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Saturday, 4 June 2011

Squad Review Part 2

Back to his best this season

Continuing on from yesterday I am reviewing the role of the defenders in the Arsenal squad today.

Bacary Sagna
In the pre-Christmas piece I linked to yesterday I wrote how Sagna had consistently failed to live up to his first season at Arsenal. I now take that back. Sagna had an excellent season this year and was back at his very best. He was, by far, the most consistent of Arsenal’s defenders and thoroughly merited his place in the PFA Team of the Year. He is top class when he plays like he has this season and I hope he can do it again come August. His crossing got much better as the season went on, though improvement in that area is still required. Also scored a couple of crackers.

Thomas Vermaelen
“If only he had stayed fit” is a common refrain from Gooners this season. Unfortunately he didn’t. If he had done, however, we would have seen precious little of Johan DjourouArsene Wenger had him behind Koscielny and Squillaci. That said, there can be no doubt that Vermaelen was a major loss to us this season. How will his injury have affected his long-term future is a question I keep asking myself. A serious Achilles injury may have robbed him of the natural “spring” he relies upon (Vermaelen is not a tall guy) to win those headers at either end. He is a candidate to replace Fabregas as Captain.

Laurent Koscielny
Koscielny’s transfer fee (apparently around £10m) seems to have been an exorbitant one for a player with only one year in the French First Division. Koscielny has youth on his side and has shown some promise on occasion. His performance in the first-leg against Barcelona was top class and showed us what he could be capable of in the future. The concern I have with him is that he consistently gets beaten in the air, which is not overly surprising when you consider he is no giant. He is often second to the ball, which led to his two red cards in the earlier parts of the season. Unfortunately for Koscielny there was nowhere to hide in his first season, with Vermaelen injured and Squillaci not up to it (more below), so he was thrown in at the deep end. There is more to come from Koscielny but he will benefit from a spell as third or fourth choice.

Sebastien Squillaci
Oh dear. Arsene Wenger lauded Squiallaci as “tough” and “good in the air” when he arrived. Sadly we have seen precious little evidence of this. In the early games it seemed that Koscielny was the weaker of the pair and Squillaci was carrying him. He was even made Captain for the game at Chelsea. As time wore on it became obvious that the weak link was actually Squillaci. He is slow and cumbersome, and awful with the ball at his feet. His performances became worse as the season went on and this reached its nadir against Villa in the final home game. His removal at half-time, which is something Wenger never does, was surely the final nail in the coffin of his Arsenal career. If and when a new centre-half comes in I expect Squillaci to be quickly going the other way.

Johan Djourou
The most pleasant surprise of the season. Seemingly surplus to requirements in the early matches Djourou came in and did badly on his rare appearances. However, when he got a run in the side the big Swiss went from strength to strength. In the darkest months of the Winter he was a stand-out performer and certainly the most improved player in the squad. I don’t know what happened to his form as the season finished but, given he had never got close to playing a full season before this one, I am happy to give him the benefit of the doubt and say he was tired. Certainly our best centre-half this season.

Gael Clichy
Birmingham 2008 was the turning-point for a number of players at Arsenal, the most obvious being Eduardo and William Gallas. What is often overlooked is that it also marked the beginning of a downward spiral from which Gael Clichy has been unable to remove himself. Since giving away the penalty that day (it was a bad decision by the referee, but made easy for him by the sheer foolishness of the situation Clichy had engineered for himself) Clichy has been an accident waiting to happen. When Ashley Cole left there were few of us too downbeat about it as Clichy was a better player at his age than Cole had been. Unfortunately he has simply not developed since then. Clichy continues to suffer serious lapses in concentration, and makes the same errors over and over again. As an attacking force he is a complete waste of space – I have never seen anyone so incapable of putting in a good cross on a regular basis. His omission from the final few games (“injured”) tells me he is on his way.

Emmanuel Eboue
This time last year I would have had Eboue in the “midfielders” part of this review. This season he was very much the understudy to Bacary Sagna. For me he had two decent matches – the first leg of the Barcelona tie, and the away game at Blackpool. Every other appearance from Eboue showed him displaying the kind of form that saw him booed by his own supporters a couple of years back. Eboue is obviously popular with his colleagues and still enjoys some kind of cult following among those who travel to away games. Unfortunately the regression in his form has been terrible and I don’t see what he offers to the side. A new understudy to Sagna (which appears likely if Carl Jenkinson arrives from Charlton) will hopefully see Eboue on his way out of Arsenal.

Kieran Gibbs
At the start of the season Gibbs seemed destined for greatness and would have probably usurped Clichy early on had he managed to show a new propensity for staying fit for five minutes. Nine months on and Gibbs’ England debut in August seems a very long time ago. He is part of the England U21 squad for their European Championship but I can see him being left out of the starting eleven – unthinkable at the start of this season. Kieran has basic deficiencies in his defensive ability. He needs to be coached properly in how to defend and, particularly, where to position himself. His performances have been pretty awful with the exception of a decent second-half against Aston Villa. He must improve next season or he could be shown the door.

Armand Traore
Traore was loaned to Juventus at the start of the season. He immediately got injured and didn’t make his debut until well in to the season. After that he failed to make any real impression on a weak Juve team. I saw one or two of his games in the Europa League and he didn’t exactly stand out. Ultimately Traore is not really ever going to be good enough, though he remains the best crosser of a ball on the Arsenal staff. Time to cut our losses on Traore and put him on a free if nobody is willing to pay.

Ignasi Miquel
Captain of the Reserves, Miquel is a bit too slight to be considered for the first-team. A couple of decent, if unspectacular, performances against Leyton Orient perhaps betrayed his natural level. He’ll be an Arsenal player next season, though probably looking at a loan somewhere else.

Kyle Bartley
Recalled from loan at Sheffield United at the end of January the former (very successful) Youth Team Captain looked set for a couple of games in the first-team. Instead he was immediately loaned out again to Rangers where an injury robbed him of his place in their successful end to the season. I watched a good few of his games for Rangers where he played at centre-half and, unusually, in the defensive midfield role. I liked his no-nonsense tackling and he was more than happy to “mix-it” when they played Celtic. He seems keen to return to Rangers again for the next campaign and is seemingly surplus to requirements at Arsenal. I would rather see him sold than loaned if he has no future with us. Bartley would surely have been a far better bet than Squillaci, had he been allowed the chance at Arsenal.

The midfielders are up next. You'll be able to read that either tomorrow or on Monday.

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