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Arsenal.com/EA Sports Arsenal Player of the Season 2011/12

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Mikel Arteta leads off our top five. The Spanish midfielder finished in fifth place with 4.1 per cent of the votes cast after a superb first season at Emirates Stadium.

Arsenal.com reporter Rob Kelly gives his verdict on the 30-year-old.

“He is a player you don't like to lose because he is an organiser, a winner and has great qualities. He has a 90-minute focus on the pitch and what typifies him well is the goal he scored against Manchester City. He first won the ball back through complete focus on what the opponent will do and where he could lose the ball. He then finished the action and scored the goal. That is what I call a real midfielder, a guy who is always in the game.”

Of all the many astute signings Arsène Wenger has made in his 16 years at Arsenal, the capture of Mikel Arteta on transfer deadline day must rank as one of his best. Cool, calm and composed, the Spaniard so quickly became a mainstay of the team that it seemed scarcely credible that he had not been a Gunner for years.

Of all the statistics about Arteta this season - his 91 per cent pass rate, his 83.14 per cent tackle rate - perhaps the most telling was about his effect on the team. When Arsenal travelled to West Bromwich Albion for their final game of the season, they had not won a league match that Arteta had not played in. That illustrates just how essential the Spaniard had become in his first nine months at the Club.

The 30-year-old faced a major challenge upon joining Arsenal. Following the departure of the Gunners’ talismanic captain, Arteta was mistakenly labelled ‘Fabregas-lite’ by some observers. But that misunderstood the role the Spaniard would play: he had not been signed as a playmaker, more as a conduit between defence and attack. It was a role he had assumed in his early days at Barcelona, and he revisited it to brilliant effect in his first season under Wenger.

Mikel was always keen to emphasise that he was happy to play a more understated role if it was to the benefit of the side as a whole. “I just try to balance the team a little bit. I don't want to be the main man; we all know who the main man is and that’s Robin. The most important thing is the team, and once the team is doing well the highlights will come for the rest of the players because we are playing well. Everyone is part of a machine and we are all just trying to make the machine work as well as we can.”

That quote typifies Arteta’s selfless attitude, but he has also remained highly influential going forward, weighing in with six goals and three assists during an excellent debut season at Emirates Stadium. Of course, the most memorable of those goals was his late winner against Manchester City, but he also scored a sensational free kick against Aston Villa, a curling effort against West Brom, a long-range hit against Wigan and two strikes against Blackburn. Quite the highlights reel.

Mikel may not have been as eye-catching as some of his team-mates during his first season at Arsenal, but his technical excellence, experience and maturity made him one of the most important. And with a season under his belt in the red-and-white shirt, his influence will only grow over the coming years.



Laurent Koscielny is next on our list. The French defender finished fourth with 4.29 per cent of the votes after a brilliant campaign at the heart of the Gunners’ backline

Arsenal.com reporter Rob Kelly gives his verdict on the 26-year-old.

There were times during Laurent Koscielny’s first season at Arsenal when he was dismissed by some observers as simply not being cut out for English football. Forget the improving performances, his calming influence at the back, his sensational display against Barcelona - he just wasn’t good enough apparently.

Those critics are nowhere to be found these days. The 26-year-old enjoyed a sensational second campaign for Arsène Wenger’s side, fully justifying his manager's faith when he signed him from Lorient following a meteoric rise in French football.

“We found him in France of course, from a smaller team. But you could see that there was something special there,” Wenger said. “I believe that last year you could already see the potential, but he did not have that dominance in the duels that he has found this season. That makes him, I personally believe, one of the top-class central defenders in the Premier League.”

Not many would disagree with that assessment, least of all his team-mates, who have come to expect the level of excellence the classy defender delivers week in, week out.

“He has done amazingly this season and I don't understand why a lot of criticism was there in the first season,” Thomas Vermaelen said. “He is [good] all round. He is quick, strong and good with the ball. There are just a lot of things about defending that he is really good at and that is why I like him.”

Injuries to his fellow centre backs saw Laurent's defensive partnerships chop and change. Despite this, he was the epitome of consistency. His reassuring presence, composure on the ball and ability to spot danger helped his side through some of the more difficult times.

Not only that, Laurent had the confidence to go forward when the situation allowed and Arsenal fans will long remember his rampaging break from the back to win a penalty in the 3-2 FA Cup comeback victory against Aston Villa in January. He has also developed the knack of scoring goals when his side needs them most, claiming the openers against both Fulham and Milan.

But Laurent's most telling attacking contribution came in the final game - and the final half - of the campaign. With Arsenal locked at 2-2 against West Bromwich Albion in a game they had to win to secure Champions League football, Laurent was in the right place at the right time to convert the winner. It seemed fitting that Arsenal’s most improved player of the season scored their most important goal.

It is not only Arsenal fans who have noticed the huge strides Laurent has made. France coach Laurent Blanc - no mean defender himself - handed the 26-year-old his first cap in November in Les Bleus' 1-0 victory against the USA, and he has been selected for the national team’s squad for Euro 2012.

Not bad for a man initially deemed not good enough for English football.



Tomas Rosicky is next on our list. The Czech midfielder is in third place with 4.79 per cent of the votes cast after coming on strong in the New Year.

Arsenal.com reporter Rob Kelly gives his verdict on the 31-year-old.

The 'resurrection of Rosicky' is one of the lasting memories of the 2011/12 season.

Previously known as ‘Little Mozart’ while at Borussia Dortmund, before this year the 31-year-old had not managed to replicate the form that had first earmarked him as one of Europe’s premier midfielders. A long-term injury that kept the Czech midfielder out of action for more than 18 months had seemingly taken too great a toll and he was perhaps not expected to be such a prominent member of the squad.

There were signs of Tomas' enduring class in Arsenal’s Champions League qualifying play-off second leg in Udinese but, despite that dynamic display, he struggled to force his way into the first team on a regular basis until the turn of the New Year.

An impressive performance in the 2-1 defeat to Manchester United saw the tide turn in the most spectacular of fashions.

Suddenly Tomas was handed his chance and he grabbed it with both hands, becoming the energetic, driving force of old as the Gunners embarked on a major upturn in form. If there were any lingering doubts, they were blown away with a stunning performance in the 5-2 North London derby victory over Tottenham in which Tomas bagged the crucial goal to put his side ahead.

Rosicky was reborn. “He rarely scores, but [his goal against Spurs] was so important,” Robin van Persie said. “He started the move himself and then finished it really well. Tomas is a hugely important member of this team - he has been playing so well this season and you can see that he’s going from strength to strength.”

The compliments from the rest of the Arsenal squad soon came flooding in, as Rosicky’s influence grew exponentially. “Tomas has been absolutely outstanding. I have a lot of Arsenal-supporting friends and everyone I have spoken to can't talk highly enough about how well he has been playing,” Carl Jenkinson said. “His change of pace and the way he turns with the ball shows he is a special talent. He has been outstanding, and long may it continue.”

The longer the season progressed, the more important Tomas became, and it came as no surprise when he was awarded a new contract. While he may be one of Arsenal’s elder statesmen, it was his high-energy performances that drove the team on during their seven-game winning run. “For me, it is fun to be with the young guys because they make me feel young as well!” he admitted.

There is every reason to believe this renewed, restored Rosicky will continue in the same vein next season. He has a theory that because he missed so long through injury, his ‘football age’ is just 29 and he has many more years left at the top level - a viewed shared by his manager.

That can only be good news for Arsenal fans who have been more than happy to welcome back the renaissance man.

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Alex Song finished in second place with 4.98 per cent of the votes cast after an impressive campaign for the Gunners.

Arsenal.com reporter Rob Kelly gives his verdict on the 24-year-old.

Was this the season that Alex Song developed into one of Europe’s elite midfielders? An eye-catching campaign littered with brilliant assists suggests that the Cameroon international can now rightfully take his place among the continent’s finest.

When Alex joined the Club in 2006 as a raw, if talented, teenager, he initially found it tough to demonstrate his first-team credentials. Indeed, his 14th appearance for Arsenal saw him taken off at half time against Fulham following a disheartening display that could easily have sapped his confidence.

But Arsène Wenger knew he had a rough diamond on his hands, and has been rewarded for his faith with the midfielder’s most accomplished campaign to date.

“I thought about that Fulham game recently," Wenger said in November. "It shows that players need to be given time and confidence. Unfortunately at the big clubs you cannot always do it. He is one of the players who surprised everybody. You wouldn’t expect what he delivers at the moment.”

Indeed. Over the years, Alex has been an essential anchor at the base of Arsenal’s midfield, providing defensive cover for a free-flowing side committed to attack. But this was the season in which he developed further, providing a threat going forward and demonstrating an impressive array of passing. “He has improved his technique of transmission,” Wenger said. “When he arrived here, the passing of his longer balls was not the best. But he has improved on that and now he can combine vision with technique.”

Robin van Persie was the chief beneficiary of Alex’s improved range of passing, the captain scoring a number of high-quality goals that stemmed from the boot of his team-mate. Few will forget Song’s sensational run and cross to set up Van Persie’s headed strike against Borussia Dortmund. Similarly, in the 125th anniversary match against Everton, it was the Cameroonian’s lofted ball that created room for the skipper to fire in a magnificent volley.

But it did not stop there. Alex was the architect of Thierry Henry’s fairytale return to the Club, threading through a superb pass for the French striker to score in his comeback game against Leeds. And when Arsenal visited Anfield in March, guess who dinked a brilliant pass over the Liverpool backline for Van Persie to volley home a last-minute winner?

“Sometimes you don't notice the stuff he does, the defensive side of the game, but he is always there cleaning up,” Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain said. “He has been bringing assists to the team as well. Some of the passes he has been putting in remind me technically of watching Fabregas put those balls through. For a holding midfielder to do that, as well as the defensive side of the game, is brilliant. You can't ask for anything more.”

With 14 assists to his name, 2011/12 is likely to be seen as Song’s break-out season, ensuring he can no longer be pigeon-holed as merely the team’s anchorman. For so long a quiet defensive shield, quelling attacks and doing the team’s dirty work with the minimum of fuss, suddenly his impact is louder than some of his haircuts.

Considering his prodigious rate of development, it seems likely he is only going to get louder.

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The captain enjoyed the first injury-free season of his Gunners career and emerged as the PFA and FWA Player of the Year.

Robin received a huge 77.7 per cent of the votes in our poll. Here, Arsenal.com reporter Rob Kelly gives his verdict on the dynamic Dutchman.

As a barometer of success, being described as a “great” by Dennis Bergkamp is a pretty good indicator of just how impressive you have been. But then Bergkamp is just one of a number of former and current Gunners who have felt moved to pay tribute to a regal Robin van Persie this season.

Andre Santos says his captain is on a level with Brazilian great Ronaldo, Ray Parlour believes he is “right up there with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as one of the best in the world”, while Theo Walcott claims he can emulate Thierry Henry and become a Club legend.

King Henry himself is in no doubt of the majesty of Van Persie. “What can I say about Robin?” he said. “I saw him come in here and at the very beginning he wasn't the easiest guy to deal with, like I wasn't I guess. But it's amazing to see how he has improved. I'm just in admiration. What he is doing now, in terms of not just goals but ratio of goals, apart from Ronaldo and Messi, is ridiculous.”

The stats tell their own story: 37 goals, 13 assists, PFA Player of the Year and FWA Footballer of the Year, winner of the Golden Boot and now the Arsenal fans’ Player of the Season. This truly was the year Robin became football royalty.

The signs had been there in the previous campaign when he finished strongly with 18 goals in his last 17 league games. But considering his previous injury problems, not many would have expected a campaign in which he played in every Premier League match and started 37 of the 38. It was to make all the difference as he etched his name in history.

Awarding Robin the captaincy last summer proved to be another Wenger masterstroke. “He took his role seriously on and off the pitch and I think it added something to his determination as well,” the manager said. “That is why maybe his commitment was even stronger - because he feels more responsibility. He grew into this role. The best way to be a captain for me is to be a fantastic player; that is the best way to get respect in your team. He did that remarkably well.”

Arsenal’s opening-day draw at Newcastle was the first Premier League away game in which he had failed to score during 2011, but Robin was soon among the goals, notching against Udinese and Manchester United before the month was out. His brace against Bolton four weeks later saw him become the 17th Arsenal player to reach 100 goals for the Club, and he went on to score seven times during October alone.

He proved that he could deliver when his side needed him most, too. Against Sunderland he stepped up to curl home a late free kick to snatch the points, while his hat trick against Chelsea showed the world - and his team - that they truly were back after a difficult start to the campaign. His repertoire of tricks continued to dazzle, a deft right-footed dink at Norwich and a firm header against Borussia Dortmund demonstrating he had more than just a wand of a left foot.

Always a man for the big occasion, Robin scored the Goal of the Season in December as the Club celebrated its 125th anniversary against Everton. Considering the build-up - the statues, the legends in attendance, the pre-match celebrations - it was always going to require something special to grab the limelight. Robin delivered with a magnificent volley on the run to spark joyous scenes inside Emirates Stadium.

His exceptional goalscoring exploits were the one constant as the team’s results dropped off over Christmas and January. And when the season seemed to hang in the balance during the North London derby in February, it was the captain who restored parity with the most wonderful of curling efforts.

In the Gunners’ next game, at Liverpool, their revival would be tested to the fore once again. Robin scored with a header to get his side back on level terms, and then once again proved his gift for the dramatic by volleying home an Alex Song pass in the final moments to snatch the points.

By this point, the goals - like the assists, like the awards - just kept on coming. And while a dry spell towards the end of a long, testing season was to be expected, he again stepped up when his side needed him, bagging an equaliser at Stoke and a brace against Norwich to help his side claim third place.

“Yes [he has exceeded my expectations], not on the quality of his games though because I expect a lot from him,” Wenger admitted. “It is purely football technically. The way it goes beyond my level of expectation is the number of goals he has scored. Where he is sensational as well is as a captain. He has done extremely well on and off the field.”

It has been the season of Robin’s life, the season in which he fulfilled his vast potential and assumed his position as one of the world’s greatest players. And what a pleasure it has been to watch.

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