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!


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!


Thomas Vermaelen signs June 20, 2009

Good day everyone, I have been blogging about Arsenal on my personal blog since 2005 and since that period of time has seen the emergence of several Arsenal blogs, the personal favorite of mine being Arseblog followed closely by Gunnerblog and Goodplaya and A Cultured Left Foot. Unfortunately, outside of these 4 prominent ones I’m afraid there are many insensititve and poorly written blogs. As I have been blogging about Arsenal anyway, I’ve decided the time has come for me to consolidate all my Arsenal postings in one place instead of on my personal blog.

So on to the first post here.

Thomas Vermaelen has officially signed for Arsenal today.

For many of us Gooners who were crying out for a defensive signing, be it in central defence or in central midfield, this has got to be good news. For all the talk about Brede Hangeland or Sébastien Bassong being the targets, Arsenal went on to sign a player completely out of the media’s attention, which is typical Wenger (See Eduardo). If he turn out to have the same kind of impact as Eduardo did, then I’d be pleased.

All the talk about Arsenal needing height in the centre of defence is very much subjective. Personally, I think there i some truth in it but this tend to be overrated. Let’s put things in perspective: The season before the recently concluded one – our first choice central defensive pairing were Gallas and Toure, and the first choice defensive midfielder was Flamini. All 3 of whom are hardly giants in a league as tough as the Premier League.

But that didn’t stop Arsenal from being a genuine title contender for most of that season, until that game at Birmingham.

What I’m trying to say is, the concerns most Gooners have about Vermaelen’s height is overstated and should for now be left ignored. Let the Belgian show us what he can do defensively. There are world class defenders who are challenged vertically but has superb leap, much like Fabio Cannovaro. I have not noticed Vermaelen that much but I do know he can head the ball well, so let us continue our trust in Wenger on this one.

The biggest question now is, who is best to partner Vermaelen for next season? Let us take a look at the contenders:

William Gallas – For all the criticism leveled on the France international, let us not forget on his day he is a very good defender. Many have said that he is half the defender the used to be when he was at Chelsea. But personally I feel that he should never have been made captain and that has got to be one of Wenger’s few mistakes. Although this is a statement made in hindsight, as when we were leading the table, who were saying it was the wrong choice? It is people’s habit of saying ‘I told you so’ when things go wrong. I feel Gallas still have a lot of offer as his performances after the captaincy was stripped off him was the best he had in an Arsenal shirt. He has the experience too, something which we often complain we lack, so why sell him? But my concern is whether his heart is still with the club.

Kolo Toure – He is one of my all-time favorite players. He always wears his heart on his sleeve and works his socks off for the team. One can never doubt his commitment whenever he plays, even when he is having an off-day he never stop running, never stop trying. Therefore, to hear of his possible move to Manchester City is saddening. However, since his return from the last ACN and after contracting malaria, his pace (which is a big part of his defensive game) is no longer the same. This has affected his consistency against faster, world-class attackers. Will he regain his pace and consistency? At 28, time seem to be on his side but I have a bad feeling we have already seen the best of Toure. I sincerely hope he will prove me wrong.

Johan Djourou – Tall, strong, fast, technically sound. What more do you need of a defender? Experience and consistency of course. This will come with time, and playing opportunities which I feeel should be granted to him, given the current situation. His loan at Birmingham has in fact set him back as he was playing in central midfield for a technically poor side, thus he was quite apparently still adjusting to the pace of Arsenal’s passing when he returned last season. However, there is no doubt in my mind that he will become a top class defender one day. Will that day be sometime next season?

Philippe Senderos – Despite the harsh criticism leveled on him by Gooners all around the world, I actually think he has the qualities to be a top class defender. Most of the criticism began after he was out-muscled and outplayed by Didier Drogba. But tell me honestly, how many defenders in the world can keep Drogba quiet? For all his exprience in top flight football, Senderos is still only 23. Do anyone remember John Terry at 23? He was obviously talented but is prone to mistakes every game. Ditto Rio Ferdinand at 23. Look at the two of them now, best defenders in the Premier League, perhaps in Europe or the world. I say we take Senderos back, and give him another chance and be patient. He will blossom given the time and opportunity and I’d be gutted if I see him succeed elsewhere. The problem is I fear his opportunity is gone the moment Wenger released him on loan to Milan.

Mikael Silverstre – Multiple-title winning defender. That is the best I can say about him, but everyone can see his best years were at Manchester United. His inability to play at the top flight is made so obvious by Torres in that thrilling 4-4 draw last season it’s embarassing. He is not good enough for Arsenal, end of.

After listing the above, who would be your personal choice?

For me, it has to be Djourou followed by Gallas to partner Vermaelen. Toure can be our multi-functional defensive cover, if he stays.

Our next signing (hopefully there will be another one at least) should be a tough tackling, no-nonsense ball-winner. Again height should not be an issue. With that, we should be ready for next season.

In my next post, I will talk about this position, and the targets mentioned by the creative world media so far, as well as my personal choice.

Till then, sons of a Gun!