Archive for April 17th, 2010

Losing Gallas would be an odd way to strengthen the defence

18 comments April 17th, 2010

Tellingly, Arsene is discussing our involvement in the title chase in the past tense.  The race continues, but we’ve pulled up clutching a hamstring just yards from the finish line.  It’s been a brave effort.  Between now and the end of the season, rousing music will play as we stagger to our feet and walk to the line, flanked on both sides by cheering supporters of the first ever Jamaican Bobsleigh Team.  Or something.

The manager’s attention is turning towards next season, and what the team need to do not only to catch up with United and Chelsea, but to stay ahead of the rabid chasing pack.  It’s becoming clear where he feels we need to strengthen:

“We need to add something. I believe defensively in the big games we were too vulnerable.”

It’s hard to disagree.  The way we allowed the likes of United, Chelsea and Barca to hammer goals past us did not carry the hallmark of champions.  So what of the personnel involved?

Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy are both outstanding full-backs.  Whilst neither has had their best season, it’s hard to see them being replaced.  Eboue is a capable deputy for Sagna, and Clichy is at the front of a queue of fleet-footed clones – Kieran Gibbs and Armand Traore keeping close behind.  Thomas Vermaelen has been a fantastic signing – a footballer with drive, determination, and class.  He’s been effective in the penalty area at both ends of the pitch, and looks to me to be a future Arsenal captain.  Alongside William Gallas, he’s helped form our most solid defensive pairing in years.

So where is the problem in our defence?  I take no joy in pointing fingers, but they inevitably find themselves focusing on the bleach-topped figure of our goalkeeper, Manuel Almunia.  Almunia is a good shot-stopper – but any goalkeeper can make a great save.  Only the best can organise a back-line and command a penalty area.  There is a reason that Shay Given will never be remembered as a true great.  His reflexes surpass those of Almunia, but his problems remain the same.  A great goalkeeper is as crucial to a defensive set-up as a key centre-half.

And so it worries me that Arsene is prepared to let William Gallas leave the club on a matter of principle.  He is not our problem.  The problem is the goalkeeping situation.  Although Arsene has hinted the Number 1 shirt might be up for grabs this summer, I think his quotes suggest that Lukasz Fabianski is in pole position to inherit it – not a new signing.

Earlier this season there was talk of a compromise with Gallas – now Arsene is insisting that we will not budge from our one-year contracts for over-30s policy.  I don’t think we can keep him on those terms, simply because I believe there are other clubs who will be prepared to more relaxed about the length of his deal.  Gallas is something of a mercenary, but he is a very good defender.  And what’s more, a good partner for Vermaelen.

Keeping Sol Campbell would be a great move.  The commitment he’s shown to the cause means we should keep him hear as long as we can – in a playing capacity or otherwise.  The same is not true of Mikael Silvestre, who has done nothing in his two seasons here to suggest that Alex Ferguson was wrong to let him go.  That would leave us with Vermaelen, Campbell and a returning Djourou going in to next season – and I’d doubt the ability of the latter two to play more than twenty games in a season.

If Gallas goes Arsene will be forced to bring in another centre-half, most likely from abroad.  Will they click with Vermaelen?  How will they adapt to the English game?  It could plunge the heart of our defence in to another transitional period.

No revenue will be generated out of losing Gallas or Almunia.  If we can afford to make one stellar signing, then keep the Frenchman and sign a top goalie.

Read Arseblog on the Cesc Fabregas situation – it’s a media obsession, not something ground in the actions of Arsenal or even Cesc himself.  I have a firm conviction that Cesc will be here next season and for a good few years to come.

Wigan Preview tomorrow.

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