Archive for May, 2011

Shape Up or Ship Out, Part 2: Defenders

668 comments May 31st, 2011

Last week I had a look at the future of our Goalkeepers, with one of three possible verdicts:

As You Were: The player didn’t have a bad season, and just needs to continue progressing
Shape Up: More is expected if they’re to retain their place in the squad
Ship Out: Time’s up

Under the microscope this week: Defenders.

ps. While I’ve got your attention, might I urge you to head on over to Arseblog to check out the End of Season Arsecast, featuring myself and a host of other, more eloquent bloggers.

Gael Clichy has always enjoyed a positive relationship with the Arsenal fans. His incredible work-rate and enthusiasm have endeared him to supporters, whilst anyone who replaced the despised Ashley Cole was always going to met with affection.
However, as we enter the summer, Gael has just one year remaining on his Arsenal contract. Talks with the club were postponed, by Clichy, until the end of the season. We can only assume those talks are ongoing. Unless a resolution is reached soon, Clichy will have to be sold.
Of the two players in that delicate contractual situation, I feel Clichy is more likely to leave than Nasri. Partly because, although he’s clearly an excellent footballer, he can be prone to the odd inexplicable error. If whispers are to be believed, talks with a number of suitors are already underway.
With Jens Lehmann likely to return to the relative comfort of retirement, Arsenal could find themselves entering next season without a single Invincible.
Verdict: Ship Out

I’d venture this wasn’t a great season for Gibbs. He made just four league starts, despite Clichy’s variable form. This was in part due to another string of injuries. Nevertheless, the last twelve months have seen Gibbs drop out of the England squad and somewhat off the radar.
The big problem is that he needs games. Yet, even if Clichy were to go, there is a pervading suspicion that he is not yet ready to play those games at the highest level. I, for one, would have concerns about entering next season with him as our starting left-back. Still a huge prospect, but careful management will be required to ensure we get the maximum out of him.
Verdict: Shape Up

It’s easy to forget that the Frenchman is still part of the first-team squad. He spent last season playing his part in Juventus’ disastrous campaign, and seems unlikely to earn a permanent move.
Clubs have been alerted to his availability, but the problem may be finding a club willing to match his not insignificant wage demands.
He didn’t make the grade at Portsmouth. He didn’t make the grade at Juve. Arsenal is almost certainly beyond him.
Verdict: Ship out

In my opinion, the country’s best right-back by a distance. His place in the PFA Team of the Year was richly deserved. His athleticism and commitment in the challenge cannot be questioned. A real unsung hero of the team, and one of Arsene Wenger’s better defensive signings.
Verdict: As You Were

Many fans want Eboue out of the club because they see him as a microcosmic avatar of all that is currently wrong with the club. However, on reflection I’m not sure his season was all that bad.
Fortunately, Arsene seems to have finally given up on Eboue as a midfield “pass master”, and has allowed him to return to his more appropriate role of reserve right-back.
Granted, his most telling contribution to the season was the monstrously idiotic foul that allowed Liverpool to get a 98th minute equaliser, but the fact that stands out as a sole major error suggests there has been some improvement.
I don’t have as much affection or bile for Eboue as some fans – I’m fairly indifferent – but I do recognise his value as a squad player. Unless a better replacement becomes available – and by that I don’t mean a teenage League One defender who is either Finnish or English depending on who you believe – then he ought to stay.
Verdict: As You Were

Remember him? A few cameos at the end of the season can’t disguise the fact that the year was essentially a write-off for Thomas, with a total of just five appearances. After such a promising first year, his achilles problem came as a big blow to both the team and the player.
By now he should be embedded in the side and a captain in waiting. Instead, next season will feel somewhat like starting all over again. Nevertheless, if he can recapture his earlier form he’ll undoubtedly make a massive difference in 2011/12.
Verdict: Shape Up

If you had told Arsene Wenger back in August that the two players who would make most stats this season would be Jack Wilshere and Laurent Koscielny, he wouldn’t have believed you. Wilshere started the season behind the likes of Diaby and Denilson in the pecking order, whilst the plan was always for Koscielny to be bedded in over time, with more experienced alternatives like Vermaelen and Squillaci able to bear most of the defensive load.
Instead, Koscielny has started 43 games this season, and been the constant at the heart of the back four. There have been high profile mistakes – he seems to be something of an ‘unlucky’ defender – but his performances against Chelsea and Barcelona showed his true class. If he continues to improve at the rate he has done this year, we could have a very good defender on our hands.
Verdict: As You Were

It’s odd that in a season in which we were so defensively poor, the individuals who started most regularly at centre-back, Koscielny and Djourou, both played rather well. There was one particular spell in late winter where they struck up a fantastic partnership.
Djourou still has areas of his game he needs to improve – for a man of his size, his is occasionally a little reticent to attack the ball in the air – but he’s certainly going in the right direction. Considering how long he was absent with injury, this season marked significant progress for the big Swiss. More of the same, please.
Verdict: As You Were

The signing of Squillaci always seemed like something of an afterthought on Arsene’s parts. He talked about needing a defender for the sake of numbers rather than about the qualities he might want that defender to possess.
Nevertheless, at first glance Squillaci seemed a decent bet: rugged, experienced, and pretty cheap too. And his early appearances were promising: he was solid, if not spectacular. However, a poor run of form across the winter months saw him become a bit of a liability. Some strong performances at the end of the campaign, at home to Stoke among others, will have gone some way towards redeeming him, but there are still many doubters.
I think it’s unlikely that he’ll be moved on after just one year, but if a new centre-back does arrive, he’s most likely to get shunted down the pecking order.
Verdict: Shape Up

Next up, midfielders. Of course. And don’t forget to check out the arsecast.

Shape Up or Ship Out, Part 1: Goalkeepers

92 comments May 25th, 2011

Tempting as it is to simply brush this last season under the carpet, a more appropriate solution is a bit of spring cleaning.

In the past week we’ve had confirmation that both Nicklas Bendtner and Denilson want to leave the club. In both cases (particularly the latter) there’s a sense that they might be jumping before they’re pushed.

There is an acknowledgement from the fans that a bit of freshening up is required. Supporters are always clamouring for players to be brought in. It is rare that a club’s fans are go keen to see so many of the current squad let go.

Over the next few days I’ll be having a look at the current incumbents, and giving one of three verdicts:

As You Were: The player didn’t have a bad season, and just needs to continue progressing
Shape Up: More is expected if they’re to retain their place in the squad
Ship Out: Time’s up


Arsenal’s Number 1, but only as far as squad numbers are concerned. First he lost his place to Lukasz Fabianski, before suffering the indignity of falling behind both the rookie Wojciech Szczesny and veteran Jens Lehmann, plucked from retirement to the substitute’s bench.
Almunia has behaved in a dignified manner throughout his banishment from the first-team, and performed superbly when called upon as a substitute at the Nou Camp. Hopefully that performance will have stuck in the memory of a few La Liga clubs, and he’ll secure a move home. I wouldn’t be surprised if Arsenal waive a fee for a player who has been a loyal servant.
Verdict: Ship out

Even when he supplanted Manuel as Number 1, he always felt like a caretaker holding the position until someone better came along. As it happened, injury meant that the job went to an even younger Pole, Wojciech Szczesny. If Fabianski holds realistic hope of supplanting his countryman and reclaiming top spot, he’ll have to show his best form yet.
Verdict: Shape Up

Arsenal didn’t lift any trophies this season, but they did finally find a goalkeeper. In a bleak year, the emergence of the young pair of Szczesny and Jack Wilshere has been an undoubted highlight.
I think our desperation to finally have a world class goalkeeper means we sometimes overhype Szczesny a little. That said, the potential is clearly there. What he needs now is games and experience. And to play behind a better team.
Verdict: As You Were

The Italian spent much of the season on loan at Hull, where he impressed despite a succession of injury problems. Mannone is now 23, and in recent weeks he has hinted he may have to move on to secure first-team football. Arsene is not the sort of manager to stand in a young players way, so I think we may have seen the last of the Italian stopper.
Verdict: Ship Out

Having Jens Lehmann back has been fantastic. Much like Sol Campbell the season before, his presence around the club has merely served as a reminder of the extroardinary character of our teams of the past – and underlined just what is lacking in the current squad.
If there’s anyway of keeping him at the club, perhaps in a coaching capacity, then I’d suggest it will be beneficial – and not only for his fellow keepers. However, I can’t see Arsene handing a playing deal to a player who will be 42 in November.
Verdict: Ship Out

There we go. I’m sure plenty of you will disagree, so feel free to debate it in the comments. We’ll work our way up the pitch, so the next installment will look at defenders. Till then.

And now, the end is… here.

5 comments May 23rd, 2011

Fulham 2 – 2 Arsenal (Sidwell 26, Van Persie 29, Zamora 56, Walcott 89)
Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

Thank God that’s over…
Rarely has the end of a season been greeted with so much relief. As our campaign petered out, my level of enthusiasm wavered between disinterest and unadulterated disdain. The fans, players, and manager all need to step back and take a long hard look at each other and themselves. The next few weeks should be regarded as something of a cooling off period.  Frankly, I’m glad.

The game itself…
…was typical of our recent form. Defensive errors were rightfully punished, and we were bailed out in large part due to the extraordinary form of Robin van Persie.  City’s victory meant third place was never in our hands, but it’s fitting that we ended the season by failing to win.

RVP has, minute-for-minute, been the league’s best player this season…
His numbers are quite extraordinary. His goal at Fulham was his ninth in consecutive away matches, and his 18th in 17 games since January 1st.  At Craven Cottage he played in a 4-4-2 with Marouane Chamakh – the first time we’ve seen that formation in the league in almost two years.  Perhaps Arsene is already thinking about a change of system ahead of next season.

Jack Wilshere has shown his maturity…
…all season long, but never more so than in informing Stuart Pearce of his desire to miss the U-21 European Championships.  It is absolutely the right decision, and will allow him the rest he badly needs ahead of next season, when the weight of responsibility on his young shoulders will be even greater.  Jack has, however, been named in the senior squad, whilst Gibbs and Lansbury will both travel with the U-21s.

Bendtner and Denilson won’t be the only departures this summer…
Both players have voiced their unhappiness, one via The Sun and one via his father, and seem likely to be on their way when the window blows open.  If they do go, there are two guarantees I can make: one is that they won’t move to a club as good as ours, and the other is that they won’t be the only ones.  It’s remarkable how many players are available for transfer this summer, and Arsene must realise he’s in for his busiest ‘break’ in a while.

For more from gilbertosilver, listen to this week’s Arseblog Arsecast.

Boring Boring Arsenal in 2011: More Ennui than Henry

20 comments May 17th, 2011

You don’t have to be a particularly avid reader of the blog to notice that my posts have been increasingly irregular as this season has worn on. In large part, this is due to other commitments: the blog remains a hobby for me, and the demands of my actual job often prevent me writing as much as I would like.

However, I can’t pretend that my absence has been entirely down to practicalities. For example, despite my schedule, rarely have I felt more inspired to write than by our victory over Barcelona back in February. Truly, that was one of my most cherished nights as an Arsenal fan.

Perhaps the few months that have followed have been one long, drawn-out stream of karmic equivocation, because that joyous evening now feels impossibly far away. Since the disaster of the Carling Cup Final, my enthusiasm has dwindled. When we overcame Barca in that momentous first leg, I thought Arsene the alchemist had brought a new team to life. Instead, that victory looks increasingly like the final spark of promise from an ultimately failed experiment.

In the past, failure has been dramatic. It provokes a flurry of activity and comment both on and offline, with fans clamouring to have their say about where it has gone wrong. Heroic failure or a near miss can be as exciting and emotionally involving as triumph. That’s part of being a football fan, and we all accept that.

This time, however, feels different. There is little debate to be had, largely because we’ve already had it several years consecutively. This is a collapse without colour; a disaster without a drama; a failure without any fun. Frankly, it is plain boring.

Football is the most exciting and unpredictable sport in the world. It can hinge on a moment of brilliance or inexplicable human error. The reason we come back, season after season, is because it constantly provides the opportunity for renewed hope. “You never know, this year it could be different”.

Not at Arsenal. In the last five or six years, we have seen essentially the same narrative play out. There is a sensible genome within us all that cannot fail to recognise the value of stability. But somewhere along the line we’ve misplaced a ‘B’, gone beyond stable, and become stale.

The Villa game at the weekend marked an undoubted low-point. The relationships between the holy trinity of fans, players and manager appear to be at their nadir. The board, now under the direction of a faceless Stan Kroenke, appear to be in serious danger of alienating the fans. The glamour and glitz of the stadium move has worn off, and the fans have been left with little but chronic underachievement.

It is increasingly hard to care. The true sign of fans’ dissatisfaction is in the weakness of the ‘protests’. Barely a couple of hundred people turned out on the ill-advised pre-Villa March. The disaffected thousands left the stadium before the ‘Lap of honour’, not even mustering the passion to let the players and the manager know how they feel.

Think of those supporters who are known for being ferociously loyal and noticeably vociferous: my mind immediately jumps to the likes of Man City and Portsmouth, clubs who have experienced significant turbulence in recent years. Alternatively, you have a team like Stoke, where passion in the stands is matched by that on the pitch.

Neither is true of Arsenal, which is in all respects a sedate environment. Polite players, politely finishing in the top four year on year, but too polite to knock anyone off their perch and actually win something.

At some point we seemed to believe we were in transition. We’re not. We’re in treacle, wading through the same muddy mediocrity we slipped in to when we let most of the Invincibles go in the mid-noughties.

Now it’s more ennui than Henry. And why? Because I don’t think any of us really believe the necessary changes will happen.

The squad appear incapable of ‘learning’ to be winners. Some hoped, perhaps naively (and I include myself here), that victory in the Carling Cup would suddenly enable them to go on and win every other available trophy. As it is, we’ll never know, as they tripped over even that relatively low hurdle. Increasingly, I’m of the belief that winners aren’t made, they’re born. And these guys ain’t them.

However, Arsene is clearly deeply attached to many of these players, and will be loathe to ship out those who have let us down on so many occasions. Futhermore, he’s demonstrated an unwillingness to spend the money required to bring in top level talent. At 62, is he going to drastically alter his managerial policies? It seems unlikely.

And finally, I find it difficult to believe the board will even consider replacing the manager. And so, we’re almost resigned to watching the same old story unfold next season. Only at 6% more expense.

Boring boring Arsenal indeed.

Villa thoughts: Where would we be without Robin?

15 comments May 17th, 2011

Arsenal 1 – 2 Aston Villa (Bent 12, 15, Van Persie 89)
Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

It’s hard to talk about the game in any way that is enlightening or interesting…
Yes, we were a little unfortunate with a couple of refereeing decisions, but the match was defined by characteristic flaws of this team: poor defending and a lack of urgency. For some reason, our squad seemed to be labouring under the illusion that third place and Champions League qualification was a certainty. Now, all of a sudden, it is out of our hands. To fall from being United’s main challenger to fourth so dramatically is shocking.

It all went wrong at the Carling Cup Final…
Since then, as arseblogger shrewdly points out, our record reads:


Of the three wins in that sequence, once came against struggling Blackpool, and another Leyton Orient.  The third was that anomalous victory over Manchester United.  That game aside, our performances simply haven’t been up to standard.

Losing on the big stage against Birmingham clearly realised a lot of the squad’s innermost fears about their own capacity to get over the line.  Since then, the remainder of the season has played out under the same stench of failure.

The lap of appreciation…
…was a staid, awkward affair.  Fortunately, most of the fans whose frustrations would have been in danger of boiling over in to abuse had already made their point by heading to the exit.

Theoretically this lap is an exercise in mutual ‘appreciation’ between fans and players.  This time, it felt like the players were asking forgiveness from the fans.  Most supporters are not yet ready to forget the crimes of the second half of the season.

How many players were waving goodbye?
Most fans expect an overhaul of the squad this summer.  There are obvious departures: the likes of Rosicky, Almunia and Denilson.  However, we started the game against Villa without Gael Clichy, Samir Nasri, and Cesc Fabregas.  It’s possible we could face next season without all three – Nasri and Clichy will be sold unless they sign new deals, whilst Fabregas could insist on leaving for Barcelona.

Goodbye Jens…
I was not at the stadium on Sunday, but had I been I would have stayed just to bid a fond farewell to an Arsenal legend: Jens Lehmann.  Hopefully he’ll be back at the club in a coaching capacity before too long: now more than ever, we need characters like him.

Thank God for Robin…
By all accounts, Robin walked his lap of the stadium a little behind the rest of the squad.  I hope this allowed him to get the warm applause he richly deserves.  His record this season is absolutely outstanding – he now has 17 goals in is last 16 Premier League matches.  He missed about a third of the season through injury, and yet is now the third top goalscorer in the division, with as many goals as the much heralded poacher who put us to the sword on Sunday, Darren Bent.

It all begs the question: where would we be without him?  In the second half of the season, the form of the likes of Nasri and Wilshere has trailed off.  Cesc Fabregas has been conspicuous primarily by his absence.  But throughout our poor form, Robin’s consistent excellence has been constant.

We will need more like him if next season isn’t going to end in much the same way.

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