I had intended to write this nice, light piece yesterday afternoon with the season having come to a close and everything wrapping up with a nice bow on top, post-FA Cup finals win, but when news of Willian’s impending 3+1 deal hit, I was more than a bit distracted.
However, while that deal is likely to come to fruition, and we will have three years to talk about it if it does, I think we can still go back and assign a few “End of Season Awards,” now that Arsenal have completed all their matches in all competitions.
Player of the Year: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
For a good part of the year, it was a tight race between Aubameyang and Bernd Leno for player of the year. Leno was doing everything he could to keep a barrage of shots out of the net every match while Aubameyang was finishing off goals with exceptional efficiency. In the scope of Arsenal’s disappointing Premier League campaign, these two were beacons of light that were doing their best to carry the team through tough times.
However, after scoring two goals in the semifinals of the FA Cup and two goals in the FA Cup finals to bring the award home, any doubt a person may have about who the POTY was, should have been removed. Fantastic year from Leno, but Aubameyang edges it out.
Aubameyang made 44 appearances across all competitions and netted 29 goals while adding 3 assists. He is an outright, pure goal scorer that preys on moments of mental lapse to use his pace to get in behind defenders. On top of being Arsenal’s savior in the attack he became the leading captain, very much in his own unorthodox way, and added a defensive element to his game in support of Arteta’s emphasis on aggression, pressure, and tactics to support the porous defense.
If Arsenal can find a way to hold onto Aubameyang, which I am a bit more confident of after this FA Cup win, they will have afforded themselves some leniency in the chance creation department knowing Aubameyang can make up for low quantities with high quality.
Most Improved Player: Mustafi
There were a couple ways a person could run with this award in my mind. Take one of the youth players that made impactful strides or take a player like Xhaka and Mustafi who struggled early in the year and turned things around. In the end, I went with option two and difference maker for me came from the fact that Xhaka had always been someone who Arsenal turned to in their midfield. In contrast, Mustafi is a player that that had two feet, a body, and head out the door with fans and staff carrying his belongings for him to help him out of the club before making a complete turnaround.
I still have worries over the sustainability of this form, especially after he returns from his recent injury in October, because Mustafi is the type of player that thrives off his own confidence and form. It seems as though the moment that confidence falters, Mustafi’s decision making falters with it, and Mustafi is prone to making a “Mustafi”. However, despite that concern, the improvement he has made next Luiz and under Arteta’s guidance is astounding. From being a player we hoped would be taken off our hands to one that we could only be content letting go for a handsome fee, is testament to the stable quality he brought in the second half of the season. For those efforts and that valiant improvement, he is my Most Improved.
Most Surprising Player: Bukayo Saka
What to say about this boy? Coming into the year, it was clear that he would be someone that stayed within the squad, maybe made a few appearances in the midfield and gave Arenal something to think about when they considered his future. What makes him the Most Surprising, was his ability to come into the side in a foreign position, learn it at an incredible rate, and not only stay afloat at the position but produce the astounding results and contributions from that new position that he did. Bukayo Saka had many people very convinced that Arsenal should leave him at left back even once new-signing Kieran Tierney returned.
Making 39 appearances this year across all competitions and tallying 4 goals and 11 assists, Saka was a surprise revelation that left Arsenal fans with real fears that Arsenal wouldn’t extend his contract and have another Gnabry on their hands. Not only did Saka command the left back position win Tierney’s absence, he made appearances at just about every other position aside from goal keeper and left his mark. Left back, left wing, left wingback, center midfielder, and right wing was asked of him as he tallied over 2700 minutes on the year. According to Transfermarkt, Saka’s market value sky rocketed from £7.7m to over £38m as he established himself as one of Arsenal’s most valuable young players.
Others were up for this as well including Gabriel Martinelli and Emi Martinez, but given Saka’s nearly complete season of impressive displays and versatility, he was my surprise players of the season.
Best Signing: Kieran Tierney
Selecting Tierney as the best signing this year wasn’t as simple as it may seem, although I contend he is the right selection. Tierney had, in his own words, “the toughest year” of his life. Coming to Arsenal in the middle of rehabbing from an injury, recovering, and then suffering another shoulder injury causing him to miss 32 games between the two injuries from September 2019 to March 2020, is an argument against why he wasn’t Arsenal’s best signing. After all, Pepe played a complete year and neared 20 goal involvements which isn’t the worst first campaign the Premier League has seen.
However, it was the quality in play and person that Tierney displayed in everything he did that won himself this award and the hearts of Arenal fans. He is humble yet hungry, calm yet passionate, shy yet plays with a fire that Arsenal have often missed. He never misses the opportunity to clatter into a tackle and is first on the scene to defend a teammate. There is a reason that Arsenal supporters and legends like Ian Wright believe it is only a matter of time before Tierney sports the captain armband for the club.
Despite 1 goal and 4 assists in his ability to excel on both sides of the ball put him in a great place. Picking and choosing when to get up into the attack and overlap or when to stay home and defend isn’t a easy as it sounds, yet he does it perfectly. He is always inthe right spot and capable of shutting down the best defenders – just as Adama Traore, Riyad Mahrez, and Salah who all had quiet days up against Tierney. While his success may always be contingent on staying healthy for the season, his £25m price tag makes him feel like an absolute steal and the signing of the year.
Most disappointing: Lucas Torreira
Selecting this award is never a fun task, but this year felt a bit obvious. While there may be many contributing factors — being played out of position by Emery, injury, inconsistent messaging on his role — seeing Lucas Torreira decline from a player that many wanted to see every game in the midfield last year, to one that we might not mind seeing sold in the search for funds was tough.
He managed to have register the most amount of interceptions in the team, which truly is credit to his ability to read the game and his work rate to cut out passes, but the inconsistency and lack of production caused him to fail the eye test on many occasions. Even under Arteta, someone who helped countless players see a boost in form, including his defensive midfield partner Xhaka, Torreira couldn’t reestablish himself as a productive part in the midfield. While some of these struggles may have to do with his injury recovery, the year as a whole felt underwhelming as he settled into a backup role to Xhaka and Dani Ceballos.
If a decent offer comes their way, you have to imagine Arsenal will look to move on from Torreira, who already has suggested in the past he has a distaste for life in London. This summer may be the best time to go our separate ways. If not, hopefully he can recover from his injury and provide a defensive-minded option off the bench for next season.
Goal of the season: Martinelli vs. Chelsea
There are a handful of goals that should be strongly considered for this award and two that by all accounts are on par but disqualified by the result in which they occurred. The five goals I considered:
- Gabriel Martinelli’s goal against Chelsea (2-2 draw)
- Bellerin’s goal against Chelsea (2-2 draw)
- Lacazette goal against Tottenham (2-1 loss)
- Joe Willock goal against Liverpool (5-5 loss in pens.)
- Aubameyang goal against Chelsea (2-1 win in FA Cup final)
It wasn’t an easy choice and there are likely a few I am forgetting about, but these five immediately jump to mind when I read the prompt.
Lacazette’s smash against Spurs would probably be my winner had Arsenal managed to win that match. Joe Willock picking up the ball in midfield, turning, running at the backline and smashing it into the top corner was another great contender, had Arsenal not lost in penalties. Bellerin’s game-tying goal may not have been as good as the previous two but shifting onto his left foot and tying up the match late at Stamford Bridge was certainly a great feeling. Aubameyang’s game winning goal this last weekend to bring the cup home had a perfect blend of meaningful significance and grace. The way he skates past Zouma and chips it up and over Cabellero with such ease is something I have now watched nearly fifty times over.
However, in the end, I gave it to the full-field sprint from 18-year-old Gabriel Martinelli that spurred on 10-man Arsenal, away from home, and helped lead to a draw against Chelsea. Call it luck or fortune, put down as a goal that wouldn’t happen nine of ten times, say whatever you want – it only adds to what makes it special. The fact that Martinelli was nearly subbed off the moment Arsenal went down to 10 players, was left on by Arteta who didn’t want to see his team stuck defending. The 80+ meter sprint with the ball. The dramatic slip from Kante and attempt to reach out a hand and bring down Gabi. The cool, calm, and collected finish from the young Brazilian. The fans going wild in enemy territory. And the result that was gained on the day that helped cement the team chemistry and bring home Arteta’s message of putting in the work and suffering together can lead to results makes this my goal of the year.
Best young player: Gabriel Martinelli
It’s a tight race between Gabriel Martinelli at 18, now 19, years of age and Bukayo Saka who is still 18 for another month. Since I already gave an award up above to Saka, it only feels right to share the love and talk a bit about Martinelli. I was fortunate enough to travel and watch some of Arsenal’s preseason tour in the United States of America where I saw a kid bring energy, workrate, intelligence, and quality to the side for every second he was on the field. I remember thinking about how he was a one to keep an eye on for the future, but I never guessed “the future” was a few weeks away.
This year Martinelli gave fans plenty to be excited about. His ability to go, go, go on both ends of the ball, while bringing a very mature level of situational IQ stands out immediately. Whether it’s a run to get into space or a sharp cut mixed with hungry determination to get on the end of a ball into the box, Martinelli plays well beyond his years.
With 26 appearances, 10 goals, and 4 assists Martinelli has established himself as someone that can produce in the final third with relative consistency. On top of that, he was asked to make quite a few appearances on the left wing when his natural position, and the position in which many of his goals came from, is the central role. Having his season cut short with a knee injury was tough for fans and made tougher with the diagnosis that hey may not return until January, but there is plenty of reason to believe that this hard working kid is going to make the second half of next season count. Looking forward to it.
There are plenty of other options to select for these awards and I would love to hear your thoughts! In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed the read, and it gave you a brief moment to get away from the seriousness of Arsenal’s transfer window. I will call it a day and write soon!