Most Outstanding Player... or Most Valuable Player?
It is a bit of a semantics game isn't it? But it is one that is played out at the end of every season in the form of the top individual award handed out by every sports league. We generally perceive them as meaning the same thing, despite clear differences in their names and definitions. The former is clear cut: the player who was the best over the course of the season. The latter? That's where it gets tricky.
It can be a bit of apples to oranges, but it's still somewhat easy to say that one player - whether he is the forward who scored the most goals, the goalkeeper who kept the most cleansheets, or the defender who shut everyone down - was simply the best player in the league or on a team. But which of those players had the biggest impact for his team? And where would that team be without his contributions?
We asked our panel of supporters in the USA and Canada to consider not who was Arsenal's best player in 2012/13, but which player could Arsenal simply not have done without.
Question: Who was Arsenal's most valuable player in 2012/13?
Which players have a presence on the field that makes them integral to success? Let’s start with two honorable mentions before I start to justify my decisions: Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky. Neither player got a full season for the Gunners but their importance (read: value) to the team cannot be overstated.
When Jack first came back from injury he was Arsenal’s most dedicated player. When I think of dedication I think of Tony Adams, David O’Leary, David Rocastle and George Male. These are players that over their careers displayed how I want all Arsenal players to be remembered. Jack’s performances from pre-Christmas to the end of February show an unbridled passion and desire to do anything for the club. We could see how much Arsenal means to him with displays where he was driving the ball through the midfield, standing on his toes and not giving an inch to Olsson at West Brom, thumping in a drive against Swansea in the FA Cup with his reaction and his celebration in the Champions League after his deft chip. He’s a leader by example, exuberance and dedication. Compare him to Tony Adams' diving header against Derby, David O’Leary’s appearances, Rocastle’s motto (remember who you are, what you are and who you represent), and George Male’s extensive career as a player, scout, coach, tour guide and ambassador.
Tomas Rosicky did not get a full season for the Arsenal, but when he started or played at least a half his impact was tremendous. This season if Rosicky started then Arsenal won every match except for a draw to Manchester United. Not bad. His tackling has been superb, he wins over 80 per cent of his tackles. Did you forget how good of a tackler he is? Really? OK, check out this nifty video from Carpenter11 and scroll to 1:45 where he shows his abilities against Christiano Ronaldo - and then after dispossessing the Portugese winger he sets up a goal. Or watch the entirety of the WBA match where he loses one tackle (he gets cautioned) or what about the QPR match at Loftus Road? Rosicky’s tackling, especially at key moments, shows his value to the team. Remember, he may be 32, he feels like he’s 30 because he had two years off football to rest.
Moving on, my third place finisher in most valuable Gunners is Per Mertesacker (with a shout out to Laurent Koscielny). He only played over 3000 minutes this season (led defenders), and scored three London derby goals - two against Tottenham. His 14 clean sheets make him among the league leaders; the only small knock against his season comes from his current defensive partner’s record in matches. When Laurent Koscielny has started a match Arsenal have lost only twice! Once we lost to Man City at home after his early red card and the other against Chelsea… September 29! I love how the BFG celebrates his goals, I swear a vein on his neck will burst one day.
My second place finisher is Theo Walcott. From "Sign Da Ting" to his third goal v Newcastle to nearly scoring in four straight matches to end the season, Theo Walcott has been invaluable to the club. His finishing has improved, his chance creation has increased, and he’s not lost an inch of pace. Most notably fans no longer wince or cringe when he’s tackled or takes a shot because we are used to seeing him get back on his feet and lift his arms like wings after he’s scored the goal. Walcott provides an option that opponents find more difficult to defend each season. Whether it is pace on the wing, improved dribbling through the middle, or the fact that he cannot be shrugged off the ball, he is a threat week in and week out; I’m so happy Arsenal have him signed to a long-term deal. Theo Walcott has not been perfect, but Wenger is continuing to get more from him year after year, so forgive me for drooling as I envision his goal return next season.
But No 1 on my most valuable player list has to be the man who has played the most, Santi Cazorla. Over 3300 minutes of Premier League football in his first season, he also has a dozen goals. He has won a match at Villa with two goals off his boot, just like another Spanish midfielder we all love; he has scored a hat-trick including a rolling/diving header away at the Majdeski Stadium. He just seems to pop up, which is an interesting thought for a man of his stature. Looking beyond the quantifiable data (goals and assists) is where Cazorla’s value lies. Arsenal lacked a midfielder who could dribble through a defence, now we have Santi (as well as a healthy Jack). His quick turns on the ball create space and time, those lead to goal scoring opportunities and he is among the league leaders in that department. He also completed several key tackles (he obviously attends the Tomas Rosicky school of tackling). A player who plays in every match brings consistency to the lineup, he becomes a stabilizing force as the squad can be picked around him. In the case of Cazorla he complements everyone in the squad.
To the glue of this year’s squad I say thank you.
While I agree with Morgan that the team MVP this season was Santi Cazorla, and his points about the Spaniard are very well taken, we differ on the rest of the list. He mentions a plethora of players, but one name is absolutely missing: Mikel Arteta.
The team captain by the end of the year, at the beginning of the year, Arteta was chosen to step up and fill both the defensive midfield role vacated by Alex Song and the penalty kicking duties from Robin van Persie. With his efforts in 34 league starts this season, Arteta was certainly one of the most valuable players on the squad this year.
In addition to the omission of Arteta, and although I appreciate the job done by Tomas Rosicky this season, he was included in just 10 league matches, not nearly enough to be considered the fifth most valuable player of the year in my opinion.
Finally, while Theo Walcott enjoyed his best season for Arsenal, it was the defense, not the offense, that led the Gunners to their Champions League qualification. Deserving of more than just a shout out, Laurent Koscielny was the stabilizing force behind Arsenal’s late season run. An unused substitute in the final loss of the season at White Hart Lane, Koscielny would go on to start in, and play every minute of, the final 10 matches of the season. Over the final 10 matches, of which Arsenal took 26-of-30 points, Koscielny led a back line that allowed just five goals. Koscielny, for the second straight year, also scored the most important goal of the season in the finale at Newcastle.
For his success in his first season in England and for his consistency and contributions, Cazorla was the MVP of the season for me. However, due to job the defense did to keep the team afloat, he is followed by Koscielny, Arteta and Mertesacker in my list of top players of the campaign.
I don’t think there’s anything I can add to Morgan’s selections, or Josh's for that matter. Aaron Ramsey’s reversal on the pitch from favorite scapegoat to stabilizing midfield player was dramatic, but not worthy of plaudits. Not yet at least. A number of players were solid, if not quite spectacular. And it’s difficult to wax too poetic about a season that had as many disappointments as joys.
I know that a few months ago, in a previous Fans’ Roundtable, I had expressed with complete conviction that our most valuable player was Jack Wilshere. From the time he returned to the first team until he was hampered again by injury (surely other Gooners are dreading further repeats of this), Jack was the driving force, the engine that moved an otherwise stagnant Arsenal team. That he is not mentioned as a serious contender as our most valuable player has, I think, much to do with him being out of the squad during the unbeaten run of 10 matches to close out the season. Laurent Koscielny is being listed as a potential MVP on the strength of his performances against and after Bayern, despite being out of the side for the majority of the season (I love you Kos, but it’s true). To be fair, I think Jack deserves consideration, although I understand why he’s a bit of a forgotten man at Arsenal, at the moment.
I think Santi Cazorla has been one of our most valuable assets this season. His skill on the ball is unmatched in England, and he is one of the true two-footed players in the modern game. He tallied 12 goals and 12 assists in his first season in the Premier League and played in more matches than any of his teammates. His impeccable talent combined with his surprising durability and enthusiasm for the game make him an easy pick for this list.
More valuable still, in my opinion, was Per Mertesacker. While fans hoist Koscielny and his £30 million goal on their shoulders, the man who was there through it all was the BFG. His positioning and reading of the game is among the best there is, and more than make up for his lack of pace (the popular perception of which being far greater than exists in reality), and while he doesn’t often score, when he does, it’s generally a vital one. Our Teutonic Titan provides an added aerial presence, and seems to have learned to use his strength to his advantage in his second season in England. Big ups for the big German.
But ultimately, Arsenal’s most valuable player over the course of this season was Mikel Arteta. He entered the season being asked to replace Alex Song in a holding midfield role that was largely unfamiliar to him, and was named vice-captain in the wake of Robin van Persie absconding Oop Norf. What did he do? He made it work. Arteta didn’t miss a beat in moving to the pivot role, forging an immediate link between midfield and attack, and continuing his metronomic passing consistency (91.5 per cent passing accuracy in the League). And as Tim Bostelle pointed out, statistically, he is the top passer of all Premier League midfielders and among the best in Europe in the vital categories.
Despite dropping into a deeper role, Arteta still popped up with six goals, not a bad return for a defensive midfielder. Beyond all that, he’s become a vital leader for the squad, whether on or off the pitch. He attempted to play the last match away at Newcastle, despite suffering a calf injury in the previous match against Wigan, but when he was forced off, the camera showed Arsène Wenger sitting closely with the Spaniard, possibly discussing strategy. Or perhaps it was personal grooming tips… we have no idea what they’re saying, and Arteta is equally expert at football and hair styling. In either case, Arteta is a player who is trusted and valued by manager and fans alike. That’s an invaluable commodity in the world of modern football.
The views expressed above do not necessarily reflect those of Arsenal Football Club or Arsenal Media Group.Copyright 2016 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source