Squad Assessment: Clearing Arsenal Of Their Deadwood
Given the current number of players in Arsenal’s squad who have either shown their inability to sufficiently aid the cause or are at or past their sell-by date, a clear-out is long overdue at the Emirates.
Time and time again during Arsenal’s 6 year trophy drought the lack of depth in Arsene Wenger’s squad has been exposed. Too many times, players who would struggle to make the bench at fellow title contenders like Chelsea and Manchester United, and more recently Manchester City, have been given great responsibility and many matches and continually failed to deliver.
Arsenal have struggled to find a dependable utility man in the mold of John O’Shea or Dirk Kuyt, who while not always first choice can be counted on to deliver when called upon and under pressure; instead these duties have often fallen to the likes of Denilson, Nicklas Bendtner, Abou Diaby, and so on, before the numerous goalkeepers are even mentioned. Wenger has shown throughout his tenure his desire to be financially responsible in the transfer windows, so naturally sales usually precipitate buys. Given the current number of players in Arsenal’s squad who have either shown their inability to sufficiently aid the cause or are at or past their sell-by date, a clear-out is long overdue at the Emirates.
In recent years, the man between the sticks has often taken most of the stick for Arsenal’s failure to claim silverware. With Jens Lehmann again retired after his emergency short-term signing last season, Arsenal currently have Wojciecj Szczesny, Lukasz Fabianski, Manuel Almunia, and Vito Mannone signed to professional contracts. Of these, Almunia is the obvious one to offload first; the Spaniard has given years of dedicated service to the club, and there is no doubt he has given his all for the cause in North London. However, his fragile psyche and tendency for match-killing errors, accompanied with the presence of three superior, younger keepers, spells the end of his time at Arsenal. A minimal fee should be required, and if push came to shove most supporters probably would not mind a mutual cancellation of the contract.
From there, there are multiple moves that could be made. If Wenger decides not to pursue a veteran keeper, as has been the case these past few campaigns, that would leave Szczesny as the clear number one after a string of truly impressive performances from him last season. The Polish international, still just 21, established himself as a reliable and talented alternative to the string of tenders tried out before him, and should be in goal for the season opener.
Fellow Pole Fabianski has had his ups and downs with the clubs. Before Christmas, he was in great form despite being in and out of the team, and the hope was that his “Flappyhandski” nickname was almost a thing of the past; alas, the old problems resurfaced and he again finds himself second-choice with a reputation for costly blunders. Wenger has praised him on numerous occasions, and does seem to genuinely rate the 26 year old. Compared to other backups employed by rivals in recent years- Kuzczak, Hilario, Given, etc- he seems a worthy number two.
This, then, would bring into question the future of Vito Mannone. The Italian has impressed in limited appearances for the first team, with a slew of keepers always seemingly in his way. An Italy U21 international, he was sent on loan to Hull last season, but struggled with injury. He may well be fed up with not even making the bench on match-days, and could move on if not even given the chance to challenge for the number one shirt.
Defence has been the other main problem in Arsenal’s title challenge, usually the main reason they fall at the final hurdle. A perfect example was last year’s dramatic, maddening 4-4 draw with Newcastle at St James’s Park. Up 4-0, it would be almost criminal to think of any Premier League side giving up that lead, to any opposition. But lose the lead they did, and all that was brought back to North London was a solitary point, and a crippling sense of self-doubt. That day, Wenger used three different centre backs, in Laurent Koscielny, Johan Djrorou, and Sebastien Squillaci, and it must be said that the centre has been the main problem.
Bacary Sagna has been a stalwart of consistency on the right, and despite the loss of Gael Clichy, Kieran Gibbs looks a ready-made replacement, but Jose Enrique could provide competition if bought from Newcastle. Thomas Vermaelen’s absence through injury greatly weakened the defence, and his return should instill more confidence and quality into the back four. To accompany him, numerous potential acquisitions have been mooted, including Gary Cahill of Bolton and Christopher Samba of Blackburn, and both would be an improvement on the current options. Carl Jenkinson’s arrival from Charlton will have little effect on first team affairs. Koscielny and Squillaci could both have roles as deputies, but for many supporters, the less seen of them the better.
Swiss international Djorou showed marked improvement, and was one of the positives from last term, but his small stature in comparison to other centre backs goes against him. He could, however, be a useful and versatile cover man, able to play both in the middle and on the right, and if Emmanuel Eboue is retained he too can cover on either flank.
Midfield has traditionally been the most fluent and talented section of the Arsenal team, and recent seasons have been no different; Wenger’s charges continue to play attacking, passing football no matter the situation, and players like Fabregas and Jack Wilshere have grown and matured into great footballers under his tutelage. It is often charged that Arsenal do not have a more defensive midfielder with bite, a la Patrick Vieira. Denilson has tried and failed, and Abou Diaby, despite better showings this past seasons, still struggles to convince that he can be a first-choice midfielder for a championship-winning team. The big Frenchman, it seems, is not defensive enough to be a holding player, but not creative enough to play higher up the pitch.
Wilshere has been a revelation since his involvement with the first team began, and is reminiscent of a younger Xabi Alonso in the holding role of a 4-2-3-1. If Fabregas, who seems to edge closer to the Nou Camp by the day, finally completes his prolonged move to Barcelona, the question becomes who will partner the young Englishman. Alex Song has showed flashes of brilliance, but his temperament has come into question, as well as his passing range. The Cameroon international is still an integral part of plans though, as is Aaron Ramsey, finally returned to full fitness from his horrific leg break. Scott Parker would seem the perfect fit, but Arsenal’s interest is only rumored at this stage, and other clubs look more interested in securing the West Ham midfielder’s services. Emmanuel Frimpong could be ready to make the step up, with the Accra born midfielder earning plaudits from many inside the club for his tremendous work-rate and potential.
On the wings, it seems Andrey Arshavin’s future is also up in the air after a turbulent season which saw a lack of confidence and poor displays much more frequently than his scintillating 2009/2010 output. The Russian has loads of talent, and if he is prepared to fight for his place then Wenger should keep him, although 15m for Galatasaray, as rumored, could be too much to turn down. Tomas Rosicky has reiterated his desire to stay, but as he continues to age his first team place comes under more threat, and in a perfect world he would be used more as a substitute than a starter. The Czech clearly loves the club and doesn’t understand the meaning of lazy, but is too limited technically to fit fully into the system.
Theo Walcott has worked wonders as a winger, despite his aversion to sending in crosses, but he has again proclaimed his desire to work more as a centre forward rather than on the wings. But with his pace and threat, the right wing in either a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 is surely his best place to help the team. Whether or not Samir Nasri will remain a Gunner is also up to what paper or website you are reading, but if the extremely talented Frenchman stays, he will surely be the pivot in the attack. He enjoyed a fine season last year, and a vast sum would be required for Mancini to prize him away from the Emirates, even with just a year left on his contract. The gamble could be keeping him, and banking on winning a trophy.
Finally, we come to the attack. Currently, Arsenal have 5 strikers on their books (6 if you count the versatile playmaker Jay Emmanuel-Thomas) ; Robin Van Persie, Marouane Chamakh, Nicklas Bendtner, Carlos Vela, and (in theory) Theo Walcott. Gervinho will join the club “subject to regulatory process,” meaning there are technically 7 available to choose from. Van Persie is clearly the main man, and his 18 league goals more than doubled anyone else’s personal tally bar Samir Nasri, who hit 10. Worringly, the Dutchman made just 19 starts, and injuries have been a persistent problem for him, underlining the need for a new striker.
Gervinho fits this bill, having notched 14 goals and 10 assists for Lille in their league winning campaign this past year, and also helping them win the Coupe de France. The Ivorian fits the bill of a typical Wenger buy, and should help bolster the attack. Chamakh started brightly, with his display on the opening day against Liverpool causing the goal, if not actually scoring it. He hit 7 in the Premier League and a further 3 in the Champions League, but often found himself relegated to the bench as the season wore on. Whether he can be the influential target man, and one of the first names down on the team-sheet, remains to be seen.
There is no doubt that Nicklas Bendtner is looking to leave the club, and this will benefit both the player and Arsenal. The mercurial Danish international has come along somewhat since his introduction into the first team, but like fellow 23 year old Denilson, looks unable to live up to the club’s goals for him. Last year he made just 32 appearances in all competitions, scoring 9 goals- it is important to note, thought, that 7 of these goals were in either the FA Cup or the Carling Cup, with none scored in Europe and just 2 in 17 league appearances. The club will of course be looking for the right fee for him, but the extremely confident striker should be sold to the highest bidder at the conclusion of the transfer window, with Benfica and numerous Bundesliga sides supposedly eyeing him up.
Carlos Vela is perhaps the typical player to describe this article, and the squad as a whole. He ran out for Arsenal just 13 times, with a further 8 for West Brom on loan the second half of the season, scoring a combined 3 league goals, and a brace in the 6-0 win over Braga in the Champions League. At 22, his time to contribute something meaningful to the first time would appear to be the present; but again, taking a look at rival clubs, it seems he would fail to get past the likes of Salomon Kalou, Daniel Sturridge, Edin Dzeko, Emmanuel Adebayor, and even Danny Welbeck and Michael Owen. While perhaps having a future in the Premier League or abroad, it would be best for Vela to be sold, and the money gained from his and Bendtner’s departure spent on bringing new players in.