I’ve had mixed feelings about Denilson for a long time.
He endeared himself to so many fans when he was shown on YouTube dancing to Brazilian music with Gilberto and Julio Baptista and then annoyed me when he came out saying he was good enough to be a first team regular and was going to speak to the manager about his lack of opportunities.
That was a couple of years ago and when Mathieu Flamini left in the summer, it was always going to be a toss-up between Denilson and Alex Song who replaced the Frenchman in midfield after Arsene Wenger failed to buy anyone.
Our early-season troubles were down to a collective lack of coherence and performance, not to mention a lack of experienced personnel and a sometimes unprofessional attitude.
Even a couple of months ago, Denilson’s frustrating tendency to want to pass sideways rather than forwards has had me scratching my head.
But there have been glimmers of improvement in recent weeks, to the point at which Denilson has started to really grow as a player.
Perhaps it is down to having a player of the quality of Andrey Arshavin in the team, a more experienced head who can lead by example.
Perhaps it is down to the improvement that comes with experience, the belief that Wenger has that players grow with gametime. Of course, you need the natural talent in order to improve, but Denilson seems to have that.
Perhaps it is down to the general improvement of the side and Denilson rising with the team’s general growth of confidence.
Whatever the reason, Arsenal’s latest water-carrier is showing himself to be a fine player thesedays, winning tackles, putting himself in positions to take shots and block them, and adding that magic ingredient to his game which seemed to be missing for so long: the forward pass.
Of course, Alex Song put in a fine performance as well, but I get the feeling that there is less to his game than from that of our Brazilian.
One of my neighbours at Emirates said at one point on Saturday: “In Denilson, we’re seeing one of the best performances by an Arsenal player this season out there” and I couldn’t disagree with him.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, we cannot keep grooming players and then sell them before the side has become competitive enough to win things.
The ‘project’ can only last so long before patience wears thin – see how many fans missed games during our indifferent spell earlier in the season which had nothing to do with the weather.
But if Wenger can keep his current crop together, add one or two new faces and keep the injuries at bay, we could have one hell of a side.
And for all the flair and dynamism we express, every great team needs a solid defensive midfielder who can protect the defence and win the ball back for the flair players to do their thing.
If Denilson’s recent showings are anything to go by, we may well have found that player.