WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - MAY 13: Yossi Benayoun of Arsenal celebrates after scoring during the Barclays Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Arsenal at The Hawthorns on May 13, 2012 in West Bromwich, England. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
Despite not making his first start in the league until December 27th, Yossi Benayoun was a very important player in the run-in for Arsenal. His first inclusion into the starting lineup, against Wolves, saw him assist for Gervinho and produce a fairly good performance. He was poor, though, in a central midfield role against Swansea and didn't start again until the North London Derby. After that game, he became Arsenal's big game player, and was part of the reason that Arsenal returned to a familiar style of play; instead of playing three strikers, which made Arsenal quick on transitions but slow when having to break teams down, Benayoun (or Aaron Ramsey, though that didn't work as well) played on the left, giving support to the midfield and adding a more creative threat, as well as allowing Kieran Gibbs to get forward.
An added feature of Benayoun's play was his willingness to press and harry opposing defenders, but also track back and protect Arsenal's left side. In one match, against Wolves, no one ran more in the first half than Benayoun, and it's a trait of his that is underrated. His performances led Arsenal fans to wonder whether he'll be kept for next season, and according to Jamie Sanderson, Arsene Wenger is mulling over whether to give the Israeli a 2-year contract.
Benayoun would be a player worth signing; too often in recent years Arsenal have conceded late goals and shown an inability to control games towards the end, which is down to a lack of experience and game intelligence. While they sometimes showed that trait last season, the presence of players like Benayoun, Mikel Arteta and Per Mertesacker helped Arsenal settle down more when they were in the lead. While experience is often an intangible that is overrated by the cliché driven media, having more experienced players who have a higher aptitude towards the end of the match does make a positive difference. Benayoun was also reportedly a great influence in the dressing room, especially for younger players like Oguzhan Ozyakup.
In his play, too, Benayoun was very good. On the defensive side, he made more tackles and interceptions than Arsenal's other wide players, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gervinho, while he also made more throughballs than those three, giving Arsenal a more creative threat. He also showed a good ability to dribble, most noticeably when he curled a shot into the corner of the net against Norwich. His tracking back, though, allowed Gibbs and Santos to get forward, and allowed Arsenal to add another dimension of attack. Again, the goal against Norwich showed Benayoun's excellent understanding with Kieran Gibbs; the fullback made a decoy run outside, taking the right back away from Benayoun, allowing him to come inside and shoot. It's an understanding that is crucial to Arsenal's wide play; Theo Walcott has it with Bacary Sagna, but perhaps only Benayoun also has this understanding. That isn't to say that Gervinho or Oxlade-Chamberlain won't develop an understanding with their supporting fullback, but with Benayoun offering Arsenal the chance to stay with the style that they play best in, and offering a positive influence and Premiership experience, it'd seem foolish to let him go.