Mönchengladbach - Rarely does Borussia Mönchengladbach coach Lucien Favre rave about individual players, but in the wake of Juan Arango's 48-yard stunner in Sunday's 2-0 victory over 1. FSV Mainz 05, the studious Swiss could hardly hold back as he hailed the Venezuelan as "one of the best left-footed players in the world".
"Goal of the year"
"Our second was such a beautiful goal," said Favre with a smile. "He's been scoring some incredible ones this season - the one against Frankfurt, the one against Wolfsburg..." Five strikes make Arango the club's most prolific player in the Bundesliga this season - and each has been one for the scrapbook, be it his two free-kicks, a pair of long-range screamers or the stunning volley against VfL Wolfsburg following a 40-yard-pass two weeks ago.
Arango's strike against Mainz on Sunday, however, apparently topped the lot: "That was the goal of the year," said an enthused Favre, who was "wondering for ages whether the ball would go in". It certainly did, even if Arango slipped slightly before curling a sensational lob over the stranded Mainz goalkeeper Heinz Müller.
Ever since his arrival in the Bundesliga in 2009, Arango has been impressing with his unique skills. "Juan is capable of scoring these kinds of goals and he shows that all the time in training," said Dutch team-mate Luuk De Jong. "He hits them in such a way that they bend in different directions in flight."
Key to Gladbach's success
Yet there are so many more aspects to the Venezuela captain's play which make him such an essential part of Gladbach's game. Despite spending most of his time hugging the left touchline (see heatmap on the right), Arango clearly pulls the strings in the five-time Bundesliga champions' midfield, with his superb vision, pinpoint passes and deadly free-kicks trademark features.
"He knows he's crucial to our game," explained Favre, who counts the South American among several leaders in the squad. Arango, though born to Colombian parents, has long held the reputation of being Venezuela's best ever player and, like a fine wine, the 32-year-old has only improved with age.
In current form, Arango would stand out in any team, but his 32 assists and 17 goals in 109 league games are not the only things which have endeared him to the Borussia Park faithful. His modest character is another plus point.
Asked whether he would have minded had his effort against Mainz been attributed to colleague Mike Hanke, who touched the ball just as it crossed the goal line, Arango pointed out that "it doesn't matter who scores. I would have had an assist on my account, which is worth at least as much".
"Improving from week to week"
Arango's outstanding performances have been key to Mönchengladbach's improvements in recent weeks, with just one defeat from their last eight matches reviving the Foals' hopes of European qualification. The team have also progressed into the last 32 of the UEFA Europa League thanks to ten points from their last four group fixtures.
"We're improving from week to week," believes Arango, who admits the team had feared they could slip into the relegation zone after a stuttering start. "That is no longer the case" - thanks in no small part to Arango, as coach Favre added: "Things would probably be much more difficult for us without his goals."