Archive for July, 2010

Arsene’s press conference: A summary

1 comment July 31st, 2010

Arsene on Cesc…
Any last vestiges of doubt about where Cesc will spend this season were dispelled by Arsene, who was absolutely clear about the state of play:

“We do not negotiate.  If I want to buy your house and you don’t want to sell, you don’t negotiate with me, that’s completely normal.”

Unsurprisingly, he’s also failed to confirm that Cesc will move on in twelve months time, pointing to the length of the captain’s contract.

He also makes the very valid point that winning the league at Arsenal presents a greater challenge than anything Barca can offer.  I don’t think Cesc would disagree – he’d love nothing more than to win trophies in London – but clearly he doubts the club’s capacity to match that ambition.

Arsene on the home-grown rule…
He’s not a fan, despite us being one of the clubs least affected by the new system.  Players such as Cesc, Alex Song, Denilson and Bendtner will all qualify as ‘homegrown’ despite being about as English as a disorderly queue.  Meanwhile, we’re not obliged to name youngsters like Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere in our 25, as they’re classed as U-21 entrants.

That said, the new rules do make it harder to move players on – if, in January, we decide to bring in a foreign player over the age of 21, it will mean having to sell another player from that quota.  Potential buyers will know that, putting the selling club in a weak position.

Arsene on defenders…
To my mind, having realised a while back that Cesc wasn’t going anywhere, these are the most positive quotes to come out of yesterday’s press conference:

“There are plenty of names that we consider and we analyse. We look at the financial possibilities and the technical potential. But it is impossible for me to come out with a name.

We are still on the search because at the moment we only have three centre backs and we have seen last season you needed five. I believe we need at least four because we have some other players who can fill in this position but overall we are still on the search.”

The “other players” he’s referring to are Alex Song and Havard Nordtveit, who could both do a job at centre-back if required.  That said, we still need at least one other.  Arsene says Sol Campbell’s decision to move to Newcastle came as no surprise, so one would imagine he’s been looking at potential candidates for some time now.

Arsene on the title race…
Arsene thinks it will be more open than ever, and with the level of investment at Man City and an improving Spurs one can see why.  United and Chelsea are both yet to make any particularly inspiring signings, though I’d be amazed if that didn’t change in the next few weeks, especially in the case of the loaded Londoners.  With Ballack, Cole, Belletti and Deco all departing this summer, they’re currently extremely light in midfield.

The Emirates Cup kicks off today, with a match against Milan at 16.20 UK-time.  Unsurprisingly, there are a few injury problems: Song, Diaby, and Denilson are out, whilst Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie are not yet ready.  Those midfield absentees will create opportunities for youngsters Jack Wilshere and Emmanuel Frimpong.  I anticipate that pair might generate a fair bit of hype over the next couple of days.

Come On You Gunners!

Ready Or Not: Havard Nordtveit

853 comments July 30th, 2010

And so we’ve arrived at the final entry in the Ready Or Not series.  Unless I’ve forgotten someone.  In which cases, the chances are that such a distinctly unmemorable player isn’t going to make it.  If you missed any, the other reports are:

Thanks to Richard Champion, who saw more than half of Nordtveit’s Nuremberg games, for the following.

How big an impact did Havard Nordtveit make at FC Nuremberg?

To be fair, his impact was modest. Nuremburg’s situation in terms of quality, personnel, and tactics dictated that he play as one of two holding midfielders, which were never allowed – by tactics or lack of possession – to get forward.

Nuremburg, while not laden with an abundance talent, did at the season’s start have a number of decent, competent CB’s and RB’s, such as Andreas Wolf, Dominic Maroh, and Dennis Diekmeier, but had a dearth of central midfielders. Thus, due to his versatility and long-range passing, Nordtveit was often paired with Juri Judt in front of the back four.

Due to him starting nearly every match before their winter break, he was clearly better than whomever they had on the bench, but he rarely stood out, save for a couple of key performances such as at Champions League side VfB Stuttgart.

During the winter break, though, a great many changes occurred at the club. Dieter Hecking replaced Michael Oenning as manager and brought about an aggressive transfer period for the small club. Nuremburg loaned from Bayern Munich the (initially) much-heralded Brazilian CB Breno and German U-21 international DM Andreas Ottl as well as Senegalese international DM Mickaël Tavares from Hamburg. Suffice to say, all three became regular starters for the club pushing Havard to the bench.

In fairnesses to Hecking and Nuremberg, these signings probably helped keep them in the Bundesliga, but also meant that Nordtveit almost never got on the pitch, particularly since a club finishing one position above regulation is almost always throwing on attackers, not defenders, at the end of matches.

What are his main strengths and weaknesses as a player?

Havard was put into a difficult situation playing out of position in a foreign country where he didn’t speak the language, but it is rare that a 19 year-old defender gets as much playing time as he did in a top league. At his home club of FK Haugesund and in the Reserves at Arsenal, Nordtveit exclusively played as a CB. Then during his ill-fated excursion to Salamanca – from which he left early, despite not being able to even play in Reserves matches until Jan. 1 due to conditions of the loan – he was played out of position as a DM. It was due to his distaste for how and how little he was being used, along with tumult internally and with Arsenal that he left.  Then during his loan spell at Lillestrom he played a majority of his matches at RB and a minority at CB. I state all of this as context for his time at Nuremberg where he was returned to his less-favored position of DM.

Therefore, it is hard to judge Howie’s time in Germany. To me, he clearly isn’t a midfielder. He lacked confidence, which created uncertainty in whom to mark, when to get forward – which he basically never did – and an overall lack of aggression. When situations arose where he clearly had to provide a tackle or header, he did relatively well, but he often wasn’t assertive enough to put himself into positions to do so. You can tell by looking at him, that if his future/final position is to be in the center of defense, he will have to increase his strength. Also, based on his performances at Nuremberg, a greatly heightened sense of aggression and assertiveness. His strengths are his excellent long-range passing, good height and heading ability, and sense of comfort with the ball at his feet.

What is his best position?

At this point, it is likely right-back or center-back, though in time it will likely be CB. To play as a CB in the Premier League, though, requires a level of strength and aggression he has simply not shown to this point, but his very promising start to this preseason hints at significant progress in these areas.

Which top flight players does he remind you of?

Well, there are not a great deal of top-flight CB’s with good pace, height, and long-range passing with comfort on the ball, yet not an overly aggressive style of play or muscular build, but German international Arne Friedrich comes to mind. Not many may be terribly familiar with him other than his starting performances at CB for Germany’s attractive and largely successful World Cup run this summer, but he has all those attributes and has also started at RB also for the German national side in previous tournaments.

Do you think he could be an Arsenal player?

As an Arsenal supporter and Nordtveit fan, I have to say my opinion was mixed based on his time at Nuremberg. He came to Arsenal with a fair amount of fanfare and expectations and quickly established himself as captain of the Reserves. But one terrible loan in the Spanish second tier, a successful one in the not-much-fancied Norwegian top league and what started as a decent, though hardly superlative, loan in the Bundesliga will have had to been go down as a disappointing spell for the player and Arsenal.  It’s hard to know what to think. Yet, to have done all this – as a defender – before turning 20 has to count for something and I believe his early performances this preseason are hopefully revealing his quality and potential. Thus, I’ll say that he has at least a 50:50 chance to be a starter at Arsenal.

So there we go.  My personal opinion is that Nordtveit is absolutely guaranteed to be part of our first-team squad, as we currently have less centre-backs than I have fingers on my right hand.  Or my left, for that matter.  Still, as ever, I put the question to you:

Is Havard Ready?

Sol’s job at Arsenal was done

33 comments July 28th, 2010

So Sol Campbell has opted to turn down Arsenal’s offer and sign for Newcastle United.  It seems there are two factors that swung things in Newcastle’s favour: the offer of first-team football, and the location – Campbell and his new wife have a home in the North-East.

I was clear about my desire for Sol to stay at Arsenal.  His 14 appearances last season contained more guts, determination and spirit than some of the current squad members have ever shown.  I never thought he could be a regular season, but the odd fleeting appearance and his mere presence on the training ground could have set a tremendous example.

Sol will feel, however, that his job at Arsenal was done.  After leaving under something of a cloud, he foughtback out of his League Two nightmare all the way to the Champions League.  Along the way, he went on a journey of personal retribution, as well as winning the respect and admiration of Arsenal fans once more.  Sol saved his legacy.  And staying on to become an ageing bit-part player may have threatened that.

Campbell’s departure means there can be no two ways about it: Arsene simply has to buy a centre-half.  The ‘Defenders’ section on our squad page is giving Portsmouth a run for their money (excuse the inappropriate idiom).

Arsenal took on SC Neusiedl 1919 yesterday, and ran-out 4-0 winners.  I must confess I only caught glimpses of the first half, but Wilshere and Frimpong reportedly impressed as Marouane Chamakh scored his first Arsenal goal from the spot.  You can see that, as well as other goals from Walcott, JET and Vela  courtesy of 101greatgoals here.

Apologies for the lateness of today’s blog – I was out late last night celebrating, among other things, Gunnerblog’s sixth birthday.  Thanks to all of you who visit and comment, and I hope you’ll continue to do so.  I’m hoping to get things spruced up on the site over the coming weeks and months, so keep an eye out for any changes.  If I break the site, you’ll know how/why.

Ready Or Not: Wojciech Szczesny

925 comments July 27th, 2010

Hello and welcome to the latest offering in the Ready Or Not series, which has so far looked at Jay Emmanuel Thomas, Jack Wilshere, Henri Lansbury, and Jay Simpson. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so it seems this feature is going OK.

Today we look at Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Sczczesny – probably the most exciting talent at the club whose name I still can’t spell.  There’s been hype around him before – his loan spell at Brentford last season attracted plenty of attention – and the BBC produced this helpful little clip to familiarise the uninitiated with his acrobatic antics:

Not satisfied with that, I spoke to a load of Brentford fans from the Griffin Park Grapevine. Here we go:

How big an impact did Wojciech Szczesny make at Brentford?

Huge, he must have earnt us at least 10 points last season.
Massive. In my opinion, the best keeper i have seen play for Brentford FC since i’ve been going, 1973, so you can see he has made a huge impact.
Massive, one of the best keepers I’ve seen here, although the impact was probably exaggerated by the fact he replaced a donkey in goal.
As everyone says he had a massive impact on the team,and the thing that struck me was that he didn’t mind going to elbow merchants like MK Dons and Wycombe on cold December nights…in fact he seemed to relish the prospect.
Huge. He helped solidify a defence that was a bit wobbly to say the least. I think he was worth at least 9 points to us, possibly more.

What was his best moment at Brentford?

Very difficult to pick one there were so many.
You cannot single out one but the numerous saves he has made. When mere mortals wouldn’t have!
Too many to mention but the one that springs to mind is the acrobatic save he made at Norwich from a header, reflexes were incredible.
I can’t remember the opposition,but it was a home game not long after he joined us.Someone sent a fierce but wayward shot accross the box that deflected off a defender and was heading straight for the bottom corner at pace.Looked a certain goal…but not with Woj around!He somehow managed to throw himself across goal and claw the ball out…and keep hold of it so the onrushing forward didn’t have a sniff.When asked about it afterwards he said he had been “lucky”…refreshing attitude.
There’s a lot but I think Norwich (A) for me where he made two or three astonishing saves, which can be seen on that YouTube video.

What are his main strengths and weaknesses as a player?

Commands his his box very well and is a superb shot stopper. Doesn’t really have any weaknesses that I saw.
He’s quick on the ground, closing down the attacker, he has superb reflexes and i’d take Wojciech on a one on one every time against a forward!
Great reflexes, very commanding of his area. Weaknesses were his distribution.
Can be a bit hot-headed at times.Will have to watch his lip with Ref’s like Steve Bennett about.
Strengths: Reflexes; Command of the area and when one-on-one with a striker you always felt he could make the block. Weaknesses: He had one bad game for us, against MK Dons (H), where he mis-read a couple of high balls. I think his kicking probably needs work, although as one of my fellow GPGers noted it is unlikely he’s going to need to hoof the ball 50-60 yards to the ‘big fella up front’ when playing for Arsenal. In truth lack of experience is probably the main weakness.

What is his best position?

Err, scrap that.

Which top flight players does he remind you of?

Peter Schmeichel.
None, he is himself, a great prospect for a club like Arsenal.
Fabianski (Ed: I hope he’s joking)
Reminds me a bit of Seaman actually…before he turned into a liability.
Petr Cech.

Do you think he could be an Arsenal player?

Yes – I think he is better than the 3 clowns you already have.
He should be your No.1.
Only if he gets some more league one experience 😉 . In all seriousness I think he definitely will, goalkeepers are at a premium at the moment, especially at Arsenal.
He will be an Arsenal player I’m sure but don’t throw him in too early,let him get some experience elsewhere…but if it’s not at Brentford then please don’t loan him to anybody else in this league!
Yes. He probably needs a bit more experience though. Much as I’d love him to come back here for another season I think it might be better for his development if he were loaned either to a Championship team with a bit of a reputation for passing football or to Premiership ‘struggler’ like Blackpool. (Although being Blackpool’s keeper this season might be confidence shattering).

Thanks to BeeHomeSoon, WandererPaul, Westlad, Lostbee and Lokster for providing those answers.

Suffice to say, he sounds a bit awesome.  But it’s a big step up from League One to Champions League, and Wojciech is still only twenty.  When you answer the following poll, try to put out of your mind the fact that he looks almost certain to have a crack at the number one shirt eventually, and ask yourself this: is he ready now?

Is Wojciech ready?

The answer could go some way to determining Arsene’s transfer policy this summer.

Arsenal Transfer Overview

49 comments July 26th, 2010

This summer has been strangely familiar. The season ended with a diminuendo, as the squad struggled under the strain of both injuries and expectation. Arsene was clear about the need for reinforcements:

“Going forward we have done very well but defensively we have been average. When you concede 40 goals you don’t win the title. I want to rectify that.

My transfer policy this summer will be to keep our strengths going forward, add one player, and add more defensive strength to our team.”

And business started well. Marouane Chamakh arrived on a Bosman, and protracted negotiations for Laurent Koscielny ended with the centre-half jetting in on the 7th July.

That was nearly three weeks ago now, and despite Arsene’s return from the World Cup and reunion with his blackberry, there hasn’t been a signing since.

This is no problem in attack, where we’re well stocked. Chamakh’s arrival offsets Eduardo’s departure – in fact, I’d suggest it strengthens us. In Eduardo we had a player still going through a process of rehabilitation. Chamakh is a player arriving at the peak of his career who will relish the opportunity of a move to his preferred league and club. He, Bendtner and Van Persie gives us plenty of depth in the middle, though all three could also put in a shift out wide. On the flanks, Arshavin, Nasri, Walcott, and Eboue provide variety, whilst the sale of Eduardo gives Carlos Vela another (possibly final) chance to make an impact.

Attacking midfield is another area where we’re strong. Most of the players listed above also fall in to that category, along with several others who prefer to penetrate from deep – Abou Diaby, Tomas Rosicky, the currently injured Aaron Ramsey. There was certainly interest in Joe Cole – Arsene can’t resist a bargain – but the deal fell down over the prospective length of Cole’s contract. Liverpool offered him a four year deal, twice what Arsenal were prepared to commit, and Cole headed North.

Cole’s decision opens the door for several young players: Henri Lansbury, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, and, most likely, Jack Wilshere. Tomas Rosicky made 33 appearances last season – this year, I expect him to share that tally with Wilshere. By the end of the campaign, Jack will hope to have leapfrogged the Czech in the queue for first-team places.

Of course, the biggest boost in this part of the pitch is the news that Cesc Fabregas is all but certain to stay. Fabregas will once again be the fulcrum for the side – goalscorer, captain, and creator in chief.

Defensive midfield will be marshalled by Alex Song, with Denilson ready to fill in when Song is absent. I’ve never been convinced by Denilson’s aptitude for a principally defensive role – he lacks the combative nature and positional awareness. Denilson is a pass-and-move player; a disrupter and distributor. I’d prefer Arsene to sign a tougher, more tactically astute model to provide Song with not only back-up but some serious competition. It’s not all about size – at the World Cup the 5’8″ Anthony Annan excelled at the base of Ghana’s midfield. It’s about being committed to becoming a specialist in the role. I’m not sure Denilson fits that bill.

All that said, I don’t see Arsene buying a holding midfielder. Denilson is a pet project of his – in 2007 he declared he would oversee the development of Cesc, Diaby and Denilson in to world class midfielders, and he won’t give up on that ambition, however much the evidence stacks up against the latter pair. Hopefully a youngster like Emmanuel Frimpong can develop in to a genuine rival for the Brazilian’s place in the squad.

You’ll realise I’ve approached the squad from the front – I saw it as getting the easy positions out of the way first. But I can’t avoid confronting the major problems any longer: we’ve arrived at the defence.

A glance at this section on the squad page makes the problems all too clear:

Granted, you can throw in Emmanuel Eboue as an option at right back, but the cupboard still looks bare. Of the eight players listed, three are left-backs. Sol Campbell appears despite not being under contract with the club – as we speak he’s sunning himself on his honeymoon.

Our full-backs are fine, but the middle looks very light. No-one will shed a tear over Sylvestre’s departure, but I’m amazed that the loss of William Gallas has passed with so little comment. Currently on the books we have Vermaelen, new-boy Koscielny, and Johan Djourou. Of those, only Vermaelen is a reliable known quantity. are trying to reassure us. Djourou is “ready to step up”, they tell us, failing to mention the likelihood of Djourou injuring himself in the process of stepping anywhere. Koscielny apparently “relishes the physical side of the game”, despite being thinner than Arsene himself and having tiny little arms like a dinosaur.

I don’t want to come down too hard on the new boy before I’ve seen him in competitive action, but the chances of him being immediately ready for the rigours of elite Premier League football seem slim. Nearly as slim as him. People compare his signing to that of Vermaelen, but Vermaelen was playing European football as captain of Ajax and a regular Belgium international. Koscielny is uncapped, and until twelve months ago had never played regularly in the top flight.

Djourou definitely has potential, but relying on a player who has missed a year with injury seems somewhat irresponsible of Arsene. We didn’t immediately throw Rosicky back in, and we sold Eduardo. Why should Djourou be exempt?

Sol Campbell may well elect to stay at the club. I hope he does. His leadership and desire set an example to others. But even though he will be part of the playing staff, I don’t feel his signing should make any impact on the shape of the squad. Yes, he’ll play the odd game, but I view Campbell as a figurehead and a leader – not necessarily from the pitch. He is not capable of playing two games in a week, let alone a prolonged spell across the season.

Havard Nordtveit is likely to be drafted in to provide cover at right-back and centre-half, but there’s still not a single player I deem worthy of partnering Vermaelen in a supposed title-challenging squad. Last season Vermaelen and Gallas formed a fairly effective partnership – most of our most notable collapses occurred when at least one of the pair was missing. To improve on last season, we need a player who can at least match Gallas for pace, positioning, power and good old-fashioned Premier League experience. Djourou, Koscielny, and Campbell all have disparate qualities which might help plug those gaps, but we need a player who can do all of those things, all of the time.

I’d like to name names, but frankly that isn’t my job. There are scouts that Arsenal employ specifically to meet that need, and they’ll do far better than me and my Football Manager search engine. The Daily Mail seems determined to draw a line between us and Everton’s Phil Jagielka – I have doubts about the validity of those rumours, but he’d certainly fit the bill.

My deep fear and suspicion is that signing Campbell will be enough for Arsene. Last summer we noted when Vermaelen arrived that he’d be unlikely to spend €10m on a centre-half and then not play him; Kolo Toure was promptly sold. The same applies to Koscielny, and I expect him to be given the chance to compete with Djourou for a starting place.

Finally, we come to goalkeeper. If there was one position where Arsenal seemed certain to strengthen this summer, it was here. Manuel Almunia’s topsy-turvy season saw him twice dropped from the team, and at the backend of the season he disappeared from the squad entirely. I am, I must admit, a little surprised he’s still here now.

In his absence, Lukasz Fabianski made the erratic Almunia’s goalmouth look like an ocean of calm. Rarely in my time watching Arsenal have I seen such a string of costly mistakes. The only thing reliable about the Pole was his guaranteed gaffe, usually from a corner or set-piece, though not exclusively – like all great clowns, Fabianski has variety to his routine – see mistakes against Porto for evidence.

Beyond that pair are Vito Mannone and Wojciech Szczesny. Mannone played a few games last season at the height of our keeper crisis, and received plaudits when Fulham conspired to kick the ball repeatedly against him when scoring seemed markedly easier. I don’t consider him a serious contender for the number one jersey. Ever.

Szczesny is a little different. His performances at Brentford brought plaudits and promises from Arsene that he’d one day wear the number one shirt. Perhaps he will. But at just 20, surely it’s too soon.

Worryingly, Arsene seems as certain that Fabianski will one day be number one. And unless a signing is made, that could be now. The elder Pole has started both pre-season friendlies, and indications from inside the club are that the manager is seriously toying with the idea of beginning the season with him in the number one jersey. Rather than something more appropriate, like a straightjacket.

We know that Arsene has made some moves to sign a keeper. His faith in Fabianski is & Co is so unwavering that he seemingly wishes only to bring in an experienced keeper to act as a stop-gap for the next year or two – hence his interest in Fulham’s Mark Schwarzer. Schwarzer might not be Peter Schmeichel, but he’s a hell of a lot better than what we’ve got. He’s communicative, athletic, and good for another two years at the top level. If Arsenal were able to find an agreement with Fulham, I’d be delighted. But more importantly, I’d be relieved.

More than any other position at the club, it is goalkeeper where a signing is imperative. A high profile arrival like Igor Akinfeev would be ideal. But I’d take a stop-gap like Schwarzer or David James, who is available on a free transfer. I’d take an experienced head who could give the position some stability and stop the role of Arsenal goalkeeper from becoming what I fear Fabianski could make it – a joke.

It’s absolutely clear what this squad needs: a top level goalkeeper, and a top level centre-back. Arsene cannot be blind to that either. My fear is that he’ll plump for a man who used to be a top class centre-back, and a guy who he believes could one day be a top-class keeper. In essence, a player who if not “over the hill” has certainly passed over its highest point, and a player who is not yet good enough, and may never be.

Jagielka and Schwarzer aren’t huge names, but believe me – they’d give us a better chance than our current options. Arsene has to learn the meaning of compromise – he may have to pay a little more than he’d like, he may have to go for the player second or third on his list, but he must, must strengthen in those positions. Keeping Cesc only to fail to provide him with a fitting defensive platform would be as great a crime as selling him.

This could well be Arsene’s last year. I’d hate for reticence in the transfer market to render it redundant.

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