With the season only a month away, and our first pre-season game against Barnet this weekend, there are still a lot of questions that need answering. I of course, don’t have any of these answers, but boy I have the full panini sticker album of questions. So.. because I know your all so keen to finish this article and read something interesting, here they are:
Is Abou Diaby going to be our new starting centre midfielder? Having been deployed primarily on the left wing since his serious ankle injury against Sunderland, are 4 weeks of pre-season enough for him to claim this role for the opening day fixture at West Brom? Certainly depth looks to be a problem at centre midfield now Gilberto has packed his bags for Greece, with only Denilson and Song looking the obvious choice for cover should Diaby be unavailable – however both have only limited first team experience. Nasri or Rosicky would be the likely cover for Fabregas should he be unavailable but that would similarly strain our coverage for the wings and probably be too much for Rosicky’s fragile frame anyhow.
Will Rosicky and Eduardo be fit for the start of the season? If Rosicky fails to be ready for the first game of the new season it would likely mean a debut at left midfield for either Samir Nasri or Aaron Ramsey. Typically Wenger has tended to avoid throwing new signings straight in from the start, particularly as he feels players need time to adapt to the Premier League (learning how to not get your ankle broken for example). Though Eduardo has obviously come along way in his recovery from his serious leg injury, he is unlikely to be available to start against West Brom. This would mean Emmanuel ‘Retirement Package’ Adebayor having to start up front despite question marks over his commitment to the club and the reception he will get from the fans is likely to be less than friendly. Is his head in the right place? Well, yes, it is still sitting underneath that extremely disappointing haircut, but whether he is completely behind the new campaign is questionable. The other options would be to throw Theo up front alongside balsa wood Van Persie, or starting with Bendtner, who had a strong first season off the bench. However if Adebayor is not able to start then there seems little point keeping last seasons top scorer on the bench where his value is only going to depreciate.
On the right wing, I’m particularly keen to know who Wenger’s preferred option is. Does Hleb’s departure mean Theo going to be a regular starter, or will Nasri slot in on the right (assuming Rosicky is fit for the left)… and what does this mean for Emmanuel Eboué? Hopefully an extended spell as a bus driver.
Turning to our defence, despite Wenger claiming at the end of the season that he was interested in bring in a new defender who was strong in the air, the distractions of Flamini, Hleb and Adebayor means that has well and truly been shelved for now. So are we to assume Philippe Senderos has been rehabilitated or is he still a nutter? And what of Djourou? He looked average on loan to Birmingham and Wenger seems to no longer rate him. So does this mean Alex Song is our 4th choice Centre Back, as well as possibly being backup for the holding midfield role? The young lad surprised a lot of gooners and did reasonably well at the tail end of the season, and of course he has the hair style that I always consider a mark of potential (see the Valderama Theory) but any extended spell where Song could end up partnering Senderos in our back line scares the Danny Shittu’s out of me.
Of course the most positive news of the off season was Gael Clichy signing a new deal, and with Sagna also tied to a long term contract, we arguably have the two best fullbacks in the league at the moment. The depth at these positions is far more questionable. Gallas is certainly able to cover Clichy’s left back slot if needed, whilst Armand Traore looks far better on the wing than at left back at the moment. I doubt many Gooners would want to see him get any extended run in the league there if Clichy were to be unavailable.
Right back certainly became a problem position for us once Sagna got injured. Despite his problems, Eboué remains a reasonable option as cover for right back, far more so than Justin Hoyte, who despite his wonderful loyalty to the club, doesn’t look to have the quality nor the potential needed to play for a title challenging side. Touré can also provide cover though he looked lost at times slung out wide right.
On to the goalkeepers, with Mad Jens gone, will things be a little too comfortable for Manuel Almunia now? Fabianski and Mannone are by no means Premier League quality yet, let alone players you’d feel comfortable throwing into the mix in the Champions League should Almunia be injured. I would hope Wenger is looking seriously at the availability of top quality goalkeepers at the moment because we look extremely vulnerable in this position. If Almunia were to blind himself peroxiding his hair, and we had to face Chelski, United or someone like Barcelona in the Champions League, I’m not sure our defence would feel particularly confident with such an inexperienced goalkeeper in Fabianski behind them, despite his obvious potential. And of course Mannone is a completely unknown quantity playing at the top level.
That all said, a look at our current squad size indicates that unless some players are loaned our or sold, very little is likely to change between now and the start of the season. I had a look back at our squads since 1999, and it seems Wenger favour’s a first team squad of 25 players – in fact in each season since 1999 his first team squad has been 25 (this doesn’t include the occasional run in a dead tie at the end of the season, or League Cup game). With Flamini, Gilberto, Hleb and Lehmann all gone, but Mannone, Vela, Nasri and Ramsey coming in, we are currently sitting at 25 players. But we surely need a centre midfielder, and the link this week to Garry Barry of Villa has certainly taken a lot of Gooners interest. He ticks all the boxes – has loads of Premier League experience meaning Wenger could throw him in to the starting XI for the West Brom game and know he’d be able to do a job, is versatile as he can cover left back and left midfield if needed, takes a good penalty and is a natural leader. We know Villa have an interest in Justin Hoyte, who, if the Eboué experiment is ended, would be surplus to requirements as a reserve right back. We also know Wenger has long been an admirer of Barry going back several years. The real question is whether or not the funds are there for a player who is up for sale for 18 million. So was the money spent on Nasri and Ramsey knowing we have to recoup it by selling Hleb and Gilberto (which totals around 17 – 19 million depending on who you believe) or is it now available to Wenger for further replacements?
Whether it is or not, I think almost everyone would agree that right now, and despite what we all thought prior to the end of the season, some money needs to be spent to bring in someone to bolster our defensive midfield position. What amount of money is available will probably determine the quality, but I cannot imagine that we can go into the new season without strengthening this area. Some may be prepared to give Diaby time to prove himself, and Denilson time to mature, and point to Flamini’s sudden emergence last season before discounting them. However Flamini excelled at a time when there was strong competition for the job. Diarra was still on the books and Gilberto had come off his most successful season with us plus of course Diaby and Denilson in the mix as well. Flamini proved himself to Wenger, who equally knew he could fall back on two other strong players if needed. If both Diaby and Denilson fail to raise their game, there is currently no other option available to Wenger other than moving another player out of position (such as pushing Touré forward) and would be a huge gamble once the transfer window slams shut.
One this is for sure though, there isn’t currently room or money available for an Arshavin this summer.
By Paul Wright
I’m in the process of nicking up the site and doing stuff ‘in the background’ a bit like the way I hope Wenger is doing transfers – without anyone knowing. There will be slight changes, cosmetic ones, you know that sort of malarkey. So apologies for the lack of activity yesterday Gooners, but don’t fret, the ‘newish’ look will be up either tomorrow or more than likely – on Monday.
I would like to add some bits about the Hleb transfer. Well thank f*ck for that – he’s gone, It’s over. We don’t need to hear from that bleating twat about ‘noisy’ London life and such. One thing that did get me was when he got to Barcelona was that the Bell-End-Russian said it was ‘a dream’ – don’t get me wrong I’m sure it’s a dream to go to Barca, I’m not that short sighted but when Hleb said:
“I love this team”
That kind of stuck in my throat. There was no thank you to Arsène Wenger, his former team mates or even the fans who put up with him playing shit for three years and when he did finally come good (well goodish if you actually check Hleb’s stats) he can’t get away quick enough to live his tranquil life. Well all I can say is Hleb I hope you you love the bench as much as you love the team. Sour grapes? You betcha!
Also on the subject of a Barcelona love-in, Zenit St. Petersburg’s play maker Andrei Arshavin is getting increasingly desperate especially after his agent basically did a ‘please, please, please come and get me’ plea for his client towards The Arsenal. Well it turns out Arshavin’s love for The Arsenal is so great he wants Barcelona to sign him. You can guess the next installment on this if The Arsenal don’t make a move for him and Barca don’t come a knocking Arshavin will no doubt say how much he loves spurs!
Lastly, the video below was sent in to me by a reader. you may of seen it on another Arsenal website but in case you haven’t, have a butchers, it’s well worth your pocket money. So big up to Chris Jake’s to sending this to us. Good work Gooner.
That’s about my lot today, have yourself a great day Gooners – see you in the comments