Many have been somewhat amazed this season at the surge to prominence of one Samir Nasri, however for those of us who have watched him closely over the past two and a half years his form this season has come as no surprise.
After gaining widespread attention with Marseille at the age of 17 he had four successful seasons with l’Ohème where he became known as the ‘New Zizou’ due to both the playing style and Algerian origin he shared with one of France’s greatest footballing exports, before being snapped up by Arsène Wenger in the summer 2008 transfer window.
At the time there were plenty of Arsenal fans bemoaning the idea of buying another sub six foot attacking midfielder when the defence and centre of midfield were screaming out for strengthening. Even the price, at £12.5 million, seemed steep for someone as usually frugal as Wenger. Any doubts over the diminutive Frenchman quickly dissipated after his first two months at The Emirates. Scoring four minutes into his debut against West Brom in a 1-0 win on the first day of the 08/09 season was followed by a brace in the 2-1 win over Manchester United in November of that season, quickly establishing him as a fan favourite. He saw out the rest of the season with an impressive seven goals and five assists in his first campaign in English football.
Nasri got off to a bad start in his second year with Arsenal, having his leg broken by fellow Frenchman Abou Diaby in pre-season. Many claim it was because of this that Nasri was seen to have such a disappointing season stat wise, contributing only five goals and six assists in 34 appearances for The Gunners. The pick of his goals was Arsenal’s third in a 5-0 win over Porto in the last 16 round of the UEFA Champions League where he danced in from the wing, turning three Porto players inside out before slamming the ball in off the far post. The goal was later nominated for the FIFA Puskás Award for Goal of the Year.
Nasri had a blistering start to the 2010 season. 14 goals and three assists in just 30 appearances so far, with his goal tally for Arsenal doubled by only the start of December. Having seen their captain Cesc Fabregas and main striker Robin van Persie miss a large number of games already this season the burden of creating and providing fell squarely on Nasris shoulders and it was pressure he certainly did not shirk. Scoring hugely important goals in games against Tottenham, Birmingham City, Fulham and Partizan Belgrade, it at times seemed that Nasri was determined to singlehandedly drag Arsenal to the top of the Premier League and to advancement in all competitions.
After pulling up with a hamstring injury midway through the first half of their FA Cup tie with Huddersfield in January it was more than understandable that many Arsenal fans were very worried about the duration of the injury, especially with the unstoppable behemoth of Barcelona looming on the horizon. The Gooners worst fears were realised when it was confirmed that Nasri would be missing the first leg at The Emirates.
There are a number of things that can be attributed to Nasri’s huge improvement this year. The 2010/2011 season was the first time Nasri was available to participate in a full pre-season schedule with Arsenal. Two years previous, he only joined up with his new teammates half way through July so spent most of the month before the season started bedding in at a new club in an unfamiliar country. In 2009 he missed the second half of pre-season with the broken leg suffered in training. However being one of the first players to return to the club in the summer and getting a full pre-season under his belt this year has clearly stood the Frenchman in good stead as he looked sharp and determined right from the outset.
That same determination could be fallout from his exclusion from the French World Cup squad that participated in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Having had a bust up already with his then Arsenal teammate William Gallas he was omitted from Les Bleus 23 man party. However, in the long term, this may turn out better for Nasri as with the turmoil and controversy that surrounded the circus that was Frances feeble attempt at the Jules Rimet, there were few players who came out of the tournament looking better than when they went in. Interestingly the same could be said of Nasri’s Arsenal teammate Theo Walcott, who was left out of England’s World Cup campaign which ended in disappointment and controversy. The winger is now reaping the benefits of it as, like Nasri, he is enjoying his best season yet in Arsenal colours.
If Nasri can return from his injury and play as well as he was beforehand, then there is no reason why Arsenal can’t compete for more trophies than the Carling Cup where they already have a place booked in the final. With only 18 months left on his contract, getting him to put pen to paper on a long term deal in the summer will be a number one priority for all those involved at Arsenal.