Son of a Gun!

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

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!

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One Response to “Leftbacks for the season ahead”

  1. […] extra time for a break due to his involvement with the England U21s. As mentioned in my post of leftbacks for the season ahead, Gibbs is an exceptional talent who has impressed in Clichy’s absence. His performances in […]


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