Handing Out A Participaton Trophy

I don’t know if Arsenal are taking submissions yet for their February Player of the Month award, but I’ve a bit of an idea on that front. Certainly, and I don’t believe I will find much opposition to this thought, no player truly deserves honours and accolades for this most embarrassing of months. The club should do something a bit different this month for the hardest working people of all: those of us tasked with naming a Man of the Match after every fixture. Ok I concede, the 5-1 victory over Everton to open February was perhaps the most impressive performance of the season, but I have heard equally that it was the Merseysiders’ worst showing, so which was the dominant force in that match? Based on the way the Gunners have played since, many would likely be inclined to favour the latter reason.
So here I am, once again, tasked with putting a good spin on malodorous performance. Worst of all, I went and played my Gunnersaurus card on Sunday, so I can’t just go with another comedy pick can I? This is important work I am doing here, and I know that you, the reader, are counting on me to tell you which player you should be the least cross with yesterday’s performance. So who are the candidates? Not Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, that’s for sure. He managed to not be totally invisible in the rematch from Sunday’s Carabao Cup Final, but his penalty was poorly taken, and he still seemed too unwilling to get stuck in and win a ball back. Certainly, it cannot be Hector Bellerin or Sead Kolasinac, who both got spun up by City’s dazzling passing moves at least once in the first half. It cannot be Laurent Koscielny or Shkodran Mustafi either, despite both of them playing miles better than they had 4 days ago, you can’t well pick a centre back as your Man of the Match when the team concedes 3 goals. A similar sentiment disqualifies Petr Cech as well, who was left helpless on at least 2 of the goals. Mesut Ozil gave good effort for most of the match, and he and Henrikh Mhkitaryan had more creative initiative than any Gunner had this past Sunday, but neither were nearly as assertive or confident as they could have been, and were successfully marginalised by the staunch City defence.
Who does that leave me for choices? Aaron Ramsey, who put in his usual shift in the middle of the park, and helped to create some of Arsenal’s most threatening situations in attack through sheer determination. However, he wasn’t the difference maker that the Welshman is capable of being at his very best. Granit Xhaka was made to look silly by Leroy Sane’s gliding run that lead to Bernardo Silva’s goal, but then, so was half the team. The Swiss midfielder comes under enormous pressure from fans that have decided he is simply not good enough to wear the shirt, but he gave his all on Thursday, hounding the opposing midfielders when they had the ball. He won the ball back several times because he refused to give up on the play, and one got the impression he was trying his hardest to show supporters his best. The final candidate is Danny Welbeck. Despite all too often looking like a baby deer running on ice when he has the ball, Welbeck always, always, always works hard for the team, and he too generated scoring opportunities around the City penalty area with hard work instead of pure skill.
I know Gooners, I am not thrilled with that list either. This is just where we are right now, ok? We’ve got Brighton coming up on Sunday, which means that there is at least a relatively good chance Arsenal pick up a point, but who knows right now. The team and manager locked themselves away after the match for some crisis talks, so it remains to be seen what the response is from the players to their recent struggles. As for your Man of the Match Thursday? Like the Gunners themselves on Sunday, I simply cannot be bothered to follow through with my task for this article. Sorry to disappoint. However, if it is truly that important to have a winner, go ahead and pick your favourite from the “Try Hard Trio” I detailed above. There, job done.

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