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Saturday, 26 May 2012

Squad Review Part 4 - Strikers

King Robin

We finish the annual squad review today with a quick roundup of the strikers in the team. It's not been a vintage year, with the exception of one man shining like a beacon.

Ju Young Park
The arrival of South Korea's skipper is maybe the strangest bit of business Arsenal have ever done. The Club website, obviously, gave much fanfare to Park's arrival. Sadly, the sale of shirts appears to be the only success for him at Arsenal. Given that Arsenal claim to scout players on numerous occasions, and that they went out of their way to poach him from under the noses of Lille, I have to wonder why Wenger decided he wasn't good enough once he got here.
To be fair to Park he's been treated quite badly. We never see what's going on in training, but he scored in a good few Reserves games (both competitive and friendly matches) and he scored a sublime goal against Bolton in the Carling Cup. If his goal for the first-team told us anything it was that Park could finish when given the chance. He never got another one.
It seems unlikely that Park will be with us next season, if we can find someone to sign him. I feel sorry for him as he has wasted an entire year of his football career by signing for Arsenal.

Robin Van Persie
What can you say? We finally got a full season out of RVP and he didn't let us down. An unlikely skipper, for me, he lead the team superbly by example. Were we over reliant on him? Of course we were, but that's not his fault.
Robin was simply outstanding from start to finish. The only shame is that he didn't manage to break the records that were in his grasp. He missed a few chances to have done that, but was also robbed of numerous goals by the referees seemingly getting together to stop Arsenal being given any penalties this season.
There was some nonsense written around January that the arrival of Thierry Henry might upset the ego of Van Persie. It was typical lazy journalism from the gutter press. If anything Robin merely confirmed himself as the natural successor to Thierry. If Henry was the last King of Highbury, then Van Persie is the first King of Ashburton Grove.
We now have to put up with the predictable "will he, won't he" over his contract. As with Fabregas there is an easy way for RVP to stop the speculation. Either sign a new contract, and commit to Arsenal, or relinquish the Captaincy and announce you would like to leave. I hope he will stay, as any sane minded Gooner would, but I only want him if he is committed to us. That would mean a new deal. For me Arsenal should be moving Heaven and Earth to get him to sign, whether in wages, or with who they try to bring in to the squad. Losing Van Persie, after what happened last year, would be one kick in the teeth too many.

Thierry Henry
The King came back and started the team on the road to redemption. If Sagna's goal at home to Spurs marked one important turning point in the season, then Henry's winner at Sunderland was the goal that had set us on the way to a decent finish. It was a seminal moment from one of the all-time greats of Arsenal FC. I was in a Southampton hotel room when news of the goal came over on Soccer Saturday. I dread to think what people in neighbouring rooms made of the noise coming from my door.
Before that, of course, Thierry had returned in the grand manner, and provided us with a moment that Roy Of The Rovers couldn't have written. The goal against Leeds was just one of those things in football that gives you the most indescribable joy. It's the reason we watch football, and the reason why people who don't understand football think we're all mad. I hope he comes back again next season, and I lament the fact that Arsenal didn't extend his deal further - had he been available to come on against AC Milan at home, then who knows how it might have finished?

Theo Walcott
He remains the most infuriating player in the squad. The Spurs game showed him at his absolute worst, and his very best, all in the space of ninety minutes. You just can't put your finger on it with Theo. How can he be so damn awful with the ball most of the time, but then so deadly on the occasion that the mood takes him? There was also the Chelsea game where, in the act of scoring his goal, he gave us a glimpse of everything in his game - he fell over the ball when dribbling, only to get up, destroy two defenders and smash it past Cech. It's really bizarre.
Theo is actually in the same position as Robin Van Persie in terms of his contract. I find it annoying that his representatives appear to be playing some hard-ball with Arsenal over the negotiations. Walcott has yet to achieve anything in football, so should be concentrating on getting the deal done - I don't think too many other Manager's at top sides would put up with his inconsistent play. With Oxlade-Chamberlain being in the Club, he really needs to be looking over his shoulder, but he would still surely benefit from being moved in to the centre.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
What a talent this boy is. He reminds me a lot of Wayne Rooney in terms of his physical appearance and his fearless running at defenders. He is the polar opposite of Theo Walcott thanks to his strength and technique. Chamberlain is as good as any I've seen in a long time, and plays a lot like David Rocastle did in his youth.
I could understand, to some extent, Wenger's reluctance to use him too much at the end of the season. Having seen Jack Wilshere suffering stress-fractures there was no way Wenger was going to risk a similar problem with The Ox. Having said that I think he went too far, and it was to the detriment of Arsenal - it nearly cost us third place in the end. We suddenly saw Santos appearing on the wing, rather than Chamberlain, and that was just crazy in the circumstances (or any circumstances for that matter!)
I am not disappointed that Alex is in the England squad for the Euros. Obviously you would rather he could get a nice Summer break, especially at his age. However, I would rather he spent a few games on England's bench under a good boss like Roy Hodgson, than having to play every minute of a nonsense Olympic campaign under a cretin like Stuart Pearce.

Andrey Arshavin
The little Russian found out that nobody can live on a couple of performances forever. When he did play for Arsenal this season he was nothing short of a waste of space. He clearly had no desire to be here anymore, and we can't go carrying passengers at this time. Arshavin was the luxury Arsenal couldn't afford.
If there is sympathy to be had for him then it is to do with never getting to play in his true position. However, his unwillingness to run and work hard enough meant he could never play in the centre for Arsenal - just look at the way Tomas Rosicky has played these past few months for the necessary contrast. The move back to Russia has been successful for him, but he now needs to persuade Zenit, or someone else, to sign him permanently - he has no future at Arsenal.

The Ivorian looked the dogs nuts on his debut in Cologne last Summer. He scored two real finishers goals and looked a mighty prospect. He started his career proper at Arsenal by falling in to Joey Barton's trap, but his running at defenders was encouraging. Gervinho began to link up well with Robin Van Persie, as evidenced in the goal they combined for at Udinese. Following a goal at Blackburn, with a neat finish across the goalkeeper, it seemed Arsene had found another gem. From there on it all went a bit stale.
As the season wore on the finishing from Gervinho became more and more erratic. He was still getting in to decent positions, but when the ball came to him he looked so out of touch it was embarrassing. Time and again he failed to score goals when it seemed easier to find the net. His running with the ball also became frustrating as there was simply no end product. When he came back from the African Cup of Nations (where he missed the crucial penalty in the Final) he wore the look of a haunted man for a long time, and he never really shook off that hangover.
Next season is make or break for Gervinho. His encouraging start gave him some breathing space, but he was not a cheap purchase and must show his worth next term. If he reproduces the same sort of form we've seen this year, then his days at Arsenal will be numbered very early on.

Marouane Chamakh
What has happened to Chamakh? When you talk of a man lacking in confidence then Chamakh is the archetypal example. He got a goal at Blackburn with a trademark header, but didn't score (and rarely appeared until late in the season) thereafter. Officially the understudy to Robin Van Persie it was just as well that RVP never got his usual injury. Having been recently left out of the Morocco squad, and been dropped at the Nations Cup, he will want to get away from Arsenal and resurrect his career. It's a shame, following his outstanding start to his career in England, that it should end with such ignominy. What happened? We'll never know.

Nicklas Bendtner
Yes, Bendtner did make an appearance for Arsenal this season, as a substitute against Liverpool. His loan to Sunderland has not exactly set the World alight, and it will not be easy for Arsenal to move him on for a fee (especially as he is on £50,000+ per week!) Strange as it may seem, Arsenal could have done with him this season.

Samir Nasri
Played with heart against Liverpool, despite everything that was going on, before joining Man City the following week. Already deeply unpopular with the Gooners, his unnecessary dig at us after City won the Title showed his lack of class (just like Cashley last week).

Benik Afobe
Afobe was struck down by a serious injury just as he seemed about to get his chance around the first-team. When he finally got some fitness he was loaned out to Reading for experience, but injury also hampered his chances there. I watched him in pre-season and he looked a cut above the other players in the Reserves. Another loan spell beckons next season, possibly back at Reading.

Sanchez Watt
Made it to the bench for a Carling Cup tie, but doesn't have the quality to play for Arsenal. He scored on his debut a couple of years back, but that will probably remain his career highlight. Another youngster on a contract long enough to get him another year without being released, but he probably won't really be with us next season and will probably be loaned out to the lower divisions again.

So there you have it, every player in the (extended) squad reviewed (though I missed Henri Lansbury from the midfielders yesterday - my fault and I apologise). It's been a long and tough season, and reinforcements remain necessary in the usual places. Lukas Podolski represents a great start in that regard, now let's finally see some good money spent on good players, and the rubbish on its way out.

No blog until the middle of the week now as I am having to come out of retirement on the cricket pitch tomorrow, before starting nights at work. I hope to write something on Wednesday. I did the Stadium Tour at Arsenal today, and there are one or two observations I have on things there. I might write about them here, I might not. Until Wednesday, enjoy that sunshine.

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