Cheer Up Gooners, The Sky is NOT Falling!

Arsene Wenger

Last night Arsenal confirmed the sale of Kolo Toure to Manchester City for a sum believed to be around £16m.  This comes less than two weeks after former teammate and professional cunt Emmanuel Adebayor joined City having failed to interest a big club. Gazidis and Wenger negotiated fantastic returns on both players, bringing in around £40m. However, if you talk to most Arsenal fans you wouldn’t know how great these moves have been for the squad and for the club. Rather, one is likely to hear a return of the recurring insanity of previous summers and the inevitable doomsday predictions of Arsenal dropping out of the top four (see any post at ArsenalAction). Someone ought to tell them that no, the sky is not falling.

Fans need to look at the recent pieces of transfer business for what they are: fantastic financial gains for players who no longer were integral to the squad.  Few tears will be shed over the departure of Adebayor. While Manchester City fans drool while waxing lyrically about how he scored 46 goals over the past two season, it should be noted that Adebayor’s past is not without an asterisk.  The vast majority of those 46 goals came in a fluke 30-goal season in which he was fed chance after chance by Fabregas, Hleb and co. Anyone who watched that season would have noted that his conversion rate was abysmal, his knowledge and abuse of the offside rule is criminal, and he has the first touch of a rapist.  In addition, Adebayor is a streaky player who either scores in bunches or not at all and is overly reliant on other creative talents within the team. Then there is his glaring, inflated ego and disruptive attitude which has shown itself at both Metz and Arsenal and makes him a nightmare for any manager.  His departure, especially for £25m, is one of the finest pieces of business ever done in global football.

Kolo ToureKolo Toure, while an Arsenal legend, is clearly past his best. Many of the people who are calling for Wenger’s head and demanding we not hold onto the manager’s past are the same people who think the sky is falling because a player whose best days were in the past has left. These are the same people who complain about Arsene breaking up the Invincibles. As if we would be in a better position with a team of 35 year olds. Kolo was a great servant of the club, but it isn’t 2004 any more. His performances over the past 18 months have been shocking and securing £15m for him is a job well done indeed.

So has the sale of these two players (and what appears to be the imminent sale of Emmanuel Eboue) left Arsenal weaker? In terms of manpower, sure.  The potential loss of  Eboue is, ironically, the most significant, as natsteel pointed out yesterday, leaving us very exposed at right back should Sagna get injured.  However, it is the opinion of this author that the sale of these players was necessary and, in the end, will leave us in a stronger position.  We have made a significant amount of money on players who destabalized the team.  Kolo was a great player but his rift with Gallas and his apparent demotion to 3rd or 4th choice center back was obviously creating problems for him within the squad.  The same can be said for the troublemaker Adebayor, who was a locker room disaster.  Both were players who would not take well to being benched.  Benching them would create a bad atmosphere for the club and playing them seems detrimental to the club’s success, holding back players like Bendtner and Djourou.  In addition, the sale of these two, potentially three, players will limit our exposure to the ANC and allow there to be more continuity in the squad throughout the season.

Some may argue that the sales of Kolo and Adebayor to one of our possible rivals is a mistake of epic proportions. I, however, remain unconvinced. I do not see City as rivals, not in the least. The sale of an overrated, disruptive striker and an over-the-hill center back to them doesn’t change my opinion. The City squad is severely imbalanced.  It lacks the components of a top four side and it lacks the manager to get them there. The likes of Adebayor and Roque Santa Cruz have had one good season in the Premier League and, in both cases, it was the season before last. Adebayor has proven to need multiple chances to score and has shown throughout his career he is very prone to long goal droughts.  In addition, he is overly reliant on creative players to create chances for him. City fans can’t honestly think that Steven Ireland and Shaun Wright-Phillips will be able to play at the same level as Fabregas and Nasri. Carlos Tevez, despite what City will have you believe, is far from a proven goalscorer in the Premier League. His best season came with him grabbing 13 goals in a side that had the best player in the world in Cristiano Ronaldo pulling in defenders and feeding teammates balls. City might claim that Robihno is that type of player but that is pure insanity.  Robihno is a good player, no one will doubt that, but he doesn’t shit gold.

City’s midfield leaves much to be desired as well. Shaun Wright-Phillips couldn’t make it at the top level, Barry has never been tested at it and Ireland is overrated. City lack the creative players that the top sides have in the middle of the park. Defensively, they are abysmal and signing Kolo Toure will not do much to fix that as he was a big contributor to Arsenal’s defensive deficiencies in the last two seasons. He has experience, sure, but at this point Kolo is a mistake waiting to happen.  What happens when he leaves for the ANC? City will once again be stuck with their group of untalented and calamitous defenders during a crucial part of the season.

More important than personnel is the manager.  Hughes just doesn’t have it in him to rival Arsenal. He is a good mid table manager but that is about it. His managerial career to date has been about packing men behind the ball in hopes of a draw. Can he manage all this attacking talent into a great attacking team? That remains to be seen and seems highly doubtful. Also, controlling egos like the ones he has  in this squad has proven to be a tall order for much better managers in similar senarios.  Both Jose and Fabio fell victim to superstar egos destroying their locker rooms.  Robihno, Ade, Tevez and RSC will all want to play top minutes and none will take kindly to sitting on the bench, and this of course will create tension and disruptions.

Finally, City do not realize that  money does not buy you success nor does it turn you into a big club.  Chelsea qualified for Europe before Roman.  Perez brought in the likes of Zidane, Figo, Ronaldo and Beckham to Madrid, going through several managers in the span of four years, and only won the league once.  No one would argue that Madrid and Chelsea, their players, and the managers involved were much, much better then the set up at City and that cracking the top four in the Premier League is much harder than doing so in the La Liga of early 2000 or even the Premier League of 5 years ago. It is not an impossible task, for Hughes to take City into the top four, but it is extremely unlikely, at least in the very near future.

Carlos Vela

But the Arsenal Doom and Gloomers don’t see it that way. They see this season as our inevitable fall from grace. It is hard, however, to see why.  Aston Villa have sold their captain and midfield lynch pin. Fulham over achieved and Everton, besides being even thinner than Villa, do not possess the quality or the depth to crack the top four. Manchester United have lost two players, who over the course of three seasons, have accounted for over 110 goals combined. The signing of Valencia, Owen and co. will hardly go far towards replacing production like that and this also overlooks the obvious weakness in a United team that lacks a creative midfielder, a right back and a good replacement for the aging Van Der Saar.  Liverpool are guaranteed to lose Alonso, a big factor in their overachieving season and possibly Mascherano as well. The absolutely dreadful financial state of the club cannot bode well for their long term success. In addition, their only transfer activity this summer has been paying £17.5 m for a £4m player. Chelsea have brought in Zhirkov, which is a great addition, but starting the season with yet another new manager untested in the Premier League could spell disaster. Just look at what happened with Scolari.

After slowing down and looking at the top half of the table with some perspective and thought rather than emotional reactions, one must feel very good about Arsenal’s chances going into next season. I will be the first to admit that our squad is not perfect and still requires the addition of one or two extra players, most notably a strong, ball winning midfielder. But Arsene now has the funds and the time to make this happen.  And while many pundits and bloggers are quick to claim we have directly strengthened a rival in City, it is far too frequently ignored that City has just given its supposed rival, and one of the best eyes for talent in the business, over £40m to play around with, which if used properly, will most certainly make Arsenal contenders for the title. As it is, the squad boasts a strong core of players who continue to improve. Almunia, Gallas, Clichy and Sagna make a strong back four while the likes of Djourou and Gibbs will provide excellent depth. Song has grown in leaps and bounds and Cesc is absolute magic, especially when combining with Le Petit Prince-Samir Nasri. The return of Rosicky and the anticipated emergence of Vela, Wilshere, and Ramsey will certainly add extra depth and quality to the side as well. Going forward, Arsenal are second to none in the Premier League. Players like Van Persie and Arshavin can always provide a moment of magic while clinical finishers like Eduardo and Vela can score out of nothing.  The continued development of  Theo Walcott and Nicklas Bendtner adds up to an array of exciting attacking options and depth.

While we might still be a player or two short, Arsenal have a squad to be excited about and the manager and the money to add that little bit extra that is needed.  We have strengthened in the off-season by removing some dead weight and bringing in another defender.  The experiences of last season will have undoubtedly made the squad stronger and Wenger will surely have the lads raring to go for our league opener at Goodison Park.  So cheer up Gooners, the sky is not falling!

A First Real Test for the Arsenal (Highlights)

gun__1244116468_ground_hannover

Arsenal endured their first real test on Wednesday evening at the AWD Arena coming away with a 1-nil victory over Hannover 96 thanks to a well-worked goal finished by Cesc Fabregas in the 9th minute [highlights below and to the right].

Arsenal came out of the gate firing on all cylinders and completely dominated the entire first half. Their passing and movement were superb and Hannover struggled to even string more than two passes together for much of the first forty-five minutes. The goal came early as Nicklas Bendtner, playing wide right in Arsene’s take on a 4-3-3 (actually, it’s more like a 4-2-1-2-1), looped a ball to Robin van Persie who, with his back to goal outside the box, turned inside and fed Fabregas’s well-timed run. The keeper came out but Cesc went around him and hit the empty net.

Bendtner would go on to have a few chances of his own in the first half as would Andrei Arshavin, who was deployed wide left with Robin van Persie as the central striker. When the Gunners lined up, I was sure that we would see much interchanging of positions among the front three but, surprisingly, Bendtner stayed wide right for almost the entire first half. While it is not where he can be most effective, he nonetheless still imposed his presence on the match. The Gunners fell away in the second half as Hannover came out of the interval more determined to get stuck in and hold a bit of possession.

What this match did was give Arsenal its first exposure to a scrappy, rough match this preseason. And while they were never able to get back to the form the side showed in the first half, they responded well and held on to the lead despite having what Wenger called “heavy legs” due to twice-a-day training sessions against a team who is almost two weeks ahead of Arsenal in their preseason training

Bendtner, I believe, has really taken his chance in this preseason. It was no secret that he would never have the opportunity to be a regular in the first XI as long as Adebayor was at the club. But now with Adebayor gone, it is the big Dane’s moment and he is grabbing it.

Kolo Toure’s deal with Manchester City was also confirmed yesterday and I’d like to wish him the best of luck. While I’m disappointed to see him go, you have to admit that 15m for a player who has looked past his best in the last 18 months is a pretty good bit of business, as usual, on Arsene’s part. Whether or not he can make it a great bit of business by using the money wisely yet promptly remains to be seen.

Patrick Vieira

Also, rumours fueled by Ian Wright, the Sun’s resident Arsenal critic, now have Patrick Vieira returning to the club on a “pay-as-you-play” basis after turning down a similar offer from Spurs. The headlines linking Vieira to Spurs rightly made me cringe. And, even though he is 33, I would gladly have him back on a free with a one-year deal. He would bring experience and leadership back to the club, and, while he obviously can’t play 40 matches, he could play 20. Though, I imagine his real contribution to the club would come in training and the locker room.

It also appears that Emmanuel Eboue may be on his way to Fiorentina well and truly after all. Eboue made a point of recognizing and clapping the traveling Arsenal supporters following the match. I have to say that this is the deal that would trouble me the most of the three who will have left. Eboue is the one player for whom we do not have a ready-made replacement. There is no player in the squad who you can automatically say would become Sagna’s primary backup should Eboue leave. Not to mention his versatility which has seen him play on both the right wing and even in a holding position in addition to his natural right back spot. This move has the potential to leave us very exposed at right back should anything happen to Sagna, god forbid.

Enjoy the highlights!

The Differences between the Invincibles and the Current Arsenal Side

invincibles1

While many Arsenal supporters are already mourning the loss of Kolo Toure ahead of his expected move to Manchester City in the coming hours, Arsenal Station would like to take this occasion to look at the major differences between the current side and the Invincibles, of which Toure was the last surviving member at the club.

Far more significant than the personnel changes in the club since Arsenal lifted the Premier League trophy with a record of 26-12-0 on 15 May 2004 have been the changes in style. I would like to take a look at what I see as the six major differences in style between these two Arsene Wenger sides.

The most glaring difference between the current side and the Invincibles is in central midfield. In fact, it is the biggest difference between this and ALL of Wenger’s Arsenal sides. Wenger used to rely on a strong central midfield and strong central midfielders to win and hold possession. Even when Arsene brought in a Brazilian in Gilberto, he was the hardest Brazilian midfielder at the time. However, Wenger’s choosing of Fabregas to replace Vieira in the midfield upon the latter’s departure signaled a momentous shift in the footballing philosophy at Arsenal. It meant that Arsenal would move from a strong, powerful central midfield to a smaller, more creative type of midfield.

robert piresBecause of the strength in the center of midfield, the Invincibles had most of their attacking creativity deposited wide on the wings in Pires and Ljungberg. Yet both players were equally adept at regularly getting into more central scoring positions. This allowed Arsene to counterbalance the choice for strength over creativity in the center. Since players like Ljungberg and Pires are not widely available, if at all, Arsene has sought to create that type of player by putting players whose natural position is the center out on the wings and giving them free license. But while Hleb and Rosicky never really fulfilled the hopes of 12-15 goals from the wing, it seems that he may now have found the answer in Arshavin, Nasri, and Walcott.

Another by-product of the change in midfield style has been the loss of the counterattack as a primary weapon. In all my years watching football, I have never seen a team break more quickly, more efficiently, and more creatively than the Arsenal of 2002-05. Yet as Arsenal’s style became more dependent on possession, counterattacking opportunities have become fewer and seemingly less appealing to a team in search of the “perfect goal.”

Dennis with Prem trophyAnother difference between the sides is the lack of a player in the role of Dennis Bergkamp. Arsenal only truly play someone in that role when they have used a 4-5-1 in recent years. Now one might say that Robin van Persie plays off the main striker and, positionally-speaking, that may be correct at times. But van Persie doesn’t link Fabregas in the midfield to the main striker with the same determination as Bergkamp. This is not necessarily van Persie’s fault since that was Bergkamp’s defined role and he relished in it. van Persie is far more useful in and around the box than 25-30 yards out looking for runs into the box, anyway. Yet it remains a serious stylistic change.

The most tangible difference between the sides are their homes. The Invincibles played their matches on the narrow Highbury pitch in a stadium that reeked of history and tradition. The current side ply their trade on a significantly larger pitch created to accomodate this change of style in a state-of-the-art facility with no aura surrounding it. That is where the biggest challenge to the new side comes in… the Invincibles inherited a home, this new side must create their own home… by bringing trophies back to it.

Finally, and quite possibly the most significant difference between the sides is in the defense. This has less to do with the makeup of the back four than its overall record. No Wenger team has conceded more goals than the current side. In fact, the late defensive run by the club last season saw them narrowly avoid conceding an average of a goal per match, something the club has done only once in Wenger’s reign (2002-03). The center back pairing of Gallas-Toure has never come close to that of Campbell-Toure and that is mostly down to the fact that Gallas is no Campbell but also Kolo is not nearly the player now that he was then. In 2003-04, Toure was only in his second season at the club and just beginning to get regular starts in his new position. He still had the hunger of a young, unproven upstart. Following his return from the 2008 African Cup of Nations, he never really looked the same player.

I am not implicitly saying that any of these changes are necessarily for the worst, though, inevitably, they may be perceived that way, and may actually be, until Arsene and his new style finally bring the first trophies to the Emirates. In honour of the “Invincibles,” enjoy “49: The Complete Unbeaten Record.”

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “49: The Complete Unbeaten Record“, posted with vodpod