Son of a Gun!

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

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!

 

Pre-season begins! July 8, 2009

Finally, the moment we football fans have been waiting for all summer: the commencement of the pre-season.

Before I continue, the Arsenal snippets of the day: Robin van Persie has signed a contract extension, something that was expected since the end of last season but we Gooners were still feeling jumpy before the official announcement. Robin is undoubtedly one of the most talented players in the world, he just need to stay fit. Much has been said of how injury-prone he is but I feel that isn’t a fair comment as he only really had one full season filled with injuries and he was pretty much in the clear for most of last season. I feel his best years are yet to come and I am thrilled as a Gooner to know that we can continue to witness some more Dutch magic in the foreseeable future. I would like to end this piece of news by saying that I really enjoyed his free-kick goal against Wigan in the 2006 League Cup semi-final 2nd leg during my first trip to Highbury. That was the first goal I’ve witnessed at the Highbury stadium and it was truly memorable. Following that goal the entire stadium went “Robin… van Persie!” *clap* *clap* *clap* *clap* *clap* “Robin… van Persie!” *clap* *clap* *clap* *clap* *clap* … Awesome.

Next, I mentioned in my previous post that it seems like no one has taken notice of the way Arsenal is producing and keeping young British talent and England manager Fabio Capello had said
“I’m very lucky, because I’ve had the opportunity to look at Arsenal’s academy where the England team train and their work is incredibly good. It’s a very important example for the other English academies.”

There are a couple of old, circulating untrue transfer rumours surrounding Cesc Fabregas and Andrey Arshavin but not worth paying any attention to.

And so, pre-season is upon us! Some of the interesting pictures are:

Almunia seemed to have forgotten his shorts

Almunia seemed to have forgotten his shorts

The most interesting picture released by Arsenal’s official website, you can see that everyone training has a number on their training jerseys and shorts. Notice the only one without a number above? That’s right, Philippe Senderos. I have been calling for his return in my very first post here and I was actually deighted to see him back in Arsenal colours, until I saw his missing number. Officially, he is still number 6 as listed in the official website and new signing Vermaelen is without a number as yet. But it won’t surprise me that Senderos may still leave before the transfer window closes and his number might be given to Vermaelen.

Gallas' presence is significant, and he looks to be giving his all

Gallas' presence is significant, and he looks to be giving his all

Rosicky is back in training!  A sight most cynics never thought they might see again

Rosicky is back in training! A sight most cynics never thought would they see again

Eduardo is back too!  Let's hope he stays fit.

Eduardo is back too! Let's hope he stays fit.

New signing Thomas Vermaelen shows the stare he will be givng opposing strikers next season

New signing Thomas Vermaelen shows the stare he will be givng opposing strikers next season

Even Le Boss is training in the rain, we should never doubt his commitment!

Even Le Boss is training in the rain, we should never doubt his commitment!

I know Fabregas, Walcott and Gibbs are given extra time off and some other first teamers like Sagna and Clichy are also missing from the pictures but I was looking out for Diaby who supposedly put on some bulk over the summer. He was nowhere to be found. Maybe he’s training hard in the gym? I certainly hope so but the smart guess is he’s out with a niggling injury, or something.

Finally before I end today’s post, I would like to commend on the excellent work Arsenal CEO Ivan Gazidis has done since he came aboard in the middle of last season. He has swiftly brought Arshavin to Arsenal in a (on hindsight) absolute bargain, he has secured the long-term contracts of 3 of our best young talents as well as the world-class van Persie and he has handled his PR obligations so well that he is liked by both the Board as well as the fans. I think he is absolutely excellent for us and we hope he can continue to assist Wenger in things outside of football. Arseblog has an exclusive interview with Gazidis and he also had an interview done with the official website.

And lastly, the topic that will lead to today’s poll. The official website has dubbed this week to be Arshavin week as the Russian has been voted second for the Arsenal Player of the Season poll. There are more than one website or blog that has proclaimed Arshavin as the best Arsenal player of last season and undestandably so. 6 goals in 12 league appearances for Arsenal is no shabby record, especially for a player who has never played football outside ofhis native country. Who can forget his deft turn of his waist that floored a defender on his way to scoing his first goal for Arsenal? Or his 4 goals against Liverpool? Or the way he made a Hull player fall on his buttocks with his out-of-this-world ball skills? No doubt he has had an impactful second half of the season but right here, I cannot agree that Arshavin is our player of the season. This is because of one simple reason, he was not here for an entire season.

To me, to be the best player of the season, the player has got to be playing most of the season and have had a relatively injury-free one. The Arsenal website will be revealing the winner of the poll next week. Who do you think will be the Arsenal Player of the Season?

Candidates to me are:

Robin van Persie – Largely injury-free and has had an amazing January when he scored or created every single Arsenal goal. It was also the time when Arsenal got out of its poor run of form and began an undefeated run. His goal against Chelsea that won us the game in the first half of the season is still the background of the wallpaper on my laptop.

Denilson – Criticised by many, Denilson is still the Arsenal player who has played the most games last season. Even more so than Almunia. He looks jaded towards the end of the season but that is understandable as he is only 20. Early on, he also created a significant number of goals.

Manuel Almunia – Incredibly consistent the whole of last season. He cannot be faulted for most of the many goals we have conceded and is showing the world just what Wenger saw in him all those years ago. Even long-time adversary Jens Lehmann praised Almunia as ‘world-class’.

Basically the rest of the squad has had mixed season and to me, the obvious choice would be the man who just signed a new contract today – Robin van Persie.

What is your opinion? Let me know in the poll!

 

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!