Eboue: The Tears of a Clown

June 24, 2010

I have to admit that I find Eboue difficult. Everyone can admire the way he has turned the Arsenal faithful and become an icon at the Emirates. He has more songs than any other player, which is astonishing considering we have had the genius of Fabregas. When we first sang “You have only come to see Eboue”, it was ironic, that is no longer the case. He has gone from leaving the pitch in a flood of tears to being our touchstone.

Eboue is admirable in so many ways. A family man, a religious man and a happy man. The team joker, the dressing room darling. He has shown that with dedication, hard work and non-stop action, it is possible to resurrect a career. But, and here is the rub, he has that other side which we all find so frustrating. Eboue is our Steven Gerrard – our own Greg Louganis . the man could have won an Oscar for some of his acting over the past few seasons. It is embarassing and is not the Arsenal Way. However, my purpose is to look at Eboue as a footballer and what he brings to the team.

EE has been at Arsenal for 6 years, played close to 200 games but has yet to establish himself. A natural Right back, he has developed his game to become a general dogsbody, capable of filling any role apart from GK, and he could well be a better GK than what we have! He has pace and can beat a man at will. He is our best right sided crosser which will be important given the arrival of Chamakh. The man appears to be the perfect squad member; capable of covering a multitude of positions, and in particular be back-up to Sagna.

In my opinion, our season fell apart because our squad wasn’t good enough. Our first team have qualities that could well win the PL. but with the unfortunate run of injuries, players who are on the periphery of the team got the opportunity to shine. The rest is history. It became clear that our squad is not strong enough, incapable of competing with the likes of Blackburn and the Spuds, and Eboue, the most experienced of this bunch (sans Sol) did nothing to indicate he is worth a first team slot.

It is strange that we have yet to develop an outstanding youth right back. We are blessed on the left with 3 fantastic players, but rely upon Eboue should anything happen to Sagna.

Wenger had concerns about Eboue otherwise he wouldn’t have signed Sagna, yet there is a feeling around THOF that EE should start ahead of Sagna, primarily because he brings extra potency to the attack, but I believe when Walcott is playing, Sagna is the better bet – he is more disciplined in his positional play and is a far better defender.

The media is full of rumour that Barca are interested in signing Eboue. Can you really believe it?

The Ivory Coast played him in an advanced position in the World Cup and he was close to anonymous – tried hard, went on mazy runs, but had no cutting edge.

I believe Eboue has a place at Arsenal, purely as back up RB. He has no end product, runs into blind alleys and panics the moment he gets in the penalty area. That he gives everything for the shirt is not in doubt and his arrival as sub certainly raises the energy level of the team.

My ambivalence stems from my concerns that he just isn’t good enough for the Arsenal. Good player, yes, but good enough…. No.

Villains to Heroes ….. it’s been worth the wait!

March 23, 2010

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?

How many Bendtners does it take to change a light bulb?

March 7, 2010

Why do it the easy way when you can do it the Arsenal way. This should have been a game in which Vik Akars’ responsibility was not only to organise the kit but to also supply the sun beds. That’s to say Almunia should have spent the afternoon lying back on a sun lounger, in the goal mouth, sipping a cocktail with a little umbrella sticking out. Vermaelen and Silvestre should have been doing no more than chatting around a barbeque on the eighteen yard line. All this going on while the forwards scored an amount of goals so high that it would have made the usual score-line of an Arsenal Ladies drubbing of the opposition seem like a low scoring affair. That’s what we deserved anyway, I reckon, after the high anxiety that we have had to suffer in recent games but oh no, some how we managed to give the absolutely useless Burnley a chance of getting something from the game. What has become clear from yesterday’s game is that if we are going to win something this season we are going to have to suffer for it.

This game should have been put to bed within the first fifteen minutes, chances falling to Fabrégas and, of course, Bendtner! Where do I start? One of those jokes springs to mind: how many Bendtners does it take to change a light bulb, although, with the obvious adjustment, making it: how many great crosses does Theo have to send in before Bendtner puts one away? We shall never know the answer, of course, because Wenger substituted him to spare further blushes.

As Bendtner made his way from the field my anger changed to sympathy, I am not sure if they showed it on telly but there was one very moving moment just after Bendtner had missed his eighth sitter to which in normal circumstances the fans would been at his throat but to my complete admiration they gave him a loud, heart felt rendition of “there is only one Nikki Bendtner.” The Dane was visible humbled by the support that was being shown and clasped his hands together and bowed his head as if to say thank you Japanese style. Irony of ironies was that as soon as he went off we didn’t seem to be half the threat.

Still we got there in the end, three points are three points are three points and with those little gems added to our tally we are nicely poised to spring to the top when the opportunity presents itself.

There is, of course, a new injury concern, there always is: Fabrégas limped off midway through the first half. Just a few moments earlier he had gone over to the bench to explain the problem and asked to be withdrawn; I can only imagine that they said to him: would you mind just popping back for a bit longer and putting us ahead — which he dutifully did. Nasri sent in an exquisite chip landing inch perfect in front of Fabrégas who calmly slotted it through the keeper’s legs and into the back of the net. That was the last kick of his game and he departed to his customary and always justified standing ovation.

Fabrégas’ departure was the cue for the Walcott and Nasri show to begin. Neither has played as well as they did in ages. Nasri was weaving his magic in the middle while Walcott ran rings around Burnley’s left back sending in perfectly weighted cross after cutback after cross and cutback for Bendtner to squander.

It is some distance from Burnley to London which should have given the visitors plenty of time to read the script which clearly stated that we would take three points easily from this game; unfortunately, they didn’t study it thoroughly as they should have because just after half time the cheeky monkeys went and scored and that definitely wasn’t in the script. This gave rise to more anxiety than we deserved, Walcott continued teeing them up for Nik who continued to miss them and then, as if fed up with his fine work being wasted, Theo picked the ball up on the right and rather than send in another cross to be wasted he danced past three Burnley defenders before curling a low left foot drive along the floor and into the corner leaving the goal keeper spread helpless on the floor.

Two one up and the whole ground including Burnley expected the flood gates to open but no matter how many chances were sent over to Nik he just couldn’t give us that all important two goal cushion which as we all know would have been the cue for the party to begin. Instead we had to suffer Burnley coming onto us fuelled by the outrageous notion that they might get something from the game.

Nails being chewed all over the ground I noticed Wenger go up to the Burnley manager and point to something in a book, I can only assume that he was pointing to the script, the one that said that we end up winning by a two goal margin, it had to be that because shortly after Arshavin put us all out of our misery by scoring the third; we finally got our cushion but with only seconds left there wasn’t enough time to stretch out and enjoy Vik Akers’ sun loungers.

Player ratings:

Almunia: no complaints, a tidy game; had to deal with a few long range speculative efforts which he handled well, his distribution was noticeably better. 7

Eboue: not one single bit of play acting; he obviously read Friday’s post and decided to buck his ideas up, a very thoughtful performance today, impressive. 7

Silvestre: he’s not great, we know that but bearing in mind all the injuries we have I still say thank goodness we have him. 5.5

Vermaelen: he is so much part of the furniture that I am starting to struggle to remember what life was like without him. Had to work extra hard to cover for Silvestre’s lack of pace which he did in his usual brilliant way. 8

Clichy: was back to his best last week against Stoke and carried on where he left off. I feel secure having him around again. 7.5

Denilson: got better as the game went on, made himself available at the right time and in the right place. 6

Fabrégas: we can only hope that he is not out for any longer than it takes to buy a Mars bar from the shops and when I think about it even that is too long. The Master. 8

Rosicky: a tidy game, starting to give the impression that he really cares again, less flicks and tricks and more determined passing and shooting. 7

Walcott: by contrast to the dire Wes Brown, Eboue was a superb partner. Confidence led to a level of quality that we haven’t seen in his play, I was going to say ages but I should probably say ever, well done Theo. 8.5

Bendtner: he was so wasteful I just had to laugh in the end. 5

Nasri: man of the match today; this Frenchman is no winger. 9

By London