaks have been made all the better by the low expectations. Low that is by the standards set during the first decade of Arsene’s reign. Yet the start of 2007 is remarkably similar to the start 2006; a feeling that the team can play better than it has done in the Premiership, particularly against the lesser lights of the Division and that there is a lot more to come from this squad when its youthful exuberance is replaced by experience and some of the lightweights have moved on. 2006 is probably the worst year for injuries that I can recall, experienced first team members have fallen like nine-pins during the course of the year, to be replaced by equally talented but younger players. On occasion they have performed admirably but not week in, week out as they will do in years to come.
So, we look forward to 2007 and more improvement. When this season started, I said I wanted an improvement on last time round which they are on course to achieve but still much work to do. In the spirit of things at this time of year, here are my awards for 2006:
Player of the Year:
Only two candidates for this, Cesc Fabregas and Kolo Toure. Fabregas has become an even more important part of the team since August than anyone thought possible. To such an extent that when he is missing, the team suffers incredibly particularly on windy nights in Yorkshire. However, there is only one man who has displayed consistency throughout the calendar year, Kolo Toure.
Sure he has dips in form but these last minutes compared to others games. There is a good case for him to move into midfield but given that he is the rock upon which the defence is built. Perhaps in seasons to come he may move further up the pitch – you feel he might contribute in excess of five goals a season if he did – but at the moment there is a compelling reason for him to stay put.
Young Player of the Year:
Only one candidate, Cesc Fabregas. ‘Nuff said.
Player Whose Career Is On An Upward Trajectory:
Two real candidates here, Emmanuel Adebayour and Robin van Persie. The former came with a ‘bad boy’ reputation and took several months to settle but in the absence of Henry has shown why Arsene signed him. I get the feeling that he is a confidence player in front of goal and I think the winner at Old Trafford is the one that kickstarted this season for him. Certainly, he rose to the challenge of captains absence to score important goals. van Persie meanwhile had shown us what he was capable of already but now seems to have added more consistency and a greater appreciation of his role in the team as provider as well as scorer. No doubt this was helped by his performances in Germany which were a bright spot for the Dutch and he has carried on this domestic season. However, I am going to give the award to Emmanuel Adebayour.
His ability to pop up at crucial times in the past month – Wigan and Portsmouth spring immediately to mind for they are the most recent – and more importantly the excellent and unselfish work carried out uncomplainingly, swinging it for me.
Player Whose Career Is Going In The Opposite Direction:
Only one candidate really here. I had high hopes for Jeremie Aliadiere for this season, I really felt that he was going to press his claims for the first team. Having recovered from a bad injury and ruinous loan spells at Celtic and West Ham, he had shown some potential in his time at Wolves. He has shone in the Carling Cup at West Brom and Everton but in the Premiership he is frequently and unused sub or not even on the bench. The two starts he has had have shown he is not up to the task at Arsenal, even though both of those games were subdued team performances. Unable to take advantage of Henry’s absence, he is being thrown further into the shadows by the incredible run of form being shown by Anthony Stokes and the plaudits being thrown at Niclas Bendtner. A departure in January should not ruled out for Jeremie.
The next award is split into two, Goal of 2006.
Firstly is the Goal of 2006. As is normal with Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal there are plenty of candidates. Lots of goals carved through the opposition, passes leaving capable pro’s grasping at air. However, the one for me was Robin van Persie at Charlton.
Incredible volley, totally controlled and thus far the best 2006-07 has seen in the Premiership. Forget Essien and Taylor, this has to be the Goal of the Season otherwise its a travesty of epic proportions.
The Most Important Goal Of 2006 has different reasons, this is the goal that made a year, created something more for the club than just winning a game. There are four candidates that I can think of; Henry in the Bernabeu, Henry’s equaliser against Spurs, Kolo against Villarreal and Adebayour at Old Trafford. They may not have all been the prettiest but they all gave the team so much more. Toure’s goal against Villarreal gave a nervy performance an end product, Henry against Spurs meant that the race for fourth place remained “on” rather than totally out of our hands, Adebayour kickstarted 2006-07 when mediocrity beckoned but overall Thierry Henry against Real Madrid was the one that gave the team belief of what they could achieve. The whole team performance was superb, subduing Los Galacticos to the extent that they were grateful to be still in the tie at the full time whistle.
Save of the 2006
Jens Lehmann has provided many instances of saving the teams bacon in 2006; it is only his irrascible nature and moments of madness that stopped him being a close contender for Player of 2006. However, the one save that stands out for me was in Villarreal.
The last minute of a Champions League semi-final, a “non-performance” as Arsene had reflected on the team that night but the result was the key. Had Riquelme scored there is little doubt that Villarreal would have progressed to Paris. As it was Jens flung himself to the groundg
Those We Have Loved And Lost:
A roll call of honour for three Arsenal Legends who departed from the club this year. Firstly, Dennis Bergkamp. The first truly World Class player that had been seen at the club for decades. You can never over-estimate the impact of the fortunes of the team he had in his decade at Highbury and one of the few footballers that nobody could deny the right to a testimonial. His ability to read and change a game was unrivalled in the history of The Premiership – forget Cantona – Bergkamp had it all. Robert Pires was an equally influential player – Player of the Year despite missing a third of season says it all – and the unluckiest player in Paris, not able to have final farewell to the club in his native land but it was his display against Juventus that summed him up, tackling hard passing well. Perhaps he left one year too soon – he apparently would like to return but maybe that is his injury talking – for he could have contributed much to this, the first year at The Emirates. The final farewell was to Highbury. It still feels weird not going there for home games and even though The Emirates is a superb venue, the move to which the club handled reasonably well for supporters on the whole, it will take a fair while before it feels like home.
Those We’ve Loved And Lost And Frankly Hope Never To See Again
One winner; Ashley Cole. The only way I can describe it is like a girlfriend who you knew for ages, was low maintenance, made a promise that you could not keep, then turned high maintenance and started playing around on your own doorstep, and frankly you know that you are going to see around the place but just do not want to speak to or of again. So that’s his last mention in the blog.
So all that remains is to apologise for the lateness of the post today – there is a jackhammer going ten to the dozen in my head still – and wish you all a Happy New Year and hope that 2007 is a better one than any previous. I’m off to keep the pharmaceutical companies in profit by downing as many Ibuprofen as I can lay my hands on. Back tomorrow with a Charlton preview.