Arsenal have reached the halfway point of their Premier League season. It goes without saying that the Gunners have exceeded even the loftiest of expectations that could have been set for them coming into the campaign. We decided to take a look back
- MVP — Gabriel Magalhaes. Even though my answers are listed first, I have the benefit of writing last, so I’ve seen who everyone else has named and can zig where they have all zagged. The Gunners have the second-best Goals Against and the best Expected Goals Against in the Premier League. Some of that credit has to fall to the defense. William Saliba has been the flashy, exciting new toy this season. Gabriel is ‘ole reliable, a steady Eddie who anchors the defense, is a leader at the back, and players with emotion. He’s just a really solid player, man. His distribution is wildly underrated and a significant part of Arsenal’s ability to play the way they do. He’s continuing to cut down his “bozo moments” and mistakes. He played several matches with four yellow cards under threat of a one-match suspension for a fifth and avoided getting cautioned.
- Most Improved Player — Martin Ødegaard. Last season, Ødegaard scored seven goals and added four assists in 36 Premier League appearances. This year, he has eight goals and five assists in half as many (18) PL matches. On pace to more than double your scoring output from the previous year is a massive improvement. That’s just on the stats-sheet. Last season, it felt as if Ødegaard was just a part of the Arsenal attacking setup. This year, he’s a featured piece and star player. His creativity, ball progression / retention, and pressing without the ball is one of the Gunners’ primary engines alongside Thomas Partey. And Ødegaard took up the captaincy this year. No big deal.
- Most Disappointing Player — Albert Sambi Lokonga. It’s difficult to pick out a disappointment in a half-season so great. Players have developed and raised their level, the team play his blossomed into a cohesive vision, but Sambi has been mostly left behind. For whatever reason, he is basically the same player he was last season. The flashes of talent haven’t developed into more consistent, solid play. Some of that might be due to limited playing time, but he hasn’t done with the chances he’s had to earn additional opportunities.
- Player / Thing to watch for in the 2nd half of the season — Unexpected contributions. Arsenal have already gotten way more than you reasonably could have expected from Eddie Nketiah in his stint deputizing for Gabriel Jesus. To hold off Manchester City, they’ll need that to continue. And then some. The Gunners are going to need players like Leandro Trossard, Fabio Vieira, and on down the line to chip in with goal contributions and important minutes to help pick up points down the stretch.
- MVP — It’s a toss up between Martin Ødegaard and Bukayo Saka, but because I imagine my esteemed colleagues are going to choose one of those two, I’m going to go with Oleksandr Zinchenko. I think Zinchenko is what enables Arsenal to play as we’ve seen this side of the World Cup break: that strangling, cobra snake style where the ball just keeps coming back at you. He’s Arsenal’s deep playmaker, and teams so far haven’t been able to live with him, because he reads the game so intelligently and exists to pick the ball up in open space.
- Most Improved Player — William Saliba. A year ago we had no idea if Saliba could do this. Even in the summer, I thought Saliba would battle for a starting role with Ben White and Gabriel. But it’s Saliba that’s allowed everything to come together: he’s allowed White to be the right back, he’s allowed Gabriel to patrol the left side, and he’s enabled Arsenal to play further up the pitch.
- Most Disappointing Player — Nothing against him, but Kieran Tierney’s time at Arsenal just seems to be coming to an end. He’s tried doing the Zinchenko things, coming into central midfield spaces, but the angle of the passes he makes are different. He can’t do Zinchenko things; that’s nothing against him, but he’s gone from the starting left back to battling it out with Tomiyasu to be the backup. He’ll go in the summer, I think.
- Player / Thing to watch for in the 2nd half of the season — Does Saka have another level? Every time we’ve seen Bukayo Saka go up a level, defenses have reacted. He now gets double teamed. That doesn’t matter. But what we saw against Manchester United was a player confident to shoot from distance. If he has that in his game now, we’re looking at even ANOTHER level for Saka—and another thing for defenses to worry about. If that happens...well, they’ll need to commit more bodies, which opens up more space for others.
- MVP — I’m going to roll with Martin Ødegaard, the Norwegian who was recently confirmed as captain of the club is sitting at 8 goals and 6 assists at the moment with 19 matches left to play. For seasons, we’ve been begging for goals from the midfield and it finally feels like we have that. Martin is Arteta’s right hand man and general on the field, he leads with his direction and pressing on the defensive side of the ball first, assuring we are a cohesive unit. Well done, Captain.
- Most Improved Player — Either Ben White or William Saliba. Benny Blanco wasn’t bad last year either, but his game has certainly evaluated with the move to RB and he’s been a Rolls Royce defender since matchday 1. I’m going to choose Big Willy because we had zero clue he would be this dominant in his first season in the Premier League. We knew there was potential, but you’re a liar and revisionist if you thought he was going to be this freaking good through 19 matches with minimal errors and starting every single match. He has single handily made Tomiyasu a bench player after his strong debut last year. Get this contract extension done asap, Edu!
- Most Disappointing Player — Sambi Lokonga for me, we’re in the market for Partey cover for a reason. Sambi has not shown in cup or Europa matches that he’s ready to contribute at this level. I’m hoping Burnley get promoted so Kompany can take him off our hands as he personally recommended him to Arteta and Co. We’ve brought in Trossard and Kiwior, I’d really like to see a CM in this window and Rice in the summer.
- Player / Thing to watch for in the 2nd half of the season — Zinchenko and Jesus’ health - we need Oleksandr Zinchenko in every match he is available to play. The man is a serial winner and an absolute baller that can’t be game planned for, with his latest dominant display against ten Hag’s men being wonderful. We weathered his injury streak in the first half of the season with Jesus in the lineup and now we’re doing the opposite. It is better to have both your marquee summer signings available for 30+ matches together, but it is even more vital to have at least one in every match. Right now, its Zinc that we need to drive us forward through the winter months with Gabriel Jesus on the mend.
- MVP — While I think Bukayo Saka and Martin Ødegaard are deserved recommendations, it’s Eddie Nketiah for me. When Gabriel Jesus was injured during the World Cup break, the question became how much might Arsenal fall off their pace without him. Nketiah has met and surpassed expectations. He has six goals from six matches since taking over the starting role and now leads Arsenal in goals (9). The Gunners have yet to lose with Eddie starting and he has nearly matched his total for last season (10), despite being just halfway through this year.
- Most Improved Player — While Eddie could land here, or Martinelli’s uptick over last season, it’s definitely William Saliba. Going from a continual loanee to France to stepping into the Premier League with ease, at times looking like Arsenal’s best center back, and making France’s World Cup squad. For a long time, it looked like Saliba might never factor into the Arsenal first-team, now the hope is he signs a new long-term contract.
- Most Disappointing Player — It’s either Kieran Tierney or Takehiro Tomiyasu. Both have lost their place in the starting XI this season, but for much of the year when they have played have not seemingly brought their best or lived up to Oleksandr Zinchenko or Ben White. It’s not that they’ve played badly, it’s that the majority of the squad is having a great year, and thus putting in a significant number of average performances lands a player in consideration for this category.
- Player / Thing to watch for in the 2nd half of the season — Injuries. If Arsenal can stay healthy they can win the Premier League. They are talented enough and all working together on another level. But two or three key injuries could rock this team. Nketiah has stepped in well for Jesus, but it’s unrealistic to think that the backups can do that if a few key players (Saka, Ødegaard, Ramsdale, Partey, etc.) go down.
- MVP — Martin Ødegaard. In a season where everyone has more or less played lights out, it’s the captain that has been the difference maker. He is not only Arsenal’s player of the season so far, he is making a case for the Premier League POTY as well - he is just that good. He pulls the strings better than anyone since our last midfielder with the initials MO, and brings a zen-like calmness to a young, brash side.
- Most Improved Player — Granit Xhaka. It can’t be anyone else, can it? I can’t remember an Arsenal player having such a profoundly successful redemption arc. Long gone are the lunkheaded decisions and rash challenges. Credit goes to Arteta for putting him in a more advanced position, where he has flourished. His fire has been channeled into being the vocal emotional leader for the squad, the yin to Ødegaard’s yang
- Most Disappointing Player — Albert Sambi Lokonga. I hate to think that anyone has been truly disappointing this campaign, but Sambi has just been wholly underwhelming. Granted, he hasn’t been given next to any appreciable playing time, but he hasn’t shown anything in his rare cameos that indicates that he’s close to turning a corner. I think a loan next season would do him well.
- Player / Thing to watch for in the 2nd half of the season — Eddie Nketiah. Eddie found himself thrust into the limelight when Gabriel Jesus had to undergo surgery in December, and he has absolutely embraced the chance to lead the line. Much like his run at the end of last season, he is defying doubters and reminding us why Arteta was so keen to extend him. After showing he is capable of the pressure of being THE guy in big games, I cannot wait to see how he grows from the success he found in January.
I figure y’all will give your candidates for the awards in the comments anyways without prompting. But just in case, you’ve been prompted. Please share the Gunners to whom you’d give the awards.