Tuesday, 2 September 2008

A gamble too far....

Well the transfer window closed last night at midnight, there were many shocks going on throughout the day, this was also fuelled by the sensationalism provided by SkySports News but hey it added to the fun...

So I went to bed shortly before midnight feeling like a young boy at xmas, any Arsenal transfer wouldn't have been announced/leaked until the early hours of the morning so I thought the sooner I get to sleep the sooner I can wake up and see who we have signed... pretty pathetic huh!
When I awoke I was devastated to find out we hadn't signed anyone, for some reason we did not buy a bloody centre midfielder!!! why, why, why?

This time last year we had Flamini, Gilberto, and Diarra all fighting for that spot alongside Cesc, now they have all left and we haven't brought in a single replacement. Last season no one really expected Flamini would be the man for the job, he surprised us, he was dynamic in the middle of the park covering more ground than anyone else in the league. He was a revelation!

So why couldn't that happen again? Maybe one of Diaby/Song/Denilson will be a new revelation. A saviour. Well the problem is that if Flamini wasn't we knew that Gilberto or Diarra could step in and do the job... we don't know whether or not one of our current three contenders will be able to do that... it is a big big gamble. Lets take a look at the players...


The young Brazilian has featured in every single match since the start of preseason, this would suggest that he is currently the number 1 candidate for the job. Denilson has quick feet, he has a good pass on him, and he has a fair degree of tactical knowledge. He has captained the Brazil youth teams and is hotly tipped to become a regular for Brazil in the future. There is no doubting the fact that he is a good prospect, he definitely is, I still have a little concern about him being the answer though. He is not exactly what you would call an enforcer, he never challenges for balls in the air, and he isn't particularly physically strong. Will he be up for it come the winter months when we have some unfavourable midweek away games?
And where did he disappear to last season... I think he only featured in something like 5 games last season, he went missing for about 3 months without mention... where was he? Can he endure the full campaign... with only 5 central midfield players in the squad he is going to have to!
I am not overly convinced that he is a truely defensive midfielder. Yes he can position himself well, and can put in a good challenge, but I would see him more interlinking with Cesc, with Cesc sometimes dropping deeper, rather than Denilson being a truely holding midfield player. At the moment he has been given the greatest opportunity for the position. Diaby has been injured though and Song had been at the Olympics so he has it all to prove now.


Abou Diaby exploded on the scene at Arsenal. When signed in the summer of 2006 Diaby made an instant impact in the middle of the park, not afraid to make a challenge, was offensively powerful in and around the box, and was looking like a true candidate to become the new Vieira. A broken ankle however put a hold on his career at the end of 2006, and many have said he hasn't looked the same since. He doesn't go in as strong on the challenge now, he doesn't look as confident when in a physical challenge, and he has also looked to lazy and relaxed at times. Despite this blip he did run the midfield during the 2007 Carling Cup Final against a star studded Chelsea which was a great performance until he had to come off, however that is one of the last few games I can remember him playing centre midfield, that and against Man City in the same season.
What is alarming about both of those performances is that he was subbed off injured both times. The guy is as fragile as Rosicky and Van Persie... that doesn't bode well from a central midfield player, especially in the Premiership. Some people consider Diaby as the best candidate to partner Cesc, he is tall, physically stronger than Denilson and if he were to become a box to box player those long legs could really come in handy in both defensive and offensive situations.
Whilst Diaby cannot help his injury record there is one thing he can, and need to improve, his attitude. He need to see more desire, the fire he had when he first arrived. We want to see him chasing back, putting in tackles, whilst also being powerful in moving play forward. If Diaby could do all of the before mentioned then he could become a great central midfield player, unfortunately his injury record is a grey cloud over his potential at the moment.


One Song, we've only got.... So Alex Song. He had somewhat of a productive season last year, not specifically at Arsenal but at AFCON where he starred for Cameroon. He won young player of the tournament where he started off in the Centre Back position but was then moved into the Centre of Midfield. This I would say is very good, he is capable of playing at CB, as we saw in an Arsenal shirt last season, but he is also intelligent enough, and capable on the ball to play in midfield. He may not be stupidly tall, but he has one hell of a frame, in fact I would say his physique is perfect for a holding midfield player. He is tough, rugged, and athletic and is more than willing to get his hands dirty.
Ever since his loan spell at Charlton Song has really stood out, mainly when played in CM, but he has also looked good at CB, the only problem is how often has he played in CM for Arsenal, I mean there has been plenty of chances for him to be player there, even in friendlies, but I honestly can't remember the last time he was played in CM in a competitive match, I'm guessing it was the Carling Cup because his only performance for Arsenal in that position was away to Fulham where he practically got booed off the pitch his performance had been so poor.
Wenger stuck with him whilst many of us scratched our heads, but now, as ever so often Arsene was right, Alex Song is a potentially great player after all. Once we signed Diarra last season many of us Gooners questioned whether this guy had a future with Arsenal, much like we had been thinking of Flamini a few months before... Alex Song is my personal favourite for the position. I like that he has been building a reputation on the International scene at AFCON, as well as the Olympics, and I also like his physique, he isn't going to take any shit. I think that he would fit the role of a holding midfield player the best amongst our candidates, I also feel he would be the best for offensive and defensive set pieces. Whilst he is the best defensively he can still pick out a pass and he isn't slow either... Alex Song to partner Cesc for me.

Now Wenger has made his decision and didn't end up buying anybody. Even if I would have liked a signing like Alonso or Kompany to partner Cesc (which I am pissed off didn't happen) we have still signed some great players like Nasri, and also brought in some experience with Silvestre, we don't need to enter a high state of alert just yet, lets give it time. We need to get behind the Young Guns if we want to stand any chance of winning anything this season. Hopefully it will not be a gamble too far but you do have t wonder given that you could probably count the number of times Diaby, Denilson, and Song have played in CM with your hands and feet in the last 2 seasons. I am anticipating some action in the January transfer window because our squad does look so small now, Wenger does generally know, lets hope he has something to really be smug about come the end of the season, this has to be the youngest squad in Premiership history!

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Back in the Groove at the Grove, Champions League, Transfer deadline

So this week saw the visit of two ex-England managers to The New Home of Football, and we all know there was only going to be one winner, Wenger. McCalren's FC Twente lacked an ounce of ambition, whilst Keegan's Toon side were dismantled by an Arsenal team in full flow.

The 4-0 win against Twente on Wednesday was just the result we needed, a convincing victory and a chance for some of our players to gain their confidence back. Walcott put in an excellent performance, Bendtner showed that no matter how he plays he is always a threat, and of course it was great to see Cesc back in the side. Van Persie had a match to forget missing an open goal, and he looked very close to losing his temper on a number of occasions. He is always a worry for picking up reckless and pointless cards, his nasty side is worse than Bergkamps in my opinion, wouldn't be surprised to see him get sent off this season.

The tie was effectively over after our first goal, so I was already planning potential away trips in my head... of course bottom of that list was Fenerbache... no one wants to travel there, but sure enough we drew them, add that to another hostile away trip to the Ukraine, and a trip to Porto and it looks like we could have some hard away games in the Champions League. That being said some strong home form should be sufficient for us to qualify from the group stages, however Liverpool look like they have got the toughest draw, PSV, Marseille, and Athletico Madrid could result in another tense qualifying campaign for Rafa whose side only just scraped through the knockout stage courtesy of a goal from the Dutch Kevin Davies.

Saturdays match against Newcastle looked like it could be a tough one given the fact they had forced a draw at Old Trafford and had looked impressive in their following league and league cup matches. Keegans visits to the Emirates have not been too good so far and Saturdays game followed that pattern.

Van Persie was back to his majestic best grabbing a brace, whilst Denilson also got on the scoresheet for his first league goal. Cesc wasn't quite back to his best but it was promising to see him back in the side. We played a high defensive line which basically ruled out Michael Owen as any balls over the top would always fancy the pace of our defence over the nowadays slow pace of Owen. Ameobi may as well have not been there, but Nzogbia did look good, he's a player I wouldn't mind seeing in an Arsenal shirt.

The disgrace that is Joey Barton was subbed on with barely 2 minutes left but still managed to make the headlines. He put in an overly aggresive challenged, followed by a sarcastic grin on Samir Nasri, it was no surprise a minute later when Barton was tripped off the ball for the whole of the Emirates to cheer... have that you cunt! Was good to see that Clichy supported Nasri in his action as well, face it Barton, Keegan is the only person who wants you in the game, you are a criminal who should not be in a position to act as a role model, get back in prison.

Sunday brought 2 good results for us with Chelsea and Liverpool both drawing. Only 3 games in and no team has a 100% record and we are only 1 point off the lead so things aren't looking so bad after all... Points will be dropped by everyone this year but we really need to make the most of our favourable early fixtures and get as many points under the belt as possible, Blackburn and Bolton away could be tough but I have the faith in us to come away with 6 points if we have a fully fit squad.

And today is the transfer deadline... 6 hours and 10 minutes left and we still don't look likely to sign anyone.. that means I will wake up tomorrow to see that we have signed not 1 but 2 players. Who, I don't know... Appiah is a possibility on a free transfer and is highly experienced, other than that I have absolutely no idea!... To be honest though I will be happy for the window to shut and for us to know who our squad is!... Man City are making all the headlines so far today, they have been taken over by someone worth more than Abramovich! and have tabled a £32 million bid for Berbatov... this could be hilarious!... It is slightly concerning news in the sense that Man City could pose a threat to the 3rd/4th place spots, and we have not been in the top 2 for the last 4 years... hmmm, not another club with a ridiculous cheque book? It does look concerning for the future of football, we want self sustaining clubs please!

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Worrying signs...

Well I was fortunately at a festival this weekend so missed the so called 'abysmal' performance we displayed on Saturday at Craven Cottage. From what I have read we lacked creativity, lacked drive, and our normally consistent players put in a poor show.

I am not going to try and analyse the game because I did not watch it live, and I am not sure I can force myself to watch my recorded copy of MOTD, I have read enough about the game to know it is poor viewing, for that reason I just can't bring myself to do it...

The result has struck a lot of panic amongst Gooners, it was unexpected, even with a weakened team, and it is a worrying sign considering that Hull beat Fulham the week before. Also looking at it in the sense of us only scoring one goal in total against West Brom and Fulham it would appear not to just be defensive issues. This makes me wonder whether Alonso would in fact be a great signing for us, he is a passmaster, and we cannot always rely on the fitness of Cesc, and with Alonso in the team he would be a very useful creative spark in the centre of midfield. Looking at our squad at the moment it doesn't really look like we have a creative back up to Cesc, and at the same time we don't really have a defensive rock either, we have a lot of in betweens. Having said that I was a little surprised that Wenger didn't play Song against Fulham, he is fairly good defensively, even if he has had little experience in this position at Arsenal, I just don't understand playing players like Eboue out of position when Song could have fitted in. Wenger does puzzle us at times...

We only lost 3 matches last season and we have lost 1 only 2 games in, is this concerning?... Well I think that we drew too many games last season, you got more points from a win and a loss than you do from 2 draws. We can afford more losses if we can turn more draws into victories, that is a fact. Whether or not we can do that remains to be seen, especially when we tend to concede the first goal and are normally chasing the game, this leads to far too many of our draws, and this needs sorting out.

Silvestre has come in, and our defence is still looking poor. We knew Toure and Gallas were not a great partnership, Senderos has now joined AC Milan on loan for the season, and they have an option to turn this into a permanent deal at the end of the season. Senderos never really won me over but I am a little surprised Wenger has done this. We have stuck with Senderos for a long time now so it seems a little strange that we offload him at an age he will start to iron out the creases of his game, and Senderos seemed very much like one of the plans that Wenger would not drop, he really seemed determined to stick with him.

Now Djourou and Song might be better options than Senderos at CB, but we have not seen enough of either of those 2 at CB at Arsenal. Djourou had a spell before but this was not when we were competing for the title, and we have not seen Song there on a regular basis yet, but he has looked good there. I do like the determination shown by Djourou when he plays, this may lead to a lot of cards but he is there to win the ball. Song also looks like he will be strong enough to compete as a CB in the Premier League, we just need to see if he has the awareness and positioning.
Which leads me on to Silvestre... he is out until at least September 13 now! Just what we need huh, another inury prone player! I don't like to doubt Arsene but he is making the squad smaller and smaller and he is apparently no closer to signing a CM just yet, it is somewhat worrying.

As always you have to give Wenger until the very end of the transfer market until making a judgement over his summer transfer activity because he does like the late purchase, and looking at our squad at the moment I can really seeing him bringing in 2/3 players in January. The only thing is that Wenger has known since May that we needed to bring in a CM to partner Cesc and to step straight into the first team, and according to him, he is no closer to this!!! Please make us happy Arsene!

Thursday, 21 August 2008

I told you so...

Well I hate to say it... but I told you so. Silvestre has joined Arsenal, Wenger still wants one more signing, and it has opened the door for a loan spell...

So starting with the latter its some very good news, Armand Traore has joined Portsmouth on loan for the season. Harry and Tony will look after him, and he really needs some week in week out football. Hopefully he will get his chance. Traore is very competent on the ball, he has good footwork, a great cross, and some blistering pace, he really does glide down the flank. However his defensive capabilities have been exposed a few times by the likes of Aaron Lennon and Daniel Alves, so I think some regular exposure in the Premiership alongside some defensive greats in the Pompey team will do him the world of good, and hey, he might get some time on the left wing too so either way its a win win, we would get to see what he is like on the wing if he is deployed there.

On to our next summer transfer... Wenger has pretty much confirmed we will sign another player... as always he as not given any indication to whom it might be, but he has not even ruled out a bid for Barry stating that his exclusion from being able to compete in Europe for us would not prevent him from signing him. Barry is OK, but I am sure there are better at a cheaper price, and I'm sure Wenger has someone else lined up. Having been at the Swiss match last night it would not surprise me if it is Inler. I know nothing about Inler (except he was voted 2nd best foreign player in Serie A last season) but this potential signing excites me for some reason, and he isn't overly experienced either... not too sure why it excites me, but it does!

I must admit that with the smokescreen of the Silvestre signing I was almost expecting a second signing to be pulled out the bag today from no where, but so far nothing to report. Either way Wenger has clearly been taking his time over things so I'm sure he will have made every possible assessment for when we do finally make that signing.

In other news I honestly think that Arshavin has the most stupid agent ever, they have both spent the summer spouting their mouths off, and now comes a final hammer blow. According to his agent Arshavin could be an Arsenal player right now if he hadn't demanded such high wages and that Arsenal were willing to pay £15 million. Erm.... right... so was his asking price dropped or something because as far as I was aware Zenith wanted over £20 million for him and would not drop his asking price, and they turned down a £16 million bid from Barca, so I really don't know what his agent is on about?... Very strange!

More to come over the following days, hopefully our final signing!... Looking forward to Saturdays game against Fulham we have Song back in the squad, Silvestre may be included but has a slight strain or something, and Fabregas may well be back for Wednesdays match. Very good news. Apparently Diaby is going to be back sooner than expected, we should have some good news on Rosicky in the next few weeks, and Van Persie got through last nights international match and scored a peach of a goal...

Thats it for now.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Mikael Silvestre - a good signing should it happen

So reports in this mornings papers suggest that we could be on the verge on hijacking Silvestre's proposed move across Manchester to Eastlands, and reports from Myles Palmer (bit of a twat) even go as far as to confirm tat he was seen both at Highbury House this morning, and at the training ground this afternoon.

I have seen a lot of negative opinions from fellow fans about this proposed transfer, I have the following response...

If we sign Silvestre then I think its a good signing. Everyone complains about us having a thin squad, they complain about us brining in too many young players....

He would NOT be THE signing we were promised considering we have lost Hoyte from the squad, a player whom we need to replace in the squad... losing Hoyte for Silvestre is fine. We have more than ample cover for right back (Eboue and Toure), and Hoyte is not as good cover at left back or centre back as Silvestre would be. Hoyte had to fill in at CB last season so it shows no matter where Silvestre is in the pecking order he will almost definitely come into use at some point.

Imagine with our squad now if Clichy gets injured?... Silvestre will be better defensive cover than Traore, Gallas would be reluctant to play there and those are really our only left back options, Silvestre will therefore be a good addition for our squad depth...

Silvestre will not be in the squad long... one season maybe two... he is unlikely to hinder any of our youngsters development, I'm sure they could learn from him, and if anything it opens the door for a player like Djourou to go on loan and pick up regular football week in week out, so effectively improving his development at first team level.

We will still be signing a CM if this deal goes through so stop getting your knickers in a twist and use your brain for once!

I hope you agree.

EDIT: Silvestre has now signed for us on a 2 year contract for an undisclosed fee supposed to be around £750,000.00 http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/teams/a/arsenal/7573520.stm

Sunday, 17 August 2008

1 nil to the Arsenal...

Well like some other Gooners I'm sure I was feeling a little nervous coming into this game missing 9 players from our squad. There was to be no underestimating the importance of a good start to the season. If we want to forge a title challenging season then we really need to hit the ground running like last season. If we drop off early I can't see us catching up with Chelsea or United, they are both ruthless when in a winning position and know how to hold on to it, we really need to win our opening 6 games or so.

It turned out to be a bit of a tense game but the stats tell another story, in fact you could say they suggest it was a perfect start to the season. Arsenal walked off the pitch was 3 points in the bag, and new boy Nasri bagged his first goal within 3 minutes of his debut, and what a great goal it was too. A fast move down the left from combination work by Denilson, Bendtner and Clichy put Denilson in a great position to pull the ball back for Nasri for a close range, well composed finish.
A lot can be made out of a new signing struggling to hit the net for their first time, and within 3 minutes really puts that to bed. It plays on the mind of players when they don't get their first goal, it clearly played on Theo's mind and was great to see the joy experienced by Nasri in his goal celebration... Add to that the fact he was possibly our man of the match I can't even remember what the guy from Belarus looks like these days, this kid is going to be better than Hleb.

Whilst our strike force were frustratingly poor (especially Adebayor who ended up getting booed for trying to much himself) we looked OK in defence. Djourou was OK, I think Gallas was wrong to have a go at him for not stepping up in a West Brom attack early in the first half because Clichy was playing the same line as Djourou, the player would have still been onside. Djourou then made a vital goal line clearance to make it 2 clean sheets out of 2 so far for the season, albeit against weak opposition but a good sign nonetheless.

Wenger confirmed before the game that Justin Hoyte will be going to Middlesbrough so lets wish him the best in his future career, was a shame he never made the grade but I am sure he will fit in well at Boro. I think that this departure opens up the door for us to bring in a new defender too, Wenger only signs players 'we need' and with the departure of Hoyte we have lost a member of the squad who he had not initially factored on losing so hopefully we will bring in a utility defender to fill the void left by Hoyte in the squad, hopefully an experienced one.

Fulham away next Saturday, they lost to Hull yesterday so we will go into this game fancying our chances. Cesc might not be back for this one but hopefully Van Persie will be fit after getting through the last half hour or so yesterday, and Kolo should be back too. A couple of players with exceptional quality should hopefully help to make the difference next Saturday and we can continue on course during our relatively easy start to the season.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

So the new season begins....

and I hold more optimism at the start of this season, than I did at the start of last season. Then again I didn't foresee the team transformation in the wake of Henry's departure, it really did allow us to vary our style of play and ultimately to become less predictable not always looking to Henry as our output.
I also didn't imagine that Flamini and Adebayor would be such revelations. In previous seasons Flamini just didn't seem like a viable option alongside Cesc, he just looked like he lacked the tactical nous and was just a headless chicken. And casting my mind back to our away game against Pompey in 2006, a day I could not believe we had wasted money on Adebayor, I would never have thought he would become the striker he is today (albeit with a lot to improve still)!

Based on that a came us some shock when we led the Premiership for the majority of last season. I always knew we would be in the top 4, that thought never crossed my mind, but I never predicted that we would ever be in a position to throw away the title as we unfortunately did in the end.

The summer transfer sagas came as no shock however. Us gooners are all too familiar with clubs swooping in for our stars, not to mention the annual mass exodus predicted by the British press (and the naughty Spanish). Flamini and Hleb are the only integral players to have left us really. Gilberto and Lehmann were only bit-part players for the majority of last season, and I have confidence that any of our young midfielders are equal to anything Gilberto offered on the pitch last season, however we will miss his experience and professionalism within the squad. And of course I still feel we could bring in another keeper...

So far we have brought in Samir Nasri, an exceptional talent, and a player whom in my opinion can fill the void left by Hleb, and I have a god feeling he will even surpass the role Hleb played in an Arsenal shirt. Fellow summer signing Aaron Ramsey is more of a rough diamond, another hot prospect, but I can't see him making a significant impact in our title credentials for the coming season. I have no doubt he will show his quality in the Carling Cup but we won't see much of him week in week out. A good signing nonetheless....
Amaury Bischoff... well at the end of the day, like you lot, I know absolutely fuck all about this guy so I won't even bother trying to pretend I do... it will either turn out to be another stroke of genius by Wenger, or a low risk gamble which didn't work out, lets hope its the first one though eh...
I expect to be reading bout Coquelin in the reserves this season, he looked good in the preseason games he featured in and I will be no surprise to read about his great performances in the reserves.
Then of course there are some additions from within our squad. Carlos Vela is back from loan and fits in as fourth choice striker. An agile striker with an eye for goal it will be interesting to see what impact he can make in his first year, he is yet another bow to our striking talents and I don't really think we can get any stronger in this department now, Wenger has tipped Vela to make a big impact and I am too, especially with Van Persie's injury problems and Eduardo still recovering.
Jack Wilshere looks to be an amazingly talented player. At just 16 years of age he had a hugely impressive preseason, not once looking out of his depth against top European clubs. Definitely another one for the future, and I'm sure we will see him in the Carling Cup, plus some substitute appearances in the FA Cup and the Premiership...

The summer transfer window does not close until August 31st and we all know we will bring in at least one more player. For that reason I will delay a full squad analysis until we know who we have in the squad... that doesn't stop me from having a stab in the dark for the forthcoming season mind you...

Premier League - Its hard to imagine a season with Rosicky and RvP fully fit, we could assume that it would be amazing, which it could well be but we really don't know, neither seems capable of doing it. I think to stand a chance we need some luck, we need to have hardly any injuries, and maybe for Chelsea or United to pick some up, we might be able to make some ground on United before Ronaldo is back fully fit so that is already a good opportunity. Unfortunately I still feel United are very strong, and Chelsea have got better, a new coach and some very good new additions to their squad. Not going to write it off though, I mean we did effectviely throw it away last time so maybe we can get in that position again but hold on to it?... Still a top 3 finish.

Champions League - If Wenger never wins this in his career it will forever be a dark cloud over his managerial days, and he really wants this. I expect us to go at least one step further than a hugely unlucky quarterfinal last season, and possibly we could win it this year. Our slick passing game has been getting more and more successful in Europe and of course much depends on the draw but I really fancy us to be there or there abouts.

FA Cup - This competition is increasingly becoming less important, that said it probably wont remain with a club outside the top 4 this season. I always think it favours the slightly bigger suqads like United and Chelsea, and Wenger has seemed less and less interested in it in recent years. A good draw always puts you in a good position though so will have to wait and see, of course we have the quality to win it, but do we have the squad when the title and the Champions League are our main targets?

Carling Cup - Wenger will continue to blood more young guns, and I wonder if we will continue our good form in this competition? There is bound to be a night soon when our youngsters fall to a lesser team at an early round when will it happen? Who knows, no one wants to see a repeat of last year but with Ramos keen to impress I am sure he will be treating this as a key competition to perform in once again, that just about sums up Spurs ambitions.
It will be interesting to see the likes of Wilshere, Ramsey and other fringe players like Song possibly featuring to see what they are capable of, the Carling Cup is always exciting to watch some youngsters shine, I think Ramsey and Wilshere are the ones most of us look forward to seeing. Carlos Vela will probably be a key striker in this competition too so I guess he really needs to be added to that list.

I am looking forward to the new season, I know that we have the capability to win any of the competitions we are in, I also realise it could be yet another trophyless season. It as always depends on the luck of the season because I don't think we are ahead of United or Chelsea as such, Liverpool have strengthened and I think that Villa and SPurs are probably likely to take some points off the top 4 as well. One thing for sure is that I am so happy the season is back, and I am optimistic for the season ahead!!!

In Wenger we trust.

Monday, 11 August 2008

The new season approaches... but what happened this summer?

Just a few days until our season starts with the Champions League qualifier against McLaren’s men, FC Twente. Most of the team you would think picks itself, if injury free, with just the central midfield position next to Cesc still a major talking point amongst fans. But another position which many thought would be improved this summer with acquisitions, is the central defence. Towards the end of last season, we were conceding too many goals, not hanging on to leads, and faltering too easily under the long ball. The Toure/Gallas partnership was deemed too similar – 2 athletes, strong and quick, but not a dominator between the two of them. Senderos was (again) criticised for his performance in that crucial 2nd leg at Anfield, despite impressive performances leading up to that game. Arsene even said that we conceded too much last season from long balls down the middle,

“We have conceded 31 goals which is six or seven too many. It's as close as that to win the championship.
"We didn't give more goals away than any other team in the League on open play, nor on set pieces, but where we gave more goals away was on direct balls, in the air, through the middle, and most of the time on second balls.
"On set pieces and open play we were as good as Manchester United and Chelsea. The numbers are available. But we have to rectify how we deal with direct balls. When a team just goes for long, direct balls against us, we have to improve."

He followed this up by saying,

"I will try to buy, maybe in the defensive area and one on the creative side of the game as well because we had some players, important players, who were out this year"

Now, we all know Wenger is very cryptic with his transfer talk, and whatever he says should be taken with more than a pinch of salt. But when he said these things back in May, most would have assumed that defence would have been the 1st thing to strengthen, especially considering that at the time, Hleb and Gilberto were still with us. And most of us would have agreed that it was the right decision. So it perhaps came as a bit of a surprise that a month later, when commenting on alleged links with Vincent Kompany, Arsene dismissed the notion that we needed new defensive signings,

"I know him to be very, very good but I have decided that defenders are no longer necessarily needed for next season.”

So, what changed during this time, which was only a month apart? Did Arsene see something in our team that could be rectified without the need of spending the dough? Well, let’s look at the current situation.
Toure and Gallas are our main partnership; they are the best defenders we have. Do they work well together as a partnership though? They are both very similar players, they are both quick and strong, use athleticism to counter attacks, but neither are natural leaders. Gallas was excellent when next to Terry at Chelsea, Kolo was immense when partnered with Campbell. In the 2 years together, it seems that neither takes command of the situation, especially when dealing with long balls. We lack a Vidic, Adams, Nesta type defender, a natural no nonsense leader who can come and clean up any danger, but to also organise the back four. Communication does seem to be a problem at times, neither are natural talkers.
But maybe looking at the situation closer, maybe the disruption due to injuries and the African Nations Cup could be one of the reasons they haven’t worked, and a bit of continuity is what Wenger is banking on this season? In their 1st season together, Gallas joined on deadline day, never had a pre-season with us to help him get accustomed to our style of play and forge a partnership. He also missed many months with injury. By the time he came back, we were out of everything with nothing to play for, apart from consolidating 4th again. Last season should have been better. But Gallas again missed the 1st couple of months, and Senderos and Toure led us to the top of the league. With the team on top form, Gallas and Toure took us through the busy Christmas period into January on top, before Kolo went off to Africa. Senderos slotted in, and all was well, up until the much publicised Birmingham game. After that, our defence was chopped and changed, Sagna got injured, and our season fell apart. So could continuity be one of the reasons the Gallas/Toure partnership hasn’t flourished like many thought it would when Gallas was bought in? Perhaps it is, although for me the balance is still not right and is probably the major reason for us conceding too many goals, and I think that this partnership has a lot to prove this season. They need to become more dominating, more ruthless, and concentration must be improved, although the whole team needs to be better concentrated (conceding twice immediately after taking the lead against Liverpool in both legs was shocking). Our full backs are amongst the best in Europe, I wouldn’t trade them for any other pair, but the middle needs to be sorted out. Some point to our attacking football for the reason we probably conceded a few too many goals. That’s a load of flaming dog turd. Man United won the league by scoring more than us, and conceding less. Our Invincibles team showed the way too. The bar has been raised in recent years, and in order to be Champions, you have to be great offensively and defensively.

Now, if any of the 1st two get an injury, the back ups are Senderos, Song and Djourou. Hardly inspiring stuff you may say. Song played well towards the end of the season, but essentially he played in 4 dead games. Senderos we all know about, will he finally silence the doubters this season? Statistically, his partnerships with Gallas and Toure conceded less goals then our 1st choice. I don’t know have the stats on hand, but this is fact. But stats don’t show the whole picture of course, such as which games they played, in which competitions, the rest of the team on the day, just returning from injuries (such as Senderos coming back against Sevilla away, and Kolo at Old Trafford in the FA Cup) etc. Big Phil will continually be under scrutiny and as the next in line we rely on him a lot. I sincerely hope that he and the others will be good enough to step in this season, but we should have bought another centre back, I really hope we don’t live to regret it come the end of the season.

Who could we have signed? That’s not our job, and maybe there hasn’t been anyone good enough available for the right price. Not many great defenders stood out at the Euros. However, let’s be honest, I’m sure there are players out there that could have helped improve our squad. So maybe Arsene has seen something that we can work on as a team? Well, we improved our record from conceding from set pieces, which was a problem a few seasons back, maybe we are banking on this again? Let’s bloody hope so, because as we have seen from this pre-season, we are still conceding cheap goals. Yes, pre-season shouldn’t be looked at too seriously, but it’s not a good habit to fall into; we can’t keep coming from behind. Getting a new defensive midfielder is a must, no question about it. And a tall player might be something we need. Gilberto helped us win more headers from set pieces and long balls, something that Flamini couldn’t do, despite everything else he brought to the team.
There is still time for Arsene to change his mind and bring someone in, Diarra last season was a signing that no one could have foreseen with the amount of defensive midfielders we had at the club (ironic now, eh?). If not, then the current players have to show the boss that he was right not to strengthen. It’s not as if we have no experience there. Championship winners, FA Cup winners, played in World Cups, Euros, African Nations – they have played at the highest level so there are no excuses on that front, but is the quality there in depth? We are about to find out. I have a feeling that should we fail this season and the defence is one of the main reasons, then there will be changes. I believe that this is a major gamble from Le Boss going into the new season.

By Mario Leontiou

Saturday, 9 August 2008

A real concern going into the season...

Well last night saw us beat Ajax 3-2 in a game of two halves. At half time we were losing to a 2-0 defecit, only for us to 'do a Bolton' and turn it round to a 3-2 victory. Yes it was entertaining, yes it was exciting (even if it was a friendly) but there are still some very concerning signs amongst our line up.

I just do not understand how Arsene can target our defensive play as our key position to improve in at the start of the summer, only for him to then turn around and decide not to sign anyone, and we have lost two defensive midfielders, and we are only going to make one more signing? How does that work then? The first Ajax goal came from a couple of errors from both centre backs. A deep cross caw Toure head the ball into the air, gaining no distance, to drop in the box for Suarez to convert a superbly executed volley. As great as the volley was it would have helped if Gallas had closed him down but he just didn't. It was Toure's first game back from his spell with Malaria but it was a basic defensive error, not clearing the box, maybe Sagna should have called the header for himself, but I always think that if you can't clear your line properly get it off the pitch, maybe Kolo could have glanced it off for a corner?

The second Ajax goal came from a combination of frustrating inexperience, and more poor defending. Theo lost the ball in a moderately harmless position, and as he often does I was just waiting for him to give away yet another pointless free kick, it is truly a sign of his youth and inexperience. He gets annoyed with himself for losing the ball, and then gets too keen to win it back and about 99% he gives away a weak free kick. The free kick was then dispatched early with Gallas no where to be seen and Huntelaar scored a half volley, another goal displaying great technique leaving Almunia with no chance again, and leaving him furious with his defensive line. Two goals within 90 seconds... slightly concerning eh Wenger?...

Yes it was a friendly, but we had our current strongest line up (injuries in mind) and its not like the players go out there to lose, the season starts a week today and I don't think the fact its only a friendly is any saving grace. This was our best available team conceding needless goals, and is a sign of what we can expect to see during the coming season. I can only think of one clean sheet during preseason and how often do we have to come back from a losing deficit? We really do make it hard for ourselves, and this really needs addressing, conceding first is not the way to go about winning the title because it leads to draws such as last season.

Justin Hoyte looks like he could be on his way to Middlesbrough with reports stating that Arsenal have accepted a £3.5 million bid. Hoyte has never looked Arsenal quality so he really should move on if he wants first team football. Maybe, just maybe that could open up the door for signing a new defender? Maybe Wenger will bring in a back up RB/CB, or maybe it will see Eboue moving back to RB on a more regular basis? Who knows... either result would be good right?

Denilson and Fabregas looked too lightweight as a partnership but tell us something we didn't know already... I am surprised we are yet to bring someone in, and we do have until midnight on the 31st but will a signing be able to fit into the first team straight away?... Reports on the Swiss midfielder Inler continue with his agent stating to have apparently held good talks with Arsene... at six foot he has the kind of physique I would like to partner Cesc, someone big in there would be excellent, a tough tackler too because lets face it we just don;t have that at the moment. At that height it would add an extra threat in the box, as well as more defensive help from set pieces. At the moment we may as well call any corners we win goal kicks, we are so ineffective at them its embarrassing, about 70% of the time the keeper claims it and any added height would be certainly welcomed....

Rant over now, I do think Wenger is making a mistake by not bringing in more defensive cover for the season, and I am almost certain we will have to sign someone in the January transfer window to make up for this, hopefully we are still in a good position by then. Tonight's game will probably see us use more fringe players, Toure should probably get another run out, and possibly a sub appearance for Cesc as yesterday was the first preseason games for both players.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Adebayor and Van Persie... the most effective partnership for Arsenal?

Well, suppose I had better quickly mention the Emirates Cup... it looked very much like the preseason tournament it was, some slow lazy performances, but a few players looking to make that impression. Of course Ade wanted to win round the fans so insisted on taking the match winning penalty against Real Madrid, and Wilshere impressed yet again on both days, and judging by Wengers comments, we can probably expect to see him play at some point this season (plus he has got himself an official squad number now). So now on to a more important debate...

I have to say I would prefer to see an Eduardo or Vela type striker starting for Arsenal... Van Persie and Adebayor are both very good players, however neither has really intelligent off-the-ball movement. Van Persie is rarely on the last man, he is always dropping in to get the ball, and Adebayor thinks he is Henry trying to be offside to confuse the defenders however he never comes back onside, or failing that he is playing down the left flank, again trying to be Henry.
Personally I don't know why Ade comes out wide, he never gets an assist or cross from this position, and most of his goals come down the middle from early balls. What is the use of Ade laying off to Clichy or Sagna if he is supposed to be the one in their challenging for the ball.

Van Persie likes the ball at his feet, he likes to be in control, to be able to receive the ball, take a touch backwards so he can look up and get his bearings, Van Persie is capable of making a goal out of this, but for that to be fully effective he would need someone powerful and quick charging from the centre of midfield to make space for him, or for him to lay off to. I'm not sure we have that at Arsenal.

Between them they don't offer much for the quick early ball, and I think this is one of the main things which has slowed up Arsenal's counter-attacking football. That is why I look forward to Eduardo's return... just look at his goals last season, he profits well from an early ball, and with our creative play we don't need a striker to do everything themselves, we just need them to finish it off, and feel that too often Ade tries to do everything himself, looking to pick the ball up early, instead of making a run on the last man. We have only seen a small glimpse so far of Vela but he looks like he has good movement and Wenger has compared his style to Eduardo. This kind of striker will push the defense back further and will create a space between themselves and the midfield, rather than the compact play you see us ending up in on the edge of the box far too often.

Unfortunately I don't see us mixing it up too often in the coming season, obviously with Eduardo still returning (if he hadn't broken his leg he might have even been fighting for that starting spot right now), and Vela is I suppose 4th choice striker behind Bendtner at the moment.

I think we need RvP/Ade/Bendtner teaming up with Eduardo/Vela (possibly in time). I'm not saying that RvP and Ade won't score goals but I don't think they are the most effective partnership for our football.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Stuttgart, Bischoff, Adebayor, Bendtner

So Jens Lehmann conceeded 3 goals and Arsenal won... a strange looking statement huh... well the Wednesday night scoreline was typical of Arsenal. Conceed a goal through poor defensive work, but being too penetrative going forward to keep at bay.

It was Nasri's first performance for the Gunners and he looked bright and very mobile, whilst not trying anything too flashy o his debut. He played some good balls to Adebayor (who looked like he needs a good run out) and was unlucky not to play in RvP with a defense splitting pass. He also took on a half volley effort which swerved wide but was promising to see.

Bendtner, Vela, and Wilshere continued their rich vein of form by finishing off 3 well worked moves. Vela got the first after superbly being played in by Bendtner (for which I will go into more depth later) and knocked it past Lehmann to finish from a tight angle. Bendtner played a 1-2 with Vela, before powering through to finish neatly passed Lehmann, and Clichy pulled out a heroic run before dinking it across the box to Wilshere, whose finish was too powerful for Lehmann to get close to.

It was good to see the likes of Wilshere and Vela carrying on from Monday night, with both putting in impressive performances. Of course Wenger has been playing down Wilshere but you do wonder if he gets a chance as a sub, or even starts in the Carling Cup whether he might even make his league debut this season? Like they say, 'if you're good enough, you're old enough'.

We finally completed the signing of Bischoff, which he himself had reported around a month ago... bit of a random one on first impressions, he has only played something like 16 minutes competitive football for Werder Bremen, but has featured for Portugal under 21's, and played a lot for the Werder Bremen youth set up. The thing is though that he has already had 2 groin operations and had also been working as an office clerk!! Wenger believes he will need at least 2-3 months of training before he will be match fit... I guess its fairly similar to Baptista except Bischoff has more valid reasons than just being a fat bastard.

Adebayor is putting pen to paper on a new improved deal within the next few days which will put a 1/2 year extension on his existing deal taking his contract up to 4/5 years in length. In his interview with ATVO Adebayor insisted his love for the club, and really really insisted (about 20 times!) that he never said he would leave Arsenal... which in fairness he never did... I never commented too much on this saga because there really wasn't much substance to talk about in terms of Adebayor saying anything... he also still hopes that the fans will love him as before as he has signed a new deal and of course... he never said he would leave the club (Ade really drilled this point home).

And then of course our Great Dane, Niklas Bendtner. Now I like this kid a lot, he has a lot of attributes to his game, if he perfects them he could become the complete striker. We have seen him be powerful in the air, we know he has a good touch (when not rusty), he may not be Theo Walcott but he certainly isn't slow either. I mean considering his age Bendtner has potential for greatness. Now I do get pissed off with comparisons to ex-players or how we need an excat replacement for a player... e.g. Diaby the new Vieira, Walcott the new Henry, however I see a lot of Bergkamp in Bendtner. What I mean when I say that is that Bendtner can be a very profitable striker to play alongside, he can drag players with him and then play a killer ball. His assist for Vela's goal was so reminisecent of Bergkamp it was unreal! That little Dennis dink we became familiar with, it's a disguised pass because it's not expected, it's just a sudden dink, and it is extremely effective when pulled off. A player with Eduardo's movement will profit so much from playing alongside Bendtner. We really do have a royal flush when it comes to strikers. We can really mix it up and with our creative midfield I can't see us struggling to score in any way this season.
If Bendtner can look up more often and perfect when to release the ball I could really see him making a huge impact at Arsenal over the next few seasons, providing he is patient. He will be a better all round player than Adebayor and will get more goals than Bergkamp did, admittedly he isn't likely to score many screamers like Dennis because Bendtner is much more lethal inside the box. I think Bendtner will see a bit more playing time than last season, and he really has a chance before Eduardo recovers to make an impact during the first months of the season. He is most likely to be coming on from the bench but I am sure he will get one or two matches from the start... will be interesting to see how he takes his chances, and whether or not he can link up with Ade... watch this space!

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Dear Ian Wright...

You may have read in yesterdays me noting that Ian Wright had written a garbage article not even worthy of linking... well thanks to fellow writer Mario I have now got a reason to... have a read of this article, and then read Mario's response. I'm sure you will find it an agreeable response.

Hi Ian,

1st of all, I would just like to say as a lifelong Gooner, you were always a great player for us and thanks for the memories. But my reason for emailing you is in response to your latest piece regarding Arsenal. You wrote us off last year without much merit in my opinion, and you are doing so again.

"Bergkamp was the catalyst for so many good things at Arsenal.
His immense presence helped to attract the likes of Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry, Freddie Ljungberg, Robert Pires — the list is endless."

Well, Vieira and Ljungberg were unknowns before they came to Arsenal, and Thierry was struggling at Juve. Wenger was the reason why they joined, at least with the French guys. We didn’t sign them as established world class players, so what you say is pretty irrelevant seeing as we are still snapping up some of the best young talent from Britain and beyond. Maybe one day they will be immortalised like some of those Invincibles, but when they joined, who were they really? Two flops at their Italian clubs, an unknown from Sweden and someone from the French league. Bergkamp’s presence helped us sign some potentially good young, foreign talent. I wish we still signed potentially good young, foreign talent...

"If any Arsenal fan told me they expected the club to finish in the top four this season, I reckon they would be optimistic rather than realistic."

This is such nonsense. We finished 4 points off the top last season, a season in which at the start you wrote us off. So who will overtake us? Will Spurs bridge the 30 points difference? Will Pompey or Villa sustain a challenge all the way through with their even smaller squads (and whose squads are not even in the same league)? Why will we lose out on all those points that we gained last season, this season? We got 83 points last season, the 5th placed team got 65. If we lose out on 20 points this season and finish outside the top 4, then I’m a Chinaman. Remember last season we played most of the season without Rosicky and RVP, then Eduardo, who knows what would have happened if we kept them fit. And every Arsenal fan I have spoken to, from the young to the old, season ticket holders or those from abroad, all believe we will finish at least in the top 4, and many believe we will sustain a Premiership challenge. If we held on to the lead at Old Trafford towards the end of last season, we would have been champions.

"So when you read that they have £70million or so to spend, you know it’s for real. But their transfer dealings have been overshadowed by Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool."

We have £70M in operating cash, but wouldn't it be foolish if we spent all our cash on players? Then what happens in case of an emergency? Not good business sense that. There's a reason why Leeds are where they are. And our deals overshadowed by United? They haven't bought anyone! We bought a player they wanted in Ramsey. Them trying to buy Berbatov doesn’t mean squat if they don't get the deal done. We could make a £20M bid for Messi but we would have no chance, would that be signalling intent? We don’t do our transfer dealings in public, we should all know that by now. It's good business. Other teams don't know about it, we don't get caught up in auctions, we quietly go about our business. Might not be good for the tabloids, that's why it seems so many try and stir up a load of nonsense regarding Arsenal. It's pretty tiresome really.

"Liverpool are refusing to stand still and have flexed their muscles in the transfer market with Spurs striker Robbie Keane.

Chelsea have landed Deco and Jose Bosingwa and are on a high-profile tour of the Far East and Russia. "

Well, Liverpool are refusing to stand still because they finished in 4th spot. Wouldn't be clever of them to stand still, they need to vastly improve. They were never in the title race last year and lost at home to Barnsley in the cup. And spending £20M on Robbie Keane is stupid. He's a good player, but is worth £12M tops. Credit crunch is hitting, fans are struggling to pay their bills, and football clubs are wasting money like it's going out of business. I'm so glad Arsenal don't throw money like that for 28 year olds. Besides, we have 3 better forwards at the club already. As for Chelsea, they needed a right back, and they got one. £16M, mind... As for their "high profile" tour, who gives a crap? It’s totally irrelevant. But for the sake of argument, what will they get out of making their players travel to the other side of the world for money spinning trips? Probably some tired players and preparation not as good as we get in our pre-season. If you don't believe this, ask the players themselves. Barcelona players complained about it last season. Rumours are the Chelsea boys have said the same. You should ask Shaun. We have gone to Austria under Wenger for 8 years or so now. Seems to me that it's been a success. A few titles and cups during that period, not bad really. Then we have the Emirates and Amsterdam Cups. Seems pretty good to me, and high profile enough. I hear Real Madrid, Juventus and Ajax are quite decent clubs. Not a patch on Guangzhou Pharmaceutical's though.

"Top-class players are bought not only for what they bring to the team but for the ‘wow’ factor too."

Maybe we should buy Shevchenko? That was some 'wow' factor. All I can hear now from Chelsea fans is, "Wow, what a waste of money that cripple is". Give me an Eduardo or Sagna type signing anytime. It's what can be added to the team and what improves it, not a big name. This isn't Football Manager, it's real life.

"Everyone knows the foundations at Arsenal ARE strong but everything else looks a bit shaky.

Emmanuel Adebayor answered all questions last season but even he appears to be trying to get away. "

The same way Ronaldo has been trying to get away at United all summer? The way their assistant manager has already left? The way Lampard and Drogba are trying to get away from Chelsea? Why not mention any of these? You're just trying to find an easy way out. 'Arsenal haven't spent £50M on players they won’t win nothing'. That's not any insight into football, just a cop out because if you say anything else, you may be left with egg on your face. But writing Arsenal off (which seems to be the tabloid thing to do) leaves you with a bit of wiggle room if you're wrong (which you have been many a time), because you could turn around and say "I’m so glad I was wrong, I’m so happy we won etc".

“MY old Arsenal team-mate David Rocastle would be turning in his grave right now if he looked at what is happening with the Gunners.

Rocky’s life was tragically cut short when in its prime. “

The lowest of the low. No need to mention Rocky in this article. You cannot speak for a dead man’s perspective on anything. I have no idea why you mentioned this.

"You want to give fans a sense of anticipation for the upcoming season, a feeling that they can’t wait for the first ball to be kicked.

I’ll have to be brutal here and say that I sadly don’t feel that way about Arsenal with the new campaign just about to start. "

All this is, is pessimism at its worse. It's just designed to get people worked up and worried over nothing. Which is not surprising seeing as you work for one of the worst in the business at stirring emotions like that in The Sun. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but what you have said has no basis. You sound like a Spurs fan after one too many Stellas. Hyperbolic ramblings from an ex player might sell papers, but it doesn't wash with the majority of Arsenal fans who just happen to use their brains and not listen to TalkSport or read the Sun message boards. The transfer window still has 5 weeks to go, why are you writing up the obituary now? Gallas, Baptista, Diarra, Denilson - 4 players bought on the 31st of August in the last 2 seasons. Chill out, defeatist mentalities do not help anyone. All it does is give leverage for rival fans to spout more shit our way when one of our legends talks like this.

Mario Leontiou

Tuesday, 29 July 2008


Yep last nights score line! Burgenland were seriously poor, I mean Sunday League poor! The defending was absolutely shocking, for a key example of this see Vela's first two goals...

So I mean not much to analyse, I mean will have been great for the confidence of Bendtner (4 goals), Vela (3 goals), and Wilshere (2 goals). What I found most interesting about this match was that Ramsey and Wilshere played the full 90 minutes in the last run out for the youngsters. I think Arsene feels these 2 are closest to the first team, and that is amazing for Wilshere at just 16 years of age, and he did have another very good performance. Arsene has been trying to play it down today, and rightly so, we want Wilshere to be a grounded lad after all and also he doesn't need any pressure on his shoulders at 16!

“Last year I missed too many games and I am still disappointed about it. But that is life. That is football and things can happen. I accepted it. This is a new year with new chances. Hopefully I can be injury-free this year"

You could be forgiven for thinking that is a personified Arsenal speaking there, I mean it sums up our last season pretty well, but it is in fact RvP telling us of his main aim for the season... And lets hope it comes true! We have never seen RvP complete a full season so we still don't know exactly what he is capable of, imagine if he and Ade are capable of 30+ a season... that would be formidable!

I think most Arsenal fans are in anticipation of tomorrows friendly against Stuttgart... not to see a face off between Almunia and Mad Jens, but to see the first glimpse of Nasri in an Arsenal shirt, personally I can't wait! I have great expectations for this kid, and I feel he might be more of an asset to our team than Hleb. Nasri is a quick thinker, he isn't going to slow down the famously quick Arsenal counter attack. He isn't going to be so 'shot-shy' so hopefully we can expect a greater return from Nasri, in other words the much needed midfield goals!

More good news in the shape of a funky pineapple! Kolo will be back by the start of the season, and with a new haircut. This is great news, I am so much happier with Kolo in the side than Senderos, and I really have doubts over Senderos ever making it. Would be more confident with Song, even on his brief showing in the position, but as we all know he is in Beijing for the Olympics.

Nothing to report on the transfer front, well at least nothing worthy of mentioning. I highly doubt we are going in for Inler but I guess you never know. Smells like cow dung to me though. Just can't wait to see who are next signing is but the wait continues... and hey who cares when we get to see new boy Nasri tomorrow! This kid is going to be a new heir to the number 8 shirt made famous be Wrighty, who has come out with some embarrassing analysis of Arsenal (not worth linking or reading.. believe me!).

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Stand up and be counted

Anticipation is building once again for another new season, players coming and going, pre-season friendlies starting to whet the appetite whilst newspapers and agents (and Hleb) are spewing more shit than a sewage run off. Transfer speculation usually dominates the summer months, and boy has there been some serious speculation this summer! We just have to wait another 5 weeks though until the closing of the window, Wenger said he wants 1 central midfielder, and possibly a maximum of 2 new players (personally, I would like 3 - a CB, a CM and an experienced keeper to challenge Manuel, but that's not going to happen).

But rather than speculate on the players we could be bringing in, I think we should look at some of the players we already have, and who have a big season ahead of them. Guys like Diaby, Walcott, Senderos, Denilson and Djourou have to step up this season and give us that strength in depth that the likes of Brown, Park, Anderson, O’Shea gave to United last season and remove the 'potential' tag. They will be trusted to do so, and these players (as well as others) are the reason why we don’t go out spending Chelski sort of money for squad players. I wouldn't go as far as to say it's a 'make or break' season or anything as dramatic as that, but we need more consistency and more end product. They may be young, but they are extremely talented, and they are the squad players who will hopefully make the difference when the inevitability of injuries and suspensions (and malaria) occurs.

Diaby - when he arrived, he was christened as the 'new Vieira', and not just because of the physical characteristics. Since he's come back from his assault at Sunderland, he's only shown glimpses of the talent, and at times can be so infuriating (granted he's not a left winger where Wenger has played him most). A concern for me is how often he gets injured. He plays a few games, and then is out for 2-3 weeks. This season he will be played in the middle a whole lot more, and it’s time for him to make his mark. He's been capped twice for France so we know he has the talent, he dominated Chelsea's millionaires in the Carling Cup final until he toe punted Terry and got injured, and in either a 4-5-1 away from home or a 4-4-2 in home games against so called lesser opposition, he could be very useful in breaking forward. He needs to learn though how to use the ball better. Technically he is very good, can shield the ball superbly, but he needs to pass the ball better and crucially, to give it at the right time and not to dribble too much which he has been guilty of. Last season I wanted to smash his face in after the red card up at Bolton, which showed a lack of maturity and dare I say, intelligence. Now, his time may have arrived and I am really looking forward to see what he can do this season.

Senderos - the guy is like Marmite. Love him or hate him. When given a run in the team, we have had great runs (2005 end of season culminating in the FA Cup final, 2006 CL run). But we all know about his high profile blunders. Centre backs don't peak until later in their careers as experience is vital, positioning and reading of the game is something that comes with the more matches you play. But if Senderos is not going to be our 1st choice centre back, which he will not, we need him to be reliable enough to come in for 2-3 games here and there. I do think there is a lot of talent there, and statistically, his partnerships with Toure or Gallas is better in regards to conceding less goals than the Kolo/Willy partnership. But we can’t keep saying that 'he needs a run of games' if he comes in and is looking sluggish, a Championship winning team needs the 'next in line' players to be ready to step up immediately.

Denilson - struggled last season with injuries and rumours of off-pitch problems, and seemed to regress a bit after his 1st season. But you don't become captain of the Brazil under 20's, and get called up to their squad at that age, unless you are a pretty special. With our central midfield position looking weaker than last season, he won’t have as much competition for spaces, and if he stays fit and healthy, we will look for him to make more of an impact outside the cup competitions. He can be a shield for our more attacking midfielders, and I could see him playing in a 4-5-1 away from home in particular, and with his passing ability, could help us break quickly. Although he is primarily a defensive midfielder, he has an intelligent and creative side to his passing. Beefing up a bit more would be useful.

Walcott - we all know about Theo. Electrifying pace, head down and run, looks like Lewis Hamilton. Towards the end of last season he was starting to come into his own a bit, and that run at Anfield was truly breathtaking. It can't be healthy to get that excited by teenage boys! But there were also a lot of frustration watching Theo play at times. I even remember a time where a few Arsenal fans were saying maybe we should loan him out. The right wing isn't his favoured position, but it's where he will play next season and he has the attributes to make him an important impact player for us, although now it's time to push on to be a 1st team regular. He needs to get his head up more, release the ball quicker and try not to run down blind alleys, which I feel he does because he tries a bit too hard. And he also needs to track back and help Sagna more; otherwise he will be overlooked for Eboue, especially in away games. I'm confident that this lad will go on to be a big player for us, but he does have a way to go before he becomes a regular in the 1st team.

Djourou - what do we do with him? Last summer, I felt that he will be a top player for us. Now, I struggle to think for a role for him, and think of him as nothing more than a squad player. Of course it's ridiculous to write off a 21 year old, but for Arsenal, is he good enough? He's little more at the moment than 4th choice centre back, and 5th-6th choice CM (not including the hopefully new DM we buy in). His loan at Brum wasn't that much of a success, didn't play well and was shifted between positions. If Song is our 4th choice centre back cover, then maybe we need to loan him out again for a whole season to another Premiership club. But with our squad seemingly getting smaller, he might have a part to play at the club. He is versatile, but DM may be his best position at the moment, as he’s not a natural defender.

Like I’ve already said, they may be young, but our squad as a whole is young. Age is just a number, if you are good enough, you are old enough. With another season under their belt, they should all be stronger and have that bit more experience. Along with the likes of Bendtner and Song, are these guys good enough to help us improve on last seasons’ results?

By: Mario Leontiou

Saturday, 26 July 2008

A quiet few days...

For The Gooner Guru and for Arsenal... been extremely busy this week so not had any time to post for a while but then nothing new has really happened either...

Of course there was the 1-1 friendly, a very boring encounter, although Bendtner and Walcott crafted out an impressive goal. Bendtner brought the ball down and assisted fantastically, and Walcott slotted home a neat finish off the inside of the post. Wilshere looked promising again, the Hoyte brothers, unfortunately were more of a calamity than anything else at centre back, and other than that there was nothing else to report.
Not sure Randall or Lansbury took their chance to shine although its early days...

According to The Sun Toure has made a miraculous recovery from his Malaria, and could be back in light training which if you ask me is excellent news. No offence to Senderos but I am much more comfortable with Toure.

Arshavin and his agent have managed to make themselves look even worse thanks to some hideously shameful comments. Yes his agent said he would consider a move to Spurs but I'm not even talking about that... remember after the Euros when Arshavin said he was looking for a move based on footballing grounds and not financially motivated...

"Money? I doubt that many other clubs would be able to pay me what Zenit can. It is not an economic question, it is about sporting desire. I want to play in one of the big leagues."

Well here are the latest comments from his agent...

The price is very high, as are the personal terms.

I mean there are so many merry go round comments in this summer transfer saga it makes me feel sick from dizzyness... his agent has been an embarrassment!

So thats about all to report really... I remember on Tuesday thinking to myself that we would have made a signing by now, I mean preseason really picks up from Monday with games against Stuttgart, the Emriates Cup, the Amsterdam tournament, Champions League qualifying etc. that I managed to convince myself we would sign someone by Monday in good preparation... why do I do this to myself?

Monday, 21 July 2008

Wenger, Hleb, Nasri, tomorrows match

So after the Barnet game Wenger said we could expects signings, but he was unsure as to how many and where. Later in an interview with BBC London this turned out to mean one certain signing, and a maximum of two (click here for full article and radio recording of the interview).
My initial reaction to these comments was "what the fuck? only one guaranteed signing and at maximum two???" This initially seemed ludicrous to me given our outgoings so far this summer. After a day or so I settled down somewhat and could see the light of day again, maybe Arsene was speaking sense after all.... I based on the following (plus the fact my disgust always disappears after a day or two);

1. The signing is going to be of the highest quality.
2. Given the arrivals of Nasri and Vela, the season of experience gained by Walcott and Eboue, the bionic leg gained by our Czech Sick Roy, and the possible use of Traore we are stronger outwide than we were last season. Maybe we don't know so much about the likes of Nasri, Vela, and Traore on the wing but the depth seems to be there, we seem to have more options and don't need to automatically turn to the likes of Diaby to fill in outwide. If you consider Traore might play there in the Carling Cup perhaps, plus Gibbs might get in the Carling Cup squads too we seem to be moving in the right direction.
3. Based on the above we only need to sign a partner for Cesc (yes I WOULD like a GK or CB but given Wengers comments at the start of the summer that he would not sign either I had already written this off). We can't really sign in any other positions without being over subscribed, the squad is not as small as yo might think.
4. Arsene Wenger does ultimately know better than me (well ok... let just say 'probably)... I just hate his transfer activity at times... I mean not the signings, he is a master, but he is a sneaky bastard when it comes to revealing his targets. As I'm sure you will agree this can get really annoying for the fans who want to be put out of their misery, but I guess we benefit in the end from signing the player at a non-inflated price and without the transfer being poached.
5. We do have the squad, its there, maybe Gary Lewin leaving for his England post might lift some kind of injury voodoo curse and we might not actually pick up so many on the sick room for once!

Alex Hleb has come out with some unnecessary comments about Cesc. Well done Hleb, we already know Cesc loves Barca, but why come out with these kind of comments? It shows no respect for Arsenal (yes Alex, the team who paid your wages over the past 3 years!) to come out with comments like this, and for what? A tiny bit of kudos with the Barca fans before he annoys the fuck out of them with his 'no shoot' policy... good riddens I say, I don't like to get bitter at players leaving Arsenal, its just childish, but this is disrespectful to Arsenal and I sincerely hope his career goes down the proverbial pan at Barca.

Samir Nasri commenced his Arsenal career today as all the big boys (except Cesc) started their preseason training too. Maybe we will get a glimpse of Nasri in a friendly next week, but I don't think we can expect to see him in tomorrows match (although I would love to see it). Adebayor was at training today, I wonder how the feeling was towards him in the dressing room? Will this summers saga have had an effect on him within the squad? Lets hope not, but who knows... hopefully today will have been about Nasri meeting the squad rather than Adebayor dragging his feet onto the training ground.

Tomorrows match sees Arsenal step onto the pitch to face the mighty... *drum roll*... Szombathelyi Haladas... *du dum*. Who, the, fuck?... who knows? I certainly don't, and I also don't know what kind of squad is likely to be fielded. I am assuming it will be quite similar to Saturdays team, however I doubt he will have taken so many of the second half subs to Hungary. Young guns have suggested that Wenger is likely to have taken a lot more of the youngsters than he would have in previous years. Normally he would take 2-3 with him however this time he will have taken a lot more (I guess we will find out who tomorrow), presumably to filter out those who are and aren't ready to join the first team.
Hopefully we will see some more of Ramsey, Wilshere, Barazite and I wouldn't mind seeing Simpson and Randall again too. If you plan on watching tomorrows match it kicks off at 17.30 and is on ATVO and the Setanta Arsenal channel. I mean who would pass up a chance to see Szombathelyi Haladas if nothing else.

Friday, 18 July 2008

A lot to be done in the transfer market

So at the start of the summer Arsene stated his first ambition was to hold on to our star players... well since then we have lost a Alex Hleb whether this will be a loss or a gain is up for debate. He was integral to a lot of Arsenal's forward moves, however his stats do paint a very poor picture of his effectiveness. 10 goals not many assists and we have a higher win record when Hleb did not play! This said I don't think Wenger wanted to lose him and his skills were unmatched within our squad, we have the passers but Hleb was brilliant on the ball although he was maybe guilty of slowing down our fluid football at times. Lets hope Nasri can balance the skill and speed.
We had already lost Flamini, another player Wenger wanted to hold on to and who knows about the Adebayor saga? Although this seems to have settled down somewhat.

Gilberto leaving was probably more expected so I am sure Wenger was not as concerned about this departure. That said Gilberto would have made a very good mentor to our younger players, is a fine example of a professional footballer, and was always a calm head on the pitch. His experience really would have been useful within our young squad so based on this Gilberto will be a loss to our squad, despite his faltering performances on the pitch last season.

Lehmann to Stuttgart means we have a lot less competition in the goalkeeping ranks, and in my opinion we still need to sign a goalkeeper, but unfortunately Wenger does not agree. Despite Mad Jens's outbursts in the media he was also a consummate professional in his football approach, on his departure Fabianski paid credit to his personal debt to Lehmann, so that is yet another experienced player from the squad, and one for our younger players to look up to gone.

With transfers out reading;
M. Flamini - A.C. Milan, Free Transfer
J. Lehmann - VfB Stuttgart, Free Transfer
A. Hleb - FC Barcelona, Undisclosed
Gilberto Silva - Panathinaikos FC, Undisclosed

and transfers in reading;
Aaron Ramsey - Cardiff City F.C., £5 million
Samir Nasri - Olympique de Marseille, Undisclosed Fee
Francis Coquelin - SASP Stade Lavallois Mayeene MFC

there is a serious deficit in ready first team players. All outgoings could have easily stepped into the first team, where as we are not really sure about Ramsey or Nasri just yet although I am sure Nasri will quickly make the transition into the first XI, Ramsey will probably be CC, whilst Coquelin is only one for the future.

I think when Wenger mentioned having to bring in some experience he was talking about replacing Gilberto and Lehmann, in terms of experience within the squad and calm head dressing room, however he also needs to bring in top quality players, especially in central midfield. Although talented I don't think Denilson, Song, or Diaby are ready for a starting berth week in week out just yet. But they will certainly have a huge role to play in the coming season, especially if we only bring in one central midfielder, considering we have lost Flamini, Diarra, and Gilberto since the start of last season, opportunities will be up for grabs so it will be interesting to see who stakes the best claim when given the chance.

In my opinion Wenger still needs to bring in at least 3 more signings. A couple of experienced players as well as a highly talented player ready to step into the starting line up when required, we don't need squad players (unless Wenger changes his mind on bringing in a CB or GK in which case I would welcome a squad player in either positions) but we really need a world class CM to partner Cesc, Barry seems to expensive, and I'm not sure if Alonso is the man for the job. A utility player would be excellent, someone who can fill in across the midfield or defense would be great, depending on their quality of course.

In Arsene we trust, so we must kick back and see how the transfer window pans out... would prefer sooner rather than later as most players have started the pre season training now and it's always better to have your new signings as a part of this. There is still some work left to do for Wenger, I just can't wait to see who it is... why does Wenger do this to us?

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Gilberto set for Panathinaikos, Hleb to Barca

After accepting a bid for £1 Million from Panathinaikos it appears Gilberto will complete his move away from the Emirates stadium...

It is a sad day to see the man dubbed 'The Invisible Wall' walking away from his Arsenal career but it is certainly understandable. He spent the majority of last season on the bench, despite having spent the 2006/2007 season as our captain, and one of the best players of the season. You could see his disappointment in the situation whenever shown sitting on the bench, looking like the glum naughty boy who had just been sent to his room.

Whilst the move is understandable from Gilberto's point of you it is also understandable from Arsene's point of view too. I mean I would have been OK with Gilberto playing some part in the following season, he has great experience and also showed towards the end of the season that he could still perform well, however there were many Gilberto performances last season that were extremely painful to watch. At times he looked like a 45 year old who had come back for a testimonial game who hadn't exercised in 10 years. He was off the pace, lacked awareness, and managed to give away possession with almost every pass, he looked a shadow of the 2006/2007 season player whom many had expected to retain the captaincy after the departure of Henry.

However despite his disappointment of being dropped to the bench Gilberto always remained a complete professional, and for this we must salute him. He didn't come out in the press saying detrimental comments to the club, or Wenger, and also said that he accepted that Flamini and Cesc were playing so well in central midfield.
As he becomes the highest paid played in Greek football we wish Gilberto the best of luck, and thank him for the role he played as part of the record breaking invincibles and the 2 FA Cups Arsenal won during his reign in the red and white.

Hleb also looks certain to secure his long drawn out transfer to Barca...

It is not yet clear how much the transfer fee will be but Barca have confirmed on their official website that Hleb has arrived for a medical.

Hleb was an important part of the Arsenal engine during his spell at the club, he didn't always receive the credit he deserved because he didn't make the final 'assist' and was almost always involved in some way in goals scored in open play. Unfortunately though he never got the goals from midfield that we so desperately needed post Pires and Ljungberg. Hleb only scored 10 goals in 130 appearances for Arsenal which is just not good enough given the positions he got himself into, and the amount of shooting opportunities he would always turn down. It will be interesting how Nasri will work in his position if he is given it... can we expect more goals?

It is a shame to see Hleb leaving under less respectful circumstances to Gilberto. After the ice cream 'tapping up' saga with Inter officials the day before our match against AC Milan, his annoying agent, as well as his unnecessary comments in the media, I think most Gooners will be glad to see this transfer completed.

You would hope that he is being sold for atleast £13 Million, he must surely be going for more than we signed Nasri for, although it would have been nice to see Yaya Toure coming this way as part of the deal given the departure of Gilberto Silva...

Lets hope Hleb continues his frustrating football at Barca, would hate to see him suddenly scoring bucket loads of goals and 30 yard screamers!!

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

The Anchorman

Who will be anchoring Arsenal's midfield this season?

With Mathieu Flamini swapping London for Milan, speculation has been rife as to whether Arsene Wenger will be replacing the tenacious, moderately-talented heel-snapper with an incoming transfer, or promoting from within. Flamini had been employed in a variety of positions during his four seasons at the club, and only rose to fame in the season just gone because of his consistent performances, high energy levels, tackling ability, and acute passing skills. It is an ironic twist of fate that he will be playing for AC Milan in September, as he was close to sealing a deal to Birmingham City, this time last year. Flatusso, as he was endearingly called by his team-mates, only gained a long run in the side due to Gilberto's fatigue from an enduring Copa America tournament with Brazil, in the summer of 2007. Will another unexpected force rise to prominence under Wenger's tutelage cum August? Or will he instead turn to the transfer market for his holding midfielder? When talking about summer signings, Wenger recently said he would be in the market for: ''one defense-minded player, and one creative player.'' One of the questions on Arsenal fans lips this summer will surely be who then, will be anchoring their midfield?

Gilberto Silva
Is ironically the man who Flamini ousted, only to be re-considered for the role he had made his own only a few years ago. Dubbed 'Volante' or 'The Invisible Wall', the former World Cup winner would offer cover for attacking wing-backs, Clichy and Sagna, and also for when Fabregas roams further up the pitch. Gilberto isn't the toughest tackler the Premiership has ever seen - he is more passive when he defends. At 6'3'' he would help aid the area Arsene wants to work on this summer - balls over the top. Do you think it is a coincidence that in Gilberto's absence the team suffered in this department? Flamini, at 5'10'' would not have been able to man-mark a target man as effectively as Gilberto, after all, Flamini's main strength was his energy.

Likelihood: Retrograde. Didn't take the chances offered to him last season. His stamina may now be an issue.

Miguel Veloso
This young defensive-midfielder from Portugal has recently been linked to North London, but mainly through his agent, Paulo Barbosa, who said: ''We have not had contact from the Arsenal board, but from a member of the technical staff at the club.'' If reports are to be believed then an offer of over £23.7million would be enough to activate a release clause in his contract with Sporting CP. Like Arsenal's former 'Running Man', the 22-year old is a utility man who has played all across the defensive line, as well as in the centre of midfield. After Veloso collected his winners medal in the Portuguese Cup at the end of last season, he said: ''I do not know if this is my last game for Sporting, lets see what the future holds for me.''

Likelihood: Unlikely, unless Sporting are willing to accept offers below the release clause.

Denilson Pereira Neves
The U20 Brazil captain was one of the brightest prospects at Arsenal when he first arrived at the club. He was touted, along with Lucas of Liverpool, as the future of the Brazilian midfield. Now, with the emergence of Anderson, and the regression of Denilson's form and ability last season, it is unclear where this leaves him. Arsene Wenger once described him as ''a mix of Tomas Rosicky and Gilberto Silva.''

Likelihood: Plausible. He needs to re-find his feet, first.

Mark Noble
Before the season came to a close, a sunday newspaper claimed that an insider at Arsenal had said: ''Mark's name was certainly mentioned as a potential signing in January, when the midfield situation was discussed but there was no approach. He will become a big target if Flamini decides to call it a day.'' Flamini did call it a day. The question remains: has Noble become a big target? Alan Pardew has lavished praise on the England U21 international, describing Noble as the the best prospect at the club, and went on to say: ''Mark is a capable holding midfielder, dictating games because he has the passing ability, the bite, and the will to the win.'' Whether or not Wenger respects Pardew's opinion remains to be seen, what with their decorated history.

Likelihood: Highly doubtful. Noble is a local Hammer, as are his family. What might swing the balance is Arsene's admission that he was looking at a player with 'Premiership experience', but this does not necessitate a move for Noble.

Vassiriki Abou Diaby
Diaby looked promising when Wenger snapped him up in the 2006 January transfer window, but he has never looked the same since he suffered a terrible broken and dislocated ankle. From some sections in the media Diaby has been touted as Vieira's heir: They are both powerful and leggy. Whilst Vieira revelled in the defensive role, Diaby looks preferable as an attacking midfielder. To the frustration of many Arsenal fans though, Diaby was continually deployed on the left flank last season. Presumably in a bid to build up his left foot. Since then, he has scored with his left peg, so to a certain extent, this aim has worked.

Likelihood: Unlikely.

Michael Johnson
Reports in May suggested that a trident of Liverpool; Tottenham ; and Arsenal, were keen on the 20-year old Mancunian. Comparisons have already been made between himself, and Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard, which may seem premature, but his energy, drive, and general midfield ability are worthy of praise alone. A move for Johnson would also slot in nicely with Arsene's philosophy of recruiting young talent, and nurturing and developing it in his own, methodical way.

Likelihood. Unlikely. The main question is: would he be able to up his game another level and perform week-in week-out under the spotlights at the Emirates? With Johnson next to Fabregas, the midfield would just get younger.

Gareth Barry
Touted on other Arsenal blogs long after his name was put forth on the forums. In many ways is a direct replacement for Flamini - his versatility could be key. He can obviously hold his own in the middle of the park, and has put in some comfortable performances on the international stage, most recently threading an assist within seconds of coming on. However, should a long-term injury keep Clichy sidelined, and with Traore still a little too raw, Barry provides a great option at left back, and on the wing. Liverpool have long been courting the player who is set to return to pre-season training with Aston Villa. How he can look O Neill in the eye, let alone play for him again considering his recent comments remains to be seen.
Likelihood: Possible. Villa have chased Hoyte for some time now, add this to the fact that they are in need of a right back and a player plus cash deal doesn't seem too far fetched. Knows the Premier League inside out and could be an interesting acquisition indeed.

Alexandre Song Billong
The once maligned Cameroonian is now receiving praise for his coming of age. Recently rewarded with a long term contract thought to be a four year extension, it seems evident that he is a part of Wenger's long term plans. The 20-year old feature 15 times for the Arsenal first team last season, and played a starring role in Cameroon's march to the final of the African Cup of Nations, himself being awarded a place on the team of the tournament. He is a strong holding midfielder, but operated as a defender for the last five matches of the 2007-08 season. He is composed on the ball, and, when playing centre back, he enjoys dribbling out of defence - much in the same vein as Rio Ferdinand, or Lucio.

Likelihood: Possible. Song will feature heavily next season, but where? Wenger's pre-season set-up will offer more clues as to where he will play.

Yaya Toure
Toure would be an ideal replacement to fill the void that Flamini left in Arsenal's midfield. The Ivorian is held in high regard and is considered among the top midfielders in European football. Yaya Toure, younger brother of current Arsenal defender, Kolo, has impressive physical attributes, can hold and protect the ball, and, like Kolo, is a capable passer. He is widely seen as a box-to-box midfielder, so in this respect would presumably be a like-for-like replacement for Flamini. Txiki Begiristain, Barcelona's Director of Football, complicated a potential transfer a few weeks ago by stating: ''Yaya is not on the market... we want him to stay with us. Josep Guardiola considers him an important player in his new project.'' However, with the Catalan club's recent purchase of Seydou Keita, a hard-tackling Malian midfielder, together with their active pursuit of Aliaksandr Hleb and Emmanuel Adebayor, a swap plus cash deal might well be in the offing.
Likelihood: Plausible, but dependent on Barcelona's willingness to depart with a player they have only had on the books for one season, and Wenger's resurgence of interest in a player he had on a pre-season trial in 2002.

Kolo Toure
When Kolo played in the middle of the park at the beginning of his Arsenal career, in early European games, and was even regarded as a utility man - much like Flamini at the genesis of his Arsenal journey. He still has many of the attributes to be a success in that role. He is strong in the tackle, and playing further upfield with increase his opportunities of unleashing that beast of a shot we have all seen him revel in so many a time. He can also play clever passes, at the back end of last season he threaded a weighted pass through to Adebayor against Reading, and also for Van Persie against Derby, both in April. Moving Kolo into central midfield could also solve the chink in the Gunner's defensive armoury of balls over the top if Gallas was partnered with someone like, say, Song, who has increased his stock of late, or even a new signing. When Kolo has played wing back, however, his stamina has looked suspect. And this would be a worry in the 80th minute of a game if he can barely track back.
Likelihood: Possible, but unlikely. If Wenger was toying with this idea then he would have experimented this tactic at the end of the season while he was giving games to Song, rather than wait for the beginning of a new campaign. Pre-season will be key.

Aaron Ramsey
The Welsh whizz kid's role at Arsenal is up for debate. Some see him playing a Cescy role but out on the wing, others see him as a defensive midfielder. Bob Wilson, Arsenal's goalkeeping coach, said: ''The possibilities of Ramsey and Fabregas in the middle are endless. Ramsey is athletic, quick, and already has brilliant quality on the ball.''

Likelihood: Unlikely. Grooming him into a holding midfielder would surely stifle his attacking prowess. On the other hand, he has played across the defensive line for Cardiff, as well as the midfield. Either way, he will be restricted to Carling Cup games, and the occasional league outing, so for next season anyway, he will not be Arsenal's anchor.

The more likely candidates appear to already be at Arsenal. This time last year it would have been widely assumed that Gilberto would carry on his duties in that position. If one put forth Flamini’s name for the role, your views would have rightly been frowned upon followed by the words: ‘Jog on son.’ It is near enough impossible trying to second-guess Wenger, but God knows we love trying, so unless Arsenal sign Yaya Toure or Gareth Barry, expect Gilberto to do the job next season, with Diaby, Song and Denilson all getting their share of chances to earn that vacant starting spot.

By Alan Dawson