Son of a Gun!

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

Midfielders for the season ahead August 12, 2009

Filed under: Midfield,Pre-season — Son of a Gunner @ 11:52 am

I had intended to write about Right and Left wingers for the season ahead for my positions for the season ahead series. But seeing that Wenger has been using 4-3-3 all pre-season, I’ve decided to uodate accordingly as well. Today, I will talk about all our midfielders and who should be in the midfield trio.

From what I have seen in pre-season to-date, this midfield trio is pretty interchangeable. The only constant is that the midfielders will remain just behind the attacking trio and the flank players of the attacking trio will fall back to make it a 5 man midfield when we’re not in possession. Then one of the midfield trio will fall furhter back, just ahead of the back four to act as anchor. With that in mind, let us begin:

Francesc Fabregas – Our young captain meteorial rise in the footballing world is the one big positive of the past 5 seasons since the class of the invincibles. I doubt there are many superlatives that wasn’t use on him. To me, he is already one of the world’s finest midfielder. His range of passing is world-class, and while there are many excellent passing players in the world such as Andrea Pirlo and Xabi Alonso, anyone who has been watching Fabregas will know his passing will not pale to these other greats. The amazing thing is, he is still only 22.

Other than his excellent passing and reading of the game, his footballing intelligence is also exceptional. However, besides all these obvious traits, Cesc also has some underrated qualities. Cesc is a fighter, both mentally and on the field. His winning mentality is there for all to see when he bites into challenges even though he isn’t the biggest player. To be able to not only survive in the Premier League but actually excel in it, is admirable for such a young player who isn’t even English. And I’ve always thought his tackling ability is a bit underrated.

The only weakesses he might have are his aerial ability, but he has already scored a couple of headers, and his lack of pace, although he isn’t the slowest player in the world. His quick thinking, excellent positional awareness and pace of his passes completely shadow his weaknesses. Many mention he isn’t a leader, but I think his behavior off-the-field is exempletary and is something the youngsters can learn from. Yes, maybe he isn’t a natural leader but he has the qualities to lead by example. This will be his first full season as captain, here’s wishing our leader all the best on the field – may it be his best yet!

Alexander Song – Alex Song came to Arsenal only with the reputation as the nephew of Rigobert Song. I remember seeing his first few matches for Arsenal in his first pre-season and I thought he was lively and always seem ready to dive into 50-50 challenges.

Since Flamini and Gilberto left, Song became our only true defensive midfielder. He came into prominence in the second half of last sason, and cumulated into a man-of-the-match performance against Burnley, laying that cheeky backheel for Eboue to score. I almost couldn’t believe that was Song in the game, he was dominant in the centre of the park and was technically very sound as well.

If no one else comes in, then surely Alex Song has to start with Cesc. I know Wenger thinks he also make a very good defender (he is even officially listed as a defender in the official website) but I remain unconvinced. During pre-season, he didn’t look comfortable whenever he was moved into defence and if we did move him, then our midfield won’t be as rock solid as if he were there. However, it is worth bearing in mind that energetic, mobile midfielders can also excel in this new formation. So with that, we move on to our next midfielder:

Aaron Ramsey – I’ve said many times that he has really impressed me in pre-season. Ramsey is mobile, has an excellent engine that made him looked as if he has more than a pair of lungs, and has developed physically as well. His box-to-box displays reminds one of a very young and raw Bryan Robson.

He is both-footed and has a mean long rang shot. He has a tendency to try from distance, which is extremely rare in this Arsenal squad and he may yet yield a few goals for us using this avenue. Only 18 years-old, he is already full international. He has impressed enough to start most of the pre-season friendlies and I can’t wait to see more of him this coming season.

Abou Diaby – He joined in the same January window as Adebayor and Walcott and was immediately dubbed the new Vieira due to their similar height, physique, baldness and overrall look. Before he had that horrible ankle injury, I really thought he was a very decent player although his tackling isn’t exactly world-class. Since his return from that injury, he wasn’t exactly injury-free for long periods of time and that has certainly affected his progress.

There is a running joke about how he will play one game and be injured for the next 5 games. And the sad thing is, it isn’t far from the truth. Along the way, he was converted into a wide player on the left and even played up front just behind the target man for a few occasions. Because of this, I think he can adapt easily into the new formation as his natural position is in the centre. And due to the mobility of the team play in the new formation, he may have to go left, right or just able anywhere to fill gaps his midfield colleagues has left behind and yet still blend into the teamplay. He has enough experience playing in those wide positions and he is only 23. Seems incredible but that just goes to show how young he was when he first joined Arsenal. Now, we can only hope he can stay injury-free long enough to learn about his role in the new formation.

Emmanuel Eboue – I featured him in Rightbacks for the season ahead as well but as all Gooners know, he is very versatile. With transfer rumours of him leaving cooling off, I’m actually feeling very relieved that he’s staying. We cannot afford to let him go especially when we are lacking in quality in rightback after Bacary Sagna and he can also fill in at midfield or even as part of the attacking trio.

In midfield he can flank Fabregas on the right but still remain mainly central to keep the balance of the team. If need be, he can also provide useful crosses (we often forget what a good crosser of the ball he is) by drifting out to the right and to provide defensive stability in midfield when we lose the ball. He should adapt well in this role as it shouldn’t be entirel unfamiliar to him, he has played in centre midfield when we were still using 4-4-2 and 4-5-1 before. He is a very useful option.

Denilson – He played the most number of games last season and had a brilliant start to last season when he created quite a few goals and always looked purposeful whenever he went forward. However, he was criticised in the second half of the season when he looked jaded, lost, passed sideways too often and often outmuscled in games. We forget that despite his excellent fitness, he is still only 21 and to be jaded is not uncommon. He is not the biggest midfielder but his exceptional fitness ensured he doesn’t look out of place even when he is playing a lot of games.

Denilson was the Brazilian U19 captain, so he cannot be a bad player. I just feel he isn’t the type of midfield enforcer that Cesc need alongside him. He is more of a Cesc understudy but with the new formation, they could play together with a strong disciplined holding midfielder behind them. He has featured heavily in pre-season but I feel that the new formation would also mean we won’t be seeing him as often this coming season as we did last season, and maybe that might keep him fresh so that isn’t a bad thing at all.

Andrey Arshavin – What else don’t we know about the Russian magician? Myles Palmer (whom I often find ridiculous) of ANR rightly claims he is one of the top 5 players in the world, and I believe that too. But only if he is talking about the top 5 attacking players.

I had meant to feature him in the attacking trip article but I think there will be times that he will play in the midfield trio this season. How he can fit in would be if Cesc and Song/Denilson/Ramsey were side-by-side with Arshavin in a slightly more advanced role behind the main focal point/target man of the attacking trio. This might be seen when we are chasing a game or when we are playing a very defensive side.

However, I think Arshavin is already part of Wenger’s first choice attacking trio. We shall see. One thing we Gooners can be sure is – he will be a player who will have a big say in our fortunes this season.

Samir Nasri – He has started his Arsenal career as a Pires-style right-footed left-sided midfielder and was hugely impressive. Towards the end of the season, Wenger experimented with him in a holding midfielder role to mixed results. Although many criticised this move, I can understand where Wenger is coming from.

Nasri played in the centre for Marseille, and is physically very strong and can hold the ball well. He is also technically very sound to be able to play the kind of fast-moving one-touch football Arsenal is famous for, through the middle. The ony thing that needs polishing is his ball-winning skills. However, I’ve always felt playing him in such a role will stifle his attacking instincts, which to me, are his main strengths.

What I’m trying to get at here, is that he will fit seamlessly into the midfield trio. We will see for ourselves when he returns, hopefully in October. The bad news is, he has had pre-season to adapt to the new formation.

Jack Wilshere – The boy wonder can’t keep himself off the news since his out-of-this-world performance in the Emirates Cup. He is a natural left-footed genius who can play in any attacking role. He plays in the centre for the reserves and in the academy side so he will fit in nicely both in midfield and in attack using the new formation. I believe we will be seeing him quite a fair bit this coming season.

Tomas Rosicky – Out injured after having a very good pre-season is the biggest downside to his comeback so far. However, the good news is his performances in pre-season has shown that he hasn’t lost his touch at all and will be able to fit into the Arsenal system with much ease. The flexibility of the new formation could mean we have the possibility of seeing him, Nasri, Arshavin, Wilshere, van Persie and Cesc all playing in the same team. That simply spells disaster for any defence.

Defensive midfield trio – I would recommend Abou Diaby with Alex Song and Cesc Fabregas in the centre if we want to be slightly more conservative or to put more stability into the side. Ramsey can come in for Diaby if he is not available. Diaby may not be a good tackler but he has the most imposing figure aong our midfielders and Song remains our first choice holding midfield, and he has improved technically as well to launch quick counter-attacks to make our 4-3-3 as fluid as Wenger would have liked.

Offensive midfield trio – If we are playing against very defensive teams, we can try playing two of Samir Nasri, Tomas Rosicky, Andrey Arshavin, Jack Wilshere, Emmanuel Eboue or Denilson with Cesc. Ramsey can be brought in if Cesc is not available.

Current – With Rosicky and Nasri injured, my choice midfield trio is Cesc, Song and Diaby (followed closely by Eboue if Diaby is off injured). This would offer stability both to attack and defence. One reason why Wenger is still looking at another attacking player is because he must know that relying on Diaby and Rosicky to be completely injury-free throughout the season is too much of a gamble, given their histories. It would only take another midfield injury to leave us looking really thin, especially during the peak period where games can be as close as 2 day apart.

Cesc is our captain and his best position remains in midfield, not up front like he was deployed in a few games last season. Song is our best defensive midfielder so my guess is the two will definitely be Wenger’s choice and I think the third player who will start at Everton at opening weekend would be Denilson. Who would be your choice?


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!


The missing link June 21, 2009

Filed under: Midfield,New Signings — Son of a Gunner @ 11:43 pm

As promised, I will today be talking about the one necessary signing that Arsenal must make to make us truly competitive once more.

Before I move along, let us take a look at last season’s overral performance in the dfferent areas of the pitch.

Goalkeeper: Almunia has been very consistent last season and so there isn’t really a need to improve this area. At 31, (32 come next season) he still has quite a few years left at the top level. The concern is that Fabianski might not be ready. I know he has a lot of stick last season thanks to a few blunders but let’s not forget he is still only 24. Also, when Almunia first played for Arsenal, I’m sure you remember he was pretty crappy. I think Fabianski might come good, but he’s not ready.

Defence: We covered that yesterday.

Midfield: In central midfield, we have seen Denilson, Diaby, Ramsey, Song partner Fabregas at various stages of last season. Denilson played the most games of the lot, but he isn’t truly a natural partner to Fabregas. This is one area that most Gooners, rightly, are concerned about. The saying goes “the battle is often won or lost in midfield”, and I think this is very true.

I’m very concerned about this part of the team as it certainly is the weakest. I’m not even to go into our attacking players because we have simply to many firepower up front but not enough steel in the centre to steer he ball forward to our firepower up front where the bulk of the talent of the team lies.

So, the missing link is the natural ball-winner as the partner to our captain Fabregas. It is no secret that since Flamini the moneybag left, we have lost a lot of bite in midfield.

Diaby is a disaster last season in central midfield. And this is maddening because this was obviously his best position when he first joined the club. I still remember vividly that he was really pretty good before that horrible tackle at Sheffield United. After that, he still to have lost his tackling technique and improve his other offensive skills, which made him ‘not-midfielder, not-stirker’ in Wenger’s own words. Then what the heck is he??? To me, he was a major disappointment since his return from injury after injury. He never had a long enough run to establish his form and I think it’s high time we think about letting him go.

Ramsey has a much higher chance ot succeeding at Arsenal than Diaby would. He’s much younger and is already an estabished international. More importantly, he is a much tougher player. But he is not ready.

Denilson has a great engine, good technique, and would no doubt improve even further next season. But what he has proven so far is that he is a good understudy to Fabregas, and not a partner to him.

That leaves us with Alex Song, who is one of the most improved Arsena players last season. He was really coming into his own in the last lap of the season but I still feel he has much to learn about his positioning. A nautral ball-winner will know where to position himself in the best possibly way whenever possession is conceded and Song has still not gotten to that level yet. Personally I see him more as a central defender.

So then, who should we be signing for this vacancy? Let us first take a look at what the media has linked us with.

Lorik Cana – This man is a beast. If you think you have seen the worst kinda beastly player in the likes of Roy Keane, Mikael Essien or even Javier Mascherano, then you haven’t seen Cana in action. He is a mad man on the pitch and he gives double of what he receive on the pitch. He certainly looks like he can take care of himself on the field and he looks more likely to bully then be bullied. To me, he looks strong enough for the Premier League but his technique seem to be too poor to be an Arsenal player, so it seems more like a fabrication for me on this one.

Yaya Toure – He is eternally linked to Arsenal even since his brother Kolo joined years ago. When Kolo first established himself in the first team, he spoke of a younger brother who is technically and physically stronger than himself and that he would like to see Arsenal sign him. That brother turned out to be Yaya, and his brother turned out to be quite a scout. Perhaps he should be engaged as a scout now since his first team prospects is no longer that bright. One thing Gooners must know is this, Yaya did join Arsenal for a long trial some years back and he even turned out for the academy side as well as the reserves at Underhill. Fact remains, Wenger did not sign him then. A lot of conspiracy theories exists as to why he wasn’t signed. The most famous of which is that Arsene Wenger didn’t agree to a fee with his previous club. Others say Wenger was wrong to judge him not good enough, or that he has visa and work permit problems. All of which are no longer problems. However, whatever the truth behind the scenes, if it didn’t work out the first time round, it sure ain’t going to work now. Yaya will always be linked, but he will never join Arsenal. And you can quote me on that.

Felipe Melo – Strong midfield battler who looks like he is being groomed to take over Gilberto Silva at international level. I have only watched him a couple of times so it isn’t fair for me to pass judgement. However, what I have seen to-date makes me think he might be a suitable Arsenal player because he battles hard, is not afraid of 50/50 challenges and actually possesses good technique (what am I saying? He is Brazilian). I say let’s look pass his 17 yellow cards and 3 red cards in one season in the Serie A. The Premier League has always been a tougher league so I think he will have no problem fitting in, and we have Denilson to guide him around. Personally, I think there is some truth to this rumour, but whether or not we are successful in getting him is another matter altogether.

Manuel Veloso – I have seen him play in the last Euros and I purposely watched out for him and Gohkan Inler at the Euros as Arsenal was heavily linked to both players at the time. However, I must say I wasn’t very impressed with his performances. He was largely invisible, and not in the Gilberto Silva kind of way. But I can see he possesses good technique and is strong enough to defend the ball, qualities which might have brought attention from Wenger. However, I doubt this move will materialise but who knows for sure?

Gokhan Inler – I must say I was disappointed with what I saw. He wasn’t impressive in the least bit and I hear he is massive for Udinese, but I just can’t see it. The interest is genuine and he decided to stay until the end of the season instead of joining Arsenal last time round. Will he change his mind? I’m not sure and to be honest, I’m not sure I want him to.

From the above, who do you think Arsenal should sign to fill the void?

My personal choice is Felipe Melo, it’s high time we have another powerful Brazilian (not Baptista) to man our midfield so I say bring him to Emirates!