I felt very sorry for Eboue

At this stage, that’s all I’ve got time to say.  Come Monday morning I will have more thoughts on Eboue’s substitution and subsequent booing, and hell, maybe even the game itself.

I was delighted with the three points and celebrated with a clenched fist.  But this:

Was just not on.

Unless time changes my mind, I’ll tell you why tomorrow.

That’s why he’s captain

Cesc Fabregas yesterday responded to transfer rumours linking him to AC Milan in a manner befitting of a captain:

“It is true that I said I admire Milan for their rich history and the way they play football but that is as far as the story goes.  I am honoured to be wearing the captain’s armband for Arsenal and I am 100 per cent committed to this Club. My future is here.”

Talk about setting an example.  Whether or not William Gallas would be so quick to turn down Milan’s advances (or whether we’d even want him to) is another matter entirely.

Gallas is unavailable for tomorrow’s match with Wigan due to injury, so Kolo Toure is in line to return alongside Johan Djourou.  In an interview with ArsenalTV, Arsene emphasised the importance of Djourou’s two defining physical qualities: height and pace.  The Swiss centre-half has the opportunity to stake his claim for a first-team place between now and January, and if he continues to perform as he did at Chelsea he might just grasp it.

Eduardo is tantalisingly close to a first-team return, and will play “as soon as possible”.  I’ve long thought that the FA Cup Third Round might mark his reappearance in the first-team, and if he can get in a few Reserve fixtures before then, then that sounds entirely realistic.

Club Doctor Ian Beasley has left to join Gary Lewin as a permanent member of Fabio Capello’s staff.  The club have begun a recruitment process which, assuming it’s anything like the one they used to appoint a new CEO, could be finished as early as the year 3000.

Cristiano Ronaldo has spoken about how close he was to joining Arsenal before we were gazzumped by Manchester United.  Difficult to know how to react to that one.  Horrible brat; extremely talented. 

Hm.  Right.  Wigan Preview tomorrow.

What does the future hold for the Carling Cup kids?

Partly in order to avoid singling out inexperienced teenagers for scathing riticism, my write-up of the Carling Cup defeat to Burnley was fairly vague.  24 hours on, I’d like to return to some of those young players, with a (hopefully) more positive slant, by forgetting Tuesday night and talking about their future.

WookashThe goalkeeper, Lukasz “Wookash” Fabianski, is a funny one.  Whenever Arsene is asked about him he smiles smugly and mutters something like “I am very confident that Lukasz will become a world-class goalkeeper”.  The tone of his reaction is akin to what you would expect when asking Man City if they were worried about the credit crunch.  But in my eyes at least, Fabianski is a long way from ready. 

The fans who rate him above Manuel Almunia have been deceieved by decisiveness.  Sure, Fabianski is often more willing than the Spaniard to charge off his line, but to call him ‘decisive’ does not discriminate between good and bad decisions.  On top of that, he is showing a worrying propensity to flap at crosses.

However, he has two things on his side: time, and Arsene’s faith.  It’s remarkable to think that he’s still only 23, which is a full two years younger than United prospect Ben Foster.  Joining Arsenal at such a young age means he is developing surrounded by top players and coaches, which can only be a good thing.  In the short-term, I suspect he will get the nod in the FA Cup this year, and beyond that he will look to challenge Almunia for the number one shirt.  With the Spaniard hardly over the hill himself, Fabianski has a real fight on his hands.

In defence, the full-backs show the most promise.  Gavin Hoyte looks like a clone of his brother, though he’ll be hoping to go a step further and establish himself in the Arsenal team.  Gavin may face the same conundrum as Justin, however: stay and be part of the Arsenal squad, or move elsewhere to play regular first-team football?  I think the elder Hoyte did the right thing by joining Middlesbrough, and it gives me great pleasure to see him doing well for them.  For Gavin, patience may be the key.  In five years time, when Bac Sagna hits 30, he will be just 22.  The time between now and then will be crucial for Hoyte, and with Sagna, Eboue, and Toure all options at right-back, loan spells may be neccessary to provide him with first-team experience – possibly starting in January.

Kieran GibbsKieran Gibbs is being groomed as a left-back, and part of me suspects that’s related to Armand Traore’s increasing deployment in midfield.  On loan at Portsmouth, the Frenchman has looked very much a winger, getting to the byline and bombing on to support Crouch and Defoe.  This opens up a gap in the squad for a player to support and challenge Gael Clichy, and it seems Gibbs has been earmarked as that man.

His quick feet and quicker sprinting certainly bear a resemblance to the present incumbent of the left-back spot.  Like Hoyte, a loan spell would be of real benefit, as having only just converted to the position he (somewhat understandably) lacks positional awareness.  Whilst Arsene has the option of Silvestre as back-up for Clichy, getting Gibbs some regular football would be advised.

The same midfield started all three games in the Carling Cup squad this season, which is indicative of Arsene’s belief in their talent.  Two of them barely need to be discussed: for my money, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere are nailed on to become important players for Arsenal and their respective national sides.  Like Fabregas and Walcott before them, they’re too good to be loaned out, and will be increasingly involved in the first-team squad over the coming months – I still maintain that Wilshere will play for England before he’s eighteen.

There is more doubt over the futures of Mark Randall and Fran Merida.  Randall impressed in the Sheffield United game, was average in the Wigan game, and really rather poor against Burnley.  Randall’s principle problem is that he’s not a specialist.  He’s not a destroyer, not a dribbler, and not hugely creative.  He’s a promising player with the technique you’d expect of an Arsenal graduate, but the fact that he is so far behind Ramsey, two years his junior, in the pecking order speaks volumes.  I think he’ll have a good career, but perhaps not at Arsenal.

Fran and his seemingly tiny legsWhen Fran Merida followed Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona, great things were expected.  In the early days, he delivered, dictating the play at youth level and scoring spectacular goals.  His vision and technique are exemplary, but thus far he has failed to develop physically to a standard that will see him survive the relative rough-and-tumble of the Premier League.  Will he ever stand up to the rigours of central midfield?  Or does he have the requisite pace to play on the flank?  His mature physicality will emerge over the course of the next two seasons – if he doesn’t bulk out fast, he might be on the plane back to La Liga.

I don’t think the same could be said of Carlos Vela.  For what he lacks in upper-body strength, he makes up for with blistering pace and finishing power.  His four goals this season have demonstrated exemplary striking skills, and I think Vela could be considered a first-team player proper by the end of the season.

Somewhat perversely, the most experienced of the Carling Cup kids is one whose long-term future is most in doubt.  Nicklas Bendtner is undoubtedly a player of real potential, but his recent performances have been very frustrating, and more pink pansy than pink panther.  Furthermore, Bendtner’s character seems more volatile than many of his contemporaries’, and with Vela improving and Eduardo returning, I can envisage him losing patience and moving on if he falls out of favour.

Jay Simpson, who only started the game against Wigan but made a good impression with two goals, is rumoured to be getting a new contract.  Based on that display, he deserves another chance next year, at the very least.  He is a powerful goalscorer in the Andy Cole mould, and could certainly make a decent Premier League career for himself.

However many ‘make it’, the fact that we’ve having this debate just shows the wealth of potential within the club.  I’d love to see them all do go on to become Arsenal legends, but the fact that some of them are directly competing with each other for the same spots in the team makes that unlikely.  What it does ensure, however, is that those who do make it will have to be seriously good.  Which, ultimately, is how it ought to be.

I’m off to do some Christmas shopping.  Till tomorrow.

Arsene will play “our normal team” in the FA Cup this season

Burnley 2 – 0 Arsenal (McDonald 6, 58)
Highlights here; Arsene’s reaction here

Well, the unbridled fun that is the Carling Cup is over for another season.  Never mind: we’ll be back next year, and the year after – this conveyor belt of talent will continue to enliven a competition that would otherwise be dull as dishwater.

The reason the fun is ‘unbridled’ is that we as fans have nothing to lose.  The manager treats it as a ‘simulated environment’ wherein youngsters can experience something approaching the rigour of first-team football.  And the players respond to the pressure-free conditions, blossoming and playing with a freedom it’s unlikely we’d see in the Premier League.

Last night could easily have been another one of those spectacular nights.  Nicklas Bendtner raced through after just five minutes, but finished tamely.  Typically, they then went right up the other end, and scored a goal, meaning they could sit back and keep their shape for the remainder of the ninety minutes.

In spite of that, we still created many, many chances.  Arsene counted six one-on-ones – I reckon it totalled out even higher.  Either way, we really ought to have scored at least a goal, with Bendtner particularly guilty of some lacksadaisical finishing.  I’m not going to go about criticising the youngsters who’ve entertained us so much this season, but the performances of Bendtner and Silvestre, ostensibly two of the more experienced members of the side, left plenty to be desired.

Anyway, there’s little point in dwelling on the result: the fact that Paul Rodgers had to be drafted in for his debut in the Quarter-Final of the competition demonstrates how thin our squad was being stretched, so it’s arguably no bad thing to avoid a two-legged semi-final.  When you have to rest Alex Song, you know your squad is in trouble.

The kids will learn plenty about concentration and the importance of taking your chances early.  Some of them will go on to push for first-team places in the second half of the season (Vela, Ramsey), others will challenge for a spot in our FA Cup campaign (Fabianski, Wilshere), whilst some might be sent out on loan to gain yet more invaluable experience – I’m sure clubs are already queueing around the block to secure the likes of Kieran Gibbs.

I mentioned the FA Cup – in the aftermath of tonight’s game, Arsene was asked about whether the Carling Cup side would re-emerge in the FA Cup.  His response was emphatic:

“No.  Some of these maybe, but in the FA Cup we will play our normal team”.

It’s a serious piece of back-tracking from Wenger, who back in August claimed he would rest players in the country’s most highly-regarded cup competition.  However, our faltering league performances have perhaps convinced him that the cup represents our best chance of silverware, and I for one am glad that we will be putting our best efforts into winning a competition that I have a lot of affection for.

Attention turns back to the league now, and Wigan on Saturday.  I don’t need to tell you how badly three points are required.

Following arseblog’s lead (when am I not?), if you wish to follow gunnerblog on twitter, just follow this link.

A demain.

Some stats about Denilson + Carling Cup Preview

I’ve criticised Denilson’s performances on several occasions this season, but have always tried to mitigate that with the assertion that it is not his fault that he is being exposed to regular first-team football before he is ready.

That said, as I flicked through some statistics from the season so far, a different picture began to emerge.  So far he has:

  • Two goals this season – that’s double Cesc’s tally
  • Four assists – which is behind only Malbranque, Berbatov, Malouda and Arteta
  • 11th most fouled player in the entire league, winning plenty of free-kicks
  • 45 tackles won – 7th highest in the league – higher than Butt, Clichy, Diarra, Kompany, Reo-Coker, Barry et al
  • 991 passes attempted – behind only Lampard and Mikel
  • 849 completed passes, behind only Mikel
  • What the statistics make clear is that this is an industrious, efficient player who whilst not yet ‘World Class’ is doing remarkably well for a twenty year-old who was little more than a fringe member of the squad last season.  I’ve read some calls for Denilson to be sold, but the figures above make a nonsense of such suggestions.  What Denilson needs is a quality, experienced player to challenge him and force him to improve.  When the Brazilian meets the required level, he would then take his place in the side.  It’s common sense, and we can only hope that Arsene sees that now.  Flamini had to surpass Gilberto to get his place in the side: Denilson ought to have to leap a similar hurdle to truly earn his first-team place.

    Tonight sees our fantastic Carling Cup side travel to Burnley in the competition’s Quarter-Final.  The team should be extremely similar to the previous two rounds, though Mikael Silvestre will start at centre-back after being left out at the weekend (just our luck for Djourou and Gallas to both pick up knocks in the Chelsea game, eh?).

    Ahead of the game Aaron Ramsey, who certainly doesn’t lack confidence, has compared himself to Steven Gerrard – as long as his hairline doesn’t get as freakishly low as Gerrard’s (I am convinced that one day it will meet his eyebrows and his forehead will become redundant), then that’ll do just fine.  Ramsey’s Carling Cup midfield partner, Mark Randall, is a doubt, so we may see a debut for Amaury Bischoff.

    Under Owen Coyle, Burnley have moved on from being long-ball merchants to develop an attractive passing game, married to the aerial power of Ade Akinbiyi, who has troubled us in past cup encounters.  Let’s not forget, this is a side who went to Stamford Bridge and knocked out Chelsea.  That said, their manager is showing our youngsters plenty of respect:

    “I watched their games against Sheffield United and Wigan – at one point I thought about turning it off because I couldn’t bear it any more.  They are the yardstick for everyone who is aspiring to play a passing game.

    “Four or five of that team will reach the very highest level.  I am not talking about good international players, I mean beyond that. Ramsey is unbelievable. At 16, the world is Wilshere’s oyster.

    “The maturity they show is way beyond their years.  I played with people for 15 years who were still not experienced in the game. These kids have that. The relationship they have with one another in terms of interchange of passing and movement is exceptional.”

    High praise indeed.  I just hope we live up to our billing.

    Gunnerblog has been nominated for Best Football Blog Community of 2008 by Soccerlens, which is nice of them.  Feel free to vote, – as it’s a “Community” award it’s far more about you than about me, so thanks.

    I have a feeling tonight could be a really good game.  Let’s hope the kids get the result and see us through to the semis.