Son of a Gun!

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

First-teamers we haven’t yet seen in pre-season August 5, 2009

Filed under: Abou Diaby,Kieran Gibbs,Lukasz Fabianski,Pre-season,Samir Nasri,Theo Walcott — Son of a Gunner @ 11:54 pm

Considering the relative success of ou pre-season; with Arsenal having won 5 of 6 friendlies and drawn the remaining one, scoring 20 goals and coceding only 4; it shows Wenger’s vision in converting our usual 4-5-1 and 4-4-2 formations to the current refreshing 4-3-3 to be another stroke of genius.

However, despite all the apparent positives, there are still some more players we haven’t seen yet in pre-season. And these are all first-teamers I’m referring to. This means, things can only get better. Now let us see who these players are and how they can each contribute to the Arsenal cause this coming season.

1 – Abou Diaby
It probably isn’t entirely accurate to say he haven’t seen Diaby in pre-season for he has featured 45 minutes against SC Columbia. However, that was the only time he played in all 6 friendlies to-date. I must say this is one of the mysterious things of pre-season I could not fathom as firstly, it is clear Wenger rates him highly and secondly, it is clear he would be a much more effective player in the new 4-3-3 formation.

Diaby was mostly deployed on the left the past couple of seasons to the amazement of most Gooners as it was clear be it in attack or in midfield, his natural position has got to be in the centre. When he arrived in 2006, he arrived as a central midfielder. It is obvious despite his excellent technique, he is simply not cut out to be a wide midfielder. With the new formation, he could excel as one of the midfield trio. However, since the Columbia game, we have seen mostly Ramsey, Denilson and Song in the midfield trio for most of the friendly games and of course our captain Cesc when he became available.

I feel Diaby was ineffective in wide positions and he isn’t much of a defensive midfielder as his tackling leaves much to be desired. To put things into perspective, his tackling would make Paul Scholes look like a world-beater in defence. Therefore, he would be excellent if he can partner Cesc in the centre with a tenacious midfielder to cover both of them as well as the attacking trio. The tenacious midfielder job can go to one of Denilson, Song or Ramsey. All 3 not really outstanding defensive midfielders themselves but have the engine and the mobility required to succeed in this role.

Therefore, I remain confident we will see Diaby play much better than he ever did the past two seasons with the new formation. As to when we will see him again, only Wenger knows. He is not injured, so he may yet feature againt Valencia this Saturday, we shall see.

2 – Lukasz Fabianski
We have not seen Fabianski at all in pre-season. He has been the established second-choice ‘keeper and the domestic cups goalkeeper since Almunia became our number one. However, he did not feature in our opening friendly game at Underhill against Barnet, with Vito Mannone featuring instead. After which, we saw the first team left for the Austria tour without Fabianski. Wenger said it as because Fabianski had a small knock and he had expected him to feature in he Emirates Cup but again he was left out of the entire tournament.

Wenger has said that he expects Fabianski to become a world-class ‘keeper in future despite some of his glaring mistakes last season, the worst being that rash rush out which led to Drogba slotting the ball into an empty net in the FA Cup semi-final that lost us the tie. I also mentioned in one of my earlier posts that I feel he should be givena chance to gin more experience and to develop himself because he has the raw talents to succeed and that he is still only 24, very young for a ‘keeper. However, the poll conducted in this blog as shown most Gooners still think he should go.

Is Wenger having doubts as well? I hope not as I really think he can improve. We will know more when the season begins.

3 – Theo Walcott
He has been given a longer break due to his involvement in the England U21s earlier in the summer. Now he has returned and he is all ready to face Valencia this Satuday. There is no dobt in my mind that Walcott can be deadly as the right-sided attacker in the attacking trio of the new formation. Previously, when we were playing 4-4-2 and 4-5-1, Walcott was just effective going forward but much as he wanted to help defend whenever we lose the ball, that just isn’t his forte.

Being part of the attacking trio in the new 4-3-3 formation would mean more chances for himself and being a direct layer, this can only benefit his game. I can’t wait to see him on the right and Wilshere on the left with van Persie as the focal point of the attacking trio. Now that would be mouthwatering! We have been looking good so far without him, but he will add a new dimension to the team with his return.

4 – Samir Nasri
It was unfortunate that Nasri was injured before a ball was kicked in pre-season. Otherwise,we would have been able to see if he can be as effective playing in the midfield trio as he did last season as a left-sided midfielder a la Pires-style. However, his absence probably played a part in Ramsey and Wilshee playing more in pre-season than expected.

Nasri slotted into the defensive midfielder position towards the end of last season. Most Gooners thought it was a really lousy decision thinking he is not strong enough in the middle. However, I would like to bring to everyone’s attention that he had played in the middle for Marseille during his entire time there. His physique is much stronger than most think. He can hold the ball well and he is an intelligent player.

But I must say it was a waste to play him as a holding midfielder simply because we have no one else to do the job. He is much more effective and dangerous as an attacking player and this is why I think he will also suit he new 4-3-3 formation. Let’s hope he returns soon enough.

5 – Carlos Vela
We have yet to see Vela in pre-season due to his involvement with Mexico. This is one player that I’m sure will fit the new formation to a tee. He has played as a left winger/attacker for Osasuna during his loan spell and he was extremely impressive in that role, even nutmegging Sergio Ramos. He returned to Arsenal with Wenger saying he will be a striker in the Eduardo mould. Both are left-footed assasins in front of goal so it is easy to see the comparison there. However, I feel Vela’s close control with hard work is one that will fit into the new system perfectly. I can see him playing as on the left of the attacking trio. Being left-footed, he would be able to dominate that flank and send crosses in as well as take shots on goal after being laid off by the target man. In summary, he will enjoy this role and we as Gooners will be enjoying his performaces. I can’t wait!

6 – Kieran Gibbs
Like Walcott, he was given 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 his first season as a first-teamer has already outshone Traore. However, Traore has impressed during this pre-season and his preformances will certainly give Wenger a healthy headache. I maintain we are extremely well-covered in this area and I won’t be surprised to see one of Traore and Gibbs leave on loan this season. I, though, will want to see both of them remain and fight it out to be Clichy’s undisputed deputy. This will be interesting.

Therefore, with the 6 abovementioned first-teamers to return to the squad, there are more reasons to feel good about the coming season. Let’s stay positive, fellow Gooners!

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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.