Saka the star, Xhaka mixed as Nelson flops – Arsenal player ratings for season so far

A mixed bag has probably been the best way to describe Arsenal’s season so far.

The Gunners currently sit ninth in the Premier League with 29 games played. If you’d offered most fans this at the start of the season they would almost definitely have been disappointed.

But given that Mikel Arteta’s side were 15th at Christmas and in genuine relegation trouble, most would actually be slightly more happy with their current league position.

Since a 3-1 victory over Chelsea on Boxing day Arsenal have more or less entirely turned their form around, and were it not for a host of individual errors they would likely be pushing for a top six or even a top four spot.

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However, that combined with their slow start to the campaign means that winning the Europa League is probably their best bet if they want to be playing European football next season.

A favourable draw against Slavia Prague in the quarter finals of the competition looks to have made that more likely, before a potential reunion with Unai Emery against Villareal up for grabs in the semis.

But with the season having paused for a little while for the international break now seems like the ideal time to start to look at how the Arsenal players have been getting on this season as rates the Gunners’ squad’s individual campaigns so far.


Bernd Leno: For much of Arsenal’s awful run in November and December Bernd Leno was one of Arsenal’s most consistent performers. Without him there’s a high chance that things could easily have gotten even worse in that time.

His penalty save in the dying moments of the victory against Chelsea will also probably go down as one of the sliding doors moments of this season and perhaps Mikel Arteta’s managerial career.

Recently though a string of errors when playing out from the back – with ones against Burnley and Olympiacos standing out in particular – combined with a moment of madness that saw him sent off against Wolves have seen many start to question whether Arsenal made the right decision in keeping him and letting Emi Martinez go.

That debate is somewhat pointless as what has happened cannot be changed and it’s not exactly as if Leno is miles worse than his former back up. Sure Martinez has done well at Aston Villa, but there have been moments where the Argentine has made errors too.

A few mistakes should not cloud how important Leno has been this season and he deserves a high rating because of that. 7.

Bernd Leno is shown the red card against Wolverhampton Wanderers (Image: David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

Mat Ryan: If points were given for the most secretive transfer Arsenal have made this season then Mat Ryan would surely be the best rated player on this list.

The Australian ‘keeper caught everyone by surprise when it was announced that he was joining the Gunners on loan from Brighton for the remainder of the season in January.

It’s quite difficult to judge him given the fact that he’s only played one game since then, but if the club can convince him to stay they seem to have a solid enough number 2 for Leno. n/a.

Runar Alex Runarsson: Mikel Arteta has only been in management for just over a year so he hasn’t had to much time to make too many signings. Not matter how long his career lasts though he’ll have to go some way to manage one worse than Runar Alex Runarsson.

It feels harsh to go in too hard on the Iceland international who clearly isn’t good enough to play at this level. It’s not exactly his fault that Arsenal signed him.

But with errors against Dundalk, Rapid Vienna and Manchester City in particular it quickly became apparent that this was a deal the Gunners would have to write off almost immediately.

Runarsson was left out of the Europa League squad for the second half of the season, and it would be amazing if he’s still at the club by the time the next campaign begins. 4.


Hector Bellerin: It’s difficult to understand quite why Hector Bellerin attracts so much stick from the Arsenal fan base. He’s a decent enough right back who only returned from a serious ACL injury at the start of last season.

He started this campaign in good form as well registering four assists in his opening nine appearances and receiving his first Spain call up in four years.

Since then though his form has dipped slightly and the recent performances of Cedric and Calum Chambers in the position have shone a bad light on his attacking output.

The downturn hasn’t been anywhere near as bad as some people have been suggesting, but after a decade with the Gunners it might not be the worst thing for the 26-year-old if he does end up moving on come the end of the season. 6.

Cedric: When Cedric arrived last January, most people were quick to turn their noses up at the decision to sign a player who was injured and had been struggling to make the Southampton first team.

However, after waiting patiently for his chance this season the Portguese international has gone about proving his doubters wrong.

Impressive displays in the Europa League group stages and in recent victories over Leicester and Spurs have led many to argue that he should now be first choice at right back.

Regardless of whether that ends up happening or not, Cedric has established himself as an important member of the Arsenal squad for seasons to come. 6.

Calum Chambers: There may be a degree of recency bias with this one given his excellent display against West Ham on Sunday, but Calum Chambers has done well when given limited opportunities this season.

As he makes his way back from nearly a year out with an ACL injury, the England international has found game time in his preferred central defensive position hard to come by.

Instead though he has excelled in games against Burnley and the aforementioned West Ham to put himself firmly in the conversation over who Arsenal’s first choice right back should be.

Versatile, dependable and professional Chambers has shown himself to be an excellent squad player who Mikel Arteta should be looking to hold on to. 6.

Rob Holding: There is a strong argument to be made that Rob Holding has been Arsenal’s best central defender this season.

The 25-year-old seemed to be out the door in September when Newcastle were closely linked to his signature.

But since then he has grasped his chance to be a key defender in the Gunners back line and was rewarded with a contract extension in January.

Strong in the air, good on the ball, an excellent leader and comfortable in either a three or a four, Holding has finally been given a chance to show what he can offer Arsenal on a consistent basis after a string of injuries.

Since he sustaining a concussion against Manchester City he has been unfortunate to lose his place in the starting line up to David Luiz, but after the international break he’ll be hoping to get it back. 7.

Rob Holding and Pablo Mari will be part of Mikel Arteta’s plans for Arsenal’s defensive future. (Photo by David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

David Luiz: This season like pretty much every other season in David Luiz’s career has followed something of a repetitive cycle.

The Brazilian is excellent at the back for a run of games making you wonder whether he should be a regular starter, before an individual error comes along and reminds you why he has his less than exemplary defensive reputation to begin with.

Luiz has been fine for much of the season and is clearly an influential leader within Arsenal’s young dressing room.

But with Holding’s good form and younger right sided centre backs like William Saliba and Dinos Mavropanos set to come back from loan, the 33-year-old hasn’t really done enough to suggest his contract should be extended at the end of the campaign. 6.

Gabriel: The Brazilian started the season with three player of the month awards in a row and stood out as one of Arsenal’s best players during the tough run of November and December.

He was excellent on the ball, aggressive in the tackle and strong in the air as the Gunners appeared to have gotten themselves a steal by signing him for just £23.5m.

But then a red card against Southampton and a positive COVID diagnosis over Christmas saw him lose his place in the line up and a degree of confidence.

Then followed a few rash performances including one in the FA Cup defeat to Southampton where the 23-year-old looked to have lost his mojo.

But recently with a vital header against Olympiacos and an outstanding goal line clearance in the dying moments of the North London Derby Gabriel appears once again to be back to his excellent best. 8.

Pablo Mari: Not much was really known about Pablo Mari going into the start of this season.

The Spaniard had played just twice for Arsenal after signing in January before COVID brought the entire footballing world to a halt. A serious ankle ligament injury sustained in the first game back after project restart then meant that he was no seen again until the end of the year.

Since his return though Mari has shown himself to be the calm presence on the back that the Gunners have needed for some time.

He has looked calm on the ball and assured in the air, while not afraid to make a tackle where required.

When exposed up against pacey attackers Mari has tended to struggle, but with a series of strong displays he has ensured that their is fierce competition in the Arsenal squad for the left sided central defensive birth. 7.

Kieran Tierney: It is very rare that a left back is a team’s most important attacking player, but so good has Kieran Tierney been this season it’s hard to say argue anything else.

The Scottish international has created more chances from open play than anyone else in the Arsenal squad and has been a key offensive force while others around him have struggled this season.

His injury in January and early February was keenly felt as the Gunners lacked the left-sided threat upon which much of their attack has been built on this season.

Tierney has generally been quite defensively solid too and is a huge hit with the fans due to his old-school attitude and approach to the game.

Keeping him fit for the remainder of the season will be key if Arsenal are to have any chance of winning the Europa League. 9.

Arsenal starlet Kieran Tierney. (Image: Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images).

Sead Kolasinac: Players who left the club on loan have been included on this list so that explains why Sead Kolasinac’s name pops up here.

The Bosnian hardly played before returning to Schalke on loan in January due to the excellence of Tierney and his own below par form towards the end of last season.

If Die Koenigsblauen are relegated this season his move there may not become permanent, but it is almost certain that Kolasinac will move on somewhere else at the end of this campaign.


Ainsley Maitland-Niles: Ainsley Maitland-Niles played almost exclusively as a defender for Arsenal this season before his loan move to West Brom in January, but seeing as he is so desperate to be a central midfielder that is where he has been included on this list.

It was a great start to the campaign for the the 23-year-old who chose not to leave in the summer after starring in the FA Cup and Community Shield triumphs and saw his performances at left wing back rewarded with an England call up.

However, he found himself out of the team again reduced to playing matches largely in the Europa League and almost exclusively as a full back of some sorts.

Central midfield though is where he views himself in the long-term and that was the reason he chose to join relegation-bound West Brom for the remainder of the season even though Southampton – who wanted him as a full back – seemed to be the more sensible move.

He has done OK in his time at the Hawthorns in the middle of the park, but his performances have been nowhere near the standard required to convince Mikel Arteta that’s where he should be playing for Arsenal.

It’s a shame because there is probably a long-term sport for Maitland-Niles at full back if he wants it, but with his desire to play centrally seemingly unwavering, it looks as though he will leave North London at the end of this season. 5.

Dani Ceballos: After impressing towards the end of his initial loan spell with Arsenal last season, many were happy to see Dani Ceballos sign on for another season.

An assist in his first start of the campaign against West Ham seemed to suggest that bringing him back would be a master stroke from Mikel Arteta.

Since then though he has registered just one more in 30 appearances,

The Spaniard is a fine player on his day, but those days are too few and far between to suggest that the Gunners should spend a decent amount of money in order to make his move from Real Madrid permanent.

Recent errors in Europa League matches against Benfica and Olympiacos have also proved costly and there is little to suggest Ceballos will be a regular starter once everyone in the squad is fully fit. 5.

Mohamed Elneny: Most people thought Elneny’s time at the club was over when he returned from his loan spell at Besiktas at the beginning of the season.

But excellent displays against Liverpool, Fulham and in particular Manchester United saw the Egyptian earn plenty of playing time at the start of the season.

His form dipped somewhat around the end of November and early December, and his conservatism in possession means he is not the answer going forward in central midfield for Arsenal.

That said though he is a popular member of the squad and a positive influence around the training ground who admitted that if he is offered another contract then he will gladly extend his stay in North London.

His knack for scoring long-range belters in European competition has seen his cult status grow as well, with a recent strike against Olympiacos proving particularly crucial. 6.

Thomas Partey: The excitement among the Arsenal fan base around the deadline day signing of Thomas Partey has sadly been only matched by frustration over the lack of opportunities they’ve had to actually see him.

A thigh strain on just his fifth Gunners appearance against Aston Villa has more or less been the Ghanaian’s undoing this season.

He was rushed back from that injury for the North London Derby in December before limping off to leave a massive whole in the pitch for Harry Kane to run into and score.

A series of false starts have happened since then, but in the glimpses we have seen from the former Atletico Madrid man, it’s been easy to see why Arsenal forked out £45m to sign him.

Partey now finally seems to have got himself fit for a prolonged period of time and the hope is that he can stay that way until the end of the season to deliver on his potential. 7.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 21: Thomas Partey of Arsenal during the Premier League match between West Ham United and Arsenal at London Stadium on March 21, 2021 in London, England. Sporting stadiums around the UK remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
Partey doesn’t need a second invite to shoot from distance

Granit Xhaka: If ever there was a player who defined Arsenal’s mixed bag of a season it is Granit Xhaka.

The Swiss midfielder was important as the Gunners began the season well starting all but one of the opening six Premier League matches.

However, after being left out for consecutive games against Manchester United and Aston Villa, the 28-year-old went through a torrid run of form in November and December – although in fairness to him there were very few Arsenal players who didn’t in that time.

The bad run culminated in being sent off for grabbing Ashely Westwood by the throat against Burnley which saw him come under fire for some hideous abuse on social media.

Since his return from that though on Boxing Day against Chelsea, Xhaka has been largely excellent and until being substituted towards the end of the draw against West Ham had been on a run of playing every minute in 16 consecutive matches in all competition.

An error against Burnley showed a side to his game that he will always have in his locker, but for now the Swiss international has come back to show why he is so important to Mikel Arteta’s short term plans in North London. 7.

Joe Willock: Willock was in desperate need of a loan by the time January came around after failing to establish himself in the Arsenal first team despite being given a few opportunities.

He was excellent in the Europa League but couldn’t quite cut it in the Premier League and looked to have had his confidence shot to piece by an extended spell out of the team.

Since his temporary move to Newcastle the 21-year-old has looked decent in Steve Bruce’s side, but there has been little to suggest that he is of the quality required to be a regular in Mikel Arteta’s side next season. 5.

Emile Smith Rowe: It is no coincidence that Arsenal’s upturn in form has come at the same time as Emile Smith Rowe’s assent into the first team.

The England under-21 international has been superb since bursting onto the scene over the festive period, proving to be the creative presence the Gunners were lacking for most of the first part of the campaign in the absence of Mesut Ozil.

His ability to drift into spaces and link up with pretty much any player in the squad has been crucial to turning Arsenal into a much more cohesive attacking unit.

Since Martin Odegaard’s arrival he has shown that he is just as capable of doing it on the left as he is centrally and looks like he will be vital as Mikel Arteta seeks to mould his side into the Pep Guardiola style of football we’ve seen over the past few seasons at Manchester City.

More regular goals are the only thing missing from Smith Rowe’s game, but with growing confidence in the first team it seems like a matter of time before they come too. 8

Martin Odegaard: We’re only two months into his loan spell at Arsenal, but there is an argument to be made that Martin Odegaard is already the Gunners greatest ever January signing.

Andrey Arshavin, Theo Walcott and Jose Antonio Reyes might have something to say about that, but the work the Norwegian has done since his arrival has been remarkable.

There have been countless occasions where he has shown his incredible vision and hard work, while the Real Madrid loanee has also began to add goals to his game with crucial strikes against Olympiacos and Tottenham.

The question now seems to be whether Arsenal can keep him come the end of the season, and there can be no doubting that Mikel Arteta and Edu will do everything in their power to make sure that happens.

Odegaard is the number 10 Arsenal were crying out for, and keeping him will be vital to ensuring they remain on an upward trajectory. 8.


Willian: The Brazilian is still yet to get his first Arsenal goal but a recent run of assists have helped quell some the vocal dissenters to his signing.

After a good debut against Fulham Willian’s form dropped off a cliff and by January it seemed impossible that he would find his way back into the team with the form of other forwards in his position.

A crucial assist against Benfica helped spark an upturn in form and the 32-year-old now looks a much more confident player than before.

But there will rightly still be some questioning the decision to give him a three year deal given the quality of some of the young players on this list. 5.

Reiss Nelson: It feels harsh to criticise Reiss Nelson too harshly as much of the circumstances around his frustrating season have been outside of his control.

In the early part of the campaign he looked impressive in Europa League matches against Dundalk and Rapid Vienna in particular. But Arteta’s persistence with Willian combined with a string of injuries mean that he has hardly featured since.

But with opportunities so sparse it’s vital that he takes them. He was given a start in the FA Cup third round against Newcastle but failed to grasp the chance and looked as though his confidence had been torn to shreds.

After failing to secure a loan move in January the England under-21 international has been exclusively reduced to playing under-23 football and looks set to leave the club at the end of the season.

It’s a shame to say, but what should have been a crucial season for Nelson to kick on and establish himself at senior level, has turned into another lost year for the Hale Ender. 4.

Reiss Nelson will have to be patient to earn opportunities at Arsenal after remaining at the club in January.
Reiss Nelson will have to be patient to earn opportunities at Arsenal after remaining at the club in January.

Nicolas Pepe: After being sent off at Leeds and finding himself behind Bukayo Saka and Willian in the pecking order in his favoured right win position, it seemed as though Nicolas Pepe’s Arsenal career could genuinely be coming to a premature end.

Rumours were rife that he could leave in January, and Mikel Arteta seemed to have lost patience with the Ivorian.

Since then though by the Spaniard’s own admission there has been a “click” in the way Pepe has approached his football with an increased emphasis now being in place on his defensive work as well as his attacking output.

This seems to have injected more confidence into his game and the 25-year-old is now starting to find a consistency that has been lacking for so long.

The fierce competition for places has meant that he has not been starting as often as he might like, but in cameos against Burnley, Spurs and West Ham, the Ivorian has quickly shown what he can bring to the table. 7.

Bukayo Saka: Bukayo Saka has been Arsenal’s most important player this season despite the fact that he is just 19.

You could argue that says more about those around him, but let’s focus on the endless positives that come with the versatile youngster’s incredible campaign.

In the first half of the season he was largely used as a left back or a left winger, but since Boxing Day he has switched over to the right wing, where his game has simply gone to another level.

10 goal involvements have come in the 15 appearances where he has played in his new position and it’s safe to say there is more to come.

In Saka Arsenal can quite confidently argue that they have one of it not the best young player in the Premier League who they can build the side around over the next few seasons. 9.

Gabriel Martinelli: It’s been a frustrating come back for Martinelli who was crucial in the initial games he played after his return from a long-term injury in December.

Since then though he has hardly featured playing just 62 minutes in the Premier League after the turn of the year.

In the brief flashes we have seen from the Brazilian it’s clear to see what he has to offer, but with the form of the likes of Saka and Pepe it’s tough to see where regular game time is going to come for him in the remainder of this season.

It’s tough to rate him as a result, but given the hopes at the start of the campaign for him after his return from injury, it has been a disappointing year so far for the 19-year-old. 5.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang: The Gabonese striker endured a frustrating start to the season that saw him wait until mid-December for his first Emirates Stadium goal of the season.

With a promising run through January and February though it seemed as though the worst of that was behind him and that Arsenal had a striker capable of delivering crucial strikes when needed.

That coincided with the decision to move him from the left wing to the centre forward position.

However, since missing the North London Derby due to a disciplinary issue we have returned to the Aubmeyang of late 2020 who looks low on confidence and frustrated with his situation.

After an incredible season last time out, the 31-year-old’s output has undoubtedly been disappointing in 2020/21. That said though there is still plenty of time for him to change that and if he is able to find his goal scoring touch again in crucial games towards the end of the season, the likelihood is that all will be forgotten. 5.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang looks disappointed while playing for Arsenal against West Ham

Alexandre Lacazette: With 11 goals in all competitions this season, the Frenchman is the Gunners top scorer so far.

He has delivered in big games with important goals against Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham this season as he has grown into a leadership role within the squad.

After a long goalless run through October, November and December it seemed Lacazette’s career with Arsenal may be ending with a whimper with just over a year left on his deal.

But after playing a crucial role in the embedding of Arsenal’s young stars into the first team he has proven the worth he could have to Mikel Arteta if the Spaniard choses to keep him.

Lacazette is not exactly the ruthless striker the Gunners will want in the box, but as player to have around the side he has shown he is capable of delivering when his team need it most. 7.

Eddie Nketiah: Like Nelson, Nketiah would surely have benefitted from a loan move to another Premier League club in January after finding his opportunities at Arsenal restricted by the form of those in front of him.

He too is now playing under-23 football as a result.

Unlike Nelson though the Gunners seemed intent on not letting Nketiah leave in the winter window, which retrospectively doesn’t look to have been the smartest move.

The England under-21 record goal scorer will have just one year left on his contract at the end of this season and it will be difficult to convince him to extend if he isn’t given more game time.

To be fair to Arteta though it’s not as if the 21-year-old was banging down the door to suggest he should be playing every match with the opportunities he was given in the first half of the season, scoring just once in the Premier League. 5.

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Folarin Balogun: After bursting onto the scene with two goals in the Europa League it seemed as though Flo Balogun may be the next promising talent to come out of Hale End.

However, he has not played since following a series of questionable antics on social media and contract standoff that looks set to bring his time with Arsenal to an end before it has even really begun.

It will disappointing to see the 19-year-old who is clearly talented leave, particularly as first team chances will be there for him next season if he’s willing to wait. 6.

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