Nimble Nasri comes of age

His progress checked by repeated injuries and reported arguments with some of his France team-mates during Raymond Domenech’s lengthy tenure, Samir Nasri has taken his time to fulfil his rich talent. But having finally surmounted those obstacles, the Arsenal midfielder is blossoming at last, nailing down first-team places for club and country and attracting no shortage of admiration in the process.

“I wouldn’t describe it as a new start, but the fact is I’m 23 now and it’s time for me to make my mark and become a main player,” said the man himself a few weeks ago. “I might not get another chance, and when the train goes by you have to jump on because you just don’t know if it’s ever going to come back again.”

Judging by his recent performances in the blue of France, Nasri seems to be in for the long haul. The Arsenal man will be running out for his country once more when they take on England at Wembley on Wednesday, a game he describes as “a friendly in name only.”

On the eve of a match in which he will provide one of the star attractions, assesses the French star’s recent rise to prominence.

Nasri’s exceptional form this season has been richly appreciated by Arsene Wenger, his coach at the Emirates Stadium. “He’s a super player and he’s become more effective,” explained Wenger. “I also think he’s developed a lot in physical terms. He’s pretty much the complete player now: He can run with the ball at his feet, he’s quick and he’s deadly in front of goal.”

Wenger’s glowing appraisal is backed up by statistics. Given a licence to roam as a box-to-box midfielder in a 4-3-3 formation, Nasri has scored seven goals in all competitions this season and has several assists to his name as well. His sterling displays have kept several illustrious team-mates out of the Gunners’ starting line-up, an indication of the esteem in which he is now held by Wenger. 

“His game hasn’t changed,” said Albert Emon, his coach for two years at Olympique Marseille. “The difference now is that he’s matured as a person, which has helped him mature as a player. He’s got more than 100 games with Arsenal under his belt and he’s played twice that number in the French league. He’s playing one big game after another now.”

Nasri’s star turns in north London have helped revive an international career that faltered following a string of injuries, a public row with former team-mate William Gallas and the rumpus he caused by taking Thierry Henry’s seat on the team bus at UEFA EURO 2008. Calling on his services on an infrequent basis, Domenech then left him out of his squad for the ill-starred campaign in South Africa.

“I’m sure those who were criticising me after EURO 2008 will have noticed that some of the people I had problems with back then were not exactly beyond reproach in South Africa,” commented Nasri wryly.

Now an idol on both sides of the English Channel, the midfield schemer has even been mentioned as a firm candidate for the French captaincy. “I wouldn’t say no to the captain’s armband,” he said in response. “Who would? The objective right now though is for the team to function as a unit.”

And in response to the debate in the French papers as to whether he should get the nod over Yoann Gourcuff, with some observers even arguing the two can play side by side, Nasri is taking a diplomatic line: “All I know is that I’ve got a close affinity with technically gifted players. It’s like that with Cesc Fabregas and it was like that with Franck Ribery. I don’t see why it should be any different with Yoann.”

Given their recent problems, Nasri’s renaissance is a timely one for France, and whatever line-up Laurent Blanc puts out against the English, it would come as no surprise to see the industrious Nasri driving Les Bleus forward from the start.