Date: 4th January 2012 at 12:13pm
Written by:

December is usually a challenging month to pick a Player of the Month. A crammed fixture schedule, injuries begin to take their toll and rotation becomes a natural facet of modern squad management. What this largely boils down to is players having less of a chance to impress. On the injury front, December was actually relatively kind to Arsenal. Andre Santos was unfortunately lost to an ankle ligament problem in a dead rubber game in Athens, whilst Kieran Gibbs suffered a complication upon his rehabilitation from a hernia problem. Sagna and Jenkinson were of course, lost in November to rekindle memories of the great fullback shortage of 2006.

But there has been reluctance on the part of the manager to chop and change too much with league points too precious to surrender. Of the 540 Premier League minutes played in December, some of our core players featured for the following:

Mikel Arteta- 540
Robin van Persie- 540
Laurent Koscielny- 540
Per Mertesacker- 532
Thomas Vermaelen- 497- (he also played the full 90 minutes in Athens).
Aaron Ramsey- 460
Gervinho- 447

If we also consider that Alex Song was forced out of 90 minutes through suspension and Theo Walcott one game through a stomach upset, of the 450 minutes they were available, Song played 421 and Walcott 403. Through a mixture of a lack of choice in defence and a lack of managerial faith in the likes of Arshavin, Benayoun and Rosicky to start games, continuity has been the order of the day. Looking at the minutes racked up by the names stated above, it`s probably not difficult to work out whom the contenders for December`s Player of the Month award are.

Robin van Persie has continued his logic defying form in December. A goal and two assists against Wigan. A goal of the season contender to snatch the points against Everton. A penalty despatch to put us ahead against Villa and yet another match winning goal against Queens Park Rangers is a tidy month`s work for a man whose shoulders must be suffering severe tendon damage being that he looks like our only consistent goal threat. You can`t help thinking a little assistance on that score would be nice for the Dutchman. But he doesn`t get my Player of the Month award, largely because I`ve given it to him so many times I don`t think there`s anything further I can say about him. There are only so many synonyms for “world`s best striker.” (In addition, I found the obsession with his pursuit of a completely arbitrary “record” a little surreal. This piece sums up that disillusionment quite nicely).

Laurent Koscielny is slowly, slowly beginning to garner the credit his performances deserve. His no nonsense approach to defending has been a breath of fresh air in a back 4 that, for too long, considered defending as a secondary concern. His flowering puts me in mind of Robert Pires who, contrary to the popular myth was not by any means horrible in his first season. He showed signs of quality but needed time to adjust before demonstrating his quality to its fullest in his second season. Koscielny has done much the same this year.

My Player of the Month for December is recognition of a season`s worth of contribution as much as his work during the final month of 2011. But Mikel Arteta has brought such professionalism to our midfield; I wish more and more that we`d signed him three years ago. With young players such as Denilson and Diaby showing the inconsistency one gets with younger players, Arteta has given an Arsenal side previously famed for brain farting a steadiness and a not inconsiderable dollop of class. For some reason, the vision of Arsene Wenger throwing his jacket down in disgust at Abou Diaby`s lack of discipline in a North London derby two years ago springs to mind. (That`s not to pick on Diaby you understand, more to illustrate my point).

I`ve said before that Arteta has been such a good addition because he doesn`t over think things. If a player is available, he passes it to them. If a tackle needs to be made, he`s no shirker. Having forged a career in the Premiership and served an apprenticeship in Glasgow in his formative years, he doesn`t shirk a challenge either. His ball retention statistics are off the charts. Put simply, there isn`t a midfielder in the league that passes more frequently and more accurately than he. In a side like Arsenal, that sort of ball retention is of the utmost importance. Even though his passes aren`t always the most cutting, he keeps the ball turning over. Which in turn, keeps the opposition chasing and ensures Arsenal stay on the front foot.

In performing this function, he has also allowed the players around him to blossom. Alex Song now has 6 assists for the campaign for instance. This has been picked up on too. In recent games, when Arsenal have required a goal, Arteta has dropped back in front of the defence, allowing Song to utilise his dribbling skills further up the pitch. Arteta is the glue that holds the midfield together, but he`s flexible enough to be adaptable. (Given the chance, I`m sure he could play at the front of the midfield triangle too; the more glamorous role he was assigned at Everton).

Mikel performs with such humility that he`s able to execute the less eye catching responsibilities of a midfielder. At Everton, he enjoyed more of a headline role. But given that he turns 30 in March, you get the sense that he`s appreciated that Arsenal is his shot at the big time that, given his talents, has probably arrived later in his career than it ought to have. In short, having been a big fish in a slightly smaller pond, Arteta is relishing this chance and taking it. I often wonder if Cesc ever looks at our games now featuring Arteta and wonders what he may have achieved with his compatriot sharing some of his workload. For now, Song, Ramsey and indeed, all of us, should be thankful to have him. LD.

August- Thomas Vermaelen
September- Robin van Persie
October- Robin van Persie
November- Laurent Koscielny

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