Sunday, 4 September 2011

New Look Arsenal

Over the last 20- 30 years, Arsenal have been at the forefront of English football and as fans we have enjoyed some of the best sides, playing the best (and worst occasionally) football in the world.

Over that period we have won countless trophies under the stewardship of two of our greatest managers in George Graham and Arsene Wenger. Both of them maintained the respected image of the club which has always be renowned for its class and built amazing sides.

The best thing about Graham's sides were the defence though. The back four. The best back four to ever play together arguably. The defence knew so much about each other and Graham coached them for hours and hours so they were ready for anything.

In Tony Adams the club had an amazing defender and a captain who would rather die before letting the other team score. He could partner any number of players at the back, from Bould to Keown to O'Leary to Linighan, who were all great defenders too. At full back, Winterburn and Dixon were as consistent as you like and could read the game perfectly. They always managed to stay just infront of the centrebacks to stop any stupid offside's (Clichy take note) and should have won plenty more caps for England.

Behind them was David Seaman - or John Lukic before him - and he will rightly go down as one of the best goalkeepers Arsenal and England have ever had.

The midfield weren't technically brilliant - although on that front they were very much underrated especially when you consider the qualities of players such as Rocastle, Limpar and Merson - but worked their socks off for the team, and all of the players were proud to wear the Arsenal shirt for a living.

After Graham's exit and Rioch's short spell in charge came Le Professor. Arsene Wenger helped transform the club from "Boring Arsenal" to a team which played some of the best football in the world, whilst being sucessful too. He kept the rock solid back four in shape, but granted them freedom to be more expressive on the pitch. His signings of Vieira and Petit gave us a solid backbone in midfield, and their class and understanding on each other was to play a key part in France's world cup triumph.

Attacking wise, Overmars was in the form of his life whilst Bergkamp was absolutely tremendous and always showed his quality. And Wenger, faced with the seemingly impossible task of replacing the ageing Ian Wright, worked more magic by bringing Nicolas Anelka into the team.

After Anelka's 20 million pound move he was replaced by Henry and as they say, the rest is history. Overmars and Petit were both eventually replaced by Pires and Gilberto, two players that went on to become Arsenal legends themselves. The back four was eventually broken up too with Ashley Cole, Sol Campbell, Kolo Toure and Lauren making their own amazing defence which only conceded 18 goals as Arsenal went invincible through the 2003/4 season.

But very quickly, that unbeatable team was broken up, and not replaced with the quality we needed. This summer, with Chilchy's exit finalised, none of the squad from that title winning season are left. We came close to having a great team in 07/08 with Hleb, Cesc, Flamini, Rosicky forming an excellent midfield which fed the strikers Adebayor, Eduardo and Van Persie. The defence was OK, and while Gallas and Toure could not form an excellent partnership, they were both excellent players. That team too was broken up with Eduardo's and Rosicky's injuries leaving the out the team for two years and Hleb and Flamini leaving, closely followed by Adebayor and Toure. Since then only Almunia, Sagna, Rosicky remain from that first team which came so close to winning the league.

Last season saw the emergence of another team moulded by Wenger which could challenge for titles. Players started to mature in Nasri, Song and Walcott and even though Cesc did not have his best season, he was still quality in the centre of the pitch. Wilshere's emergence was a joy to behold and Sagna was as consistent as ever at right back. Van Persie's goals in the second half of the season could and should have fired us to the title, but for the misgivings of the defence. The Arsenal defence which used to be renowned across the country and celebrated as the best in the country.

This summer though, Wenger has had to rebuild yet again as the pivotal players in the team have moved on to pastures new. With the new signings as well as having Vermaelen and Ramsey back to full fitness and in the first team, Arsenal can line up a team looking completely different to last season. Good different or bad different we will be looking to find out, but losing the creativity of Cesc and Nasri will be hard to replace.

The team now lacks still lacks the strong defence from the Graham and early Wenger years, even though Mertesacker's experience, height and leadership will help. But the depth of those defences which won the league in 89 and 91 and the doubles in 98 and 02 as well as going invincible in 04 just wont be there. Nevertheless even though the new left back Andre Santos and the forever injured Gibbs will never be Ashley Cole's or have the same reading of the game as Winterburn, but they can improve us in a position which has gone down hill as Clichy's mistakes have become more common.

Song now has competition for his place with Frimpong and so his lapses in concentration should be minimised hopefully. He is still learning the game, but with more experienced players around him he will be helped out. Just in front of Song will be Arteta, Rosicky, Ramsey or Benayoun, with Wilshere tucked in beside them. Ramsey needs to grow into the role, and will take time to dominate the games and create chance after chance which he is capable of. Rosicky has had one good half of football (against Udinese) in the last few years and as one of the most experienced players in the side, he will have to make that performance more often. Arteta and Benayoun will hopefully help with the creative burden and are proven players in the Premier League, but can both be susceptible to injuries.

Gervinho has looked bright, but will take time to settle into the English pace of the game. He does have competition though, with Theo, Arshavin, Miyaichi and Chamberlain all challenging for the two wing positions, and Arteta and Benayoun are comfortable out wide too. Other than the defence, my main worry is up front, where Van Persie has been very isolated this season.

Park will give his all if called upon as back up, but has rarely been prolific during his career. If we don't have him available then Chamakh may have to play, and whilst he may be completely out of form, even when in form I'd prefer Bendtner. But compared to our challengers United, City, Liverpool and Chelsea we are very short in this area. Overall, We can aim for top 3 this season and we really need a trophy now to take the burden off the players' backs. We need to move on quickly though, and gel as a new team with new energy, as the lifeless Arsenal that was on show in the opening three league games was embarrassing. With millions in the bank to (hopefully) spend in January and next summer, we must continue looking forward - as our motto says.

Here's to the Arsenal.

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