After looking at the forwards on Tuesday, I turn to the midfielders today. It was a strong performance from this group on the whole, as they became the best midfield in England in the latter part of the season with Francis Coquelin, Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Özil excelling.
Mikel Arteta – C – This C doesn’t stand for Captain. Unfortunately for the newly crowned captain, this was a season to forget. Arteta made only 12 appearances, picking up a series of muscle injuries that ultimately ended his season in November. When he was on the field, he was unconvincing. Out injuried, he was successfully replaced on three fronts. Per Mertesacker did admirably as fill-in captain, Santi Cazorla dispatched the penalties with aplomb, and Francis Coquelin was superb in Arteta’s defensive midfielder role. With all that going against him and with his being well on the wrong side of 30, his future at Arsenal is particularly murky.
Santi Cazorla – A- – Cazorla had a rough start to the year. A Premier League goal drought caused him to press and his overall play dropped. But a move to the middle of the park with Mesut Özil’s injury saw him get going. The diminutive Spaniard was then named club Player of the Month for both December and January as he moved to a deeper-lying role in the midfield. In that new role, he dazzled. One particular game at Manchester City was perhaps the individual performance of the season in the Premier League. The rest of the year, Cazorla was a delight to watch, working perfectly in partnership with Coquelin behind Özil. His expertise at the penalty spot was much needed in Arteta’s absence, and his set pieces led to quite a few goals. It must be noted as well that Cazorla missed only a single Premier League game. Overall, it was an excellent season from Cazorla. And going forward this is a role perfectly cut out for him as he ages.
Francis Coquelin – A+ – Not enough praise can be heaped on Coquelin for the way he transformed the Arsenal midfield upon his insertion in the team in late December. Everybody knows the story now, unwanted and unused, he was loaned out to Charlton in search of regular playing time. But to his chagrin, he was recalled when Arsenal needed bodies. To his surprise, he was given a start at West Ham, and from then on, was one of the first names on the teamsheet. On the field, he was magnificent in his defensive midfielder role, battling with players twice his size and routinely out-muscling them. He was mobile, aggressive and combative. And as he played, his passing improved too. His story is one that can give footballers everywhere hope. For despite being unwanted for the better part of three years, he seized the chance when it finally came. Everyone talked about how Arsenal needed to sign a DM. But Coquelin ended up being that player, only one without the price tag. Once an afterthought, Coquelin is now a big part of Arsenal’s future.
Abou Diaby – F – The sad story of Abou Diaby continued, with another full year lost to injuries. He played once in a Capital One Cup match in September, but was never fit the rest of the year. As tragic as his career has been, the reality is that it is time for Arsenal to let him go. He has been given a number of chances to get healthy and hasn’t been able to stay that way. He must know the end is near for his time at Arsenal.
Mathieu Flamini – C+ – At this point in his career, Flamini can’t be trusted to hold down a midfield against athletic teams. He is a step slow and too prone to gamble. After starting for much of the first half of the year with varying degrees of success, he was eventually replaced by Coquelin and was relegated to the role of late-game defensive cover. Many people think Flamini must be sold, but I think he has value in that role. He has accepted the role without complaint, and clearly loves the club. So why push him out the door? 15 Premier League starts is too many, but credit must be given to him for staying healthy and remaining an option on the bench. When he comes on, he provides stability. I say give him another year at the club.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – B – This was an interesting year for the Ox. In many ways, he began to fulfill the potential everyone has seen in him the last few years as he tore through midfields with marauding runs and blew by defenders down the right. But he struggled to lock down a place with various injuries and ended up making only 17 Premier League starts and 37 appearances in all competitions. He scored only three goals, albeit two were of massive importance, but that total will need to improve. As a player, he continues to become more dynamic year to year. But it’s fair to wonder when, or if, he’ll make the leap to that truly elite level. That will only come with consistency, which he has yet to find at Arsenal. Next year will be an important year for him, and he’ll be in a vicious fight for a place in the midfield.
Mesut Özil – A- – In Özil’s second season at the club, he finally silenced the critics that had dogged him for the better part of two years. Coming back a World Cup winner, Özil struggled as he played out of position on the left. So perhaps his injury against Chelsea in early October was for the best. As after a three-month absence, he was restored to the middle of the park and became increasingly impactful. And for the entire second half of the season, he was magnificent, creating chance after chance with silky link-up play. As he found comfort with Cazorla and Alexis Sanchez, he began hitting passes that were frankly unbelievable, with an especially pretty assist coming in the FA Cup semifinal. He even scored a marvelous free-kick against Liverpool. His goal and assist numbers from this year necessarily won’t blow you away, but don’t that fool you. Özil was a monster in the second half of the year. And best of all, you could see that he was enjoying himself again. I can’t wait to see what he does next year with a full summer of rest.
Aaron Ramsey – B+ – This season was always going to be a bit of a let down for Ramsey after his incredible 2013-2014 campaign. After a late matchwinner in the opening game against Crystal Palace, he struggled to make the same kind of impact, often straying far out of position to go for the types of goals he scored a year ago. But a couple of goals in December, including the goal of the year at Galatasaray offered a glimmer of hope before an injury sidelined him. When he returned in late January, he locked down a place on the right rather than his customary middle-of-the-park position, and there he found his form again. He finished with 10 goals to his name. Going forward, he is a vital piece of the squad with his goalscoring ability from midfield. Rumors of his wanting greener pastures will likely persist, but I’m confident he will remain at Arsenal for the foreseeable future.
Tomas Rosicky – B- – I am incredibly surprised that Rosicky signed on for another year at the club. A thorough professional and a player who always makes an impact when he sees the field, Rosicky got surprisingly little action this campaign. He made just 8 starts all year across all competitions, down from 25 the year before. And after publicly wondering aloud why he hadn’t been playing in the fall, he seized his chance in January with a couple terrific displays only to return to the bench for the rest of the season. And in a move I consider inexcusable, Arsene Wenger left him out of the squad altogether in the FA Cup Final. For his sake, I hope Rosicky finds a way to leave this summer, but for Arsenal’s sake, I hope the ever-reliable veteran stays forever.
Jack Wilshere – B – Every time Wilshere takes a step forward, he seems to take two steps back. This year, he put in a series of impressive displays through November, including a goal and an assist against Manchester City, but was again snakebitten by injuries the rest of the way. He made just 22 appearances this year, which is not enough for him as he continues to try to fulfill his potential. At age 23, he is still young enough to improve, but next year needs to be relatively injury-free. He can’t afford to have another 5-month injury, no matter whose fault the injury might be. The end of the season was quite positive for Wilshere, as he made a noticeable impact when he saw the field. His ability to pick up the ball and take it all the way through the opposing midfield is unrivaled. But soon, those glimpses of promise need to turn into consistent high levels of play. I hope he isn’t sold any time soon, because he can still be a game-changing player. But time is running out to prove Diaby isn’t his middle name.
Would you grade anyone differently? Please comment below.