All the talk following the Arsenal’s ignominious exit from the Champions League been “squad reinforcements.” It’s the buzz word that will not die and perhaps one of the most common misconceptions about what happened this season.
It’s easy to point at the Champions League final and compare the benches. At one point (after Arsene had made three subs) the camera panned over to a distraught Diaby, a lazy Fabianski, and with a wide angle lens were able to catch a glimpse of the head of a lonely Silvestre. Not pictured was Denilson who was probably trying to make off with the Tea Lady. But the point is Arsenal had zero world class backups on the bench and Man U had four (Scholes, Tevez, Giggs, and Berbatov). This proves Arsenal need to buy at least four players, right?
It’s not that easy. Tevez is widely expected to leave this summer, unhappy with his bench role. Scholes and Giggs are retiring, and Berbatov is both arguably not a world class player and is a wildly fractious figure both in the Man U camp and among the fans. Which doesn’t even address how much money Man U are paying to keep those four on their bench. Berbatov cost £30m to get from Spuds, and Tevez’ deal is supposedly a loan of some sort with all kinds of unknown fees. For some people, that’s a lot of money for a Carling Cup player (Tevez) and a malcontent, but for others, those two are actually very important Champions League players combining for 6 goals and 1 assist in 9 games.
The problem is that that’s a fully healthy Man U bench and an injury ravaged Arsenal bench. A fully healthy Arsenal would have van Persie and Adebayor up front, Arshavin in the hole, Walcott on the right, Cesc and Song in the middle, and a back four of Sagna, Gallas, Toure, and Clichy. On the bench we would have Eduardo, Eboue, Rosicky, Denilson, Bendtner, Nasri, and Fabianski. Left out are Diaby, Gibbs, Djourou, Senderos, Silvestre, Vela, Traore, Ramsey, Wilshere, and Bischoff. Wait, you mean a fully healthy Arsenal would have had four world class players (Eduardo, Rosicky, Eboue, and Nasri) on the bench? Yes, that’s how injured this team was.
Having put paid to the notion that Arsena aren’t deep enough lets move to everyone’s favorite whipping position; Flamini, I mean Gilberto, I mean Song, I mean Denilson, I mean Nasri…
Since Vieira left people have been complaining about this spot on Arsenal’s roster, and to start the season I was one of them, but I’ve recently come around to a bit of a healthy respect for Song and I really don’t care if you or anyone else agrees with me: I was right about Flamini, and I think I’m right about Song. Song started the season a bit slow but has come on like a roaring lion and put in some pretty amazing performances. I’m going to have a whole blog dedicated to him later but suffice it to say that I think he’s Arsenal’s number one in that holding midfielder role. And at 21 years old, he’s going to be there for a few years. A lot of people say that Arsenal need a player like Essien and I would say that Song at 21 is comparable to Essien at 21. And before you go talking about Essien’s wonder goal against Barca, it was also Essien who failed to clear the ball that led to Iniesta’s equalizer.
Which brings me to my final point which is a blend of squad depth and showing you that we have world class players all over the squad and that what we need are just a few “burgeoning” world class players to fill in. To wit, I think that every player on this team has a pair that goes with him; someone who can start and someone who can play backup.
Adebayor and Bendtner are obvious, and if anything, Bendtner represents a place where Arsenal need to reinforce — Wenger would disagree, pointing to Bendtner’s surge this year — but come on, Bendtner is a Coca-Cola level player. Adebayor is also one of Arsenal’s malcontents and he’s already starting up the summer “I love you, I hate you” bullshiat. I wouldn’t be surprised if Arsene doesn’t scrap this whole target man offense built around Adebayor, sell both players and buy a striker to pair with Theo in this spot.
Robin and Eduardo are another obvious pair, and if anything van Persie represents a place where Arsenal need reinforcements — he’s put in his healthiest season ever for Arsenal and frankly it’s not enough. Combined with his penchant for devastatingly stupid antics on the pitch and his disruptive behavior in the dressing room (he’s the first to say they need to win something and then in the big games he makes stupid mistakes) and I think he’s got a target on his back. Wenger will need to find someone who can score incredible goals like Robin but keeps his head in the big games. Oh and for less than £15m, or whatever we get for him.
Nasri and Arshavin are complimentary players and having both healthy will present a wonderful headache for Wenger.
Similarly, Theo and Rosicky are complimentary and having both healthy for a whole season would be critical. That said, Wenger needs to take a long, hard, look at Rosicky and decide if he wants to carry this guy another season or if he just wants to buy a reinforcement. Theo’s already committed to us having just today signed a new long term contract and so he’s here for the long haul.
Cesc and Denilson are complimentary and the only thing here that needs work is Cesc’s leadership. That will come along over time.
Song and ??? Diaby?? HA! NO. I’m done with Diaby until he does something really, really incredible. He’s not a Vieira type, no matter what people say. He’s more of an Arshavin type. If we keep him, he can play the backup to the Arshavin/Nasri role, in the Carling Cup. So, I think a quality holding midfielder is needed. Yaya Toure is often mentioned and I agree. Look for Arsene to buy some guy you’ve never heard of, from FC Twente or something. I still think Song gets the starting spot, but competition is healthy, plus, giving more pistons in the engine room is a good thing.
Left back is covered by Clichy and Gibbs and if anyone tries to take the piss out of Gibbs, you’ll have me a whole bunch of loyal Arsenal supporters to answer to.
Right back is covered as well, Sagna is a stud and while Eboue is a crazy retard, he’s still a damn fine defender, when he’s fully fit, which he hasn’t been this season.
Central defense is probably the most obvious place for reinforcements. Gallas and Toure are OK together and I like Djourou but I think we need some height at the back, someone experienced in the Premier League, tall, HEY! PHILLIPE SENDEROS! Unfortunately, I think he’s done with us, which means that we should brace ourselves for a summer of transfer rumors about Haangeeelaaaandd (who is so tall it stretches his name) and then at the last minute Arsene will buy someone no one has heard of. Also, I’ll be surprised if Gallas stays with the club, it’s been a difficult season for him and the green fields of France are calling. Wenger will certainly need to replace him if he leaves, he was our best defender by far last year.
Almunia and Fabianski are fine, everyone keeps talking about a “world class” keeper and then mentioning the likes of Cech and van der Sar. Aluminum is easily as good as those two.
So that’s a run down of the entire squad, top to bottom, assuming 11 subs, and assuming that no one can play another person’s position in a pinch. The reality is you only get 7 subs and one will always be a backup keeper. There are other limitations as well, such as funds, bringing along youth players (where do Rambo and Wilshere fit in here?), what type of formation the manager uses, your opponents on a given day, and so on. I think, though, if you look at what I’ve written, it’s not a condemnation of this team, but rather that we have a very, very strong core to the team and simply need a few backups and maybe some replacements for players who are probably leaving.
You look at this team, in every position, and I think we already have a blend of experience and talent that it takes to challenge for silverware next year, but a little more depth wouldn’t hurt either. So, like I said yesterday, Arsene needs to keep the core of this team together, add a few parts and I think we’ll be in the thick of things next year.
Sorry for the long blog, but it’s a complicated question.