Arsenal Season 2008-09 Preview

August 14, 2008 at 7:58 pm 15 comments

Last year, at around this time, I was very scared for Arsenal. Thierry Henry, the club’s record goal scorer had left for sunny Barcelona, leaving behind an injury-prone Robin van Persie and error-prone Emmanuel Adebayor to bear the goal-scoring responsibilities. His replacement was an unknown Croat-brazilian, Eduardo Da Silva, who was largely untested outside the Croatian Football League. The only other big signing had been Bacary Sagna, a right-back I’d never even heard of. This was all admittedly underwhelming. The pundits had written the club off for the season and many of the fans had already started making their excuses. Most of them were afraid that Arsene Wenger had completely lost it and his stubborn insistence on not buying big-name stars would cost the club dearly. They were all wrong.

The team was outstanding for most of the season and finished 3rd, a mere four points behind the eventual champions Manchester United. Two of the draws (Birmingham away, Liverpool away) turning into victories and the loss to Man Utd at Old Trafford turning into a draw was all that had separated Wenger’s boys from the title. All three results very much possible given the performances in those games. It WAS actually that close. 

The Champions League, well, Arsenal was six minutes away from qualifying for the semi-finals and two dodgy penalty calls in either leg of the quarter-final against Liverpool cost the club. I know it’s said that dodgy calls even out in the end. But I feel calls going our way in games against Derby County when we’re 3-0 up don’t quite match up to calls going against us in a two-legged Champions League quarterfinal where away goals count more. So they don’t quite even out, do they. Anyway, so that was that. The F.A. Cup and Carling Cup, well, we just weren’t good enough. Overall, a season that left all Arsenal fans feeling deeply unfulfilled.

So, after a summer of transfer activity and a bunch of pre-season friendlies, what does the new season have in store? Here are my thoughts:

The Team

Goalkeeping: Jens Lehmann has left for Stuttgart. As much as I liked him, he was making too many mistakes towards the end and it was time for him to leave. The current no. 1, Manuel Almunia, is not as spectacular as Lehmann was but he’s pretty calm and solid and doesn’t make too many costly errors these days, like he used to when he started out. I would like a better keeper but am not too worried. The back-up keeper, Lukasz Fabianski, looks pretty promising though. I was at the Emirates Stadium when the lad made his competitive debut (against Newcastle United in the Carling Cup) and he’s shown enough promise to suggest that Almunia won’t be first choice for too long. The third keeper, Vito Mannone, has been promoted from the reserves and is still an unknown quantity at the top level.

Defence: Unchanged from last season and not too worrying. The full-backs, Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy are the best full-back pairing in the league for me. Strong both in attack and defence, it was no surprise that the pair made it into the PFA team of the year last season. The centre-backs, Kolo Toure and William Gallas, are pretty solid as well, with some weaknesses that I’m sure the boss would’ve addressed in training. The back-ups are a bit weak though. In the full-back roles, Justin Hoyte is pretty average and Armand Traore is still not quite the finished product yet. Kieran Gibbs has been tried out at left back but he also needs more time to get used to it, being primarily an attacking midfielder. In fact, I should think Gallas will slot into left-back if Clichy ever gets injured before a big game. Emmanuel Eboue can always do a job at right-back if required, having started his career there. The centre-half backups are slightly better. Philippe Senderos and Johan Djourou, the former in particular, get a lot of stick but I don’t think they’re all that bad. Plus, there’s Alexandre Song to return from the Olympics. He was pretty solid in the Carling Cup last year. So, overall, the first choice back four is excellent, but two or more injuries at the same time may see the defensive performances suffer.

Midfield: The biggest cause of worry this pre-season, without a shadow of a doubt. Aleksandr Hleb, Gilberto Silva and Mathieu Flamini left over the summer and Lassana Diarra left in January. So the team has lost 4 top class midfielders this year alone. Diarra was never in the team enough but I still rate him very highly. It’s only a matter of time before he joins a big club again. Gilberto, I’ve always felt, was very very over-rated and frankly, was happy when he was marginalised last season. I also felt it contributed to the team’s success. Having said that, he was a thorough professional till the end and always came out as decent and sincere in the six years he spent at Arsenal. For that reason, I was sorry to see him go. Hleb and Flamini are a different story. Both of them will be greatly missed in the team. Flamini was the midfield dynamo last season, the Roy Keane in our team. Constantly running and tackling, breaking the opponents’ rhythm, Flamini’s manic energy drove the team last season, and was critical to its success. We haven’t replaced him, yet. Hleb, most would say, didn’t contribute too much in terms of assists or goals, but his value went beyond that. His dribbling drew defenders towards him, allowing other players to make their runs. And he would more often than not, supply the killer pass that would lead to an assist. Statistics don’t reveal his true worth. However, he acted like an idiot towards the end and I was not one bit sorry to see him go. We have replaced him adequately, however, I feel. Now, on to the guys who are still there!

In the middle, Cesc Fabregas is the jewel in Arsenal’s crown. Without doubt, the fulcrum around which the team revolves, he will be crucial to our title chances. Still only 21, he has improved every year and is now one of the finest central midfielders in the world. If he is injured, Arsenal would have a big problem. His midfield partner is the big question mark: The pecking order is currently Abou Diaby, Denilson and 17-year old Aaron Ramsey, but Wenger is in the market for another ‘experienced’ defensive midfielder and I fancy that player, whoever it is (looking likely to be Gokhan Inler, from Udinese), to be the first choice. The dark horse for this position could be Alexandre Song, who excelled in the role for Cameroon in the African Nations Cup earlier this year. Another intriguing addition to the squad is Amaury Bischoff, signed from Werder Bremen, for whom he made one start in the last two years, being injured for the rest of the time.  Nothing much is really known about the guy and even Wenger himself has admitted the signing is a gamble. We can only wait and watch.

On the wings, Tomas Rosicky, the Czech captain, if fully fit, is a superstar and crowd favourite. Absolutely electrifying and a match-winner on his day. Samir Nasri, Hleb’s replacement, (and the most promising of the many French youngsters touted as the ‘next Zidane’) is sharp, quick and blessed with exquisite technique. At home in the middle of the pitch, and on both wings, he is a superb addition to the squad and if he stays fit, could make the difference between this season and last. Theo Walcott, good on both sides, is steadily improving and should be more of a consistent force this year. Emmanuel Eboue may be extremely irritating but does a decent job on the right most times. The only other option on the wings is also the most exciting – Jack Wilshere, aged 16. He joined Arsenal as a nine-year old school boy in 2001 and has really caught the eye this pre-season. Wenger has already seen enough quality to include him in the first team squad and though he won’t get too many starts this season, training with the big boys will help him improve and he may even get to make a couple of cameo appearances. 

Attack: Doubtlessly, Arsenal’s best area. We’re well-stocked with forwards, and all of them have enough quality. Emmanuel Adebayor has come on in leaps and bounds last season, ensuring that we didn’t miss the legend that is Thierry Henry. That takes some doing! Robin van Persie is someone I rate extremely highly. He’s a fantastic talent, with a supernatural left foot.  A constant threat from free-kicks and also a great provider for others, his only problem is that he seems to be made of glass. He spent most of last season on the treatment table and one can only wonder what could’ve been if he’d been fit throughout. Eduardo Da Silva, so cruelly injured last season just when he was getting into his groove, is expected to be back before Christmas and he is a truly lethal finisher, as proved by his Arsenal scoring record so far (22 starts, 12 goals). I remember going berserk in a pub when Song put him through in extra time against Blackburn in the Carling Cup. There was just no doubt he would tuck it in! That was also one of the best games of last season, for me. And I’m licking my lips at the prospect of what’s going to happen once he’s settled in completely. Nicklas Bendtner is again, quality. Tall, strong, and determined, the guy is a superstar in waiting. I half-expect Adebayor to leave next summer and mark my words, if Bendtner is still there, he will more than adequately replace him. Carlos Vela, an Arsenal player for the last three years but out on loan in Spain, looks a terrific prospect, another typical Wenger signing – out of nowhere. He’s been absolutely brilliant in pre-season. I expect Bendtner and Vela to form a lethal partnership in the Carling Cup. Apart from these five, Walcott can also play up front if necessary.

My first choice eleven would be as follows:

Almunia

Bacary Sagna – Kolo Toure – William Gallas – Gael Clichy

Samir Nasri – Cesc Fabregas – (New Guy) – Tomas Rosicky

Emmanuel Adebayor – Robin van Persie

Summary

Overall, while the starting eleven is top-notch,  the back-ups are not of the highest quality and I suspect this will make the difference through the course of a long and hard season. The fan in me says we’ll win something this year, but I fancy it’ll be more a case of finishing in the top 4 in the Premier League and going as far as we possibly can in the Champions League and the F.A. Cup. As far as the Carling Cup is concerned, the youngsters are a year older, so we could actually do pretty well again.

So, hoping for the best, Go Gunners!!

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Entry filed under: Arsenal, Football, Opinion. Tags: , .

Because this deserves a blog post… The name’s Bond. James Bond.

15 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Ram Kumar  |  August 14, 2008 at 11:40 pm

    Dodgy penalty calls, my arse. And what kind of an office allows employees to rant pages and pages instead of doing work??

    To quote a certain philosopher:
    ” Fuck you!! I hate you pseudo EPl fans who give their lives for some bull shit arsenal and then at the thought of Indian sport you start laughing.These guys have some of the toughest lives.. You are the dude who thinks you are this big gunner fan and then laughs at the sorry state of football in this country. Fuck you guys,Fuck Arsenal and Fuck the EPL. I am sure you wont post this but still..fuck you! “

    Reply
  • 2. David Caple  |  August 15, 2008 at 9:53 am

    It’s nice to see that Ram can put such a considered, well thought, reasoned interlectual comment. I wonder if he, and others like him, could it be the cause of “the sorry state of football in this country”?

    Reply
  • 3. Adithya  |  August 15, 2008 at 10:01 pm

    Nice preview…..a bit similar to mine actually….tho i’m more optimistic in my conclusions.

    http://adithya88.wordpress.com/2008/08/15/arsenal-2008-09-season-preview/

    And I agree with David.

    Reply
  • 4. Ram Kumar  |  August 17, 2008 at 12:20 am

    Hmm. Amusing how people can be so thick headed

    Reply
  • 5. hantan  |  August 17, 2008 at 8:21 pm

    good review.. it looks like a one stop information repository for all arsenal fans

    Reply
  • 6. Asif Abbas  |  August 18, 2008 at 10:31 am

    Its the center of the midfield thats most worrying. Nasri is more than a suitable replacement for Hleb but we havent found anyone to replace Flamini. I really hope that Wenger will splurge some cash on Alonso. He really suits us and will get along with Cesc as well

    Reply
  • 7. Tejas  |  August 19, 2008 at 9:28 am

    I wish you were a ManU fan
    : )

    Reply
  • 8. Sounak  |  August 19, 2008 at 10:15 am

    Nice preview! 🙂
    I read it late, though! I’ve my own review for matches in my blog, hope I can keep up with it!
    and hope Arsenal lift some silverware this season, hoping for some more ‘beautiful’ football nonetheless!

    Go Gunnerzz!

    Reply
  • 9. Ratnakar  |  August 19, 2008 at 3:43 pm

    honest preview, as you accept this team is not yet ready to win premiership. may be carling cup and Q/F or S/F in CL.

    ask your boss to shred his “finance/investment manager of arsenal” mask and actually start spending big bucks.

    Reply
  • 10. soccerzlife  |  October 7, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    Good preview but not all is going well for Arsenal at the moment..
    Lets just hope Rosicky is back soon and adds some experience to the wings..

    Check my Blog: –

    http://soccerzlife.wordpress.com/

    Reply
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