Arsenal: Top 5 contenders for Player of the Season award

Arsenal, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Arsenal, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images) /
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Arsenal, Bukayo Saka
Arsenal, Bukayo Saka (Photo by GARETH FULLER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images) /

4. Bukayo Saka

Nominated as one of Arsenal’s Player of the Season contenders, some might say he deserved a shout here too. And with 4 goals and 11 assists on the season, it’s hard to count him out. But there are a few reasons why I haven’t included him in the running.

First off, let me say that I really love Bukayo Saka. To hear me talk and write, he’s the future of the club, the England National Team, and a future Ballon d’Or contender. A reach? Maybe. Still, I stand by it.

And up until the restart, he was a consistent, often standout performer. But in the latter portions of the season, especially after our back-to-back wins against City and Liverpool, Saka couldn’t catch a minute of playing time, let alone a full 90.

And when he did, he often looked a bit lost, which does make some sense considering his lack of consistent time in one position. Still, it’s not to his credit. Furthermore, Arteta consistently trusted Joe Willock, Reiss Nelson, and even Eddie Nketiah ahead of him. He just never found a groove.

Furthermore, he has the same number of goal contributions in the Premier and Europa Leagues, which on the surface is fantastic, until you realize he played over three times the minutes in the Premier League. Yes, a lot of those minutes were at an unfamiliar left-back role, but it’s still a serious difference.

Saka is the archetypal amazing youth prospect—trustworthy and talented, a key cog in the machine of non-league competition, and an impactful participant in the league when need be. And for that reason, he only makes fourth on this list. Because he has so much more to give and didn’t actually top out this season. Which if you think about it, is a good thing.

On to number three, and the player who replaces Saka in this ranking.

Arsenal (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)
Arsenal (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images) /

3. Nicolas Pepe

It’s not about the money, and it never will be. Nicolas Pepe is the real deal, and contrary to popular belief, he actually proved it.

It was never going to be easy to overcome the pressure of a £75 million transfer, especially coming off the back of a 23 goal, 12 assist season for LOSC Lille. And despite a rather torrid start, I’d wager Pepe has done that, and in more ways than one.

With 8 goals and 10 assists on the season—the second largest number of goal contributions in the squad—he’s really been quite good. And of those 18 goal contributions, 10 either saved points or won the game for the Gunners. He shows up where it matters, and that couldn’t be more important.

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His two free kicks against Vitoria spring to mind—talk about moments of magic—but he scored and assisted game-winners against 5 different league opponents, including Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea. That’s some seriously impressive work for a supposed flop. And it’s not all.

He also led the team in chances created, key passes, and successful dribbles, despite playing a hair over 2000 minutes, which places him as the sixth most in the squad. And while that’s impressive on the surface, it’s some of the intangibles that have really impressed me about Pepe this season.

The Ivorian has improved greatly as a Premier League footballer. He was always a talented dribbler with a very good left and dazzling skills, but when he signed, that was the extent of his abilities. He tended to drift around the top of the pitch, frustrating himself and his teammates with his lack of defensive work. No more.

Since Mikel Arteta took over, and especially since the restart, Pepe has been a defensive monster. Whether he’s haring around the right flank, disrupting play and intercepting the ball, or just bogging down passing lanes and frustrating opposition fullbacks with his dogged persistence, he’s made the difference in a number of key moments.

His willingness to improve, adapt, and grow into the English game are what really push him above Bukayo Saka in this ranking. He may not steal the headlines, but he’s quietly been scooping out a long-term place in this Arsenal rebuild. I, for one, am very excited about Pepe’s next season in the red-and-white.

On to number 2, which encompasses a decision too tough for me to handle.