NOTE: This post was written the day the January transfer window closed. Due to my inexperience and other factors, it is only now being published for the first time.
As a good way to start this Arsenal FC related Blog, I thought a current team evaluation would be appropriate. Several things occured to me as I considered this. First, that every Arsenal fan who stumbles upon this page will villify my conclusion. Second, that the danger of an evaluation is the risk that it will seem hopelessly off base within a fortnight. And most importantly, that I would realize during this exercise what a mediocre team we currently support and that there is a very reasonable chance that we will finish outside the Champions League positions. All that recognized, I’m going to do the damn evaluation anyway.
Five points out of fourth place as the January transfer window prepares to slam shut wasn’t the season I envisioned back in August. But injuries, slow developing players, and four captains later, here we are. It’s easy to blame Arsene Wenger for the season’s disappointments. But the fact remains that Arsene put his faith in relatively unknown and untested players last season and it just about brought Arsenal another league title. For the time being, I will focus on the players rather than the manager. (And I am referring to the players that we currently own, as opposed to one unnamed russian who may be bringing his vodka and pickles to the Grove any hour now.) Here goes:
Every time I hear some pundit on the radio or television talking about Almunia, it is almost always in the context of what a dismal keeper he is. I hear it so often, that I find myself saying things like; “we need to find a quality keeper” or “when will we sign a quality keeper” or “when will Almunia become England’s first choice keeper.” But here’s the strange part, there’s not much that Almunia has done this season worth criticizing. He’s made the saves he “should” make, which is something that Lehman had a strange habit of not doing. He may not command the box as well as he could and his distribution has occasionally gone awry but he has been dependable. In an unpredictable season, dependable seems pretty good. I can’t recall any game this season where the keeper cost us the game and for that reason I’m happy to stand pat with Almunia for the time being.
Sagna has been a wonderful right back this season. We suffered when he was out injured and he certainly gives you confidence. His pace is good and his tackling is reliable. If we dare compare him to his predecessor, the current team parriah Emmanuel Eboue, he has probably been better at the back but less effective going forward. If there is an area where I would like to see Sagna improve it would be his crosses in the final third. Sagna finds space down the right with Arsenal’s usual overlapping runs but rarely makes the most of his advanced positions.
They say that necessity is the mother of invention. (They also say that Minneapolis is a wonderful place to live. So let’s not go giving “them” too much credit.) In the case of Johan Djourou, I’m sure it was not in Arsene Wenger’s preseason plans that he become a first choice center-half this season. So naturally, that’s precisely what has happened. In a season so strongly defined by players not developing fast enough, Djourou has been a welcome exception. To this point, he has probably been the bright spot of a spotty defense. He certainly adds some height to a back line that will never play professional volleyball, and seems very poised with his tackling and defending of set pieces. Even the own goal he scored displayed a hustle and committment that you find more often from the supporters than Monsieur Gallas. While he may not be the finished product, Djourou has certainly shown the potential to be a quality anchor for the defense. (Until we sell him to Milan in the summer window. Then we can look forward to watching a miserly Milan defense featuring Senderos and Djourou, helped from the midfield by Flamini. Hooray.)
Much like a George W. Bush joke about speaking English, this segment practically writes itself. Unlike George W. Bush, however, William Gallas is a quality professional with a tremendous record of achievements. Clearly his decline as an Arsenal player started on that fateful day last season at Birmigham City. But he had a chance for a fresh start this year and Arsene showed him tremendous respect and patience awarding him the captaincy once more. We will probably never know what triggered all of the outbursts and episodes from Gallas this season. It’s much easier to report what we do know. He has been atrocious for most of this campaign. Supporters will point out that he has scored a few crucial goals. While that may be true, he is fallable for equally crucial goals conceded. And many more of those. Worse, he seems to have poisoned a dressing room that appeared mostly harmonious last year. Gallas can clearly still play the position, but his committment is dubious. When I watch a player like John Terry routinely give his body for the team, I am embarassed for Gallas. With a young group of players looking for role models, his failings are all the more grievous.
Before I go any further, I must admit that I have something of a crush on Kolo. He is one of my favorite Arsenal players. He plays the game with exuberance. He has pace, guile, committment and attitude. While he lacks stature, that has never appeared problematic until he was partnered with Gallas. Admittedly, Toure has been off the boil this season. (That may be diplomatic at best.) But he seems a different player when paired with Djourou versus Gallas. I’m sure he is hurt by Arsene’s loyalty to Gallas given the fact that Toure has a longer record of fine service for Arsenal. People have opined that professionals put that sort of thing behind them, but I believe that it is unfair to ask a footballer to disregard his standing in the club. Don’t we all look for validation and support at work? If we feel the wrong people get that validation in our place, aren’t we effected by such injustices? While Kolo has not been in fine form, I believe he is still a quality center-half and would far prefer to see him on the pitch versus Gallas based on attitude alone.
This is part of the team evaluation that I have been dreading. Not because I don’t want to write it. Rather because I don’t want to face the wrath of all the hordes of Clichy loving Gunners roaming the internet. So rather than beating around the bush, let me be blunt: Clichy has been awful this season. There I said it. I said it and nothing bad has happened to me as yet. … Still nothing. Okay, let’s continue. I genuinely believe that Clichy’s problems this season are a case of believing too much in your own headlines. Last season Clichy emerged as a world class left back. He may be the fastest player in the Premier League. He is clever with the ball at his feet. He tackles solidly. His service into the box is usually effective and he even seems to have a decent shot. Unfortunately he seems to have forgotten that you must demonstrate those qualities on a regular basis to be a quality footballer. Clichy has been beset this season by a rash of crucial mistakes that seem to boil down to a lack of concentration. He was personally responsible for the goal that caused the collapse at home against Sp*rs. More recently he deflected the cross onto Cousin’s head for the Hull goal after playing much too far off his man. He relies on his incredible pace to do all the work for him. Unfortunately that means he winds up overcommitting and getting horribly out of position. He makes careless mistakes at the back that put the team under undo pressure and he inexplicably cuts his overlapping runs short at the worst possible moments. There’s no denying that he has regressed and his lack of concentration can be clearly traced to some very ill-timed goals conceeded this season. He has all the talent in the world, which is why I find myself so critical of his play.
Walcott’s injury broke my heart. (Yes, that’s what my life has come to.) He was the revelation of the season. This year’s Flamini if you will. While he hadn’t become as consistent as I’m sure he will, he was getting there. More importantly, his development meant that we would see less and less of our dear diving friend, Eboue. His pace created so many problems for opposing defenses that it forced them to change their plans and that opened up opportunities for everyone else. There is a part of me that believes his injury was more damaging than Fabregas’. But that part also thinks Evil Dead 2 was a great movie so I tend not to take it too seriously. All we can hope is that this shoulder problem does not become chronic and that Walcott is able to pick up where he left off. Maybe he can even help us stay in the top four this season.
Every time Eboue’s play gives me hope that I can like him as a player, his attitude make me want to see him put on a rocket to Mars. Eboue is that rare combination of a player that has neither the quality nor the heart of a class performer. He has pace and some clever footwork but his finishing and distribution are shocking. He’s lucky to play half of his games on the flawless pitch at the Grove because a stray piece of grass could send him tumbling to his death. He begs for fouls and yellow cards at every opportunity which I’m certain has endeared us to the wonderful Referees that currently patrol the EPL. While I must admit I felt sypathy for him as he was booed off the ground by the home supporters, he might be the one player that truly deserved it. If you’re having an off game, at the very least you can run yourself to exhaustion. That’s something that Eboue apparently never considered. He seems like a nice person, but this isn’t a dating site, it’s a very poor, rambling blog about Arsenal Football Club. Sadly, while Eboue has some talent and potential, it seems he lacks the mindset to realize it sufficiently.
Did you ever convince yourself of something that your heart kept telling you wasn’t true? Maybe you dated someone really attractive so you gave them every chance to be the person you wanted them to be, until that one day that you woke up and realized that they were holding you back and that they were never going to live up to the expectations that their attractiveness set. The only thing you can do in that case is give up on them and accept that they will probably blossom into that amazing person with their next relationship. I submit for your consideration: Denilson. Yes, he has one name and he’s brazillian. Congratulations. I’m sure he’s filled with promise and thrills coaches and players alike in training. But the fact is this: he’s not very good. Not good enough by a longshot. I read somewhere that he was near the league lead in passing percentage. Fantasic and not surprising. He makes very accurate passes to Sagna, Toure, Gallas, Clichy and anyone else playing behind him. It’s the passes forward he just hasn’t gotten the hang of yet. Recently during one of our many pedestrian performances against lesser opposition, Denilson had the ball in midfield with no pressure. I turned to my annoyed and disinterested wife and stated the obvious; “here’s where Denilson passes directly to the opposition.” As if I had pressed the wrong button on my xBox controller, Denilson politely followed my instructions. This happens far too often. Maybe Arsene has asked too much, too soon of the young brazillian, but the fact remains that much was asked of other youngsters and they have responded more favorably. Think carefully of all the goals Arsenal have scored this season. Now wipe away the tears realizing how few you’ve recalled. Now ask yourself, “self…how many of these goals were a direct result of good work from Denilson?” You may now find yourself saying “wow, self, there are very few goals I can remember him creating.” Denilson adds virtually no goal threat, doesn’t find the killer pass, gives the ball away, and seems unhelpful in front of the back four. I think Arsenal fans have given him a pass for reasons that I do not fully understand. Therefore, I respectfully decline to do the same.
I have so little time for Alex Song that the time I’m taking to write this sentence annoys me. I’m not a professional evaluater of football talent. Come to think of it, I’m not even a good amateur at evaluating talent. But here’s what my eyes tell me: Alex Song doesn’t work very hard. Everytime I’m ready to completely dismiss his talents, he turns out a mediocre performance that’s just good enough to keep me patient, but that’s probably a byproduct of our miserable central midfield play this season. Let’s ask it this way: If you could trade Alex Song for any other first choice midfielder in the entire Premier League for the rest of this season, wouldn’t you be tempted to take that deal? Or how about this, more philosophical question: How do you feel when you see Alex Song has been selected to start a match? I’m guessing the answer to that question tells you all you need to know about Alex Song as a gunner.
Diaby’s career is beset by injuries. Therefore, any evaluation of his abilities is naturally based upon entirely too little data. But I am a font of bizarre theories and one that I’ve recently become fond of is the notion that Diaby is a better striker than midfielder. We’ve seen him have some nice cameos up front and even demonstrate some clinical finishing. When he plays in a more advanced role he seems to maintain his interest in the match which is an aspect of his performances that has been disappointing when he plays in central midfield. Diaby has been compared to Viera but it seems clear that they have very different styles. Diaby is much more skillful with the ball at his feet and probably has better qualities in the final third. What he lacks are the power and defensive instincts that were a hallmark of Viera’s career at Arsenal. Ultimately, the verdict on Diaby is still out, but he is probably better than many of the alternatives right now.
There’s no point writing anything about Cesc. He is our captain and our maestro. His form wasn’t vintage before his injury but he did play an entire year without rest due to his service for Spain in Euro 2008. Any discussion about Cesc should center around strategies to keep him at Arsenal. I suggest one of those ankle bracelets they use for people under house arrest.
Nasri has been a nice addition. He has scored some excellent goals in critical matches. He hasn’t been entirely consistent, but few players find consistency their first season in the Premier League. Clearly he has the skills to be an Arsenal midfielder long term, which is more than can be said for many of our current first choice options. Considering that he’s been partnering Denilson, Song and Eboue in midfield for much of the season, I give him extra credit for his performances. When (if?) Rosicky returns, it will be interesting to see if Wenger pushes Nasri to the right.
He clearly has talent. Whether it matches his ego is another story. The fact is that Bendtner may be too much of a typical big striker for Arsenal. He’s at his best hanging around the box waiting for crosses. His distribution is generally poor and he lacks real pace. Since Arsenal don’t usually play a style that sends loads of crosses into the box, he probably doesn’t get the opportunity to shine as much as he might at another club. Ultimately, you have to believe that he is fourth choice behind Eduardo, Adebayor and Van Persie and it is clear that he will never be satisfied by that status.
Adebayor has all the tools to be a world class striker. What’s been missing this season is the determination. But I have a different take on Adebayor this season than most (imagine that). From what I’ve observed, the service for him has been generally dreadful. Every striker misses the occasional gilt-edged opportunity so it is unfair to punish Adebayor too stridently for that. Where he’s really suffered is in his positioning on the pitch. Because of the miserable play in midfield, Adebayor has been popping up on the wings and playing further from the opposing goal. As a result, he’s not in position to arrive for that killer cross or deadly pass. Last season Hleb and Fabregas routinely found him sneaking past defenses, while Clichy, Sagna, Rosicky, etc. found him driving into the box to meet their crosses. His position on the pitch this season hasn’t allowed him the number of opporunities he was afforded last season. Ultimately, you are either a fan or not. I still find Adebayor to be the kind of talent needed at Arsenal.
Robin Van Persie
Far and away the player of the season for Arsenal. Even more impressive than his performances has been his durability. If Van Persie’s health can be dependable for the seasons to come, he will surely have a very special career at Arsenal. (Assuming his career continues at Arsenal). Mrs. Yankee Gunner Blog will certainly be getting a Chocolate Leg for Valentines day.
Those are the only players I will discuss for two reasons. First, I have written about 3000 words more than I envisioned and now find myself board with my own effort. Second, there’s little point opining about players that haven’t played in a year or aren’t part of the team yet. (You know who you are Owly.)
Ultimately, this season will be a nail biter for fourth place. What Arsenal fans seem to forget is that we’ve been here before just two seasons ago. If it weren’t for a player that shouldn’t have been playing (Tevez) and a wonderful stomach virus that struck Sp*rs at the right moment, we would have been playing Uefa Cup football last season. But before everyone goes bashing Arsene Wenger let’s remember one thing, he is a miracle worker of modern football. He works for a club that doesn’t have loads of money to spend. He took over a club that was known for their 1-0 results. (“boring boring Arsenal.”) He has brought that club league titles, FA cup titles, top four finished and a Champions League final while putting some of the sexiest football on display. Few managers with his budget would have been able to accomplish half of what he has. And in this era of bankruptcies and failing credit markets we should all be thankful for AW. Liverpool could find themselves the next Leeds United. Chelski could soon find themselves without their Russian benefactor and be back to mediocrity or worse. Considering the circumstances, we’re pretty lucky. Sp*rs were a virus away from fourth place two seasons ago, now they’re battling relegation with arguably a more expensive team. I believe in AW and his stewardship of Arsenal Football Club. Look at it this way, who would you rather have?
Thanks for reading…and reading…and reading…