Arsenal Lifeline for Chamakh?

July 23, 2012

It’s no secret that “transfers out” remain as much a priority for Arsenal this summer as “transfers in”.

Leaving aside the likely departure of Brave Sir Robin, Arsène Wenger has stated that any more arrivals are contingent on selling players who are surplus to requirements or who want out.

The players in the Out Tray include some or all of Marouane Chamakh, Nicklas Bendtner, Andrey Arshavin, Sebastien Squillaci, Johann Djourou, Lukasz Fabianski and Ju-Young Park.

If you can detect the sound of creaking when you read that list, it’s because those players are often referred to in the Arsenal online community as “Dead Wood.”

The conventional wisdom is that they all failed to reach the standard required for Arsenal. Some (like the defender we so optimistically christened “the Squid”) through not appearing to have sufficient ability, others (like the Walt Disney character known as Little Andrey) through lack of application.

Most fans would probably be happy if all were shipped out in the next few weeks, especially if there is a decent few million quid coming back in the opposite direction.

But hold on just a moment.

Lest we throw out any babies with the bathwater (a particular risk for the tiny Russian, it must be said) maybe it’s time to take one last look at those players we are so eager to discard.

Could any of them still contribute to the Arsenal cause?

In the Poll below I would like you to vote for the player (or players) whom you feel could have a chance of going on to have a successful career at Arsenal. But first let’s take a look at the individuals concerned:

Marouane Chamakh

Our carefully coiffured Moroccan is one player who, to my mind at least, has not been treated fairly since moving to the Hallowed Land of N5, either by Arsène or the fans. In his first season, while van Persie was still injured, he showed himself to be a very capable front man, holding up the ball well and scoring goals. When the Dutchman returned, Chamakh got very few opportunities and was never able to find his groove again. The reason I feel Arsène was unfair to him is that, although we may have acquired him as a Plan B, we hardly ever played to his strengths. Ironically, in a team without van Persie and with a more direct approach to attacking (as the arrivals of Podolski and Giroud seem to indicate), the Chamster might just come good again.

Nicklas Bendtner

I will always have a soft spot for Nicki B. He is a ludicrous character, with an ego the size of Denmark and as much self knowledge as a Satsuma. But he can score goals and got some vital ones for Arsenal over the years. He has never had the class to be an Henry or a van Persie, but as a back-up striker who is used to the Premier League… could he still have a future?

Andrey Arshavin

Remember that winning finish against Barcelona? Remember the four goals away at Anfield? What about the superb cross for Thierry Henry’s winning goal up at Sunderland earlier this year? There’s no question that Arshavin has class, but he also often appeared lazy and uninterested. Mind you, he has spent his entire time at Arsenal playing out of position. He’s not a wide left attacker – he is a classic “creative”, someone who sits in the hole behind the front striker. Arsène is said to be scouring world football right now for a creative attacking midfielder. Maybe he already has one…

Sebastien Squillaci

Poor Sebastien. He arrived at the club two seasons ago as, you would imagine, a third or fourth choice CB. Almost immediately Thomas Vermaelen got an arrow in his Achilles and was out for an entire year and our other defenders were so injury blighted they might have been Irish potatoes. The Squid actually played some very decent games for us, but coming in and out of the team, always with different defensive line-ups, meant that he soon started to cop the supporters’ wrath for bad results. His time may well be up, but he is a better player than many seem to think he is.

Johann Djourou

The Big Swiss may be the least deserving of a place in this selection, as there is little evidence that Arsene has any intention of selling him. However, his name regularly appears in the fans’ hit lists of defunct timber. His Arsenal life has been badly hit by injuries and he proved last season that whatever his merits as a CB, he certainly ain’t no right back. But, he has also looked very, very good when he gets a proper run alongside one of the senior CBs. At the very least he has a strong case to be considered an excellent fourth choice CB.

Lukasz Fabianksi

I suspect many Gooners would be happy to keep our only remaining Fab as back-up to Szczesny. The problem appears to be that the older of our two Poles-in-goal wants regular first team football. His error-strewn past means he will never get the top job at The Grove (despite Szczesny’s best efforts to out-Fabianski him). But would you keep him if he was prepared to remain as Number Two?

Ju-Young Park

Er… yes… ahem… Anyone got any ideas what he’s like?

Now – time to get voting – and remember, you can vote for more than one player.


Revenge of the Squid

December 2, 2011

Something rather remarkable happened on Tuesday night. Did you spot it?

No, I don’t mean the FFB (Fat French Benchwarmer) peeing his sky blue pants (size XL) at the very sight of Emmanuel Frimpong.

Nor do I mean two rookie Arsenal midfielders with the amusing acronym of “CoqPong” completely dominating the expensively acquired internationals in the Abu Dhabi City line-up.

Nor even the deafening silence of the Man City supporters (I’ve heard more noise during mime night at a Trappist Monks’ monastic retreat).

I refer instead to the fact that, after our highly creditable defeat at the hands of the Death Star of modern football, the Arsenal faithful were not all grinding their teeth, shaking their fists and muttering “Grrr… Squillaci…. Grrr…”

Sebastien Squillaci – the most maligned member of the current First Team defensive squad (I’m not counting goalkeepers!) – had a pretty decent night.

I read several match reports on different Arsenal blogs and, while no-one was exactly wanting to have his babies, there was a grudging acceptance that the Squid had done pretty well.

I remember writing a post early last season, when we were in great form and looking as if we were on for a real run at the silverware, along the lines of “who needs Vermaelen?”

It was after some excellent performances by our newbies Squillaci and Koscielny, both of whom seemed to settle into the team very quickly (once the Verminator’s Achilles heel developed bubonic plague and dengue fever).

With hindsight it was probably not one of my most prescient posts. It wouldn’t be long before we were praying to The Good Lord Dennis for TV5 to miraculously recover and begging Arsene to buy a burly British CB in the January transfer window.

And poor Sabastien underwent an extraordinary change of phylum, class and order to turn from a squid (loligo vulgaris)into a goat (capra aegagrus hircus). A scapegoat to be precise.

Now, there is no doubt that Squillaci had some poor performances for us last season, and that he and Koscielny did not really shine as a CB pairing.

But I wonder if the experienced Frenchman has copped more flak for our bad season than he ought to have done.

Let’s face it, when things went pear shaped (aka Na$ri shaped) it was the whole team that was at fault, from the captain on down.

With the exception of Prince Robin our strikers and midfielders stopped scoring and they also stopped defending, which left our defenders with a double-edged problem: one, they knew that if we conceded a goal or two our forwards were unlikely to redress the balance at the other end and, two, they weren’t getting the defensive support they should have received from the rest of the team so were shipping more goals.

Along with everyone else, Squillaci cannot have helped being tainted by the lack of confidence and uncertainty that affected even the so-called stars of the team during the final third of the season.

But he just can’t be as a bad a player as he is being painted in some quarters. You don’t get to play hundreds of games at the top level for clubs like Lyon, Monaco and Sevilla unless you’ve got something about you.

And a quick scan through some of the match reports and player analyses from last year shows that he played well in many games for us (and was observed to do so by the AA correspondents writing the reports). Unfortunately those performances were forgotten in the frustration and anger of the late-season collapse and the many mistakes he made during that period.

But this is a different Arsenal now – New Arsenal. Confidence is higher and so is team spirit, so it’s no surprise that he was able to come in and play very well against world class attackers on Tuesday night.

You get the feeling that someone like Vermaelen can impose himself on a game regardless of how his team mates are performing, but not many players have that presence, so in the dismal run-in Squillaci joined in the general dismalness.

But I for one am glad that he had a good run out and played well this week and I am happy to have him in the squad. Of course he’s behind Vermaelen, Mertesacker and Koscielny in the pecking order. He may even be fifth choice behind Djourou. But how many teams can point to a fourth or fifth choice CB with the experience and ability of the Squid?

Let’s support him because there may come a time this year when we need him.

He received too much criticism last year and I hope he takes his revenge in the most effective way that any footballer can: by silencing his critics on the field of play.

Welcome back Squiddy.


A Case for the Defence

February 9, 2011

Written by Gooner in Exile

Yet again after the weekend result it is the defence that has been called into question, the cries of weakness are again heard and the calls for a return to the glory days of the famous four of Adams, Bould, Winterburn and Dixon. Add to those four Keown and yes we had an impressive back line available. Put behind those legends, the one and only David Seaman and we looked unbreakable.

Fast forward to the current generation, our first choice back four, Sagna, Koscielny, Djourou, and Clichy, with Vermaelen waiting for permission to rejoin the trenches. I honestly think this defence is one we can build a successful side on. I also believe that in Szczesny we have a keeper who will be one of the best in the world. Suddenly this defence is looking solid, assured and dominant.

The media continue to point to our weak defence for a reason why we won’t be succesful. I think most of us who have seen games this year would agree that Kozzer and JD are forming a good understanding, Kozzer is as fearless as any Centre Back I have seen at the Arsenal for some time, and JD is becoming a considerable force dominating opposing centre forwards for entire games. In Sagna we have probably the best right back in the league and Clichy is becoming a better defender every game (5th most tackles in EPL this season with highest success rate of the top 5 tacklers (78%)).

The team went 4 Premier league games without conceding through January, when we did concede in the league in 2011 it was to a Mason assisted goal by Saha, then came Saturday and our trip to St James Park. Up until then I really believed that we had turned a corner, Szczesny providing confidence and communication to an improving back four, so what went wrong, where did this new found stability disappear to?

We went down to 10 men, but that does not guarantee the opposition a route back into the match, so scratch that as a reason.

JD got injured and on came Squillaci, one change to the back four however hopeless some Arsenal fans think he is (he isn’t by the way) should not cause a problem.

The midfield were asked to defend and dig in……now this is where I think the problem lay and is often a problem for any footballing side, but more often than not for us. Our inability to defend as a team.

I am not talking about the pressing and harrying up the pitch at 0-0, we have done this really well this season, I am talking about when the opposition start to have more possession, and push themselves into our half for long periods. Sooner or later if we are under pressure our midfielders start to give away needless free kicks and so invite more pressure.

This leads to the biggest problem, defending set pieces, this is also why I get annoyed with the criticisms of the defence, as they are not the only ones defending set pieces, watch Chelsea, and you will see Drogba, Lampard, Essien, Mikel, Malouda all doing their jobs in their own box, could you really say the same of Cesc, Samir, Jack, Theo and Arshavin? They will never be able to win a ball in the air against the Premier League giants.

We need to change the way we defend from set pieces, we need to hold a much higher line. For now I’m talking freekicks in the final third, too often we have conceded goals as the players hold the eighteen yard line and just before the ball is struck you will see them drop five yards and invite the opposition into our area and make it very tough for our keeper to come and claim the ball.

Look at the video below, the Newcastle goal and the Chelsea goal over Christmas were the two best examples I could find of this.

For Andy Carroll’s goal the defence takes up position on the edge of the D, by the time the ball is kicked we are already on the 18 yard box, and by the time it has travelled to 10 yards from goal both Newcastle and Arsenal players are in the 18 yard box making it very difficult for Fabianski to come and claim.

Even worse is the Chelsea goal, again the defence hold a position of the 18 yard box but before Drogba has struck the ball we are almost on the penalty spot and the ball can be delivered in to the dangerous area just outside the 6 yard box.

In both situations we would have benefited from holding a much higher line and when I say hold I mean HOLD, not follow runners, let them run offside. For the Newcastle goal if we had taken up residence 10 yards further forward there is no hope in hell that Carroll would have time to reach a ball played onto the penalty spot and stay onside. Again with the Chelsea goal ask yourself whether Ivanovic would make contact with that ball if the line was held on the D, the pace Drogba plays that ball it would be in Fabianski’s hands (hopefully) in a split second, with the whole area free of bodies.

Dropping deep from set pieces before the ball is kicked is a pet hate of mine, I would never allow my defenders to come that deep into my area, it was mine I took responsibility for it, I think Szczesny might just have the confidence to do the same, then we can say goodbye to being petrified everytime the opposition has a freekick in the final third.

Anyway this is a tactical issue one that I think Arsene Wenger and Pat Rice are more qualified to put right, the main reason for my post was to stress that this current defence is not as bad as everyone would like us to believe, sometimes we have to look at the rest of the team (and not just the normal scapegoats) to dig in and help them out on occasion.

Afterall even the great Tony Adams admitted that he had to talk Wenger in the early days to explain that they needed the midfield to provide a screen for them, and break up attacks, they couldn’t do it all on their own either once the shackles had been taken off the rest of the team.

The One Move Wenger MUST Make to Reclaim the Title

December 6, 2010

Never mind another swoop into the French league for Eden Hazard, or a crafty pickpocketing of the Hammers midfield to land Scott Parker.

The one move that Arsène Wenger can make this winter to transform Arsenal’s title aspirations is sitting right under his fine Gallic nose.

All he has to do is move Alex Song back to the position that suits him best.

I have banged on about this before but there’s nothing wrong with a bit of good banging. So consider this to be the Song Bang Part Deux.

First some home truths for the misguided souls who take time away from their very pressing duties watching daytime TV to write comments on the internet about how rubbish our defenders are.

  1. Squillaci and Koscielny have both started extremely well this season. They were never intended to be a starting partnership but the Vermaelen injury has thrust them into the firing line from the outset and they are showing signs of adapting quickly to the physical nature of the EPL.
  2. Johann Djourou inevitably made a slow start back to first team action after a year out through injury but he, too, is showing his class. In his last couple of outings (including against Fulham on Saturday) he has been outstanding.
  3. Bacary Sagna is back to his best form of two or three seasons ago: solid as a rock defensively and starting to put over some really good crosses.
  4. Gael Clichy is, er, no more accident prone than last year.

During the second half of last season we started to get into a bit of a groove. Our previous defensive fragility was gradually replaced with a grittier, more effective shield for whichever dodgy ‘keeper happened to be playing.

How did we manage this? Well, we had a good central partnership of Vermaelen and Gallas and we had an excellent defensive midfielder sitting in front of them in Alex Song.

Then the wheels fell off. Song got injured before the Tottenham away fixture and in that game Vermaelen suffered a serious injury and had to go off after 19 minutes. I don’t need to remind anyone how that match ended up.

Without Song and Vermaelen we went on to suffer two more bad defeats in our final run-in – the infamous 2-3 away at Wigan, where we collapsed like Rooney in the penalty area after a non-contact challenge; and the 1-2 at Blackburn.

Who knows what might have happened if TV and Song had stayed fit?

And so to this season. No Gallas, but two new centre backs came in and we could also look forward to having the fastest improving defensive midfielder in the Premiership.

We got off to a flyer but after only three games two bad things happened: Vermaelen’s achilles tendon started twanging like a country guitar; and Alex Song started thinking he was Lionel Messi.

There’s nothing to be done about the first misfortune, but surely it’s time to do something about the second.

In game after game Song has traded the defensive cover role for what is probably meant to be a marauding box-to-box role. It’s as if he’s trying to be a Stephen Gerrard (minus the punching people in bars) or a Frank Lampard (minus the pie-eating). The only problem is that until this season Gerrard could maraud because he had Mascherano watching his back; and Lampard gets all those deflected goals because Essien is watching his.

When Song charges forward the defensive cover at Arsenal is left to either Wilshere or Denilson. They’re both decent players, but JW is young and inexperienced and, in any case, has a style of play much more suited to the attacking midfield role; and Denilson, while excellent in possession, has the attention span of an amnesiac goldfish when we don’t have the ball.

End result: two central defenders completely new to the EPL are left with negligible midfield cover in most games. It’s no wonder they’ve looked exposed at times.

Clearly, as a highly paid professional, Song hasn’t dreamed up this new role all by himself, so the responsibility lies with Wenger.

In early November, after Song scored the winner against West Ham, the boss had this to say about his cuddly Cameroonian:

“Song wants to get forward. Sometimes defensive midfielders just want to defend. It’s not just his main role. He does it well in fairness. He came here as a centre-back, maybe he will finish centre-forward.

“He sees there is big competition in midfield and that helps. Nobody is guaranteed a place. We’ve had so many good players and so many players who have become exceptional here but, at the moment, Song is moving forward.”

Well bloody well tell him not to move forward then Arsène! It’s not as if his forward momentum is unstoppable; he’s not a glacier, despite the dusting of light frost on his bonce.

If it’s an experiment to create our own Gerrard/Lampard it was doomed from the start because without Song shielding the defence we don’t have a Mascherano/Essien.

Wenger has also gone on record as saying that Denilson takes the holding role when the two play together – but who, reading this, really feels comfortable with the little Brazilian as the chief protection for our defence?

There were some excellent comments on Arsenal Arsenal yesterday about this issue. As someone pointed out, last year Song was a round peg in a round hole. This year he’s a round peg who’s flirting with all sorts of squarey, oblongy and rhomboidy type holes while ignoring the lovely round hole that’s sitting waiting for him.

It almost cost us dearly against Fulham. I have no doubt he worked extremely hard and put in a lot of miles in that game, but too often he was in the wrong place when Fulham attacked.

Aside from the weakness this causes our defence, he is also not as good at the attacking midfield part of the job as most of the other candidates for the role, including Rosicky, Nasri, Wilshere, Fabregas and Arshavin.

It makes no sense to have moved him from a position in which he was becoming world class to one in which he will never be better than average.

Come on Arsène, give us back the Song we love.


Vermaelen’s Place in Jeopardy

November 1, 2010

Thomas Vermaelen’s outstanding first season at Arsenal has left most of us assuming that he will be an automatic starter when he recovers from his achilles injury.

But maybe it’s time to reconsider that assumption.

In his absence, Squillacci and Koscielny are starting to form a partnership with a real air of quality to it.

The Squid (or Squidgy, Squelchy or Squilly if you prefer – notice how he has already been given a bunch of affectionate nicknames by the Gooner faithful) has started to display a calm authority as the ‘big man’ in our central defence. His positioning, strength and ability in the air are all commendable.

Kozzer meanwhile (note, too, his instant nickname) has been my man of the match in our last two games, barely putting a foot wrong. He tackles beautifully when he needs to, but is also expert at shepherding opponents away from the danger area without diving in. Contrast his handling of a tricky runner with Alex “Tom Daley” Song.

After three clean sheets on the bounce (admittedly involving Djourou as well as Koscielny and Squillaci) you have to wonder whether a fit Vermaelen would get his place back in our starting line-up. Right now I don’t think he would.

Yes, Kozzer made some costly mistakes in his first few games (being barged off the ball by El Hadji Diouf and missing a sitter of a header from two yards out against Chelsea spring to mind).

But it always takes time to adjust to a new league and the EPL is less forgiving than most, with its non-stop physical battles week-in, week-out.

We could hardly have expected him to hit top form the moment he started playing in a new country with new team mates.

And likewise I know many felt the jury was out on Squillaci in the first part of the season. But both are settling in to Arsenal and England and are helping to put to bed the daft myth that Arsene Wenger can’t buy defenders (Grimandi, Campbell, Toure, Gallas, Lauren, Sagna, Clichy, Vermaelen, Squidgy and Kozzer all give the lie to that one).

No doubt the idea of TV5 having to wait in line behind the two newbies sounds like heresy to many.

We have all come to love Thomas’s total commitment to the cause, his bravery and determination, his willingness to attack dangerous situations before they get us into trouble.

But his tendency to get dragged up the pitch also cost us dearly on several occasions last season, leading directly to at least three goals I can think of.

This, coupled with the simple argument that you should not drop players when they’re in form, means he may have to warm the bench for a while when he finally gets back.

It will be a wonderful problem for Arsène to have: three outstanding centre backs all raring to go with a fourth, in Djourou, who will also come good the more playing time he gets.

Anyway, with the number of games we play and the fact that our injury record is of the long-playing variety, I’m sure TV will be back in the first eleven not long after he recovers fitness. It’s just that it won’t be the automatic step it might have been a few weeks ago.


Wenger is not very clever…….. – written by Rasp

September 24, 2010

……. No, he’s much better than that – the man’s a bloody genius!

I don’t know the figures, but I would guess that there would have been in excess of 50 players transferred to Premiership clubs last summer, yet I believe we have made the three best signings of all.

Obviously there is a team involved in securing transfers, but since Arsène shoulders all the blame from some quarters, I’m choosing to give him most of the credit. The scouts and Gazidis’ department will have played their part, but a manager who apparently scrutinised the minutiae of every detail in the building of the Emirates is sure to be the driving force behind such important matters as recruiting playing staff.

We have signed 3 players of real quality, in key positions and without competition for their signatures from any other top clubs. That is some feat. I wonder how many other managers would have been suitors had they seen the way these players have performed for Arsenal so far this season – I’m guessing plenty.

Taking the players in the order in which they were signed:

Marouane Chamakh

We’d been after Chamakh for more than a year and Arsène would no doubt have dearly loved to sign him last January, but he stuck to his principles and refused to pay the overinflated price Bordeaux slapped on the player. We secured his services on a free transfer in May this year.

Arsenal got the better deal. Clubs with lesser managers may see a limitless bank balance as the only route to success, but our boss likes to make the books balance. Chamakh played his part in the process by always saying he wanted to sign for us as I’m certain other clubs would have been interested if his agent had touted him on the open market.

Chamakh has all the attributes a manager could wish for in a front man. He works tirelessly, he can hold the ball up, his first touch is assured, he brings others into play, he is a good header of the ball and he can finish.  We’ve been lacking a ‘Chamakh’ for the last 3 seasons, and now we’ve signed the real thing.

Laurent Koscielny

This guy was the most controversial and criticized of our summer signings. A reported price tag of just under £8.5m was seen by many as too high a price for a virtual unknown from the second division of French football – I wonder how many who witnessed his performance against our London rivals would say that now.

My hope was that in time, he would turn into a player of Vermaelen’s calibre. I’m not normally the most patient of supporters; for once I haven’t needed to be. He gets better every game. He has made a couple of expensive gaffs but his reading of the game, timing of tackles and bravery has far outweighed the mistakes which I expect to disappear as he gains experience. His body language is completely different to when he took to the pitch against Barnet. He is as Arsène described, ‘a warrior’

Sébastien Squillaci

In some ways, this was my favourite signing of all. In stark contrast to my greeting of the news of the last minute deal for Mikaël Silvestre, this time, I was ecstatic. I hadn’t expected us to sign a player of Squillaci’s quality. Here we had a fully fledged 6’1” tall French international centre back plucked from Sevilla for the very reasonable sum of 4m euros. We all new we needed quality reinforcements in defence and here was our answer.

Squillaci has shown just what we have been lacking in recent years. He’s an experienced player who is a strong solid, no nonsense defender. More importantly, he’s a player who can rotate seamlessly with TV and Koscielny. He has hardly put a foot wrong on the pitch since joining us and already has an excellent understanding with the rest of the defence.

I’m tempted to suggest that the performances of Koscielny and Squillaci have contributed to Almunia’s confidence and his improved form so far this season. If that is the case and he maintains his current level, the fact that we didn’t sign a keeper over the summer will not be viewed as a major error.

No apologies

The headline to this article might be viewed by some as a cheap way of getting bloggers ‘clicking’. Well in this instance, I make no apology.

If you agree with the piece you won’t mind and if you disagree, at least I’ve made you consider how brilliantly well we’ve done – three top class players for a total of less than £12m. All are players in the Arsenal mould. They have enriched the squad to the point where we can withstand injuries to key players and still compete at the highest level.