Best/Worst of 2008 #5; Hleb out, Nasri in

The transfer window opens on Thursday and we all know what this week holds; a week of speculation about Arsenal’s transfer targets. I’ll put that information at the end of the post for those of you who are interested but really it’s just speculation and please take it with a huge grain of salt.

Instead of just talking about transfer targets or how Steven Gerrard should be banned for life for his part in a bar fight (that’s a joke, kids) for the rest of this week I want to do a top five best/worst Arsenal year in review. One a day, like vitamins for your football mind, starting with the #5 best/worst story of 2008 and culminating in the #1 best/worst story. One more thing, the reason that the stories are both best and worst is because as I was thinking through each of these, with only one exception, even the best stories had a negative component. So, they are best/worst — you’ll see what I mean.

#5 Hleb out, Nasri in

I don’t know about you, but by the time that Alex Hleb raised a hand to Graeme Murty and got sent off — the last act of futility in a career at Arsenal that defined the word — I was well and truly done with Alex Hleb.

Now, before you get all nostalgic and claim that Arsenal could use Hleb this year, “Arsenal need some width!” you might claim. Let me remind you just how bad Hleb was: this was a guy who had 25 shots, SHOTS not shots on goal but SHOTS, in all competitions in his last year at Arsenal. Of course it’s nice to have a guy on the team who passes the ball but Hleb took passing the ball to a whole different level: he routinely passed up wide open shots in order to pass the ball to a teammate.

To his credit Hleb did have a career high 11 assists last year, but it took him two years of utter futility to reach that apex.

Arsene sold him, to his dream team (where he rots on the bench), and used the money to bring in a guy who has almost all of the same qualities that Hleb had. Arsene bought Samir Nasri.

The difference between Hleb and Nasri is glaring: Nasri already has 32 shots, 4 goals, and 2 assists in just 17 games, Nasri took all the corner kicks and set plays on Sunday (and he was able to clear the first defender which we haven’t seen in a long time), and Nasri’s most important quality is that he plays on the left and actually provides width to this Arsenal team. If you remember, Hleb always, always, always dribbled the ball into the middle of the park — I can only guess he did that because he’s was not capable of playing in a cross.

But the best part about Samir Nasri? He scores game winning goals in big matches. I mean, his second goal against Man U was, well… Hleb could never do that.

So, in his first year Samir Nasri has already shown himself to be a better player than Alex Hleb, a great addition to this team, another coup by the Professor, and the #5 best/worst Arsenal story of 2008.

Transfer Targets


I saw a story that said Arsenal are going to buy three Newcastle players: Shay Given, Charles N’Zogbia, and Steven Taylor. I’ll admit that I’m no fan of Almunia but Shay Given? Hmmm… I’m not a very good judge of keepers so I’m inviting you all to comment on this rumor. Given or Almunia, who would you pick and why?

N’Zogbia has been linked to the club before and nothing has ever come from it. He’s a pacy little winger and I think he would be a good addition to the squad even if he is really struggling this year. After all, a guy can’t get any assists if he doesn’t have any targets! Of course, this could also be the press doing the age old “link every French player to Arsenal” trick, so grain, salt, etc.

Honestly, I don’t know anything about Steven Taylor except that he’s tall, he’s a defender, and he plays for a team that has allowed 32 goals.

Does this make any sense to anyone? That Arsenal are struggling defensively and they are going to bring in the keeper and defender from one of the worst defensive teams in the EPL?

The other target that I hear is the every day transfer speculation that Arsenal are going to sign Andrei Arshavin from his racist ass club. Zenit wants at least £20m for Arshavin which is an insane fee for any player, much less a player who’s only acheivement this year is one good game in Euro 2008. One little problem with this rumor is that Arsene told Canal + that thinks Arsenal don’t have the money.  Make what you will of that, I haven’t had enough coffee to figure out how a team that made £20m or so in profits last year, keeps saying that the club and the Highbury redevelopment are separated, and who’s board members insist that the boss has all the money he could ever need, suddenly doesn’t have any money.

Right, that’s it for today, tune in for the #4 top story of 2008!


  1. Nice article, but i think you’d find it very difficult convincing people that Given is not miles better than Almunia. Shay is top 10 in the world no question…

  2. Shay Given has consistently been one of the best keepers in the league. Yes the stats say they have leaked more goals than Arsenal but a defense is more than just the goalie and their defense is mostly terrible. I would have hoped we signed Given a long time ago. I can go so far as to say he is one of the sole reasons Newcastle is even still in the top flight. Taylor looks promising as a player in general. He’s fairly quick, tall and bullish. He has a very good air game, can get forward and looks comfortable on the ball. I’d still prefer a huge Hangeland but Steven Taylor would be a decent buy as he even commands the Newcastle backline with the little talent the rest of his defenders have. I can do without N’Zogbia, he looks good at times but those times are far and few and there’s much better places t put that money.

    On the Hleb vs. Nasri argument, Nasri wins hands down. He’s almost reminiscent of Bobby Pires, though a bit faster but just not as elegant. Mind you Nasri has similar skill but Pires just looked so comfortable on the ball, never having to rely on pace to outwit a defender. The only gripe I may have about Nasri is that he doesn’t have the free kick ability Pires did. Though I guess in those times half the team could take a good free kick while now we seem to only have Cesc and RVP who can really curl a ball into the net. Nasri is kind of like the Rosicky we thought we were buying from Dortmund. As soon as Rosicky pulled on an Arsenal shirt he seemed to have forgotten how to score from long range because we know he can do it from his goals for the Czech Republic but he just didn’t do it as much for the club. like that Samir is quite possibly the only player willing to take chances from outside the box – we need more of that from whoever is coming in in January as well as our current players.

  3. Sorry but Cesc is an absolutely horrible free kick taker. When was the last time you saw him clear the first defender from a corner? Robin van Persie is head and shoulders above Cesc on set plays.

    Great all around player but he’s embarrassingly bad at set plays. I’d like to see Nasri take all of Cesc’s corners.

  4. Like the previous responses, I would welcome Shay Given to the team with open arms. I’m at the point where I would prefer Fabianski as our starter over Almunia, who seems incapable of dominating his box and therefore puts additional pressure on a back 4 which is not the best aerially.

    Agree with you Timothy, that at best, Cesc is a mediocre spot kicker. Except for RVP we don’t have a genuine dead ball threat, although Nasri and Denilson look like they have potential. Can’t remember when last we scored from a direct free kick either.

    I don’t really know much about N’Zogbia and Taylor, but don’t see them being the type of impact players we need at this time with so many important holes to fill.

  5. Free kicks are very different from corners. By free kick I mean direct kicks onto goal. Cesc has and can do it, we’ve seen the evidence last season where he can place a shot from well out. He really needs to rediscover that.

  6. Tim, I think you’re missing the big picture on hleb. Sure he didn’t score much, but his work rate and link up play was remarkable. He had more pace and was a better defensive option than nasri. In the long run we are perhaps better with nasri, but aside from scoring, even with nasri in, we were weakened in the short term when hleb left. There were many important aspects to hleb’s game the most important of which was the ability to beat people and set up scoring opportunities for the team, and this ability attracted a lot of attention, freeing up other players. Nasri is not the field player hleb was, and that part of his game should develop, but nasri cannot beat people and zip through coverages the way hleb did and pace like hleb’s don’t come around very often.

    As for Arteta, I wouldn’t mind seeing him at Arsenal, but I’m not sure a small creative midfielder like cesc and deni(ramsey,nasri) is the highest priority right now. We need power and defensive minded midfielders that also have strong link up aspects to their game. If Arteta is what’s available at a reasonable price I say why not, but if others with def. mid qualities come along I say go with that.

    As for Shay Given, he is superior to all our current options. Now I like Almunia and Fabianski who are both quality, but Given is a better option reluctant as I am to say it.

  7. “Hleb” and “defense” do not belong in a sentence together unless it is this sentence or one that goes “again displayed his utter lack of defense.”

    Linkup, dribbling, and passing are three things this Arsenal club need LESS of. The whole team is linkup, dribbly, passers. Arsenal needed shooters. Nasri is a shooter and he can linkup dribbly pass too.

    Hleb is and always will be a flop.

    Alex, Eboue will stay because no one will take him. Gallas too, who wants a 31 year old cry-baby?

  8. Tim, linking, dribbling and passing is 90% of what football is. Hleb could reguarly beat three players before they had a chance to tackle him and with excellent anticipation he intercepted many opponents passes, nasri can shoot but he can’t cover ground like hleb. Some dislike hleb naturally but I think it’s overdone. He contributed a lot, and Wenger and Fab were both loathe to see him go. It’s natural to dislike players who leave us, but I prefer to remember them well.

    Now, I must say that the smile on Wenger’s face when asked about Arshavin brought a smile to my face as well, not because the topic was Arshavin but Wenger’s answers were revealing. Something is definitely cooking. I’ve said I thought one player may come in, but now that looks to have changed. We may see significant changes on the right side of midfield and up front(We’ve got Traore lurking somewhere so the left may be ok for now). I would have liked to see something in centre defense but i’m not sure we’ll be seeing any players leave in the back so we may be ok there. I think it’s also possible bendtner leaves so up front we may see something(walcott out for a long spell), I’m very encouraged. I don’t like to throw out names because it’s usually pointless, but a striker/winger and two midfielders may be arriving at Emirates in the near future. If Gallas goes, he may go to france but probably at the end of the season, although he may go in Jan as he has a widely recognised reason for being less than happy at the moment. We are in a precarious position at best and players that can get us climbing up the table will be a huge. Wenger’s on to something and that’s a very good sign, I just hope he’s able to bring them in.

  9. Guys, how about Given, Benzema, Arshavin in, Bendtner, Gallas, Toure out, how does that sound!!!???(net cost say some 20-25 mil quid). Bit weak in centre defense but Given can handle it :D.

  10. Tim, yeah, it’s a matter of perspective on nasri/hleb, but nasri is the business and will do well for us.

    Regarding above transfer activity, i’ll give it a 5%chance of happening, experience is the main thing, waiting for a younger player six months to come good does nothing for us.

  11. might as well sell bendtner eboue and diaby in my opinion. surely for those 3 we can get close to £15 mil in total without really weakening the team at all. if we only had £12 mil to spend (for example) before we’d have £27, enough for two good players.

    given is good but almunia is only a small part of the problems defensively. he’d had his moments this season but so has all of our backline including our beloved sagna and clichy so i wish people would either be fair or get off his back. given is better, no question, but ask yourself precisely how many goals have we conceded directly as a result of poor goal keeping over the past 18 months. VERY few relatively. this year alone how many goals have we conceded because of a lack of marking at set pieces, generally poor positioning and a central midfield which doesn’t contribute anything whatsoever to our defense? you’re looking at more than half the goals this season, close to 3/4. almunia is not perfect and i find given certainly better but come on get off his back and be reasonable. if people would be as ruthless with other players as him they would have dropped clichy for his multiple major blunders this year but that won’t happen because tere isn’t a stupid bandwagon against him, rightly so and there shouldn’t be one with almunia either.

  12. Stu, agreed, I don’t like selling typically, but it’s the business end of things. We do need funds for experience. I especially don’t like selling our players that still have upside which is why i focus on the older players mostly, but then, we need experience so pick your poison. I don’t like to single out our players for critisism because i think many are just not ready for the first team and have been played out of position, but it’s time for tough choices as the status quo has not been working well enough. For a silly season this one is quite serious, i maintain the focus has to be defensive mid for starters.

  13. Hey Stu, good points. I have started taking Clichy to task this year and have been wondering why people think he’s so great. He seems to be a good defender who keeps making the same errors over and over but what I think people are most impressed with is his ability to go forward. Which is great and all but seriously, he needs to stop making the same fundamental errors in defense (his job) before I can really give him credit for being a good forward (his second job).

    I do think you’re a bit off base about Almunia though. Almunia is partially to blame for a lot of those goals off set pieces. His reluctance to claim balls in his area is a major factor to teams scoring off those plays. Additionally, his positioning early in the year was very, very poor and he let in a host of goals (most notably against Spuds when that piece of human garbage B*ntley scored against us). His positioning was so poor at the start of the season that teams publicly announced that Almunia was vulnerable. I’m not on his back, but I do feel like he deserves some criticism, especially if it’s factual.

    Also, I don’t want to sound overly negative but I’d be surprised if Arsenal could get £15m for Eboue, Diaby, and Bendtner. Their collective stock has dropped dramatically this year and the supporters booing off Eboue certainly cost the team some £££ off his transfer fee. Bendtner is shockingly profligate and I doubt he’d go to a Premiership team for more than £5m. Diaby, well, Diaby is Diaby, who would take him and where would they play him? As a striker? He’s not good enough to play defensive midfield and despite his goal on Sunday is not really good enough as an attacking midfielder. I’d see £4m for Diaby. And then Eboue.. seriously, he’s so out of shape, such a head case, and in such bad form right now our only option would be a loan or some European team. I bet Eboue goes for less than £2m.

    I know that sounds negative but that’s my honest opinion based on their performances and the value I have seen other players get.

Related articles