With the benefit of hindsight it was fortuitous that Arsenal’s Samir Nasri was left out of France’s South African debacle. Untainted by their World Cup failure and after an extended summer break, Nasri is back in favour with Les Bleus. He has always enjoyed the unbending confidence of Arsene Wenger and has repaid his manager with some sterling displays this season. The midfielder has previously conceded that he lacks consistency, dazzling on the training ground but failing to deliver on match days. Is Nasri, who was once labelled as the ‘new Zidane,’ capable of becoming one of Arsenal’s most important players?
In France Nasri has long been regarded as a precocious talent. Even Alan Shearer would not have said he’d come from nowhere after arriving at the Emirates Stadium in 2008. He joined his boyhood club Olympique Marseille at just nine years old. Soon after scoring the winning goal for France in the Under-17 European Championship, he made his debut for Marseille’s first team. Within a few years he had made the transition to France’s senior squad and won his club’s Player of the Year award. In his formative years Nasri witnessed his local team win the first Champions League title in 1993. Before that triumph Eric Cantona had graced the Stade Vélodrom. Nasri saw something of himself in the future Manchester United legend, admiring his skill and technique. However as a Frenchman of Algerian descent, growing up in Marseille he would naturally be compared to Zinedine Zidane.
These comparisons serve to explain why expectations have been so high of Nasri since he made his professional debut. In 145 appearances for the French club, he scored 11 goals before moving to Arsenal. Joining a team which privileged his preferred short passing game seemed to be a perfect fit. He emphatically announced himself to the PL after scoring both goals in Arsenal’s home victory over Manchester United. A glance at his statistics over the previous two seasons would not immediately indicate a talent of Zidane or Cantona’s ilk. Yet Nasri has played in more positions than most, featuring as a defensive midfielder, a central playmaker and an attacking winger. “I prefer to be central but if I need to play right back I will if it will help the team.”
Nasri’s playmaking role which he fulfilled with such distinction at Marseille has not been replicated at Arsenal. Whilst sporadically featuring in that position, his tremendous dribbling proficiency he seen him pushed out to the wing. He showed his threat from wide areas in their resounding 5-0 victory over Porto in the Champions League last season. After receiving the ball on the right flank, the midfielder spun past one defender, glanced past another two and unleashed a thunderous shot which cannoned in off the post. Despite the magnificence of moments such as these, the overwhelming perception here and in France was that they came too infrequently. He admitted, “Some games I can be fantastic and the next a little bit …Consistency is what I miss.”
His intelligent close control allows him to impress on the wing but old habits die hard, as he has a penchant to move infield and congest the play. When Cesc Fabregas has been absent through injury, Nasri has deputised with a confident assurance. On the opening day of the season he was the team’s key man at Anfield. In the first half he completed 25 passes to Joe Cole’s 7. Brimming with energy Nasri struck some powerful shots throughout the match, testing the reflexes of Pepe Reina. Against Tottenham in the Carling Cup he was coolness personified when calmly despatching two extra time penalties. In their home loss to West Brom he was the only Arsenal player to emerge with any credit, his two elegant goals providing the crowd with a faint hope of levelling the scores.
His vision, passing, skilfulness and confidence have impressed but when compared to Fabregas his performances can be construed as erratic and unpredictable. His return to a wider berth may be imminent but if injuries hamper the team once more this season, a maturing Nasri will help to shoulder the creative burden.