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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Post Match View – Manchester City F.C.

This meeting was supposed to be exciting. It was supposed to be memorable. It was neither.

We played Manchester City to a stalemate Saturday in a match that provided very little entertainment. There were times when I felt like the child who is forced to go on a long road-trip. He sits in the back seat wondering, ‘are we there yet? are we there yet?’.

The weight of expectation for this game was a big factor but that we went into it knowing our season’s top prize can only be finishing third further dampened the occasion. Roberto Mancini choosing to be conservative didn’t help matters. As Arsene commented, maybe they feel that they can get a draw against us and finish the job of clinching fourth head to head against Spurs.

Fuck Spurs!

I didn’t even bother noting the action for this post as I usually do.
The interest was there.
The passion and anticipation were there.
The levels were just slightly off.

I hate feeling like the game doesn’t matter as much as it could. Oh, by the way, FUCK SPURS! And didn’t they live up to “expectation” against United!?!? I hope Wilshere gets a hat-trick against them and then they get smashed at Eastlands.

As for us, we’ve definitely reached a crossroad with this squad. It’s fast approaching time to make some decisions about its makeup. A player like Clichy has done well enough to turn around his recent performances but ideally, a fit Kieran Gibbs is the least he should have to worry about. And now that Fabianski has kept a clean sheet, will Arsene reiterate that Greasy Hands will be great one day? Having Eboue to replace Theo is not the worst option, especially from a tactical point of view, but there’s much, much more that we can/should expect from a right sided forward and neither player provides it. Diaby has improved. There’s no doubting that. To think though that Denilson is still a question mark and that injury-prone Rosicky turns 30 in October begs the question of whether we can match our opponents going forward. No play on words intended.

Our keeper situation – some might say our squad depth overall – is a joke. I wouldn’t go as far as the latter but I understand the frustration, having come so close again this season and finishing with nothing. The frustration mounts, especially when we read that Arsenal F.C. is the third most valuable club in the world. A very simplistic but valid position would ask if our commitment to winning matches our ranking. It’s an interesting debate, financial restraints notwithstanding.

Is it time to start spending more now that we’re on a better plane where the stadium debt is concerned and that many players have proven to be less than reliable?

The UEFA 8:25 rule complicates matters and will make for even more interesting times at Arsenal this summer. I imagine the development of players like Craig Eastmond, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, Jack Wilshere, Henri Lansbury, Tom Cruise, Sanchez Watt, Kyle Bartley, and a few others from that Youth Cup winning side will now be even more important. And what of veteran reserve but still young players like Nacer Barazite and Mark Randall? Will Conor Henderson and Francis Coquelin make the step up? Is there another Jack Wilshere amongst the youth?

Will the rule give Wenger more reason for staying committed to giving these kids a chance or will he modify his plan by bringing in a few established, super talented players? I know he likes David Villa. Those thoughts were running through my head as I watched City play a very cautious game. Tevez was hardly a factor. Bellamy found out what it’s like to face Alex Song. He has come a long way attitude and behavior-wise but he did manage to anger the mild-mannered Song. Bellamy should consider himself lucky. I wouldn’t fuck with Song. Abou Diaby (who almost won it with the shot that KO’d Shay Given) was in Patrick’s face like our former hero had something of his. A ticket to South Africa perhaps?

Those were the only highlights for me. The game was tepid at best. Seeing Patrick in City colors was a bit unsettling but I got over it pretty quickly to be honest. I still love the guy though. I remember how proud I used to feel seeing him patrol the pitch. A great man recently described him as one of the best ever. No argument here.

It would be interesting to see the number of matches we’ve played this season with our full team. The injuries excuse is one I will not use but let’s be clear, one of the reasons for Wenger’s position against “financial doping” is that it allows clubs with sugar daddies to bench top quality footballers when others are forced to include youth or average players. The 8:25 rule may change that. How it will affect our club remains to be seen.

One thing is certain however, we must get this nightmarish injury situation sorted one way or another. The City match was supposed to be meaningful. It turned out to be just another game. What would have we done to City with a fit Cesc, Arshavin, Gallas, and Vermaelen?

While some are debating if finishing third is really an improvement, I am left asking why have we failed, again???

I’m suddenly feeling empty. Worse, I don’t have much more of real interest to say but I do feel this needs to be said; FUCK SPURS. I’m out.

Keep the Faith

Great View, Terrible View

The problem with sitting very close to the pitch at matches is that although you get a terrific view for taking pictures, you don’t get to see the match as well as you could. I was close enough to shout “ALEX” and not only did he hear me but he looked up and waved.

Top boy that Song! A diplomat in the making.

The match has an entirely different meaning for me when I cannot watch from a proper angle to see what’s going on. Sure, I saw the players from very close and sometimes heard them shouting but I couldn’t see what happened when the Belgian No. 9 hit the bar. There was a wall of bodies in my way and then suddenly the ball smashes off the bar.

Liege were of a very poor standard to be honest. Please pardon the pun. It’s fair to say though that had that ball gone in, we might have struggled a bit.

However, I did see the after effects of Gallas’s head injury. He wobbled around (literally) for most of the First Half. I thought he was concussed. And in the Second Half when Eboue and then Song after him went close with what would have been very special goals, I saw the anguish on Eboue’s face and the disappointment on Song’s.

The best yet worst view was of Kieran Gibbs being hacked by a Standard player near the end of the match. The tackle took place as Gibbs made contact with the ball. It was similar to Robin’s case for Holland. Gibbs attempted to play on but he was clearly unable to. This morning it has been confirmed that he will miss up to three months with a fractured foot.

You didn’t expect us to go injury-free this season did you?

Nonetheless a good result has given us some breathing room. Players can be rested vs. Olympiakos in the CL next month . Others can get games when they normally wouldn’t even make the bench.

As I said immediately after the Sunderland match, the next game is the most important. Chelsea is huge. HUGE!

I don’t see it as season ending if we lose, but a draw is obviously the minimum result required. The players know this is one of the matches that the five-year plan hinges on. It is one of the games in which they need to step up and ‘repay’ Wenger for his faith.

Sharkshavin must raise his game Sunday. A performance a la Anfield last season would work. I’m going to shoot some more pictures now.

Peace!

The Most Irreplaceable Players at Arsenal

Obviously, no player is irreplaceable. We have the squad to cover our injury problems, but the truth remains that certain players are harder to replace in the starting XI than others.

Kieran Gibbs suffered an injury yesterday. Our first and second choice LB are now injured. Silently, Clichy has been projected for a longer spell on the sidelines. The same thing happened to us last year, where Clichy was only supposed to be out for a month and subsequently became a season ending injury. Clichy’s back is suspect. But even with Gibbs’ injury, we have options. The hardest thing for clubs to acquire seems to be a LB. There really aren’t too many elite LB’s out there, but we have the luxury of having three bona fide LB’s. Armand Traore could deputize there, and we also have Pedro Botehlo out on loan. If that’s not enough, we could easily use Silvestre and even Senderos there. Neither offer an attacking option, but defensively, they should be sound enough.

So, while other teams suffer when their LB’s go down, we actually have it reasonably covered.

Now, Robin going down on the other hand, that injury made me consider this post.

The three hardest players to replace in the starting XI are:

1) William Gallas – As a right-sided central defender, his backup was Johan Djourou. He’s out until March, at least that’s what the Arsenal website says. Of course, we can plug in Silvestre or Senderos there. Wenger would probably choose that route, but there’s still an unbalance. Neither Silvestre nor Senderos play the type of defense that Gallas provides. It would make more sense to play Sagna in central defense, but again I stress that what would occur is that Silvestre would get the first crack. The bottom line is, for as much heat he took last year, Gallas is the most natural right-sided recovery defender that we possess. Nobody else can do that job nearly as well, except possibly Sagna, until Djourou returns.

2) Alex Song – From Arsenal forum whipping boy to irreplaceable member of the starting XI. Such is the fear of the ACN that Arsenal fans are wondering already what we’ll do. My guess would be that Denilson gets the first crack. For any Denilson haters, I won’t use stats to support him. Instead, I’ll just point out that Denilson played the role last year, he played it while we used a far more attacking formation and without Vermaelen. That being said, it’s something he’ll need to adjust to, as nobody has really played that position since Song has been a stalwart. Diaby could also do a job there, as could Nasri, although Wenger today suggested otherwise. You cannot argue against the power of Alex Song’s appearance in the Wolves game, something fundamentally changed the game in our favor. And that had nothing to do with attack and more with the idea of balance.

3) Robin van Persie – He’s been electric. Off to a slow start, he’s been on fire. He’s been dynamite. He’d won over nearly everybody, even Myles Palmer. Then, of course, he gets injured. Robin is one of the only false nines in world football today, a false nine being a player who seems to play as a forward but drops deep to help link up play. Robin, in the first few weeks, learned the valuable skill of leading a line. Eduardo could try to do the things that Robin does, but again, the adaptation to the role is not something anybody can pick up quickly. I’ve heard calls for Andrey to be fielded there, but methinks that may not work, unless we deployed strikers on both wings to supplement his positioning. Regardless, van Persie’s loss on the offensive end will be felt.

This post isn’t to suggest that these three players are the best players at Arsenal. They may or may not be, but it’s to suggest they’re hardest to replace in our optimal system. Cesc is also playing extremely well right now, but we have Ramsey, Rosicky, and even Nasri to deputize.

Arsenal tend to pick up injuries frequently. That’s something to think about, but it’s nothing to fret about. We have the squad depth needed to push through times like this.

Here’s Your Chance Kieran

Gael Clichy has been struck down with another back injury. At the end of last year, Clichy sustained a back injury which was initially forecasted as a four week injury. That eventually sidelined him for the entire season. Kieran Gibbs stepped in to secure the breach, and while he did the best he could, he ultimately will be remembered for slipping in the Champions League semi, allowing United to walk into the Final.

So, here we are again. Clichy with another back injury, and Arsene saying he’ll be out for one or two months. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was out for longer; we just cannot be sure with those pesky back injuries (remember Gilberto Silva in 04-05).

Wenger seems a bit unnerved by this, if only because he wants a full squad so he can rotate in the upcoming weeks.

That being said, we do have left backs as cover, Wenger pointedly saying that we do not lack left backs in the club. That in itself is a boon, considering that the left back position is amongst the most scouted across the world. It is quite simply a hard position to recruit.

And here comes Kieran Gibbs. With the knowledge that Capello is watching his development, if Gibbs performs to his potential, he could play well enough to permanently dislodge Clichy.

I love Gael, but he’s not without his flaws. He was a fantastic player until the slip against Tottenham, and after that, a combination of nerves and injuries has made him look, at times, unspectacular. With rumors of Real Madrid hovering, perhaps if Gibbs plays well enough, Clichy may be sold. I would miss him, but Gibbs has the potential to be better.

Clichy will never possess an attacking mind. His crosses are below average, and he’s been put on a leash by Wenger recently. Kieran Gibbs has been solid, and he’s a converted winger, the same as Ashley Cole.

I could care less about the England factor, but a more important thing to keep in mind is that Gibbs would be an Arsenal Academy player.

Today, against AZ, Gibbs will be given the chance of a lifetime, for oftentimes Arsenal players make their way into the starting XI by way of injuries.

We must show that we have learned our lesson. And Gibbs must show that he has learned his.

Facts About Wednesday

Only three of the players that started against Liverpool in Wednesday’s 2-1 victory are home grown players: Gibbs, Gilbert and Eastmond.

Three of Wednesday’s starting 11 were teenagers: Eastmond 18, Ramsey 18 and Merida 19.

Only two players were above the age of twenty-five: Sylvestre 32 and Eduardo 26.

The rest of the team were 24 years old or younger: Senderos 24, Fabianski 24, Gilbert 22, Nasri 22, Bendtner 21, Gibbs 20.

Kerrea Gilbert and Craig Eastmond were the only players not part of the first team squad.

None of the seven substitutes were part of the first team squad.

Only three of them are home grown players: Frimpong, Watt and Randall

Eight of the 18 man squad are born in Britain. Two are Polish, Four are French, one Swiss, one Spanish, one Danish and one Brazilian.

For a painter the brush is his friend. For a footballer, the ball must be his friend.

Keep it Arsenal

Calling Gael

France defeated Faroe Islands Saturday as their fragile World Cup qualifying campaign continued in Guingamp. Domenech and Henry have talked about qualifying by any means possible – big teams have made big tournaments and done well after qualifying via playoffs so there can still be a happy ending. The French team was a mixture of regulars and some emerging players, but it did not contain Arsenal left back Gael Clichy. He didn’t even make the bench. Unless his form improves dramatically very soon, he could miss out on S. Africa if France get there.

He has talked about needing to break away from Kieran Gibbs in the competition for Left Back. He acknowledges that he is first choice now but that it can change quickly. Judging by his form last season (which hasn’t improved very much so far to be honest), he has a long way to go in creating distance between himself and the younger Gibbs. The mental lapses that he’s become famous for cannot continue.

Clichy needs to strive to displace Patrice Evra in the French national team. Evra, for all his anti-Arsenal comments, is a very good player. Worse is that he excels against us. It’s clear to me that Ryan Giggs has passed on his hatred of Arsenal to players like Evra. That creates an extra bit of intensity in their game. United are always up for a game against Arsenal.

We haven’t had that little bit extra recently when we’ve played United. We haven’t had enough of that burning desire to beat them the way they’ve had it for us. If we have had it, they’ve had a bit more of it. Players like Clichy need to turn that around. His Arsenal place and obviously his World Cup dreams depend on big performances when they really matter. He hinted recently in an interview at confusing instructions from Wenger. I don’t buy it. Wenger’s instructions are not confusing. And if they leave Clichy wondering whether to attack or to defend, he certainly should know what to do and when to do it by now.

He has been better and he must know that. There’s no time for more excuses. He is now a senior member of our squad. It’s time Gael bigs up or steps aside.

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