Is There Life Left in Silvestre?

Regular guest contributor, Ted Harwood, takes a look at Mikael Silvestre, following a solid performance against Hull City, and ponders his usefulness.

Mikaël Silvestre was perhaps a puzzling signing to many Gooners in the late summer of 2008.  He seemed to have everything in the “no” column as an Arsenal signing: 31 years of age, longtime stalwart (if that’s the right word; it’s probably not, maybe something more like “mercurial enigma”) at Manchester United, and was seen by many as injury-prone.  He was the first player since 1974 to move directly from United to Arsenal, and seemed to signal the end of a slow summer transfer window.

With Kolo Touré and William Gallas seemingly holding down the center of defense, and Gaël Clichy on the left, Wenger no doubt saw him as a squad player drafted in as much for his sage qualities as his abilities on the pitch.  Indeed, the Boss said “We have a strong squad, but a young squad, and Mikael’s versatility, experience and calibre will provide the extra depth we need to reinforce our challenge for honours this season.

His defensive adaptability will serve us well, and it’s a big plus that Mikael has top level experience and a great understanding of football in the Premier League.”  Fifteen months after his signing, Arsenal have called upon his experience nineteen times in all competitions, and the results, while mixed, have lately become more encouraging again.

The thing about Silvestre in his time at Inter, Manchester, and Arsenal, is that his play has always been seen as a little inconsistent.  This sporadic form makes Silvestre a slippery player to get a feel for, a characteristic that leads supporters more to disappointment than hope, sadly.  My United-supporting friends often complained about him and Wes Brown bumbling away at the back in 2005; the jury was perpetually out.

Silvestre’s time at Arsenal has followed this pattern as well, his first months marked by an own goal at Fehnerbahçe and criticism from Wenger following the 4-4 draw with Tottenham.  He featured in the 2-1 win versus United a couple of weeks following the Spurs match, an occasion which surely pleased him.  But after this run, he mostly faded into the background, playing only occasionally in the first team.

Silvestre was playing mainly in the reserves side this season until all kinds of bad voodoo started up at left-back.  Shaking off the rust, Silvestre had to slot into the first team following Traore’s injury at Anfield, and the worries filtered in from Goonerland.  How would a well-aged left back, one who had looked a little shaky at times despite good performances captaining the Carling Cup and Champions League sides, fare once given regular time in the XI?

Burnley was always going to be a good test.  In Chris Eagles, they possess a talented winger (and a former teammate of Silvestre’s), perhaps not the most technical, but a guy with pace who had given our defense a really tough time in the Carling Cup last year.  Silvestre did indeed struggle to keep up with the Burnley man, Eagles rifling a good shot off the post and pinning the Frenchman back in his own end, thus limiting any offensive contributions from the left back.  A third of Silvestre’s passes went astray.  Rumblings began around Goonerdom, the doomers fearing for our defense and for Manuel Almunia’s confidence.  No news from the physio room, and Hull City looming, Silvestre would pull on his boots again at the weekend.

Hull, however, possess no Chris Eagles.  Silvestre looked a new man, perhaps having worked out a few more kinks, shaken loose a few more cobwebs.  He was rampant, involved in attack, and holding down the left side with no problems.  He made three times as many passes as he had at Turf Moor, only a couple going astray, he was shooting, he was smiling.  For a fourth-choice left back, he looked great and comfortable, as he had captaining the young guns at Olympiacos earlier in the month.

Despite the mixed bag that has been Silvestre’s season, he is still a player with a lot of top-level Premier League experience, and every game he plays for the first team can only increase his confidence and form.  The impending return of both Clichy and Traore will see him return to reserve status, but I feel that a string of games, should it be necessary, will see Silvestre return to decent, if unspectactular, form.  He will never burn up the turf with sheer speed, but his wisdom is an asset as much as anything, and hopefully he can feature as needed in the FA cup and as injury cover, and keep offering good service to the Arsenal into the future.

Preview Week Day 4: Carling Cup

Carlos Vela, Jay Simpson, Fran Merida

by BendyTheViking (Munich) – Last season Arsenal’s youngsters dazzled and amazed in the early stages of the Carling Cup as they quick became victims of their own success and when pressure mounted and the going got tough the young Gunners were unable to get past an experienced and organized Burnley team at Turf Moor.  This season Arsenal will undoubtedly field another squad of talented youngsters.  Who is in contention, though, only the boss can know for sure, but it is easy to imagine who might be in the running for a run out in the Cup.

Goalkeepers:

Lukasz FabianskiLukasz Fabianski is poised to continue his roll as cup keeper again this season and the Carling Cup is the ideal place for him to pick up more experience and match sharpness.  Arsenal’s number two put in some outstanding performances in he Carling Cup last season with the highlight undoubtedly that wonderful double save against Wigan.  If Fabianski can continue to improve and find some consistency between the sticks then perhaps his “older” head can help guide the youngsters to Cup glory.  Other keepers in line for a spot in the Carling Cup squad would be Arsenal’s current third choice keeper Vito Mannone as well as fellow Polish keeper Wojciech Szczęsny. Admittedly I know very little about either of these keepers other then what I have seen briefly in he Reserves and in preseason.  Out of the two I would say Szczęsny is the more impressive keeper.  He also has a few years on Vito but looks further along.  I would bet Vito gets the back up keeper role but it might prove beneficial for Arsenal in the long run to perhaps up Szczęsny on the bench for a couple of the games.  He certainly has to look of a good keeper in the making and exposure to the first team could be what is needed this season to bring him along.

Defenders:

Kieran GibbsThere are really a number of possibilities here. Normally I would have pegged Havard Nordveit to hold down the fort, but the young lad is currently away on loan gaining valuable experience. In his place I imagine one or two youngster from the FA Youth Cup winning side will step up.  Also depending on whether Arsene purchases another defender, players like Vermaelen or Djourou could see minutes in the Carling Cup this season. Djourou is still fairly young and Vermaelen could use the Carling Cup to help adapt to England, much as Eduardo did. As well, I would imagine Eboue could be given a run out at right back as well as Gavin Hoyte. Left back spot will surely see the return of Kieran Gibbs to first team action while Traore could challenge for a spot if he remains at the club this season.  Messrs Bartley and Ayling could be in contention for a place in the side after both, and especially Ayling, have impressed in the last six months.

Midfield:

Aaron Ramsey will without a doubt resume a starting role again in the Carling Cup.  With Fran Merida anticipated to be heading out on loan it seems likely that Henri Lansbury could be given a starting birth in the side in the more advanced midfield role once he recovers from the injury he picked up on international duty.  Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and Francis Coquelin should both also see minutes and there is the chance that Emmanuel Frimmpong could step up into the first team set-up in the Carling Cup as well.  If Mark Randall remains at the club again this season I would suspect that Wenger, unfortunately, would set him up with a starting place.  Here’s to hoping he heads back out on loan.

Strikers:

Nacer BaraziteThis is another area which seems fairly straight forward.  We will likely see a continuation of last season with Carlos Vela being the predominate striker.  The likes of Jay Simpson could also be involved. However, I anticipate Jay heading back out on loan.  Jack Wilshere should reprise his preseason role on the right wing where he has proved to be particularly deadly.  It would not be out of the question as well to see Nicklas Bendtner back in the Carling Cup should he be short of minutes.  Given his preseason appearances, it seems likely that Sanchez Watt will be given a run out in some form in the Carling Cup.  Nacer Barazite is a player I am hoping will be given a chance in the Cup as well.  He has really impressed me and I believe Barazite could really grow into a strong player.  He has never been given a proper chance in the Arsenal first team as of yet and after a character-building loan spell with Derby last season as well as more impressive performances in the preseason game at Barnet as well as in the Reserves he could finally be in a prime position to make his mark on the first team.

Taking this all into consideration, I believe Arsenal’s best line up for the Carling Cup would be as follows:

—————–Fabianski—————-
–Eboue—Ayling—Djourou—Gibbs–
—-Lansbury—Coquelin—Ramsey—-
——Wilshere—Vela—Barazite——-
Subs: Mannone, Bartley, Hoyte, Emmanuel-Thomas, Frimmpong, Simpson, Watt

Overall:

Future Arsenal DM?

The Carling Cup is a great chance to give some of our youngsters a run out.  Some will gain just from being in the squad and the first team set-up while others such as Vela, Wilshere, Ramsey and Gibbs will use this as a platform to push further into the first team and challenge establish players more consistently for minutes.  In addition to its value for the youngsters, I strongly believe that the Carling Cup would be a wonderful trophy for the club to win.  Should we win it, the unique timing could both give us the boost of getting some silverware for the season as well as removing the silverware monkey off the club’s back should we find ourselves in a position to still be challenging for the Premier or Champions Leagues.  Winning the Carling Cup would also lift the supporters and the club in general.  It could take away some of the pressure of winning something and allow the first team to kick on from strength to strength instead of focusing on ending the drought.  Whatever happens in the League Cup this season, Arsenal fans can be sure they will see some top class entertainment.  Who knows, maybe this year Arsene’s young guns and make it all the way to the podium!

Enjoy these highlights from our two most memorable Carling Cup matches from last season.

VIDEO:

Carling Cup: Arsenal v Sheffield United (23 September 2009)

Carling Cup: Arsenal v Wigan (11 November 2009)

Seeing The Silvestre Deal For What It Is

From devil to angel in one fail swoop of his pen??

From devil to angel in one fell swoop of his pen?

So, Arsene has signed 31 year old French international and long-time United back, Mikael Silvestre.  Now, there has been a lot of venom spewed on Arsenal blogs and forums about this signing but I think there are two things we need to keep in mind.

The first is: Whether or not Silvestre came from Manchester United or Manchester City, it is a very smart signing by Wenger which fills a spot many Gooners believed needed filling but did not believe that Arsene would make.  Silvestre brings added depth and title-winning experience to our defense.  He provides cover for Clichy which enabled Arsene to send the young Armand Traore off to Portsmouth in a long-rumoured loan deal to gain more experience.  Though his main position with United was at left-back, his favoured position from his days at Rennes was as a centre back… another position you can never have enough cover for.

Second, some supporters seem to think that the Boss has made the Silvestre signing instead of signing a defensive midfielder.  Now, to be fair, alot of these kinds of statements were made before the Boss came out today and said he is still in the market for a midfield foil for Cesc Fabregas.  Obviously, the defensive midfield position is extremely important to Arsenal and most supporters don’t feel we can raise an honest title challenge without bringing someone in.  But, it should have been easy to see that a less than £1m defensive cover signing would surely not take the place of signing another midfielder.  However, the anti-Wenger contingent among Arsenal supporters keep beating the chests even as he shows them that he’s not REALLY “too busy to sign new players.”

It should also be kept in mind, regarding the anti-Silvestre lobby, that these are the same people who will be more than glad he’s on the bench should, god forbid, Clichy sustain an injury of any length.  It’s far too short-sighted to complain about signing a player just because he played for one of our rivals.  A classic case in hand is Pat Jennings after his move from Spurs to Arsenal just prior to the 1977/78 campaign.  Jennings went on to man the Arsenal nets for almost a decade and gave us the kind of keeper we hadn’t had since Bob Wilson retired 3 years earlier.

Just a few biographical notes, which I feel obliged to spit out despite every other blog and news site repeating the same info… Silvestre began his career with Rennes before being transferred to InterMilan.  His spell there lasted only one year, after which he was bought by Alex Ferguson for £3.5m.  In 9 years at Old Trafford, Silvestre made over 300 appearances in all competitions and his honors include 4 Premier League titles, 1 FA Cup winner’s medal, 1 Carling Cup medal, and a Champions League medal.  Following Patrice Evra’s move to United, Silvestre has found it hard to secure a place in the lineup but, much as he is expected to do at Arsenal, he showed leadership and gave depth to their bench.  He suffered a knee ligament injury last September which ruled him out for most of the season.  He has played only 3 competitive matches in the last 11 months including United’s 1-nil second leg home win against Roma in the Champions League Quarterfinals.