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!

Advertisements
 

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!

 

Ha Ha Ha Ha (at Hleb)! July 21, 2009

Filed under: Former Gunners,Worth a laugh — Son of a Gunner @ 11:27 pm

When Alexander Hleb left the club, I was really frustrated and upset. I bought the yellow away jersey at the Arsenal store at Highbury the day after I watched the League Cup semi-final second-leg against Wigan, and decided to print Hleb 13 on the shirt. I thought he was brilliant during the game, when I really saw him up-close with his quick feet and exciting ball skills.

It was one of my favorite away shirts as it was the only one I bought at Highbury and I like the design a great deal. Now, it will never again see the light of day.

I think his departure is one of the worst footballing moves over the past decade. He was a star at Arsenal, established as one of Europe’s finest. Together with Rosicky, Flamini and Cesc, they formed what is the most creative and effective Arsenal midfield since the class of the Invincibles. Unfortunately, we lost half of that combination through departures and one more to injury. If they had stayed together and stayed fit, I am very confident this midfield could have matched Barcelona’s own majestic midfield.

And his reason for leaving Arsenal was because it was too fast-paced and noisy. He sure ain’t been to Singapore before. Then he moved on to a big city in Barcelona. Madness.

When he was left out of the entire squad (didn’t even made the bench) during last season’s Champions League final against Manchester United, all Gooners round the world laughed.

Now, let us laugh again at his admission that he regretted leaving Arsenal and Arsene, a manager he now claims he will “die for” on the pitch.

I had planned to do a monthly post of the worst Arsenal departures after I’m done with all the positions for the season ahead, but this one had come earlier than expected.

At least he has the guts to admit his regret. Something I’m sure Flamini would never do!

Oh well, Adebayor can now see his own future in 2 years from now, having just left Arsenal!

P.S. I would like to thank Jamie Sanderson, the writer of Young Guns, for adding me to his list of Arsenal links. Cheers, mate!