Welcome back to the second installment of the inaugural Absolute Arsenal Season Review. Today’s subject will be the most improved player of the season, in which we will evaluate the strides members of the squad have made not only from prior seasons, but their progression over the course of the 2012-13 campaign. Without further ado, the candidates…
Carl Jenkinson: When Jenkinson, a lifelong Arsenal supporter, was announced as Arsene Wenger’s latest signing in June 2011, the fans did not exactly take kindly to another typical Wenger youth signing. Jenko was signed from Charlton Athletic of League 1, despite only making his first appearance for the club only seven months prior. Fans were already in a sour mood with Barcelona’s tapping up of Cesc Fabregas, so some lower league defender was about the last signing anyone wanted to see. Not only that, but in Jenkinson’s limited appearances in an Arsenal shirt that season he looked like a child lost in the deep end of the pool without his floaties. It seemed as if it was another swing and a miss for Wenger, that was, until this season came around. It started with the pre-season friendlies, but my did that little League One player look a different beast upon return from the off-season. With Bacary Sagna sidelined by injury yet again, Jenkinson seized his opportunity with a number of impressive displays in the side. It even got to a point where fans, myself included, genuinely wanted him to stay on at right back despite Sagna’s return to fitness. We are talking about fans wanting a relatively untested 20-year-old over a man who many have considered the best right back in the Prem for a number of years. While Sagna was ultimately given his place back, that did not stop Jenkinson from pushing on. This culminated in a November call-up to the England squad, a feat that even he himself probably never could have predicted happening so fast, if at all. In December he was then rewarded with a long-term contract, joining the newfound “British Core” in doing so. While Carl may not have seen much action towards the latter parts of the season, one can only be dumbfounded at how a kid who essentially played 7 months of third division football now found himself as a legitimate player at a massive club like Arsenal.
Mikel Arteta: With Arteta, he may not have necessarily “improved”, but nobody made a bigger adjustment to his game than the Lego haired Spaniard. With the departure of Alex Song to Barcelona in late August, it left a hole at the defensive midfield position (despite Song’s reluctance to treat it as such). With the only natural defensive midfielders with any first team experience being Francis Coquelin and Emmanuel Frimpong, it goes without saying that the club were in dire need of a more experienced signing, but lacked much time to do so. In stepped Mikel Arteta, a deadline day signing the previous season who had spent his entire career as an attacking midfielder. He had been an integral member of the team during the 2011-12 season, as he provided leadership and stability in keeping possession and building the attack. Without hesitation the Spaniard stepped into his new role and truly anchored the midfield. While he had always been seen as a competitor, there was a level of tenacity and grit that arose in his game, something the club had been lacking since the classic trophy winning sides of years past. While this upcoming summer will see Gooners call for a “legitimate” defensive minded midfielder, it would be difficult for anybody to say they were not impressed with Arteta’s performance this season. On top of that, many will be pushing for the Spaniard to officially receive the armband going forward, as he carried it extremely well during the latter parts of the campaign following Vermaelen being dropped from the side.
Aaron Ramsey: #BlameRamsey. The once promising Welshman had been deemed the ultimate scapegoat for anything going wrong with the Arsenal since his long layoff from the infamous Shawcross tackle. Pre-injury Rambo had been putting in performance after performance, looking all the more likely to take over the Cesc role one day. Then the leg break happened and Ramsey simply did not look the same player as before. Gooners worldwide were bashing the man left and right, deeming him nowhere near good enough to play for Arsenal again. To make matters worse, Ramsey lost his captaincy of the Welsh national team following a shift in managers. To, again, make matters in even worse than before Arsene Wenger spent much of the first half of the 2012-13 season playing Rambo up top as a winger, a position he was simply never meant to play. While the move was a means to an end, it was a torrid time for Ramsey, whose natural position undoubtedly lies in central midfield. It was January that Wenger finally moved Ramsey back into central midfield, and it was as if something just instantly clicked. All the Ramsey haters continued to hurl insults towards the player, but they very quickly simmered down, as his performances were simply outstanding. Some days your touch is on, some days it is off, but Ramsey found his role, one that would allow him to contribute to the team no matter what: A box-to-box midfielder. The last time the club had seen one was Alex Song’s breakout season with the club, where he prioritized his defensive duties and understood the effect his hustling up and down the pitch could have. Ramsey put himself in that position and undoubtedly succeeded.
Winner: Aaron Ramsey
While Carl Jenkinson was admittedly a very close second, it would be hard to argue that Ramsey’s burst of success seemed to perfectly coincide with the sides’ massive improvement and Wenger’s commitment to really go for Champions League football. Between his dropping of Thomas Vermaelen, Ramsey finding his role, and Mertesacker and Koscielny finding their partnership, it seemed the team figured out a way to grind out results. Ramsey’s commitment to his box-to-box role throughout the latter months of the season was about as valuable as any other player’s contribution to the side. In the end, Champions League football was attained and Rambo has been tied down to a long-term deal. The future looks extremely bright for Aaron Ramsey, as the once promising Welshman looks to have found his boots again and will no doubt be gunning for the future.