Son of a Gun!

Musings on Arsenal Football Club by a Singaporean Gooner (Gooner since 1988)

Goodbye Kolo, thanks for the memories July 31, 2009

Filed under: Former Gunners,Transfer Rumours — Son of a Gunner @ 11:51 pm

Kolo Toure was officially Manchester City’s latest signing yesterday. To be honest, I didn’t see this coming even as late as last week although the rumours to his departure started as early as January this year when Arsenal admitted he handed in a transfer request.

For a player who has given so much to the club, the way the relationship ended really wasn’t the most ideal. He lost his place in the first team and his relations with his defensive partner William Gallas had broken down and although after the mid-season transfer window closed with Toure staying and re-affirming his future with the club, they seemed to get back together on professional terms at least. During pre-season, Toure and Gallas partnered each other more than once, making me think they might both be staying. He even led the team out as captain in the friendly the day before he left.

Unlike Ademoneyor, no true Gooner can begrudge Toure leaving Arsenal for whatever reasons, monetary or ‘footballing’, the latter being more Politically-Correct then realistic. No fan would be pleased to hear their new signing joined for the sake of money, it’s like a taboo revealing that in your first interview at a new club. City fans can kid themselves but they know deep down inside, that all these players did not join their club simply because of the club’s prestige, but purely because of money. I’m not going to open a can of worms by saying what I feel about their way of obtaining success, because every club has their own way and their own rights. It’s their club and I honestly don’t give a rat’s ass how they run their club. It is Arsenal I care about.

Anyway, I digress. I want to say, Kolo Toure has been an impeccable professional for us. I love him dearly as a Gunner and I genuinely wish him all the very best except whenever he returns to Emirates stadium. His departure has made me unable to post yesterday (ok, my night class did play a big part in that too) and I am still coming to terms with it. I remember how his horrible own goal against Leeds brought our title challenge to a halt some years back (has to be some time back, do you even remember Leeds?), but he was so incredibly upset after he lashed at the ball madly into the back of our own goal that you can see he was tearing himself apart. I was really frustrated when the goal was scored but after I saw his reaction, my heart went out to him. He went on to become part of that famous back four in that record-breaking run in the Champions League. With Sol Campbell out-of-sorts most of that season, a 25-year-old Toure was the main man in defence and he did not let the team down.

Toure has left us many fond memories, and it should have been more. My fear is that having seen him in pre-season, he certainly looks fitter and leaner than last season. In any case, thank you for all the memories, Kolo.

Well, we have lost two African players and very experienced ones too taking into consideration how young the rest of the team is. A thrd African departure is being mooted in the form of Eboue and I have said before in previous posts that after Toure’s departure, I am no longer keen to see Eboue leave. If he does leave, we are no only short on numbers, we are dangerously bereft of quality rightbacks. In my earlier article on our rightbacks for the season ahead, both Toure and Eboue are high up on the list in being Sagna’s backup but if both are gone we will be left with purely youngsters as backup. Like it or not, we’ll have to sign players if that happens.

The media is of course up to their usual tricks of planting the panic buttons into Gooners everywhere and I’m glad to see only ignorant, jump-on-the-bandwagon, relatively-new gooners are being taken in with the fans of our rival clubs. News of Toure and Ademoneyor leaving Arsenal is sensational enough for them because Arsenal will now appear much weaker than we already are and if they do not have anything else to excite them by, then surely taking the micky out of a rival club would make their pre-season. Let us put things into perspective here.

Looking purely across the top teams one by one:
Manchester United – Lost two players who played an integral part in their title wins last two seasons and the Champions League win two seasons ago. Antonio Valencia, a player who shone in a team without any technical ability, was brought in to replace the world’s best player. He is a good player, but is he good enough to replace Ronaldo? You can argue he is young but let me tell you a cold, hard fact – he is the SAME age as Ronaldo. France U-21 international Gabriel Obertan was another signing. Young and hugely talented, he only served half a season of Bordeaux’s title-winning season as a reserve, before gong on loan to Lorient for the rest of the season. Finally, they signed Michael Owen which was ridiculed by most of the football world but to me their best signing of this summer. Getting a proven goalscorer for free is almost like a riskless venture. There is no doubt in my head Owen will get more than his fair share of goals despite his injury problems. A club like United will suit a finisher of Owen’s ability. But do these 3 signings make United stronger than they were last season? Unlikely.

Liverpool – Pretty much the same squad an the most significat addition is Glenn Johnson. Johnson may be a classy player who is now better than when he was at West Ham and Chelsea, but is still defensively suspect. Álvaro Arbeloa has been offloaded to Real Madrid and Xabi Alonso may yet follow him out. Javier Mascherano’s future is still under speculation. A better team than last season? I doubt.

Chelsea – They made the biggest signing among the big 4 clubs, Yuri Zhirkov. But their own signings are mediocre players not intended for the first team. With their aging players another year older, will that make them a better team than last season? Unlikely, and although I rate Zhirkov highly, I do not see him being the one key factor in helping Chelsea regain the title. Carlo Ancelotti is an overrated manager, with a prestigious club name that attracts the world’s best talents year after year, Milan boasts of some of the world’s best players like Kaka, Maldini, Ronaldinho and now Pato. Despite the huge array of experienced and proven top players, he only won the Serie A once – 5 seasons ago. I don’t see him being a huge success at Chelsea, I’m sorry.

What about us? We signed the captain of Ajax, Thomas Vermaelen. I have seen him in pre-season and I like what I saw. His style suits Arsenal and his tendency to play high up the field which can catch him exposed is one of the few weaknesses he has displayed but I think that will improve with time. Besides, he is still integrating into the team. Wenger knew our defence needed some freshening up and he has gone out and done that. Toure was dropped from the first team for a significant period of time last season and even the biggest Kolo fan would agree he was not up to the task last year. Ademoneyor only scored 16 goals last season, only 1 more than Nicklas Bendtner.

Eduardo has returned, Arshavin will have his first full season having fully adapted to the league, Rosicky is back fit. Nicklas Bendtner now will have more chances to play and will definitely continue to improve, and youngsters like Denilson, Song and Ramsey has another year’s experience. Are we stronger? Yes, we are. While other teams were strong last season, most of them are filled with players at their peak, they can only maintain their strength if they do not add. While we having these youngsters can only get better.

Yes, Gooners worry about players such as Cesc, van Persie and Walcott leaving if we continue to be starved of success. But departures like these are a boost to the young players more than anything els because they see an opportunity to grab a first team spot. Cesc and Walcott came through the same way. And Ramsey and Whilshere are both looking very strong in pre-season, their form no doubt reasons why Wenger is relunctant to spend. Although I maintain having an experienced player will push the youngsters even harder, it doesn’t mean we are any weaker if we do not replace the 2 players who gave very little last season.

Having listed the above, doesn’t the future seem much brighter than what the media would have you believe?

Oh City? I must say I’ve always respected their midfield. But with a manager like Hughes at the helm, I’m not sure they will play a smooth, fluid kind of football we Arsenal can produce. I’m not even sure Hughes can last another season but that is another topic for another day. How fast they can gel and play as a cohesive unit remains to be seen. You can argue they are all intelligent players who can play with anyone but so is Robinho but what happens to him whenever he plays in away games?

I’m not sure Hughes is tactically strong enough to bring out the best in his expensively-assembled squad. To be perfectly honest, I still think they are some way off to challenging for a Champions League place. However, I believe they can now consistently challenge the likes of Everton and Aston Villa -who both, by the way, also did not significantly add to their squad.

To end today’s post, I will put my perspective on the latest transfer rumour: Arsenal going for Patrick Vieira, which Wenger did not rule out. I mentioned in earlier posts that I would be very surprised if Vieira really went to Spurs and I maintain that. As for Vieira returning to Arseanal, I have my doubts as well. I think Wenger was just trying to sound diplomatic. He said the same thing about Thierry Henry last season but we all know he would never return to Arsenal as a player.

I watched the Hannover game and I will review that in my next post. Really looking forward to the Emirates Cup!

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Interesting hack July 29, 2009

Filed under: Transfer Rumours — Son of a Gunner @ 10:46 pm
Is Daniel de Rossi our new number 13?

Is Daniel de Rossi our new number 13?

Well, no. Daniel de Rossi did not join Arsenal and I would be extremely surprised if we managed to get him. There seemed to be some hacker who hacked into the official website for a short period of time and put de Rossi as an Arsenal player on the official website. But kuddos to the webmaster to correct it early as it didn’t last long enough to cause a much more wild reaction. If you pay attention to the picture above, a screenshot that was taken by another blogger who reacted quick enough in that short span of time it was up, you can see a picture of Henri Lansbury was used.

I understand following the departure of Ademoneyor and the imminet departure of Kolo Toure, there is a lot of pressure on Wenger to spend the money earned and with big names quickly running out of fashion, a new name has to be thought of by the day. The frenzy finally caught up with the above reaction.

As I mentioned yesterday, it pains me greatly to see Toure leave. Other than the fact he is our last Invincible, he was a player who never showed a lack of commitment on the field. Not one second. But if he were to leave, be prepared that Arsenal would not be spending to get a replacement. If any spending is to be done, it would be in midfield and not anyone to replace either Moneybayor or Toure. Now, the fear is even that may not happen.

One canonly hope. But if our utility man Eboue is to join them in departing then I would really think we are short on numbers. And this cannot be supplemented by youth players, as promising as they are. They are just not ready.

But there really is nothing we fans can do but hope for the best. When I first became a Gooner, there was a huge gap in between our titles from 1991-1998. In those years, I was just happy to get double wins over Spurs and to be higher in the league than them. Occaionally getting into Europe would be nice. A domestic cup here and there would be a surprise.

When Wenger came, he changed Arsenal’s fortunes forever. To use one of Wenger’s own quotes “You can be a victim of your own success”. Wenger is now a victim of his own success. Before him, success were mediocre at best. So why shouldn’t REAL Gooners be giving him the chance to make things right?

Let’s get behind our main man. We as fans can only trust our manager to bring us the success the club craves. I believe he wants it as much as any of us.

Tonight, we will have the last friendly at Austria against Hannover 96. I will be picking out the interesting bits again tomorrow to get more of an idea of how our team will shape up next season.

Stay positive!

 

Pre-season friendly: Szombathelyi Haladas 0 – 5 Arsenal July 28, 2009

Filed under: Andrey Arshavin,Former Gunners,Pre-season,Thomas Vermaelen — Son of a Gunner @ 11:04 pm

Let us run through some Arsenal snippets:

Thierry Henry is really assuring a permanent place in the hearts of Gooners everywhere with this latest quotes attributed to him, where he said he ‘won’t recommend Spurs to anyone’ and that he is ‘Arsenal through and through’. Just like Henry, I would be shocked and utterly disappointed if Vieira did join Spurs.

Rumours are getting rife with regards to Toure’s future. There are many ‘reports’ in the media which claim a deal has been struck with Manchester City and that an official announcement is imminent. Personally, I hope this isn’t true but I can see why Wenger will agree to such a deal especially if the price is right. With Vermaelen, Djourou, Gallas (who seem to be staying as all early pre-season rumours of his transfer have gone cold), Senderos (who still hasn’t sorted his future) and Silvestre (gasp!), Wenger might decide that he has enough cover especially since the African Cup of Nations will mean Toure’s absence for up to 2 months. But it would be a dangerous move to let him leave when I see no one new arriving. On the surface, it might seem like we are well covered but we should always have 4 top defenders to choose from. Injuries seem to bug us in every position in every season and if one or two injuries struck, we would look back on the day of Toure’s departure with much much regret. Also, as Gooner speaking from his heart, it will pain me deeply if he leaves. I firmly believe Toure did his best for Arsenal and no matter what loss-of-form he endured and whatever mistakes he had committed, he will still be best remembered for his never-say-die attitute and his tenacity is infectious. Any team would be better with him around whether he is used as a squad player or as a first-teamer, and I would hate to see him in another English team’s colours.

Meanwhile, my all-time favorite Arsenal player Dennis the great Bergkamp has heaped praise on Andrey Arshavin. It seems apt that Bergkamp is the one who picked Arshavin as the player to watch next season as they are both magicians who play best in the spot beind the main striker. I’m realy looking forward to the first full season with Arshavin. If he stays injury-free, I believe he will be someone who can light up the Premier League.

Our Mr. Reliable Bacary Sagna has also been singing the praises of new signing Thomas Vermaelen. I hope this is a sign of things to come. So far in pre-season, Vermaelen has shown that he is a very mobile defender and a hard, no-nonsense tackler who possess a huge leap.

Moving on to Arsenal’s pre-season friendly against Szombathelyi Haladas, the 2nd runner-up in the Hungarian top-flight who had qualified for the first edition of the Europa League, but was unfortunately knocked out in the qualifying rounds. Although they are a team from Hungary who just qualified for Europe, they are still a team that proved a much tougher test than the first two friendlies Arsenal had played. With that in mind, our team still did remarkably well with Nicklas Bendtner and Eduardo scoring a brace each and van Persie adding a second-half penalty to pile on the misery for the Hungarian side.

As usual, I will pick out a few interesting points from the friendly:

1 – Kolo Toure led out the team as captain.
Despite the on-going rumours about Toure leaving for Manchester City, he not only started the game but as captain of the side. There is no doubt that Wenger still seem to trust him, or at least want to see for himself if Toure can be the same player of 2 seasons ago. I must say Toure looked much slimer and fitter than last season, or maybe my laptop screen isn’t exactly HD. Wenger spoke to Arsenal TV Online after the game which includes further clue as to Toure’s future. I really ought to subscribe to it. Anyone who can view, please update via the comments section about what Wenger said.

2 – Bendtner has scored a brace in each of the last 2 games.
Bendtner is a player who strives on confidence. He had 15 goals in all competitions last season, I have firm belief now that he had one more year’s experience and now without Adebayor in the side, he’s bound to get more opportunities to shine. I won’t be surprised in the least bit to see him reach 20+ goals in all competitions next season. He has the technique, the size, tenacity and footballing intelligence. Now, he just needs composure in front of goal to be the perfect direct replacement for Adebayor.

3 – Eduardo scored a brace in his first game in pre-season.
Eduardo has a good habit of scoring in his return games. He seemed to score whenever he plays his first game recovering from an injury or from suspensions. This has continued and I am really looking forward to seeing more of him next season. To me, there is no doubt in my mind that if not for that horrible tackle on him by that jerk Taylor, we would have won the league in 2007/2008. The rot began from that tackle. He is another striker whom I expect will get more than 20 goals for us next season. If everyone contributes a bit more in front of goal, the absence of Adebayor will be covered.

4 – van Persie scored 3 in 2 games, 2 of them penalties.
There was a time after Ian Wright left, that Arsenal was bereft of genuine penalty-takers. I bet it is not conceivable that Lee Dixon was our designated penalty-taker back in those glory days, but he really was – just a piece of trivia for new Gooners. But now van Persie looks to be someone who I can watch taking a penalty without me closing my eyes and wishing for the best. Good news, as whatever chances we have, especially with penalties, we ought to put them away.

5 – Thomas Rosicky didn’t play again.
He has only played in the game against Barnet so far, but I think there is nothing to fear as his pre-season training is still very much on track. I expect to see him in the next friendly though.

6 – Jack Wilshere started all 3 friendlies to-date.
I think we can expect to see more of Wilshere this coming season and this is mouth-watering in itself. I genuinely think he is a real star in the making. As long as he keeps his feet on the ground and keeps learning and developing, we have a real superstar in our hands. Best thing is, he is a real home-grown player. In the friendlies to-date, he can be seen playing a very disciplined game, somewhat holding back some of his audacious moves and keeping his attacking instincts in check to avoid losing the ball. I guess the coaches are training him to be more of a team player first and to keep his discipline in his positioning. But I have no doubt Wenger will allow him to roam free once he learns how to be more of a team player, especially when it comes to defending and tracking back. Once he is given more freedom, that is when he will shine.

7 – Vito Mannoe played his first game of pre-season.
He actually did well in the 45 minutes he was involved. But goalkeepers need the competitive experience to really develop. However, I think he did remind Wenger of the player he is that made him the official 3rd choice in the first place.

8 – Gallas partnered Vermaelen for the second time in pre-season.
Will this be the new first choice defensive partnership? It could well be although I still feel Djourou should be given the nod ahead of Gallas. But I see Wenger opting for experience instead and it is with good reason. Gallas is a top defender on his day and playing alongside him can only improve Vermaelen’s own game.

9 – Aaron Ramsey impressed as a box-to-box midfielder.
While not exactly the kind of defensive midfielder we are looking for, Ramsey is someone who can run all day long. There used to be this Iranian national player who used to play in the S-League who was nick-named “man with 6 lungs” for his outstanding stamina. I think Ramsey can match him for that. Ramsey has a lot of attacking instincts while at the same time he tracks back often and nips into tackles. His tackling needs improving but he is slowly getting there. It is also funny to me that his long-range passing seem to be more accurate than his short passes. If he can improve his composure on the ball and hold the ball better, he can be a real menance in the centre of the pitch. He actually reminds me a little of Bryan Robson – Ramsey is a younger, fitter and more robust version. He has the right physical strengths, so expect to see more of him this coming season especially now that Wenger seem to be closing his chequebook.

10 – Armand Traore played as leftback for the first time in pre-season.
Yes, he played as leftback against SC Columbia but he eventually ended up further up-field as the game progressed. In this game, he was leftback throughout the time he was on the field. I must say he really impressed with his robust tackling and his excellent crossing. I’ve almost forgotten how well he crosses the ball and this game reminded me again with that excellent and precise cross for Bendtner to head home. Looks like our leftback position is well covered and Traore can double up as a left winger, and he is more of a natural left winger than anyone else in the squad. When Newcastle almost won the title during the Keegan era, Keith Gillespie and Les Ferdinand were the main reasons why. Gillespie must have crossed millions for Ferdinand to head home throughout that season. Maybe we can create our own unique formula with Traore and Bendtner? One can only hope.

So with the third friendly having gone so smoothly, Wenger must be thinking we really won’t need another signing and that might be worrying in some ways. I still maintain we need just ONE midfielder to make it a complete squad. We might not get that, and if we don’t, it is not the end of the world. We just have to stick it out with our players.

Onward to the next game!

P.S. My buddy Marcus, who is a mad Liverpool fan, has caught the Liverpool game against my country Singapore at our national stadium and was quoted by our local newspapers. Congrats, bro! Enjoy your 15 minutes haha!

 

Page update July 26, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Son of a Gunner @ 10:16 pm

I understand from some readers that one of my pages (top bar), “Baptism of Son of the Gunner” has trouble displaying the pictures I took in Highbury.

I have uploaded the pictures again and I’m sure I have fixed the problem this time round.  All pictures are my own original pictures and the guy wrapped tightly in an Arsenal jersey and Arsenal scarf is me in 2006, I’ve put on quite a few pounds since though haha.

You may check out the fixed page by clicking on the link at the top bar of this page or simply click on this link.

Enjoy!

 

Poll Results + Happy birthday Gael!

Filed under: SOG Polls — Son of a Gunner @ 3:31 pm

I would like to wish Gael Clichy, our majestic leftback, many happy returns on his 24th birthday today. I wrote about how we are fortunate to have him in our ranks, being one of the finest leftbacks in the whole of Europe and he is still only 24! Here’s wishing an injury-free and successful season ahead for you, Gael!

Right, let’s move on to the poll results of the past week. I will leave yesterday’s poll till next Sunday because there isn’t enough time to gather eough votes on that.

First poll – Do you think Tomas Rosicky will have a large role to play next season?
Results:
Yes, we have missed him badly. 80%
No, he will never be the same again. 20%

Indeed, we have missed Rosicky’s presence badly. Who knows how many more points we would have gathered if he was around last season? But then again, if he was injury-free, we might not have gotten Arshavin. Nevertheless, I’m sure all Gooners are waiting in great anticipation in watching him again next season. Together with our other creative players with flair like Arshavin, Vela, Nasri and Fabregas, it is a mouth-watering prospect.

Second poll – Who is your first-choice replacement for Sagna if he is injured?
Results:
Emmanuel Eboue 75%
Kerrea Gilbert 13%
Gavin Hoyte 13%

With no impending arrivals, I genuinely hope Eboue will stay next season. He isan excellent utility man to have within the squad. He can play in a variety of positions and although he frustrate us with his unsporting antics, there is little arguing that he is still the most reliable rightback after Sagna in the squad. Gilbert has a lot of promise but his lack of progres the past two years will count against him and Gavin Hoyte’s best position remain in central defence. Toure can do a decent job here but I see no long-term future for him in this position. However, my fear is that Wenger might think with new defender Vermaelen in the squad, Toure could be converted into a backup rightback and release Eboue. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen, especially when no one else seem to be arrivng.

Third poll – Would you like to see Hleb back at Arsenal?
Results:
No, we don’t need him anymore! 100%
Yes, we can do with a midfielder like him. 0% (0 votes)

The view is unanimous among all Gooners. When Hleb left, I have mentioned in my previous posts that I was angry and upset. But the arrival of Nasri who has more end-product and is arguably a better all-round player with more steel has softened that blow. THe arrival of Arshavin and the return of Rosicky ha completely erased Hleb from memory. Arsenal defninitely got the better end of the Hleb deal. No doubt.

Fourth poll – Do you think Arsenal will be able to cope with Nasri’s absence?
Results:
Yes, we have enough quality players. 100%
No, we need to buy! 0%

As mentioned, we have more than enough capable players who can fill in for Nasri until his return. And his absence will not be as long as most of our rivals would wish. However, we still pray for a speedy recovery for Nasri!

 

Leftbacks for the season ahead July 25, 2009

Ok, Arsenal snippets/updates:

It seems that Fiorentina hasn’t given up on getting Emmanuel Eboue, we first knew of their interest when they asked for Eboue to be included in the now-dead Melo deal. I know right at the end of last season, the general consensus is to let Eboue go. But right now, with no impending arrivals, I’m not sure it is that good an idea to sell Eboue. He is after all an excellent utility player to have in the squad.

Former Gunners are speaking recently, with Adebayour blaming everyone but himself for his departure from Arsenal to Manchester City. This is really one deluded man who loves contradicting himself. He made it sound as if he is so noble to leave to give us some much needed funds and blames the fans for getting on his back instead of Fabregas when the two cases are so astonishingly different. Our captain never hesitates to nip any transfer rumours about him in the bud. Unlike him who gives different opinions to everyone who bothers to listen. And one day after saying he joined City for footballing reasons, he said no sane one will refuse higher pay in any industry. Enough said.

Some other pathetic former player whose real name will never be properly appear in my blog has said ‘with a grin’ he hoped City will push Arsenal out of the top four. Whether or not it was friendly banter or a challenge, it really shouldn’t bother any Gooners. It is pathetic enough to have to make such statements to get noticed instead for perormances on the pitch. And thank goodness he left so that better leftbacks like Clichy and Gibbs can strive. Statements like this really made his claims of being an Arsenal fan look really fraudulent. He has really burnt his bridges with Arsenal in general.

The only exception is Thierry Henry, who is a real legend and a true gentleman. He wanted Arsenal to keep Fabregas and thinks we can win the league when everyone is putting a death knell to our trophy-winning chances. What a big difference to that of Hleb, who urged Cesc to ‘return home’ to Barcelona. That is why players like Henry and Pires will always be welcome at Arsenal, unlike certain former players.

Right, now to our main topic of the day: Our leftback for the season ahead, our options are:

Gael Clichy – He joined Arsenal as an 18 year-old from AS Cannes. He had already appeared for AS Cannes 15 times in the lower leagues of France and had a reputation as a speedy leftback who likes getting in front of his opponents in nipping the ball, a trait that has remained in his game today.

Clichy made one of his earliest appearances in an Arsenal shirt actually playing on the left wing position, just in front of the Cashley one at leftback. At the time, it would seem a long time before Clichy can claim the leftback position as his own at Arsenal.

Clichy’s first chance at getting a sustained run in the first team was 3 years later when the Cashley one broke his metatarsal in season 2005/2006 but unfortunately he suffered an identical injury not long after, meaning his chance was prematurely ended. Flamini was pushed to leftback due to lack of personnel and he became part of the famous back 4 with the Champions League record of 10 consecutive clean-sheets. We will never know whether he would have been as successful if he had not been injured then, but it don’t matter now. It was during this injury that my all-time favorite player Dennis Bergkamp told Clichy to work hard and stick it out the tough times and he will eventually succeed. Wise words which stuck in Clichy’s detrmined mind.

At the end of that season, the Cashley one left for Chelski and Clichy was given an excellent opportunity to make the leftback position his own. Although his injury sustained in the previous season means he can only begin his season 2 months into the new campaign, Wenger placed his trust in him in not signing any of the leftbacks that were available in the market, and that the media were happily linking to us throughout that summer. When he returned, he started apprehensively but ended the season strongly and having successfully made the leftback position his own. The following season, he was the best leftback in he league with Sagna sharing the same honour on the opposite flank. In a season which we led the table for 3 quarters of the time, Clichy was also voted as the second best Arsenal player of the season. He was massively consistent and proved to be a much better performer than the now much less glamorous Cashley one.

Despite his consistency and numerous strengths, it is also obvious Clichy has his weaknesses. He seem to make certain glaring mistakes once in a while and his mistakes seem to have a pattern of them happening in the dying minutes of a game. But he is already the Premier League’s finest at the age of 23 (by the way, Clichy turns 24 tomorrow! Happy birthday Gael!), and he has a long future at Arsenal. I believe he can only get better and I hope he is able to focus more than the 90 minutes of a game, including the injury time.

Kieran Gibbs – Gibbs joined Arsenal’s academy side from Wimbledon at the tender age of 15 as an attacking left midfielder. 2 seasons ago, he started in the pre-season friendly against Internazionale Milan at the Emirates Cup and was hugely impressive.

At the start of last season, Wenger began experimenting Gibbs at leftback and it out to be another shrewd Wenger decision. Although initially, Gibbs has a lot of trouble curbing his attacking instincts and was caught out of position a few times, he learnt quickly. His pace helped when he is exposed positionally. At the beginning, I didn’t know why Wenger wanted to convert him into a leftback because I thought I saw a very good lft winger in Gibbs but as always, Wenger knows best.

Gibbs’ chance came early last season when Clichy was injured for a period of time and when eveyone thought it would be Silvestre who will get the nod ahead of the much inexperienced Gibbs, all Gooners breathed a sigh of relief when Wenger chose Gibbs ahead of the slow-moving multiple-Premier League winner.

Everyone would remember his ghastly slip against Manchester United in the Champions League semi-final second-leg, but does anyone remember how he coped against World Player of the Year Cristian Ronaldo, who we now know cost 80 million pounds, in the first-leg? He was exceptional and composed during Ronaldo’s famous runs into the box. Indeed, he saved at least three (from my memory) certain goals on the line with his head, guarding from corners, in the sequence of games he played. And he was only 19.

His future is certainly great. One can only hope he gets over that massive mistake and improve from here.

Armand Traore – He joined Arsenal from Monaco in 2006 as a 16 year-old and quickly established himself in the academy league. He is a tall, pacy and robust leftback and many were already touting him to be the natural successor to Clichy in future.

He rised to prominence in season 2006/2007 when he played and started most of the League Cup games in which Arsenal reached th final but lost 1-2 to Chelsea. He was caught out on a number of occasions in the final but that is understandable being a young player against a well-oiled experienced team. In the following season, Traore was described by Wenger as ‘becoming a man in football’ and is fast-improving. He was converted to a left midfielder in his few games for Arsenal in that season.

Last season, he was loaned out to Portsmouth where he was prominent as a left winger and scored a very good goal against Sunderland. Despite his relative success at Portsmouth as a left winger, and Portsmouth desire to keep him, Traore returned to Arsenal hoping to break into the first team.

Now with valuable Premier League experience, Traore is better equipped than 3 years ago when he was so cruelly exposed defensively against Chelsea. But will he play at leftback again? My own feel is that he will be deployed as a left-sided utility man and will mostly play higher up as a midfielder but can do a job to cover Clichy and Gibbs if need be. Whatever the case, I hope he stays because I feel he is good enough to succeed at Arsenal.

Mikael Silvestre – It is clear from his performances last season that his best is certainly past, and was spent at Manchester United. He was also famous for wanting to play as a centreback and ran into a few spats with Sir Slex for being unwilling to play on the left.

During his prime, Silvestre was definitely a very solid defender and is a very good leftback although if he were to play this position for Arsenal, he will not be effective at all as we play a very fluid sytem with very mobile and pacy fullbacks. Silvestre is neither mobile nor pacy. I hope he leaves because he does not add any value to the team. An experience doesn’t help past a certain stage, and Silvestre is certainly past that.

William Gallas – Gallas for leftback? Yes, it is worth noting that Gallas was a very effective leftback for Chelsea. In fact, he was extremely versatile for Chelsea, playing across the back 4 at various stages. But it was well documented that his refusal and unhappiness in playing in a fullback position was the root of his fallout with the Chelsea management.

However, when he first joined Arsenal, Gallas was played as a leftback most of the time in his first few games for Arsenal as we were without a recognised leftback during that time until Flamini was moved into that position (see above). I thought he was excellent as a leftback and can certainly do a more than decent job there. With his first team prospects as a centreback now limited due to Vermaelen’s arrival and Djourou’s rise, it is definitely worth considering using him in other positions, especially in a position in which he is not entirely unfamiliar to.

Luke Ayling – An academy player, Ayling is an extremely versatile player who can play anywhere in midfield and defence. He is both-footed, has excellent technique and is uncompromising in his tackle. He is one for the future and his position is still not yet fixed. I don’t think he is read for the first team though.

Pedro Botelho – The exciting Brazilian is still not eligible to play for Arsenal as he has still to receive a Spanish passport having spent the last two seasons on loan to Spanish sides. According to Young Guns, Pedro has joined Celta Vigo on loan for the season ahead. I have seen him in clips and he is very pacy ad technically gifted. However, there are doubts as to his defensive ability. We’ll know more when he appears for Celta Vigo next season.

Overall – We have a world-class leftback who will turn only 24 tomorrow, and we have one of the most exciting young talents in England as a backup. Also, our ‘backup’ already has Champions League and Premier League experience. In addition to the two, we have other players who can fill in as an emergency and even Eboue can play there (which he did quite well against Manchester United in the Champions League). There is definitely no need to improve on this department. One interesting thing to ponder is, with Gibbs being only 4 years younger than Clichy, will he be satisfied enough to be Clichy’s understudy for most of his career? He may be patient now, but for how long? I’m just happy to know we have both of their services, for now.

The next position for discussion: the midfielders!

 

Pre-season friendly: SC Columbia 1 – 7 Arsenal July 22, 2009

Filed under: Abou Diaby,Pre-season,Samir Nasri — Son of a Gunner @ 11:24 pm

The first piece of bad news of pre-season has emerged: Samir Nasri has fractured his right fibula and will be out for 2 to 3 months. It almost seem like there is a curse preventing Rosicky and Nasri playing together. Arsene Wenger, though, said the injury is a “simple one”, and it will take about 6 weeks to heal instead of 3 months. Let’s hope that is true and that Rosicky’s case is a special and unique one, whereby the injury just keeps getting stranger and longer to heal than was announced.

Rumours has it that Diaby was the culprit who accidentally broke his compatriot Nasri’s leg. Does it mean that he has really bulked up? If that’s the case, it might be tantalising to imagine him being the tough midfielder we so desperately need! The thing is, despite all the talk about Diaby bulking up in the gym over the summer, I have yet to see a single picture of him in pre-season. However, it is also worth noting that he is well capable of career-ending tackles due more to poor tackling technique than strength.

I understand there is currently a lot of negative feelings towards Diaby now for the tackle. But I think we as Gooners should not harbour such ill feelings towards one of our own players. Such things happen in professional football training, not only to Arsenal but to every other club. I’ve said before that Diaby is technically very gifted, but he needs to release the ball faster, hold the ball better, and get more physical and hardworking in the centre of the pitch to be a more effectve player. He frustrates us with his lackadaisical attitute and sometimes selfish play. If he can correct those faults and be more physical as well, he could well be the answer to our midfield problems. But that remains at present, a big IF. So, let’s get off Diaby’s back and pray for a speedy recovery for Nasri.

At present, we have Rosicky, Arshavin, Traore (who played as a left winger all season at Portsmouth), Vela (who played left winger during his time at Osasuna), Gibbs (who started as a left winger before being converted into leftback last season), and even Eduardo who can play in Nasri’s position.

I did not include Walcott’s name because I expect, now with Adebayor’ departure, that he will be played centrally more often this season. This could be the season where he can polish his skills as a striker. All in all, it means we are well covered in this position and with the season still about a month away, it means Nasri has more than enough time to make his contribution felt when he eventually returns. Let’s remain optimistic!

Moving along, Arsenal played the first game in their Austrian training camp yesterday against SC Columbia. After conceding a rather poor goal thanks to Almunia, Arsenal shook to life and Nicklas Bendtner, Aaron Ramsey and Robin van Persie all scored a brace each with William Gallas rounding off the scoring. Scoring 7 against a team without even semi-professionals is kind of expected. So, let us go through some of the more interesting things I’ve noticed for the game.

1) Vermaelen and Djourou started in central defence. – I’ve mentioned in my blog’s very first post that I would like to see Djourou start alongside Vermaelen because Djourou seem to have the whole package as a defender, except experience. This run-out is a good one and perhaps even Wenger is interested to see for himself how this partnership can work. Vermaelen looks good aerially and so is Djourou. Could our defensive problems in the air be solved finally?

2) Bacary Sagna’s crossing seemed to have improved – He created an inch-perfect cross for van Persie to nod in the fifth goal. A lot of criticism were heaped on him for not being able to cross properly despite overlapping well. I mentioned in my previous post on Rightbacks for the season ahead that Sagna actually came to Arsenal with a reputation of being the best crosser of a ball for a defender. So I must say it was strange that it didn’t quite come off for him since he came to England. But early signs seem like he has indeed been working on the one area of his game that actually needs improving.

3) Lukasz Fabianski wasn’t involved in the squad and Wojciech Szczesny came on instead of Vito Mannone – I was wondering why this was so until Wenger revealed Fabianski wasn’t in the Austrian training camp due to a knee injury. But the fact that Szczesny came on instead of Mannone is interesting. I mentioned in my previous post of Goalkeepers for the season ahead that Szczesny is improving very fast and might be challenging Mannone soon for the official third choice in the first team. Wenger might want to take a closer look at the lanky Pole (no pun intended, really).

4) Philippe Senderos played as a defensive midfielder – The fact that Senderos was involved thrilled me as I’m beginning to hope that he might stay after all. But Wenger revealed that Senderos simply hasn’t made up his mind on his future but there are already offers for him. Such a public admission means the likelihood of him leaving is more than just high. As for the performance itself, he was surprisingly strong in the centre of the pitch. But bear in mind this is only against a team of amatuers.

5) Kolo Toure and William Gallas partnered each other in the second half – Wenger might be looking at re-creating the same defensive formula that worked for 3 quarters of a season in 2007/2008, when we were genuine title-challengers. They communicated well on the pitch and seem to work well together but these are very early days. The best thing is, it seem like both players will stay and that is essential as we really need some depth in defence.

6) Almunia made a sloopy mistake – The goal is definitely Almunia’s fault as his touch was a tad too heavy and he tried to be too clever. Perhaps it’s a case of both pre-season rustiness and complacency against lower-class opponents. This attitute has to change though, and I’m sure he will get his act together when things get serious. But another thing to note is that the back pass by Silvestre that resulted in Almunia’s mistake in the first place was unnecessary as well.

7) Tomas Rosicky didn’t play – The pessimistic will claim Rosicky is unfit again after playing in just one half against Barnet and that Nasri won’t be adequately replaced as he is too unfit. But the smart guess would be that he is being slowly eased back into action. He has been out of football for more than a year, it would be extremely stupid and risky to put him in every game now he’s finally back. I have no doubt though, that he will be fit enough to start the season and I’m quietly confident he can stay fit. The professionals have the best medical brains and service to aid them, we should trust their assessment instead of blinded and biased media talk.

All in all, another good run-out for the lads and the best news has to be that there are no new injuries, let’s hope that continues throughout pre-season and well into the new season (fingers crossed).

Finally, some better news to end today’s post – Our captain Fabregas is back in training and has joined up with the first team in Austria. He has a nice new crew cut that is very similar to new signing Vermaelen, maybe it is to create a more menancing look for the new season. You can view pictures of his first training session at the official website here. We should expect to see him in action in our next friendly next week.