So let's start at the top with the Goalkeeping department.
So, this season is Almunia’s official first season as number one. He dethroned Jens Lehmann last season, but now the German’s gone, the no 1 jersey is officially his. He’s played well last season and been solid. He’s also played well in pre-season. His strength is his consistency but his weakness seems to be the ability to deal with free kicks as seen last season and again in pre-season. If he can get better at that part of his game, we all know he is capable of pulling off outstanding saves – then this could be the defining season of his career.
Manuel’s understudy is Polish #2 Lucas Fabianski. He’s had a few games this pre-season and after a stuttery start last season has recently had an unbelievable game against Sevilla. If the kid continues in this vein, he’ll be pushing for the number one position. He’s starting to play the kind of game that Arsene brought him in for – hopefully he’ll continue.
Young Vito Mannone has made it to our first team squad. The young Italian joined us a few years back and had shown some signs of promise early on. A loan spell at Barnsley was probably counter productive and a few injuries held back his progress. He’s back on track now, and looking much sharper. It’s good to have a youngster as back up as he’ll surely learn from his two seniors.
Our defensive options are plenty, but the combination of Gallas and Toure is still in doubt.
We’ll start with our captain, Monsieur William Gallas, our leader, our advocate. After some rumblings in the summer, a query from Arsene and a bit of press coverage, the French maestro was renamed captain. Many people thought after his “sulk” at the Birmingham game and his “camera antics” later that season, he wasn’t captain material. Look around the squad, and you’ll see he is the most experienced player, retains his fitness and is a leader. He is loud and vocal. The other options would have been Cesc – but he’s too young surely – or Toure – but he’s too quiet, right? Whatever the real reason, Gallas remains as captain and we all know a fully fit Gallas firing on all cylinders is a worthy asset. Let’s expect more out of him this season.
Fan’s favourite Kolo Toure has been in the wars a bit this pre-season with a bout of Malaria followed by a niggling thigh strain, but nevertheless, the Ivorian will be back in a week or so. He was one of our outstanding players last season. He’s a bit of a leader on the pitch regardless of his quiet nature. The partnership between the two (Gallas and Toure) is questionable, but they’ve got a year’s experience behind them. It was clear that a bit of mis-communication and panic caused us the losses against Liverpool, Chelsea and United at the end of last season. Kolo is a favourite of mine too, and I hope he has another sterling season this year.
Last summer signing from Auxerre, Bacary Sagna, was a revelation at right back. He was named PFA right back of the year and that quite an accolade for someone in their first season in the premiership. It was clear when Sagna was injured at the end of last season the impact it had on our team and a fit Sagna is an awesome asset to the squad.
In my eyes, this kid is the best left back in the world. He’s taken on the mantle left my Ashley Cole and stepped it up a gear. His stamina, desire and will to do things right are outstanding. He, like his compratriot Sagna, was very unlucky not to go to the European championships.
In our first season at the Emirates, the young Swiss player played a lot of games. Last season he spent half a season with Birmingham. Both experiences will prove invaluable this season with both Toure and Senderos out at the moment, he’ll have a run of games alongside Gallas early season. He will also be a deputy for Sagna at right back now that Hoyte is on his way.
The critics, three years later, are still out on Philippe Senderos… but we know what the boy can offer us. He’s a solid player, a ball winner, a good header. He’s had some outstanding games as well as some not so great ones. He thrives on confidence. Let’s see if he can raise his level up a notch this season and become the Vidic of the back line.
Update: Senderos has signed for Milan on a season long loan. I presume he is off to gain experience from the team which is the most renounced for it’s defensive play. Arsene says “The thinking [behind the move] is that at the moment he doesn’t get the games here and that he can play somewhere and remain in a top level club. Without losing him we want him to play.”. Good luck me old boy.
The even younger than Clichy left back come left winger is a speedy asset to the squad. He’s a bit more offensive than Clichy and has talked about playing in midfield recently. He’s got a lot of stamina and I’m happy for him to deputise if Clichy is injured. He’s had a lot of experience in the first team in the last two years and I’d expect some impact from him this season.
Update: Young Armand has moved to Portsmouth on loan for the season. He’s highly rated, of course, but very much raw. He’s already played one game by the time I’ve updated this, against Man United and you could see his inexperience. A season at Fratton Park will do him good.
Alex Song is a player who we just don’t really know how to use. He’s played in central midfield for Charlton when on loan last season and also plays in central midfield for Cameroon. Arsene has been playing him at centre back and did so in the big games against Man United for example last season. Early this summer, he also commented on how he sees him as a defender rather than a midfielder, but more recently has categorised him as a midfielder in absence of others. I definitely think there is a lot of potential in Alex Song. I hope he can realise it and make his mark this season.
Kieran Gibbs, Gavin Hoyte and Harvard Nortveit
Like most players, Arsene believes in multi roles. I remember Gibbs has played at left wing previously but now it looks like Arsene sees him as a left back. He is a young player and is raw, but will be someone we can call on when in crisis. Gavin Hoyte is another player who will be available for first team action. Highly rated and supposedly better than his brother, again quite raw too but expect to see him in the Carling Cup and FA Cup early rounds. Harvard Nortveit – I like the look of this kid, he seems calmer than Hoyte Junior. He wants to break into the first team and I can see him playing somewhat this season. Although raw, Nortveit is probably the closest to the first team, but all three will be available and used this season.
A strange signing for us, especially considering his background of playing for Man United for all those years. After some defensive woes, I think Arsene has tried to shake it up a little and this is his way of doing so. Without Flamini and Traore this season, cover for left back was also required, which is where Silvestre can also play. At £750k, it seems good business, but whether or not Silvestre can stay fit is another question all together.
So there’s a summary of our goalkeeping and defensive options this season. I think you’d agree we have the numbers, but do we have the experience. Almunia, Gallas and Toure aside, the rest of the squad is quite young….
Part 2 of this guide coming soon… ’til then…]]>