Why I Don’t Feel Bad For Philippe Senderos

Think back to to 2006… it was a good year for Philippe Senderos. The young centre-half, whom Arsene had signed way back in 2002 when he was a coveted prospect, started half of the club’s league matches and became a regular in central defense as Sol Campbell neared the end of the first part of his Arsenal career. He was an integral part of the club’s run to the Champions League Final by not conceding a goal throughout the entire group stage and knockout round while he was on the pitch.

That summer, Senderos helped Switzerland out of the World Cup Group Stage only to be benched for their second-round defeat to Ukraine. Senderos’s career at Arsenal looked to have a bright future, as he was rewarded with the number 6 shirt that summer. Senderos was even a leading candidate to be named captain, but then Ashley Cole left and Arsenal signed William Gallas in return.

Senderos found himself frozen out, starting only 6 of the club’s first 14 matches and only getting a run of games when Gallas went out injured in December. In 2007-08, it was much of the same, until the New Year. Senderos started 14 matches the rest of the way, with the club losing only one… the Champions League Quarterfinal second leg at Anfield, where a couple of glaring mistakes seemed to confirm, in the supporters’ minds, the image of Senderos as error-prone. But the club’s record with him on the pitch spoke for itself.

But Senderos has no one to blame for his current predicament but himself, and I surely don’t feel bad for him. He sealed his fate, after catching “big club fever,” by demanding the loan move to Milan in the summer of 2008. It was a difficult summer for Arsenal. First, Gilberto left for Greece, then Flamini and Hleb left to Milan and Barcelona, respectively. On the heels of those two stunning departures, Senderos announced that he had chosen to go to Milan on a year-long loan deal with an eye towards a permanent move. It was a career miscalculation of monumental proportions.

Senderos surely felt that he was not going to be able to crack the Gallas-Toure partnership. But that partnership never looked solid and a change in the central defensive structure was inevitable. It finally came this past summer when the Boss resigned to selling Kolo Toure. But where was Senderos when his golden opportunity had arrived? Just returning from a disappointing year in Milan, thanks to the “big club fever” that had infected, and left for dead, Flamini and Hleb.

Had Senderos not bullied his way to a loan move to Milan, where he played infrequently and with no distinction, he would have been the one to step into Kolo Toure’s spot. But, at that point, Senderos’s lack of loyalty meant that he was not even considered for the position as Wenger secured the signing of Thomas Vermaelen. Instead, Senderos now looks set for a loan to Everton after having been humiliatingly limited to two Carling Cup starts, as if his career had been turned back 5 years. All due to catching “big club fever.”

Sometimes, Arsene Needs To Break His Own Rules

Stories are making the rounds this morning regarding the future of William Gallas. At 32, Gallas is more than two years past Arsene’s imaginary new contract threshold. As we all know, in the past, Arsene has refused to give multi-year contracts to players over the age of 30. However, in this case, Arsene needs to break his own rule.

There is no doubt that William Gallas has finally began to show the kind of form that made him a regular for Chelsea’s back-to-back title-winning sides five years ago. Gallas had originally emerged after an injury-laden debut season with the club as captain of the young 2007-08 side. His fiery temperament served him and the club well for the first half of the season, which saw him score match-tying goal in stoppage time against United and also the winner against Chelsea, both at the Emirates.

However, his temper finally caught up with him on a cold night in the midlands in February of 2008. I’m sure we all remember the incident and, I have to admit, that even to this day, I can’t even begin comprehend what he must have been thinking when he sat on the other side of the pitch as the penalty was being taken. Gallas retained the captaincy for some time but his removal as skipper was inevitable.

I thought that if Wenger removed the captaincy from him that he would implode even more and that he would need to be sold. In the meantime, there was the incident with the book and some bad press in France. But, following his removal from the captaincy, Gallas seemed to gain a second wind during the latter half of the 2008-09 season. It was quite unexpected and showed that Gallas was perhaps far more mature than many gave him credit for. The club’s defensive run from January on was a prime factor in Arsenal retaining its Champions League place for this season.

Gallas was further revitalized when Kolo Toure was sold and replaced with Thomas Vermaelen. The Gallas-Toure pairing never worked and something needed to be done. Toure, though I love him to death for all he did for the club, was not a true centre-half and Gallas was forced many times to compensate for this. But, since pairing him with a natural, left-footed centre-half, Gallas has been free to worry only about his job and we have seen in the last year that he is still more than equipped to do that job well.

Our steadiness in central defense this season is a huge factor in the club’s form over the first half of 2009-10. Vermaelen has been fantastic and he developed a solid partnership with Gallas from day one. That understanding has only increased as the two have started every Premier League match, all but the last Champions League group match, and the 3rd round FA Cup tie with West Ham. For years, the title-winners have always had this kind of steadiness in central defense, i.e. Terry/Carvalho and Ferdinand/Vidic, and we are finally seeing the benefits of this kind of consistency.

At this time last year, I thought that it was a given that Gallas would go on a free back to France at the end of his contract. However, it would be sheer lunacy at this point to not give Gallas a new, multi-year contract. Djourou’s long-term injury means he will have lost nearly a season of developmental time and, apparently, Senderos is not a real first-team option anymore.  Also, considering that Wenger just gave Tomas Rosicky, who is 29 and has been injured for almost two years, a new contract, it seems likely Gallas will probably hold out a bit since this will be his last chance at a big payday, but that Arsene will make a multi-year offer and he will accept.

In match news, as of 2:30pm GMT, the match against Bolton Wanderers is still on.

Still Paying the Price for the International Break

There’s really no sense in dwelling on this match. Sunderland is a solid side this season that drew at United and beat Liverpool. Almost our entire side had been away from the club for two weeks on plane trips and playing in meaningless matches. “But the international breaks didn’t affect Chelsea or United or Spurs,” you will say. And I would say that you are right, but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t affect us. There are no excuses for losing the match but there are reasons.

Apparently, Arsenal’s title hopes are once again dashed, according to many. As of right now, this is just one disappointing result. It’s not the end of the season. But it does raise some serious questions. Was this performance indicative of how the team will perform without van Persie? That is the big question.

I tend to lean towards thinking not, but I am an one of those optimists when it comes to the Arsenal. I can’t see the side all of a sudden going from scoring 3 or 4 goals per match to struggling to score simply because van Persie has been removed from the equation and especially with Cesc, Arshavin, Eduardo, Rosicky, Nasri, etc… still on the pitch. It was a nasty day against an insurgent club on the Saturday following yet another two-week/two-match international break. Of course, despite those conditions, we still need to be able to get results.

Despite falling 8 points behind Chelsea (5 if we win our game in hand), we did control most of the game even if Sunderland did work harder against us in midfield than almost any other side we’ve played all season. Sunderland’s goal came off of a fluke bounce, though the bounce came after we failed to deal with a set piece, yet again. Aaron Ramsey failed to replicate his international form and Traore didn’t look altogether solid at left-back.

Another bright spot for me was the introduction of Carlos Vela. Arsenal looked more dangerous after he came on and if Eduardo cannot get it together, I now feel the Boss would not hesitate to use Vela more than he has in the past, having said openly that Vela is the reason Adebayor could be sold and not replaced. The return of Theo Walcott was another bright spot on an otherwise dismal Saturday afternoon.

Arsenal have shown themselves capable of picking themselves up from disappointing performances and getting back on track quickly. Following the Manchester defeats, we put together a 13-match unbeaten run which included 6 wins out of 7 in the Premier League. We have dealt with adversity well this season and we will now need to do it again.

In other news, Stan Kroenke has bought ten more shares and is now a mere 62 away from being obligated to launch a takeover bid. In other interesting news, Man City drew their sixth consecutive match and have won just one in their last eight, keeping only one clean sheet in that time, a nil-nil draw at Birmingham. Kolo Toure seems to have caught whatever disease it is that Adebayor has that keeps making him talk about Arsenal, saying:

I had problems with certain players at Arsenal, especially one, whose name I will not say because I don’t want to feed the controversy. I didn’t have much time on the pitch last year because I think there’s a player who got the manager believing that he and I had no understanding on the field. That did surprise me hugely.

I have never looked to put a spoke in anyone’s wheel at all. I have never wanted to be captain. My wish was to finish my career at Arsenal, but there are always banana-skins.

Don’t want to feed “the” controversy? That hasn’t been a controversy for anyone but Kolo since last season. It’s amazing how both he and Adebayor are living in the past, seemingly with Arsenal constantly on their minds. No wonder they can’t win matches or keep clean sheets. I don’t think that Arsene Wenger needed William Gallas to tell him that there was no understanding between him and Gallas, or “he-who-shall-not-be-named.” Every Arsenal fan has “believed” that for years. There WAS no understanding.

Anyway, seeing as how I don’t want to dwell on our first lackluster match in a while and we have a fairly unimportant CL fixture standing between us and Chelsea, I’ll have to leave it there, for now.