Son of a Gun!

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

Rightbacks for the season ahead July 20, 2009

Filed under: Aaron Ramsey,Bacary Sagna,Defence,Emmanuel Eboue — Son of a Gunner @ 10:58 pm

First, some Arsenal snippets as always:

Emmanuel Adebayor has finally signed for Manchester City. The funniest thing I noticed is, there is absolutely no mention of the transfer at Arsenal’s official website. Every source confirming his transfer is outside of Arsenal. In the past, no matter how acrimonious the departure of a player, Arsenal’s official website has always posted an article confirming the departure as well as the usual “Arsenal wishes to thank [insert player’s name] for his services to the club and wishes him all the best in future”. Flamini, Hleb and of course the most infamous of them all, Moneybag Cole, have all had the same treatment. But NOT Adebayor. That explains it all.

UPDATE: Arsenal finally confirmed the transfer on the official website. Well, thank you for a memorable 2007/2008. Now go ruin Manchester City to confirm your legency.

I have a Gooner friend who is upset with his departure but I want to assure every Gooner that we have already seen the best of Adebayor in Arsenal colours. No matter how long he stays at Arsenal, he will never be able to repeat the same majestic performance of 2007/2008. His heart has already left Arsenal and Arsenal will survive without him. If we have survived Henry’s departure we will certainly survive his.

ok, on to the main topic of the day: Our options for Rightback for the season ahead. Let us look at the options one by one.

Bacary Sagna – When Wenger signed Sagna 2 seasons ago, it was a typical Wenger signing. The media linked several players to Arsenal in that transfer window and no one thought the best fullback in France was about to join Arsenal. He then followed suit with Eduardo da Silva in the same window, frustrating the media further.

Sagna was caught wearing the Arsenal number 3 jersey just one day prior to him being officially unveiled as Arsenal’s new fullback. He came with a solid background having been voted the best rightback in Ligue 1 for 2 consecutive seasons and has the highest number of assists (mostly from crosses for overlapping) for a defender in the top flight of France’s league. He was only 24.

However, it was a surprise signing as at that time we already had Emmanuel Eboue, who was the best rightback in Europe just a year prior in 2006 when he was part of the famous back-four who holds the record for most number of consecutive clean sheets in Champions League football (10), and reaching the final against Barcelona. Yes, it did seem a long time ago isn’t it?

We all wondered where Sagna would fit in with Eboue already established in the side. But with Ljungberg gone, Wenger moved Eboue up to the wing and fitted Sagna on the rightback position. He also claimed Sagna can play anywhere in the back four and even in midfield. Although in my memory he only ever appeared as a centre-back in an emergency (League Cup game if my memory serves me right). The rest of the time he was rightback and in his first season, he became the best rightback in the Premier League. That is incredible as he was the best in Ligue 1 one season, and then he was the best in the Premier League in the very next. He has adapted incredibly well and has proved himself to be another brilliant Wenger signing.

Last season he did not hit the same heights he reached in his first season but it was not his fault as the whole squad was suffering from lack-of-form. Also, it didn’t help that his defensive partners in the centre andon the left were almost consistently changing due to form, injuries and suspension. Sagna was the only ever-present except for a few injuries himself here and there. At times, it felt like he was trying to hold the entire defence together by himself on the right. However, despite this I feel Sagna was the most consistent Arsenal defender last season. Yes, his crossing left much to be desired but his main job is to defend, and he has done well in that department for the most part. I have no doubt he will continue to be very steady on the right for us.

Emmanuel Eboue – Although he was now officially listed as a midfielder for Arsenal, as stated above, he started as rightback for us. At the time when he joined, we had Lauren who had the unenviable task of replacing the legendary Lee Dixon at rightback. Like the opposite of Eboue, Lauren started as a right midfielder before he was converted to rightback for Arsenal. For a while, he did alright and was part of a very strong defence in the class of the Invincibles. Although he was really not that great in my opinion. He did a job, but he was made to look great in the Invincible side thanks to his defensive colleagues.

Eboue joined in 2005 when I thought Arsenal might go for Marco Né instead. I have seen both players on trial for Arsenal’s pre-season at the start of 2004/2005 and I was extremely impressed with Né. He was industrious, energetic, pacy and strong in the tackle. I thought he would be perfect in replacing Lauren. Instead, Wenger signed the other rightback on trial, Eboue. Eboue was very much a similar player but I thought Né was the better player. However, Eboue came in and he was in the reserves for more than a season. I seriously thought Wenger might have signed the wrong Ivorian. Then, in 2005/2006 season, Lauren got injured and Eboue came in, and he became part of that record-breaking back four in the Champions League. You can say, the rest is history. But no. Because things changed quickly.

Soon, he was getting attention for the wrong reasons. Diving, gamesmanship, unsporting. All vices that Gooners frown upon. It got worse when he was converted to the right wing after Sagna’s arrival. Being pushed forward, he has outstanding dribbling skills but an extremely poor balance. And no end product. For all the fanciful stuff he did, he didn’t put in enough assists. In fact the number of assists he had was very similar to when he was a rightback. People begin to wonder if he is a right winger or a rightback.

However, having him on the right instead of Walcott gives us more defensive stability as he has more stamina than Walcott and is more defensive-minded. People forgot he was once a very good rightback. When Sagna was injured or suspended, Eboue came in and did a decent job but was nowhere near to how he performed in his initial years at Arsenal. But people forget quickly that having not played in a position for too long, he need to re-adapt.

All in all, Eboue is a frustrating player due to some undesirable traits, especially at a club like Arsenal. We do not condone unsporting behavior especially from our own players. But one cannot doubt he does possess exceptional ball skills and he is an excellent utility man to have. He has played in centre-midfield, left-back, left wing and even centreback for Arsenal. I thought he was excellent in leftback after replacing Gibbs against Manchester United last season.

Kolo Toure – Toure as everyone knows him now, is a top defender. But when he first arrived, he was a midfielder and played on the wings. Soon after he was moved to rightback. He was only tested as a centreback at the beginning of the Invincible season alongside Sol Campbell when we needed a new defensive partner for Campbell as Keown were in his last year for Arsenal. It proved to be one of the best moves Wenger has made and Toure quickly became one of the best centrebacks in the Premier League.

Although he is now a specialised centreback, he is still being played as a rightback when Sagna and Eboue were both unavailable. Although he is not as effective on the right as he is in the centre, he can still do a decent job. Indeed, he is still better than a lot of other rightbacks in the Premier League.

Aaron Ramsey – The immensely talented Welsh, who has reently signed a new long term deal with Arsenal, is the ultimate utility man when he was still in Cardiff. He has played in every position, even as a goalkeeper! And although he is now a recognised midfielder, it is worth noting he was a very competent rightback for a period of time. He can do a job there and who knows what that might lead to? He is strong, tactically sound and is positionally disciplined.

Kerrea Gilbert – The 22 year-old was a very promising rightback in his early days. I remember clearly his cross for Thierry Henry to head in the winner against Wigan at the only match I’ve watched at Highbury. It was inch perfect, it has to be as we all know Henry’s heading ‘prowess’, and even Henry praised him afterwards for being an exciting young talent.

After all that hype, his career went downhill with disciplinary problems and he spent loan spells first to the Championship and then to League One. I have a feeling his association with the club will son come to an end as Wenger never keeps players with disciplinary problems. Remember Jermaine Pennant? Well, I think it is a waste as he was really a promising talent who believed too much in his own hype and thus stop developing.

Will he stay to fight for a place? He is only 4 year younger than Sagna. I think not.

Gavin Hoyte – The younger sibling of Justin Hoyte is being dubbed as the better all-round player and is more athletic. His natural position is centreback but he can also play on the right.

Most importantly, he has given a nightmare performance in the terrible and forgettable 0-3 defeat to Manchester City. He was so terrible he had to give way to Ramsey after 60 minutes. Will he recover from that performance? I sincerely hope so as I hope he has a better future at Arsenal than his brother, but I think he might not be given the chance again. He joined Watford a month after that match for the rest of the season and he has since returned to the squad. It is worth noting he wasn’t part of that impressive double-winning academy side.

Overall – We have a world-class rightback in Sagna and a very decent back-up in the form of Eboue, if he stays. Even if we are without these two we still have Toure who can do a job for the short term. Our options are aplenty in this department and with Sagna being a fit player who rarely gets injured, we should not worry about this department.

The next article: Our leftbacks!

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