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!


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!


Should Emmanuel Eboue be exchanged for Felipe Melo? July 6, 2009

Filed under: Aaron Ramsey,Emmanuel Eboue,Jack Wilshere,Kieran Gibbs,Midfield,Transfer Rumours — Son of a Gunner @ 10:39 am

First, the Arsenal bite-sized news over the weekend:

Kieran Gibbs has become the latest Arsenal British kid to sign a new long-term contract. It does seem like Arsenal never had a problem with left-back, from when Nigel Winterburn (can I just add here that I had the honour of watching him score the equaliser against Liverpool at the Singapore National Stadium in the Caltex Cup all those years ago? Man, what a brilliant lob) retired, we had the likes of Silvinho, then Moneybag Cole, then we have the superb Clichy (who is better than moneybag in my humble opinion) and now we have Gibbs. Nelson Vivas was an unfortunate exception.

A lot have been made of how un-British Arsenal is these past few seasons but nothing has been said about how Arsenal is turning that around, especially with Ramsey (Welsh), Wilshere (English) and now Gibbs (English) signing long-term deals and these are 3 of the best young talents in Britain. Ramsey is a full international and there is no saying that Wilshere and Gibbs won’t be in the years to come. Looks like the Arsenal nay-sayers have to come up with something new. Ha!

Back to Kieran Gibbs, I just want to comment that he must be the find of the season for Arsenal. I first saw him against Internazionale in the Emirates Cup 2 years ago as a left midfielder and I thought he was exceptional against the current Italian champions. But never did I think that he would eventually be converted into a left-back, and with such great results – another Arsene vision. He was fantastic in Clichy’s absence and he only ever made one dreadful mistake against Manchester United which I think can happen to anyone. He also stopped a lot of certain goals on the line from corners. And he is only 19.

The main story over the weekend is Fiorentina’s official statement:
“The director [Corvino] points out that Arsenal FC are the only club that has come close to [Felipe Melo’s] release clause.

“Fiorentina, in turn, has proposed that the clubs reduce the amount of this clause by entering into negotiations the right back Eboue.”

This is the clearest indication that Arsenal is indeed trying to get Felipe Melo but in true Arsenal style, we never release any statement until a deal is struck. Previous rumours have linked Senderos in the exchange package to Fiorentina but the above official statement shows they are interested in Eboue instead.

This article by Football FanCast guest columnist Jimmy Gannon said there is divided opinion on Eboue among Gooners but the truth is there are more who wants to see him leave than not.

And I have to disagree with Gannon that Eboue is a player of grit and graft simply because if you have watched enough Arsenal games you will know that Eboue is technically very adept, but frustrate us not with his lack of skills (which isn’t true), but with his nonchalent attitute and playing style. He dives, and he doesn’t make an attempt to win the balls he lost and only protests to the referee. This kind of attitute won’t do. I can see why Wenger likes him. He is pacy and powerful with tons of skill in both feet, that is why he is wanted by other clubs. But, and i mean BUT, his attitute just isn’t spot on. As for jeering him, I will completely disagree with that as no matter what we have to stand behind one of our own as long as he is on the field. But one cannot disagree that maybe it’s time for us to see him go.

So if Fiorentina wants Eboue to make up the deal, I think we should go ahead with it. Although it remains to be seen if Arsene Wenger is willing to let Eboue go. He is a wonderful utility man to have but we have Ramsey who is equally versatile but much younger and with a better attitute.

The main man Felipe Melo has been silent so far until he revealed over the weekend:
“I can say that only God knows what my future holds if the club decides to sell me elsewhere.”

He speaks about how happy he is in Fiorentina but he has not ruled out a move should his club decide to sell him. I won’t be surprised if this deal works out but again I think it will drag despite Fiorentina’s interest in Eboue as both clubs will now try to work out and agree on how much Eboue is worth so as to activate Melo’s exisiting release clause and that will take time. Hopefully not longer than a fortnight as pre-season begins real soon.

If Melo does indeed join Arsenal, then I will say we are more ready than last season to challenge. Let’s hope we tie up the deals fast!