By Phil Gregory
Before the opening of the transfer window and the start of silly season, I think it wise have a look at the squad and see what we need to add for the upcoming season. I’m counting out players with injuries that mean they start the season injured: given the “Eduardo experience” I’d be pleased to have Ramsey as a reliable option by January.
Players in bold are those I’m expecting to depart,while italics indicate a player is an option in that position if needed, but is preferred in another position. I’m not suggesting players who I’d like to brought in, the signing of Thomas “who?” Vermaelen and his subsequent success shows us the folly of this, but to each their own!
Goalkeepers: Almunia, Fabianski, Mannone, Sczcnesy.
This is certainly a talking point! Almunia’s “injury” for the Wigan game, which meant Fabianski started, was a dropping in all but name. Yet the young Pole didn’t cover himself in glory either. I think Lukasz needs a loan spell: only with consistent gametime will we see his true colours. Some of the basic technical errors in his game are worrying, but I attribute them to nerves – Wenger would not entrust him with the gloves unless he performed in training.
Assessment: Most Arsenal fans want a new goalkeeper to be brought in, and I expect that wish to be granted. In the later days of the January transfer window, we were linked with purchases for goalkeepers and while I admit newspaper talk is often nonsense, it did seem reasonable that a few late phone calls were made by Wenger. Whether Almunia stays or goes will depend on him as a man, will he be able to cope with being demoted after being the number one for a duration?
Assuming we bring in another keeper, ideally, we would see one of Fabianski and Mannone go out on loan with the other remaining as number 3, Almunia goes to number two and Szcznesy gets first team experience at a higher level to further his development.
Leftbacks: Clichy, Gibbs, Traore
Centrebacks: Vermaelen, Gallas, Djourou, Campbell, Song, Silvestre, Bartley, Nordtveit.
Rightbacks: Sagna, Eboue, Hoyte
In the fullback positions, we’re well stocked. Clichy and Sagna are some of the best in the world in their positions and Eboue has to be the best back-up right back anywhere at club level. Indeed as we have seen often this season, Eboue and Sagna are rotated according to the situation, with Eboue preferred at home to “park the bus” sides, but Sagna remains undeniably the first choice.
In regard to depth, Gibbs is an excellent prospect and great backup for Clichy. Traore, while not the best defensively is still only young and certainly not a bad option when considered as third choice for the position. A concern would be a lack of a young apprentice at rightback, with Gavin Hoyte unlikely to make the grade. Though Francis Coquelin has started to play there, whether that is a long-term career move or just the next stage in his footballing education, we will have to see.
Centreback is the big issue. Vermaelen is a sensation, he has certainly established himself as one of the top centrebacks in the league. Gallas has been a sensation this season, clearly benefiting from a better balanced partnership (right foot, left foot) as well as a partner who is strong in the air. Sadly though, I don’t see the French international staying around, though I’m slightly confused why.
At the age he is approaching, he is surely thinking of winning trophies in his last few years rather than one big payday. While the trophy-winning track record of this Arsenal team is a sore point, I don’t doubt the team know they are on the verge of something magnificent, and Gallas would be foolish to jump ship.
Djourou, while out long-term, will have the summer to regain fitness and proved in performances during 2008-2009 that he is a good prospect, and a worthy third choice. While Campbell is out of contract soon, his quality on the pitch is not in doubt, assuming he can keep his fitness up for another season. He has already played more games than Wenger anticipated when he signed him in January, and as a fourth choice centreback he wouldn’t be overtaxed. Silvestre is only used by Wenger when there is no other alternative, and that to me says that the Frenchman’s contract will not be renewed.
Assessment: All depends on the Gallas situation. If Gallas departs, I don’t believe Djourou will be promoted to partner Vermaelen after a season out injured, which leads me to think a new centreback will be bought for the first eleven.
In regards to the fullbacks, there won’t be significant movement, perhaps a young rightback will be brought in for the future.
Defensive midfielders: Song Denilson, Eastmond.
Central midfielders: Fabregas, Denilson, Diaby, Nasri, Lansbury
As has been well documented, we are a little light in the defensive midfield area. I believe Denilson is better at the role than most think, his is an invisible contribution, interceptions and reducing space. I do prefer Song there for his ability to fill in for a marauding centreback and his physicality in the middle.
As I see it, for the first day of the season we’ll have the above four contending for the two central midfield roles, but it does seem that it’ll be more of a Cesc/Nasri + Denilson/Diaby setup. Is Lansbury going to be in and around the first team next season? A promising cameo and good game time with Watford certainly boosted his chances, but more than a few minutes seems unlikely to me just yet.
Assessment: Below the first team, there a few highly rated youngsters not least Eastmond, Coquelin and Frimpong but for this season a first team option would be preferred in the interest of competition. With Denilson a likely partner for Cesc in central midfield, there is no real competition for the defensive midfield role and this must be rectified. Competition is so important: it keeps players on their toes and ensures they know they have to perform every game and train hard in order to start. In central midfield, I’m quite happy with the squad at our disposal.
In central midfield there are two players vying for each position, and once Ramsey is back, we will have cover enough in this area. The situation only becomes worrying if Denilson is viewed as the backup for Song: if Song were to get crocked, we’d be down to three players in the middle of the park and that’s not enough. Knowing Wenger, any arrival will be capable with a ball at their feet, so likely to deputise for Song as well as being an option next to Cesc.
Centre-forwards: Van Persie, Bendtner, Chamakh, Eduardo, Arshavin, Vela
Wide left: Arshavin, Rosicky Eduardo, Wilshere Vela.
Wide right: Bendtner, Chamakh Walcott, Nasri, Wilshere, Eboue
First up, a point of contention may be my decision to have Chamakh in a wide right role. As I see it, when we started this season with a full complement of players, Wenger wanted three direct players in the front three positions: (Arshavin, Van Persie and Bendtner) and I believe Chamakh will be viewed as one of these. I can’t see us shifting Robin or changing the shape to fit Chamakh, so I expect Chamakh to be in the mixer for the wide right position. He’ll have to integrate with the squad, get used to English football and Bendtner’s form has been impressive campaign, so he may start on the bench.
Arshavin is the standout candidate for the wide left role, with Rosicky an able deputy. The X factor in the mix is whether or not Jack Wilshere will go on loan. From what I’ve seen, Jack could well get game time for us, but there will be question marks over his ability to hold down a place right up until he gets the chance to do it. I’d have him in the squad as an option for the first half of the season, where he’ll still get games in the cups and then loan him out in the second half of the season if he hasn’t had much first team action.
On the right hand side, I think it’s likely Bendtner will move back out there, with Chamakh a deputy and Walcott an option either off the bench or starting when the situation requires what he brings the team.
Through the middle, it’ll be the sublime Van Persie, with both Bendtner and Chamakh very capable deputies. Nik has shown he can do it this season, while Chamakh’s performances in Ligue 1 give us every hope he can do the same.
A big worry for supporters is Van Persie’s injury history, and whether he can be relied on for a full season. If we go by trends since he arrived, then that fear is well founded. But when we look at the situation objectively, his recent injury problems are impossible to attribute to injury proneness. Torn ankle ligaments happens, as do fractures and broken toes; it’s part and parcel of the game.
Robin Van Persie had a history of muscle injuries in his early career here, note had. These are the sort of things that can (and have been) remedied via targeted conditioning and/or surgery. Since these measures were taken, Robin hasn’t had these type of problems, his injury this season was bad luck. Cesc Fabregas, Aaron Ramsey, Gael Clichy, Kieran Gibbs and Johan Djourou: these players didn’t miss lengthy periods this season due to injury proneness. To say so is to simply twist the facts to suit a D&G criticism of Wenger.
Assessment: I’ll start with the wide positions. Arshavin is great wide left, he’s direct, can take a man on, can drop deep and can score goals. Rosicky isn’t a bad player, but his biggest strength is his ability to keep possession, his end product (while not Hleb-like) leaves something to be desired. Saying that, while I’d love Messi, Robben and Ribery to be our squad options, that’s not that the financially viable way I want our club to be run. As a second choice, Rosicky is more than good enough.
On the right, no concerns from me. Through the middle, my biggest concern is the reliance on our wide-right players to deputise. A couple of injuries to centre forwards and we have worries in two positions. Then there is the Eduardo question. Many have written off the Croatian frontman, and the doubters are numerous. He didn’t excel in deputising for Van Persie, and whether Wenger thinks he can cut it here will be clear by whether he stays or goes in the summer. Some would argue Van Persie took time to get used to the central role, and Eduardo never got this time. He may be capable of reinventing himself as a deputy for Arshavin, he’s certainly direct enough as a player, but time will tell.
On the whole: Overall, a few tweaks to the squad are all we need. This season, we encountered exceptional circumstances in regards to injuries to key personnel. Greater competition within the squad, particularly in defensive midfield and central defence will go far in alleviating the physical demands on certain squad members, while a pre-season of preparation on the 4-3-3 formation will see improved team defensive performances.
Chamakh providing depth and quality up front and a Gallas replacement seem the certainties, while a goalkeeper seems likely. A squad depth signing in the middle of the park would be the icing on the cake for me, but ultimately if Wenger believes the youngsters can step up then I’m not going to complain.
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