Reviewing the Defence

Manuel Almunia – I remember vividly after we had gone up 1-0 against Chelsea two years ago. Bacary Sagna had just scored his first goal for us off a corner. Then, a frequent visitor to the pub I go to said these words, “I feel safe with Almunia.” I’ve never felt safe with Manuel. Ever. At the start of the second half of the Barcelona first leg, he looked like he was going to vomit. Why did he look that way? He had just pulled off a string of saves and the score was incredibly 0-0. Well, soon after, he proved exactly what he is, a shot-stopper and nothing more. He looked the same way before the Roma penalty shootout from last year. Almunia didn’t save any penalties, they just missed. It would be foolish to suggest that Jens was flawless as the Arsenal No. 1, but at least he had the demeanor of a No. 1. Almunia was a project, one with very little hype or potential. Imagine if Amaury Bischoff ended up a member of our first choice XI and that’s essentially what Almunia is. A nightmare, and one that must be terminated soon.

Lukasz Fabianski – It is easy to call him a clown. That is easily justifiable. You might call him a bargain basement keeper as well, but here’s where I disagree a bit. I’ve documented before that Wenger thinks highly of Fabianski. He’s committed enough errors for Wenger to wave goodbye to him, but something tells me that’s not going to happen. The summer we signed Fabianski, we were linked to many keepers and Wenger chose him. He was signed for 3 million euros and a friendly match to be arranged later. At this point, if he turned it around, it would be amongst the most incredible turnarounds in Wenger’s history. I don’t want to see it even attempted next year. If we had a decent goalkeeper, and I stress the word “decent”, we would have won the Premier League. Unfortunately, that is on Arsene nearly as much as it is on Almunia and Fabianski.

Vito Mannone – He delivered a brilliant performance against Fulham and then showed his years in the subsequent performances. He’s raw. He signed a long-term extension, but he doesn’t impress me much. I give him credit for having the hunger, but he’s the most un-Italian goalkeeper I’ve seen. I’ve yet to make a definitive judgment on him.

Bacary Sagna – He’s steady. He’s never tipped as the man of the match. He’s rarely burned by players. He’s an adequate player who hasn’t reached the heights of his first year with us. I thought he might have been our player of the year that first season, but for whatever reason, he’s failed to find that form.

Emmanuel Eboue – Once a figure of hate, now he’s a lovable fixture. Let’s not mistake what he is though, he’s a useful squad player. He can be used to solidify a defense or as a blunt, direct weapon. On his day, he’s very effective at attacking teams with his forward momentum. When he’s left to think about what he should do with the ball though, he struggles. He’s a good guy to have around because the players love being around this guy. He’s a joy. Not essential to the team, but very useful.

Gael Clichy – I think he may be sold over the summer. Arsenal have three left backs waiting in the wings. He’s coming back from a back injury, and those types of injuries never really heal properly. When he came back, he was torched so often that Martin O’Neill called him a joke. Slowly though, he’s steadied out and he has been one of our best performers in the last month (which is not really much of a compliment). I can remember at least a handful of goals where he was the direct contributor to. I used to love this guy, but he no longer looks likely to eclipse Ashley Cole as a player. If we could get 10 million euros for him, that would be a good price.

Kieran Gibbs – Some are unsure of his ability to be our starting left-back. I need to see more, but when he was on the pitch this year, he seemed to neutralize the opposition’s right wing quite frequently. He’s a better crosser of the ball than Clichy. He has mental strength, seeing how the United Champions League fixture could have severely damaged his career. I like this kid.

Armand Traore – I admire his professionalism, but that doesn’t seem to translate to the football pitch. We can deal with errors, as long as we see real improvement and an attempt to get better. He has speed, a strong left foot, and not much else at this point. He’s flimsy and unless he watches some defensive tapes, he’s not going to make it with Arsenal. He could be sold to a French club and turn into the D-grade version of Marcelo.

Mikael Silvestre – I’m sure he’s a positive influence in that locker room. But that is as far as it goes. Every time he scores a goal, something disastrous seems to happen (look at the Tottenham 4-4 draw last year and the Wigan match this year). He needs a string of games to approach anything near his best form, and he doesn’t get that, so when he does play, he’s often exposed. The fact that every back pass he makes is lightly weighted frightens me. This was a gamble that truly did not pay off. He’s gone.

Sol Campbell – I was not a big fan of Sol Campbell after he walked out of our club. He has restored his legacy at Arsenal, but let’s be clear, he cannot be anything more than a 4th choice defender for this club. His mountain frame and surprisingly fast pace helps him out, but near the end of his run this term, I saw the chinks in his armor. One of these days, one of his last ditch tackles is going to result in a red card and a penalty. That’s a sign that a defender is desperate. He’ll be an awesome influence on our squad, and as a 4th choice defender, he’ll be of more value than Silvestre was.

Thomas Vermaelen – Tony Adams was wrong. Vermaelen was in every pundit’s team of the season list. Along with his defensive prowess, he chipped in with some beautiful goals. He’s angry when we concede. He’s professional when a ref approaches him. This is what you get when you pay 10 million euros for a player. This is what you get when you buy a defender who was the captain for Ajax at a young age. This is what you get when you scout a player for two years. Vermaelen could be a future captain for Arsenal.

Johan Djourou – An incomplete grade. It was revealed recently that Wenger told him that he let Kolo go so that Djourou could play. It’s been written that Djourou was a player who was supposed to be kept secret from the entire world, that’s how much Wenger rates him. He has the physical tools (not necessarily the strength), but it’s yet to be seen if Wenger’s faith is justified. He looks like he’ll get an opportunity though. One can only hope he’s not like his Swiss compatriot, Swiss Tony. Senderos looked the part, but he lacked the heart and the intelligence to be an elite defender.

William Gallas – It looks like he’ll no longer be an Arsenal player. That’s a shame because he produced some of his best form this year. At this point though, he is also an injury prone player (the same can easily be said of Robin van Persie though). He does not have any special attachment to Arsenal, and that’s not meant to sound like an insult. I mean this in the best possible way, William Gallas is a professional footballer. That may make it sound like I’m calling him a mercenary, but that’s not what he is. He truly did care about winning more than anything else. For those that suggest he didn’t play because he didn’t want to mess up a potential contract, look no further than the Barcelona first leg. He crocked himself because he wanted to play on the grand stage so badly. His loss was as big a reason in our failure as anybody else. I will miss him, but the team may not miss him. Nasri revealed today that five players at Arsenal don’t talk to Gallas. He didn’t mean to suggest that they hate him, it’s just a generational difference. Whether they know it or not, Gallas was one of the finest defenders to suit up for Arsenal during Wenger’s regime. It’s too bad that too often injuries and petty squabbles came to define much of his spell. I hope he recovers in time to make the World Cup squad and play well for France. I wish him well.

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