Thursday, 4 June 2009

Arsereview 2008-09 Player Ratings: Defenders

Before I crack on with the second instal(l)ment of the player ratings, I have a little message:

This blog very rarely ventures into politics. However, for those who live in the UK tomorrow (Thursday) is European and Council election day. I don't mind who you vote for, but if you are eligible to do so, please HELP KEEP THE BNP OUT!

Anyway, plea over so here come some criticisms:

Gael Clichy: In May 2008, it was reasonable to argue Clichy was the best left-back in the League. He had been very consistent all season, both defensively and in aiding the attack. This season, he has made several mistakes and whilst Clichy's Law definitely does exacerbate each of his mistakes, he just doesn't seem to have played as well as he did last year. Before, you were always confident to see Clichy on the pitch: attackers very rarely went past him; now that's not the case. He's still been okay but defensively his powers seem to have waned.

The hope, is that with Gibbs' improvement, Clichy will realise his place in the team could be under threat and will revert back to his old form. And it is worth pointing our that it is harder to play in a defence which is constantly being changed. But whilst this wasn't a bad season for Clichy he also did nothing special. 6

Kieran Gibbs: One of the few players who make good on Wenger's promises. That is to say, that every year we see the Carling Cup team are marvellous - but few ever progress to the first team. Gibbs is an exemplar of how the youth policy does work. He may still be a teenager, but boy is he a talent. Pacey, defensively astute (which is surprising as he played midfield for Wimbledon), and very useful going forward. Dubbed the Clichy-Cole lovechild, aside from his slip in the Champions League has done very little wrong. A hugely encouraging year - though we haven't seen enough of him to know if he can reproduce this consistently. 7.5

Mikael Silvestre: Came in under extremely difficult circumstances - Gooners hoped Wenger would bring somebody special in at the end of the transfer window and instead we got an ageing, injury prone utility man. And with that elbow at Highbury a few years back, he had hardly proved an endearing opponent.

And there were positives: despite our poor defensive performance against Fenerbahce he made some important tackle. Plus it's easy to forget that it was Silvestre who nabbed our equalising goal after Bentley had put the Spuds ahead in the North London derby.

Yet, all of this is avoiding an important point: unpopular signings - such as Almunia - have turned the fans around. But the fact that by the end of the season Silvestre was being branded "geriatric" tells you all you need to know. Simply lacks the pace to play in defence against the biggest teams - as United and Chelsea cruelly exposed. Comes across as somebody who wants to endear himself to the fans. But his playing capabilities mean he never will. Should be sold. 5.5

William Gallas: Defensively speaking, the best man at the club. But it would be wrong to overlook the failures of his captaincy.

Back in April of last year, I wrote a piece for The Gooner, suggesting that Gallas was an excellent captain and post-cry-babygate, people should stop bashing Gallas. Yet, I argued the main virtue of Gallas' captaincy was he instilled good team spirit: demonstrably, mouthing off to the French papers about the weakness of the Arsenal team did not boost team spirit.

And there's more: it cannot be any coincidence that Gallas being stripped of the captaincy suddenly changed the teams fortunes around: we stopped losing soft games in the League. And William himself played better.

Yet, for all we can criticise his captaincy, defensively he's been excellent, especially since December onwards. From his staunch defending at Stamford Bridge, Billy truly went from strength to strength. Him and Djourou make an excellent partnership together which concedes few goals.

If evidence was needed of what a key player Gallas is, it can be found in that defensively we were lacking in the biggest games of the season: without defensive errors we might have made it past the semi-final stage of the two cup competitions.

He has shown himself in the past to be somebody who can be part of a harmonious dressing room, and for all his poor captaincy, he's our best defender and shouldn't be sold. 7

This one is where it gets really bad...

Kolo Toure: I hate to write this because there was a time where I really liked the Ivorian.

But the facts are these: Kolo was signed in 2002 and by the Invincibles season was a first-choice centre back. He had his great moments for the club. Yet, since he came back from the African Nations in 2008, he simply hasn't performed.

My honest view, is that he hasn't recovered from his malaria fully. Maybe health-wise he has - I'm sure Arsene assesses their fitness - but due to use a Wengerism, footballistically, he hasn't been the same player.

The strengths of Kolo were that he was fleet-footed and pacey. He always managed to steal in and make successful large-ditch tackles. In short, he was good at recovering a bad situation.

Well now, it looks as if he carries a few extra pounds and rather than saving the day, with his style of play, he simply gives away too much because he doesn't win the ball back.

Wenger has said Gallas and Toure are too small to play together. If this means one of them should go, I'd choose Kolo: aside from anything else, he still has resale value and Arsenal is supposed to be run like a business.

Kolo has done nothing special this season, and there's nothing to believe that will change.5

Johan Djourou: The mind boggles as to why he isn't played more often.

The stats show that Djourou/Gallas is the most successful centre back partnership at the club. And that is not so much a damning indictment of other partnerships, as simply as simply an exemplar of how well those two play together.

Having Djourou in the team means that a good proportion more of balls into the box are simply headed out. Aside from his continual muscle injuries, there is little to suggest Djourou shouldn't be a first-team player.

I accept he's not the most pacey, but most good centre half partnerships are based around having a quick, mobile defender (eg. Gallas) and a tall, stronger, hard one, who heads all the balls out - that role can be fulfilled by Djourou.

Aside from his own goal against Chelsea, no mistakes spring to mind and one hopes that Djourou can progress next season. Encouragin nonetheless. 7

Bacary Sagna: Just like Clichy, Sagna has also failed to scale the heights of the previous season.

There's been nothing wrong with the performances of Sagna - it would be impossible to pick out a single Sagna performance and argue that this was the embodiment of him being dreadful.

And for all his supposed poor crossing, Theo's is worse: it was when Sagna was finally given the chance to whip a ball in against Chelsea that a goal finally came.

Considering the dearth of great right-backs, I wouldn't swap Sagna for anybody else. But whereas 2007-08 was the beginning of a love affair, 2008-09 was perhaps less good as we were used to what Sagna provides: he is truly unflappable defensively. But going forward he could add more. Still, a solid if unspectacular second season. 6.5

So that's the defence - there'll be more praise for the midfield.

'Till then,


Anonymous said...

Clichy-under rated
Gibbs-overrated-lost us the champions league!!!
Kolo slighty harsh

Yisgadel V'Yisgadesh said...

You forgot to review Djourou.

Carlos said...

I agree that touré has been poor this year, but if anything i think he may be quicker since his malaria! i know it sounds strange but i suppose he may have lost some weight because of it! against united when he was equidistant from the ball with berbatov it was amazing how easily he got there first, DEMONSTARBLY he is at least equally fast as he was last season. im not sure wat has caused his poor performances, but it was not a lack of pace!
also, stop using the word 'exemplar'!!!

Adam said...

It was only used twice.

Which United game>

Carlos said...

at home in the champions league.