Be honest with yourselves fellow gooners – how many of you at the start of the season would had expected to be in with a real chance of winning the premiership and have the mouth-watering prospect of playing Barça in the quarter finals of the Champions League. Not many I would guess, and if you’re in the mood for confession, how many amongst us have expressed serious doubts (in some cases vitriolic character assassination) over some of our present squad? I have, I’m ashamed to admit.
Song, Eboué, Diaby, Bendtner and Denilson are 5 of the 6 that have come in for the most flak; I shall come to the 6th later.
These 5 players were bought for less than £10m and probably have a combined worth in excess of £50m and rising – not bad business! Let’s look at them one player at a time.
Alex Song: made his debut in September 2005, scored his first goal against pool in January 2007; later that month he went out on loan to Charlton Athletic until the end of the 2006/2007season. From 2008 onwards he has featured in the Carling Cup and been integrated into the first team. He is now first choice holding midfielder. This player has probably caused more disagreement amongst fans than any other, but the quality and consistency of his performances this season have won over even his harshest critics.
My verdict: I can honestly say, I always felt he needed time and would become a great player. I wouldn’t swap him for any player in the world in his position.
Can he get better? – YES
Emmanuel Eboué: joined Arsenal in 2005 for a fee rumoured to be £1.5m. In 2006 he became the first choice right back. In the 2007/2008 season, Arsène announced that he wanted to move EE into right midfield following the signing of Sagna. He has made himself unpopular with some fans due to occassional diving and ‘Drogba-esque’ protest for seemingly innocuous challenges. The low part of his career came when he was booed off the pitch by a section of fans in December 2007. Since that day, with the sensitive management of AW, he has rebuilt his popularity with the fans (the other players have always loved him) and become a key player at both right back and in the midfield.
My verdict: I had my doubts about his ability to play in midfield but he’s proved me wrong.
Can he get better? – if he can further reduce his ‘histrionics’ and work on his finishing – YES
Abou Diaby: signed for Arsenal in January 2006 for a fee believed to be in the region of £2m. He had an early setback to his career suffering a broken leg and a dislocated ankle in a match at Sunderland on 1 May 2006. He made his return to first team action as a 74th-minute substitute in Arsenal’s 6–3 victory at Liverpool in the League Cup at Anfield on 9 January 2007. Diaby made progress through the 2008/9 season but lacked consistency and his tendency to dwell on the ball and sloppy passing often let him down.
My verdict: Even at the start of the season I had a few doubts, but he has moved up a level and produced some scintillating performances. His defending is more assured, his reading of the game has improved and he looks very dangerous going forward.
Can he get better? – YES, I expect him to be a world class player in 2 years.
Denilson: errrrr….. next…. No, I jest. He’s come in for some serious abuse at times. If a player is picked for his side and does his best, we should not criticise. He’s not going to say to the manager “sorry boss, I don’t think I’m up to it” His apparently amazing stats have infuriated bloggers who don’t get the same picture watching him on the pitch. He was thrown in at the deep end when injuries gave Arsène few other choices, but he has a great shot and is not afraid to let loose and he works his socks off.
My verdict: with the current crop of players, he’d be a valuable ‘bench player’ for most games. Ramsey would have overtaken him in the pecking order for the midfield slot. He needs to improve his strength in the tackle.
Will he get better? – YES
Nicklas Bendtner: joined in the summer of 2004 and made his debut on 25 October 2005, in a League Cup match against Sunderland. His first prem appearance against Everton on 29 December 2007 was marred when he was sent off for two bookable offences. In the 2007/8 season he was very much 3rd choice striker behind Van Persie and Adebayor who he clearly didn’t get on with as was evident when they had a much publicised dust up in the 5:1 defeat to totnum. This season, he has become something of a cult figure, missing easy chances but never giving up. His work rate and self belief has seen him prove many critics wrong and his goals have come at important times.
My verdict: often has a poor first touch, not always pleasing to watch and obviously needs to improve his strike rate.
Can he get better? – YOU BET, I think he will be a £20m striker by the time he’s 25.
The aforementioned players have all been bought for very little money, had the unwavering support of the manager and battled through adversity, criticism from the media and periods of poor form to become the HEROES who have got us to this unlikely stage of the season………. which brings me to the 6th, and in my opinion most important ‘villain’ – Manuel Almunia.
I am no great fan of the affable Spaniard as a keeper. He lacks the authority to be world class. His poor communication, indecisiveness and propensity to ‘flap’ have made our defence look vulnerable and jittery at times. He is the only one of our regular first teamers not to have played for his national side at some level. But oddly, he has the opportunity to be the greatest hero of them all. He has started with the penalty save against Wham. Can he make up for the howler in conceding the 2nd goal at his near post in the 2006 CL final? Of all the players mentioned, he is the one we need to see step up and prove the detractors wrong (myself included) if we are to pursue the dream of a prem and CL double.
My verdict: I really want to be proved wrong. We need Manuel to play the best football of his life for the next 2 months.
Can he get better ….. can he?