Player of the season? Flop of the season? Arsenal Mid-Season Awards
By Allan Riley
With Arsenal approaching their make-or-break round-of-32 Europa League clash against Benfica, now seems as good a time as any to break down the key men and key moments from this season so far.
Player of the Season: Bukayo Saka
It just had to be him, didn’t it? Saka, like Gabriel Martinelli last season, has been one of the few positives of a dire season. The Hale End graduate has been the academy poster boy for some time now and is now a favourite to win the PFA Young Player of the Season award.
Having made his senior England debut this campaign, Saka has delivered at left-back, central midfield, on the left wing and his switch to the right has been one of the key reasons for Arsenal’s upturns in form, with six-goal contributions since the 3-1 win over Chelsea.
Highlight of the season: Arsenal break winless run against Chelsea
When Arsenal faced Frank Lampard’s Chelsea side at the Emirates on Boxing Day, not much was expected other than a Chelsea win. After all, Arsenal were on a seven-game winless run and were fifteenth in the table, while Chelsea were challenging for the title.
What happened next was incredible. The inclusion of Emile Smith-Rowe seemed to rejuvenate Mikel Arteta’s side, who were disjointed at best when it came to creating chances. Since then, Arsenal have won six of their last ten games and are now still in the mix for a possible – albeit unlikely – top-six spot.
Low point of the season: Burnley condemn Arsenal to 15th
This was probably the toughest category to pick a winner for, as there have been several low points throughout this campaign, but one painful memory sticks out for me. At this point, Arsenal were five games into their winless run when they came up against a relegation-threatened Burnley side who had won just one game all season.
Despite the poor form of late, Arsenal were sure to pick up points in this game. They didn’t, as Granit Xhaka was sent off just as the Gunners were building some momentum and captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored an own goal as the Clarets condemned Arsenal to fifteenth on the ladder. We appeared to have hit rock bottom.
Best signing: Gabriel
The Brazillian arrived from Lille to fill the left-sided centre back hole that the team desperately needed, as well as to become William Saliba’s long-term partner. While it hasn’t worked out for Saliba this season, Gabriel has shone. Since scoring on his debut in the opening game against Fulham, he has arguably been Arsenal’s best defender this season.
While he hasn’t featured much recently, first due to a suspension, then due to a battle with covid, he’s been Arsenal’s best centre-back this campaign and should kick on even more next season. Had Thomas Partey been fit more often, he may have claimed this award, but Gabriel has to take it, with his three consecutive Player of the Month awards indicative of a brilliant first campaign.
Flop of the season: Alex Runarsson
The obvious choice here is Willian, but I’ve excluded him from this category as it would just be an exceptionally short entry, wouldn’t it? Also who wants to speak about him?
Instead, I’ve gone with Alex Runarsson, brought in from Dijon to replace Emi Martinez. He arrived with big shoes to fill, with Martinez being the best back-up keeper in the league at the time. It hasn’t worked.
From looking shaky in Europe against mediocre opposition to most notably being at fault for all four goals against Manchester City in the EFL Cup, it’s no surprise that Mat Ryan was brought in during the January window as a replacement.
Most underrated player: Bernd Leno
Most Arsenal fans think that Bernd Leno is an excellent goalkeeper, myself included. However, there are a very loud minority of fans on Twitter lead by the bane of Alfie Culshaw’s existence that will slander the German at any possible opportunity. While he’s held in good regard by opposition fans, Emisexuals say he is a shit keeper, so far that reason, he takes out this award.
The thank god that’s over award: Mesut Ozil
Don’t get me wrong, I was very tempted to pick the expulsion of the defensive headache that was Shkodran Mustafi from the club, but this award could only go to one person.
Mesut Ozil has been at the centre of most Arsenal debates for the best part of two years now. His in again, out again situation and a grand total of zero senior minutes in six months divided almost everyone online.
From his agent leaking dressing room details, to the giant financial vacuum his massive salary has caused, to the fact he’s now back playing football for boyhood club Fenerbache- it’s safe to say that the mutual termination of his contract was in the best interests for all parties.