Samir Nasri: the making of an Arsenal great
Midfielder’s brilliance is putting injury-prone Cesc Fabregas in the shade
It took Samir Nasri just 224 seconds to score his first goal for Arsenal on his full debut for the club. That was against West Bromwich Albion in August 2008, a goal with which Nasri flattered to deceive.
There was never any question the 23-year-old midfielder had the talent, but in his first two seasons at the Emirates he had a tendency to drift in and out of games. And when opposition sides talked of Arsenal's physical fragility it wasn't hard to guess who they had in mind: at 5ft 9in, Nasri isn't what one would call a midfield enforcer in the mould of Patrick Vieira, another Frenchman who was idolised by the Arsenal faithful.
Nasri's gifts are pace and precision, not power, but this season he has added consistency to his game. Nasri no longer drifts in games, he directs, and his form throughout the first half of the season has been a revelation. Voted PFA Fans' Player of the Month for October, Nasri's strike against Manchester City was also nominated goal of that month by Arsenal fans, and he's won man of the match awards in the games against West Bromwich Albion, Spurs, Aston Villa and now Fulham.
His two goals against Fulham, a 2-1 victory that took Arsenal to the top of the Premier League, were brilliant with the second in particular the work of a football genius, an intoxicating mix of speed, touch, vision and balance. It was Nasri's eleventh goal of the season and his eighth in the Premier League.
Only Dimitar Berbatov of Manchester United (11), Manchester City's Carlos Tevez (10) and Andy Carroll of Newcastle (9) have scored more, but they're all forwards whose principal job is to put the ball in the back of net. That is just one of Nasri's tasks, but one he is doing with aplomb this season.
After Nasri had inspired his side to a 3-0 defeat of Manchester City in October, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger spoke of his compatriot in glowing terms, saying: "He is quite a complete player because he can run with the ball, he is quick and he is a clinical finisher now. I believe we have a great player in him now."
Wenger's assessment was clearly seen by new France coach Laurent Blanc, who selected Nasri in his starting line-up for the friendly against England at Wembley last month. Nasri had been left out of the French squad that went to South Africa under Blanc’s predecessor Raymond Domenech, but against the English he repaid his coach’s faith with a wonderful performance that eased France to a 2-1 victory. Blanc said that Nasri, along with Franck Ribery and Florent Malouda, are "are maybe in the process of becoming great players. We have to be patient, we have to help them to blossom".
Nasri is blossming all right with Arsenal this season, so much so that he is arguably more important now to the Gunners than Cesc Fabregas, who Wenger fought so hard to keep at the club as Barcelona tried to tempt him back to Spain in the summer. With Fabregas showing worrying signs of being injury-prone it might be that Wenger does decide to let his captain return to Spain next year, confident that in Nasri he has the player around which he can build a title-winning team.
About yesterday's glorious second goal, Wenger said: "It was a combination of touch, intelligence, special talent and calmness as well. He needed to be patient to finish on both occasions and he did that very well. Many people questioned me when I took him here but he is showing that he is an exceptional talent and I think there is more to come from him." ·
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