Assessing the squad – Defenders

Defenders
Many of the articles, comments and posts over the summer included the assertion that Arsenal had to strengthen the defence.  I’m not convinced that there is a big problem there and the Flamini addition gives us more options. As a four Gibbs, Monreal, Sagna and Jenkinson provide good starters and cover at full back. At least for the left back slot there is real competition for the position.

Our defence, like any defence is at its best when the midfield provides good cover. Arteta is a master in that role and Flamini is fine cover.

Left Back
Monreal joined at a point where Gibbs future looked pretty unclear. With injuries and inconsistency his long term future with the club seemed less than rosy. Monreal came in and looked really solid, a good passer and consistent. Gibbs has reacted really well and to my mind has lifted his game since Monreal’s arrival. I thought he would be relegated to second choice.

Gibbs is a highly mobile player who can intercept high up the pitch, but who is often let down by his passing. He has improved in this area and we look well set. Monreal reads the game very well defensively, but lacks that mobility. His passing is controlled and usually accurate, but he lacks that impressive burst of pace. I think we’re very well set here.

Right Back
Within a few months of Bacary Sagna joining we realised we had a very solid, high quality full back. He has earned a place in the Premiership team of the year and in spite of injuries has performed very well. He has had some drops in form and there was doubt about him staying. He seems more settled now and is a key part of our back four. I’m not as convinced as M. Wenger with him at centre back, but with TV5 returning, he’ll play there less often.

Carl Jenkinson arrived at Arsenal via an unusual route and appears to be growing from playing around better players. He’s hard working and committed, but there are still doubts there. His passing can be quite wayward and his reading of the game is improving, rather than at the top level. I am still not totally convinced that Jenkinson will be with us in a few years time, but I’d love to be proved wrong. If Sagna was injured for a big game and Arteta fit I wonder if Wenger would be tempted to put Flamini in.

Centre Back
The area that attracted the most attention and with rumoured interest in Williams it looked as if we might strengthen. Williams looks a solid player, reasonably mobile with okay distribution. I am not sure he’d be the first choice if we did buy him. We all know the strengths and weaknesses of Kolscieny and Mertesacker. Mobility Vs intelligence, Pace vs Judgement? The compliment each other well in my opinion and they look to be our natural choice.

Vermaelen needs to have a good season when he gets a chance. He made a lot of individual errors last season and looks a long way from the dynamic, strong and consistent centre back and leader we thought we had. Is it confidence? I have no idea, but I still believe Thomas can have a really good career with us, but then again I am an ostrich. I’d love to see him really pushing for a starting position.

On balance I think we are pretty well set in defence, particularly now that Vermaelen is fit again.

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Assessing the squad – Keepers

Wojciech Szczesny

Wojciech Szczesny (Photo credit: wonker)

After a summer consisting primarily of vitriol from Arsenal’s vocal minority, an assessment of our squad is in order. Has the Özil signing really staved off terminal decline? I’ll start here with the keepers.

Goalkeepers

The goalkeeper is one of the few areas that I’ve ever really been critical of Arsene Wenger. I consider this to be the most important position and in my opinion few ordinary keepers have won league titles. Wenger’s own success was supported by David Seaman and Jens Lehmann. In 2004 Jens Lehmann put together the finest season I’ve seen from a keeper at any club. Yes there was the odd error, but his reading of the game was sublime. Only Lloris at Spurs comes close to that level amongst the current crop and it’s no surprise that he’s the one player of theirs that I’d love to sign. It’s also no surprise to me that Manuel Almunia achieved far less.

I’ve been a long term critic of  Wojciech Szczęsny and really thought we could do better. I’ve also been a fan of Fabianski, who has suffered through some poor form and injuries. I always thought his decision making was far better than people realised and he resolved his one agility weakness (shots low to his left). I won’t dwell on this here, but I think a loan spell would really have benefited him. Sitting on a chair watching football is not going to improve a young keeper.

Having said all this I’ve noticed some improvement this season and aside from a moment or two against Villa he hasn’t done too much wrong. His agility has improved and I’d be amazed if he still languished towards the bottom of the shot stopper table. I still think his reading of the game is inadequate.

For what it’s worth (not a lot) I’d be interested to see what Jens Lehmann could achieve as a coach for us. I think our keepers could really benefit from his wisdom. It could be a cheaper bet than a new keeper.

I’m pleased to see an extra pair of hands in the form of Emiliano Viviano. I don’t claim to have seen him, but he was clearly regarded as highly promising before some injuries held him back.

All in all I am still concerned about this area. Wojciech has started to look better, but I wonder if he has the consistency to carry us through a season.

Others will point to central defense or most likely centre forward as the trouble areas, but for me the keeper is the one area that we could definitely improve if the right players were available. If Wojciech does continue to improve I could well be wrong and obviously I hope I am.

That signing, that window

Since Ivan Gazidis made the very public pronouncement about our financial firepower, Arsene Wenger has been straight on one line. He will only add real quality to the squad. In the meantime he has been absolutely buffeted by all and sundry.

The vitriol within Arsenal blogs has reached new levels. This is against the form team in the Premiership in 2013. Little trust was shown and the sentiment and advice was simple. Spend some f’in money. Putting it another way, buy someone, anyone.

True to his word, Wenger has added real quality. Arguably Özil is one of the highest profile inward signings in Premiership history, if not the highest. I think much of the football world is still shocked.

 

I’m writing a squad assessment next, so I won’t say too much more about Arsenal.

The other big story of the transfer window (for me) was the haphazard way in which Man U went about their business. A string of very public missed transfers has concluded in them paying £4m more for Fellaini than they needed to. As for the Bilbao fiasco, I don’t believe the story that the lawyers who visited the Spanish FA were acting independently.

I think Ferguson has done the right thing in the main by staying away from Old Trafford, but with Gill’s retirement there seems to be a lack of transfer knowledge at the club. This is one area where the current team could have leaned on the knowledge of the outgoing pair. Not in terms of who to buy, but how to buy them.

Final words on the window. It will be tough to judge the outcome for some time, possibly the end of the season. I do think Everton have done well, getting a good price for Fellaini, keeping Baines and bringing in two players of quality.

Arsenal 1 Spurs 0

Not much to say about the game, it’s already all been written. Arsenal played well and had Lloris not been quite so sharp it would have been far more comfortable. Arsenal played with commitment, tempo and directness and demonstrated much that is good in the team right now.

Giroud’s run and finish were sublime. He took Dawson one way then out-sprinted him the other. The touch itself was perfection. You need to be very confident to pull that off.

Spurs on the other hand haven’t gelled yet and were hamstrung by the order in which the new arrivals joined. Eriksen and Lamela may have made a difference if they’d joined 2-3 weeks ago. I really wouldn’t judge Spurs on this game.

I read that Arsenal have now taken more points in 2013 than any other team. Unfortunately sometimes it seems that what football fans do best is criticise.

A Good Time To Play Them

The one thing that strikes me about this game is that it’s a good time to be playing Spurs.

On paper they appear to have strengthened their squad very well, but the side will need time to gel.

They have had little time on the pitch or training ground and this should work to our advantage.

We have a good first XI out today,but little or no attacking experience on the bench. Very unlike Arsene’s Arsenal and really it’s only two injuries that have taken us there.

One injury and Zelalem or Gnabry could be thrown in at the deep end.

Injuries could decide this game.

Results don’t count…

As I mentioned in my opening post, I’ve read a lot of blogs and a lot of football journalism over the summer. I’ve even commented (usually pithily) on a few articles. I should know better.

What’s become really apparent is that the transfer window has become a competition in itself. I mean that in two ways. Fans and journalists seem to give awards out before players have even kicked a ball. The main criteria seems to be money spent. Spurs have spent a fortune and are vying with Man City for the summer title.

Not even AvB knows if he can blend a team out of these individuals. No doubt he has personnel in of his own choosing now. On this basis he has less to hide behind, but it could take months to get them performing to anything like potential. Have any of the signings played in the Premiership? Let’s judge this window for Spurs at the end of this season and beyond. I like AvB, but naturally I don’t wish him well.

From our perspective Wenger has spent several years building his team. Over the last two windows we’ve seen first team additions. Cazorla, Arteta, Giroud and Mertesacker are all in the first XI and Podolski is straight in when we have a forward injury. I think the only major disappointment has been Gervinho in that time. You can see why he is so focused on buying quality.

To date this window has been about clearing out fringe players for us, in this respect we’ve done a pretty good job of freeing up budget. What this has done is left our squad short of numbers and in need of re-enforcements. Flamini fits perfectly in here. A really top quality holding midfielder with the flexibility to fit in at full-back. We’ll also see improvements as several players mature. Ramsey, Walcott, Wilshire Ox, Giroud, Gibbs and Jenkinson are all still developing or adapting.

The real problem for Wenger in terms of development comes from the second form of competition. The extra money at PSG and Monaco and the trickle down (Napoli, Athletico Madrid) has led to a bout of demand pull inflation in the market. Who’d have thought 18 months ago that we’d see the current fees for players like Higuain and those touted for Draxler (a 19 year old)?

I find the discussion about transfer fees a little pointless. A player is worth what someone else will pay for them, it’s that simple. Cavani was worth £52m because PSG were prepared to pay it. What this has done has shrunk the value of our transfer pot.

We all know that transfers work like a house purchase chain as well. I wouldn’t be totally surprised if there was truth that Spurs are delaying the Bale transfer to delay the chain reaction it may cause.

So who do we need? Primarily some depth. The left side of the attack is now missing the Ox and Podolski until November. We only have one out and out striker and we’re short of at least one centre half. The more interesting question is whether Wenger will bring in first choices in these positions.

Personally I am feeling optimistic about the new season, but very, very nervous about injuries.

Moaners 12 Ostriches 1

Like most football fans the transfer window has become the time for me to read all of the blogs for my team. It’s a form of self-flagellation.  I find my blogs via newsnow and read a mix of proper journalism and fan based material.

The problem I find with the blogosphere (great name) is the lack of perspective. In a sadistic way I’m amused as my fellow Gooners approach melting point, but in truth the lack of balance is tedious. In the words of an occasionally balanced awimb poster, some of them should consider a new hobby.

It goes beyond the blog. We also have organisations that claim (with some validity) to be the ‘voice of the fan’. From what I can see there is a lot of personal aggrandisement in play here. Any respect I had for the Arsenal Supporters Trust evaporated when I saw the term ‘in the round’ in an open letter to the club. I love an ‘open letter’, it’s a cry for attention to someone who doesn’t care about your opinion.

I have no pedigree as a blogger myself. Most of my garbage has been posted via usenet and awimb. I stopped posting a few years ago. I’m a semi-armchair fan. As a season ticket holder I attend most if not quite all home games, and diminishingly few away games. Personally I take fully armchair based blogs with a pinch of salt. Cameras show you a small window of a football game. An armchair blogger may not even realise why Darren Bent is a journeyman.

I’m as stupid and illiterate as the next Gooner blogger, and I think my credentials as a bona fide Arsenal ostrich give me a right to redress the balance.