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Analysis of Arsenal’s Offloaded Deadwood this Summer

Andrey Arshavin in action for Zenit St Petersburg in 2000

The prodigal soon returns home

Many Arsenal fans won’t be happy with how the transfer market has panned out so far but one thing is certain – the Arsenal hierarchy has been very busy offloading their deadwood that offered little or no contribution to the team’s cause last season.

In the course of the 2012/13 campaign, Arsenal had some players that worked their skins off and producing the goods on a weekly basis, even if it wasn’t enough to end the club’s everlasting trophy drought.

In goal, Wojciech Szczesny had the lion’s share of game time but Lukasz Fabianski had a rare stint at goal that was highly productive. The defense was manned by Per Mertesacker on a regular basis but while Bacary Sagna and Thomas Vermaelen struggled for fitness and form, the performances of Laurent Koscielny, Carl Jenkinson and of course, the intense battle between Kieran GIbbs and Nacho Monreal were worth commending.

The midfield had an interesting outlook with injuries robbing the club off the services of Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby but while Mikel Arteta was a standout performer all season long, Rosicky’s rennaisance and Aaron Ramsey’s late season flourish were heartwarming to say the least. Santi Cazorla however, was in a realm of his own.

In attack, Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud had to combine to fill van Persie’s scoring boots (there was still some space in the boots though). While the likes of Gervinho and the Ox failed to impress, Theo Walcott’s goalscoring form was a vast improvement in more ways than one.

At the end of the 2012/13 campaign, Arsenal would look back at the season with shame bearing in mind that they were outsed from two winnable cup domestic cup competitions by lower opposition that would’ve been defeated any other day. Even if they could take some solace with the Champions League exit in the hands of the eventual winners, the Premier League campaign turned out to be another topsy-turvy adventure that just saw the Gunners sniff at the final Champions League spot on the last day of the season.

After accessing the squad, Arsene Wenger and his negotiating chums got busy and many of these players have new employers. Here’s an overview of Arsenal’s offloaded deadwood this summer.

Vito Mannone to Sunderland

In 13 appearances for Arsenal last season, Vito Mannone managed two clean sheets against Stoke and Liverpool. He deputized when Szczesny suffered an ankle injury and on the Pole’s return to full fitness, Mannone was sent back to the bench and never managed to get his footing till the season ended.

He has had his fair share of heroics like the Fulham game a few seasons ago where he put up a 5-star performance but in my honest opinion, he has never convinced me and probaly many fans out there that he actually has what it takes to command a starting berth in an ambitious club like Arsenal.

With Simon Mignolet departing Sunderland for greener pastures in Anfield, Paolo di Canio’s punt for his compatriot, Mannone, is a highly welcome move and he would thrive in a club like Sunderland where he won’t be under any pressure to deliver but when I remember di Canio’s antics last season, I believe that Mannone would have to really step up.

Deadwood Offloading Conclusion: With Wojciech Szczesny and Lukasz Fabianski clearly ahead of Mannone in the pecking order, selling Mannone to Sunderland has a very good move

Andre Santos to Flamengo

When Andre Santos joined the club in 2011 along with a plethora of “panic signings” Arsenal made after that humiliating defeat in the hands of Manchester United, he looked a decent buy as he offered what Arsenal had lacked in the days of Gael Clichy – an attacking outlet on the left flank. His goals against Olympiakos, Chelsea and West Brom came in vital moments and he enjoyed a good first season by his standards.

Last season, things had gone awry for the Brazilian and his performances on the pitch have been nothing short of appalling. His poor positional awareness and dismal defending has cost his team times without number with his performances in the games against Schalke (home), Manchester United (away), Liverpool (home) and Brighton (away) bringing him to the bad books of Arsenal fans.

Then of course, there was the halftime shirt swap with Robin van Persie that prompted the fans for ask for his head on a shiny plate.

After another bad showing against Liverpool, the manager went to the transfer window when Gibbs suffered an injury, clearly indicating that he had no further plans in his team. He was shipped to Gremio but the club didn’t have the financial capabilities to seal a permanent deal and after grumbling on his return to London, he reached an agreement with Arsenal to terminate his contract.

Andre Santos is currently basking in the Brazilian Sun and I must say, he won’t be missed.

Deadwood Offloading Conclusion: With Kieran Gibbs injured on the tail end of the January transfer window, Arsenal didn’t think twice before swooping for Nacho Monreal. That speaks a lot in volumes.

Sebastien Squillaci to SC Bastia

For those that don’t know, Sebastien Squillaci is the real Man of Steel.

The French bloke arrived at the shores of London with an amazing trophy haul from his days in France and Spain and the “experienced” tag on his head that was supposed to be a very in teaching the younger ones like Djourou and Koscielny but he turned out to be the right-footed version of Mikael Silvestre.

He even lived up to the Legendary No. 18 own goal billing by heading the ball into his own net when Arsenal played Wigan in the last game of 2010. Pascal Cygan (No. 18) did it in his time and Silvestre (No. 18) was the quickest of them all with an own goal on his debut.

Seeing that guy wear the Red and White sends chills down my spine most times because you can never predict the next calamity he’s about to make. To the delight of Arsenal fans worldwide, the Man of Steel’s contract expired and Arsenal wasted no time is rolling the red carpet in front of the main gate of the Emirates.

At least, there’s a Daily Planet in the island of Corsica so Squillaci will be doing two jobs – playing for SC Bastia while wearing the Superman outfit inside his jersey. When there will be trouble in the town, Squillaci will leave the pitch and save the day, because when he’s on the pitch, he’s as good as someone that’s off it because he’s a short one as we call it in Nigeria.

Deadwood Offloading Conclusion: Despite his VAST EXPERIENCE!!!!, he’s behind Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Miquel and even Johan Djourou’s spirit that’s in the club while his body plays in Hamburg. If he signed a new deal, there would have been a riot in London Colney.

Denilson Pereira Neves to Sao Paulo

Denilson was the part of the Brazil Under-20 side that won the South American Championships and was labeled as the next best thing in Brazil so he snapped up for £3.4m from Sao Paulo in 2006.

With World Cup winner Gilberto Silva, Mathieu Flamini, Alex Song and Lassana Diarra all in the squad, Denilson had to settle for Carling Cup starts but as the years went by, Denilson found himself available for first team action and he took his chance in the 2008/09 season because he was the Gunner with the highest amount of appearances that season (over 50 games or so).

Jack Wilshere’s emergence in the 2010/11 season limited the Brazilian to Cup matches and substitute appearances in the League but Denilson was a shadow of the player that was quite impressive a few seasons ago. After Arsenal played Fulham at the end of that campaign, the Brazilian told the World that he’s a frustrated figure at the club and he’s going to leave.

Arsenal negotiated a loan move for the bloke to his native Brazil and after a spell with Sao Paulo, they failed to match the Gunner’s evaluation for the player and another loan move came into fruition. With the Brazilian outfit failing to meet Arsenal’s demands again, the player took things to his hands and like Andre Santos, his contract was terminated.

Now he’s back with Sao Paulo after joining as a free agent, wily old sly foxes, the lot of them.

Deadwood Offloading Conclusion: Instead of trying to fight for his place with Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey, this Brazilian brought out a white flag and chickened out. Good riddance.

Andrey Arshavin to Zenit St. Petersburg

After an extremely disappointing campaign, Arshavin’s time with Arsenal is up as the club chose not to renew his contract. He was reduced to spending a lot of time in the dugout and when he came on, he looked rather uninterested.

He was pretty impressive in the Capital One Cup last season and his only significant Premier League moments include his late cross into the box that led to the goal against Queens Park Rangers and the penalty he won for his team against Fulham.

In what became his final appearance for the club, Arsene Wenger summoned him with 15 minutes left to play when the Gunners visited Stamford Bridge. With the Gunners trailing, they needed inspiration from anywhere but when the ball came to Arshavin’s path, he was found wanting.

Some say that he was played out of position, others said that his attitude was lackadaisical. I say that he’s a technically proficient player that began his career in the club like a house on fire but plummeted into mediocrity due to his lethargy and lack of work ethic.

Deadwood Offloading Conclusion: Arshavin’s movement was excellent and after what we’d seen from him at Anfield and the boost he gave our season after his signing, there was no doubt in my mind we’d signed a really talented footballer but talent only gets you so far. We paid a big transfer fee and big wages, and we got nothing close to value for money.  – Arseblog

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Johan Djourou and Francis Coquelin may be technically regarded as “deadwood” as well, but they are currently on loan and still have contracts with Arsenal so I decided not to add them on this list.

As for Marouane Chamakh, Park Ju-Young and the World’s Best Striker, Nicklas Bendtner, their cases are in Mount Olympus.

Sayonara.

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The Sad Decline of Andre Santos: Great Off the Pitch, Poor on It

The straw that broke the camel’s back

With Gael Clichy becoming a forgotten tale at Arsenal after departing for the petro-greens of Manchester City, the media Vultures started linking Leighton Baines and Liverpool’s Jose Enrique to the club but Wenger surprised everyone by saying that Kieran Gibbs was going to be his first choice left back for the 2011/12 season.

Gibbs played only one game at the start of the season before doing what he was already renowned for, getting himself injured. Wenger played Sagna out of position for a couple of games but an illness paved the way for Armand Traore in Old Trafford and the Senegalese was largely disappointing.

The 8-2 mauling at Old Trafford was an eye opener for Wenger and he knew that he had to make some major changes in the squad or else he was toast for the rest of the campaign.

Armand Traore put an end to his disappointing Arsenal career when he made a switch to Queens Park Rangers and it was evident that Arsenal needed a new left back so Wenger turned to the experienced Andre Santos from Fenerbahce. At that point, the lad had already notched up 22 caps for Brazil and had contributed to winning the 2009 Confederations Cup with his nation two years ago.

Andre Santos is a full back that’s also adept playing as a left winger and like every average Brazilian with the exception of Denilson and Lucas Leiva, he’s very skillful and he has a good technique.

He’s also a decent free kick taker and he has a flamboyant style of play. Just like the Brazilian legendary left back Roberto Carlos, Andre Santos can unleash a surface-to-goal torpedo from his left boot and he can also place the ball when he’s close enough to goal; at least, Petr Cech can attest to that.

His major flaw as a player is his overzealous attacking nature and he’s not that fast enough to track back should a counter attack surface. He also tends to be selfish at times because he loves dwelling on the ball.

When he arrived with Mikel Arteta, Per Mertesacker, Yossi Benayoun and Park Ju-Young, Arsenal fans were elated at the swift nature of their transfers and they were eager to see what the players had to offer. Andre Santos loved bombing forward and he opened his Arsenal goalscoring account against Olympiakos. In the enthralling van Persie-inspired victory over Chelsea, Andre Santos received a through ball from Alex Song before placing his shot past a hapless Petr Cech in goal.

In a dead-rubber game against Olympiakos in December, Andre Santos suffered an ankle injury that sidelined him for close to three months. This was the period when Arsenal had no recognized fullbacks with Kieran Gibbs suffering from hernia, Carl Jenkinson having a back problem and Bacary Sagna fracturing his leg in White Hart Lane.

He had to wait till the end of the season to score his third goal for Arsenal – a vital equalizer against West Brom in the last game of the season. In summary, the 2011/12 campaign was a decent campaign for the Brazilian and with Gibbs finally getting over his injury woes, Arsenal fans had hoped that the two left backs would battle fiercely for the shir in the 2012/13 season.

Little did we know that Andre Santos was going to change for the worst.

Kieran Gibbs return to full fitness as well as consistent game time saw the player become reborn and he became a bright spark in Arsenal’s 2012/13 campaign. More games for Gibbs ultimately meant that Andre Santos was going to spend more time in the dugout but when the Brazilian was summoned into the pitch, he became a Chamakh 2.0.

Things weren’t that good for the Brazilian off the pitch as he was arrested in September 14, 2012 for practicing Grand Theft Auto in reality. The police chums had stated that the left back was speeding at 130 mph with his Maserati.

He was charged with dangerous driving and appeared in Hendon Magistrates’ Court on September 27. It was believed that Andre Santos was going to face a two-year jail term if he was convicted but thankfully, he wasn’t.

When he returned back to the pitch following another trademark Gibbs’ injury, he was badly exposed in Arsenal’s shameful group stage defeat to Schalke 04 and the more Andre Santos played, the higher the risk of Arsenal conceding a goal with a cross from the right hand side, as if the team’s defensive problems weren’t enough already.

While his cup was getting full with the fans, he reached his breaking point when he exchanged jerseys with Robin van Persie at halftime, despite putting up a torrid display all game long. Andre Santos couldn’t even wait for van Persie to enter the tunnel before requesting for his jersey, as that was his problem at that point, rather than reflecting on a poor first half he had.

While Arsene Wenger kept calm, fans voiced their disgust on that act and many Gooners put the all-smiley, cuddly maverick on their bad books.

Even ex-Gunner, Ray Parlour, got in on the act,

 “That’s a joke. I wouldn’t have that. At half-time? He should be concentrating on his game and he was having a nightmare.”

He can’t play in a back four as he gets caught out of position all the time”

To add to his stinkers against Schalke and Manchester United, Andre Santos put up another appalling outing against Brighton in the FA Cup.

Despite the pleas from the fans for the club to get a striker and a holding midfielder in the January transfer window, Arsenal acted faster than Usain Bolt on transfer deadline day when Kieran Gibbs picked up an injury against Liverpool. Andre Santos replaced Gibbs on the night and put up another horror as he casually allowed Jordan Henderson to skip past him with consummate ease before a stroke of luck allowed the young Englishman to score the visitors second goal.

With Thomas Vermaelen’s fitness being an issue, the chances of featuring him as a left back for a considerable chunk of the season weren’t in Wenger’s lexicon. So the club swooped for Nacho Monreal that has slotted in superbly into the defensive line, like he has been there for ages.

With Monreal and Gibbs clearly above Andre Santos in the pecking order, he was living on borrowed time and was heavily linked with a move to Turkey but Arsenal has decided to offload the Brazilian to Gremi for the remainder of the 2012/13 season.

In his touching goodbye message to the club and the fans, Andre Santos thanked everyone for their support and hopes to come back soon. For the good of everyone concerned with Arsenal, the fans hoped that Gremio would sign him on a permanent basis.

Unfortunately, Gremio didn’t have the financial capability of sealing a permanent move for the Brazilian, so he returned back to the club and even voiced his disgust of coming back to a place where he clearly wasn’t wanted.

Arsenal went to the Far East for the Asia Tour but Andre Santos was left in London and he harbored hopes of finding a new suitor in need of his services. With no club showing serious interest in the shambolic Brazilian, he went the way of his compatriot, Denilson, and after a mutual agreement with Arsenal, his contract was terminated.

Flamengo swooped for the Brazilian that was now a free agent, and offered him a two-year deal for him to get his career back on track. Kudos to the Brazilian for realizing the importance of opting to leave and play football, rather than staying at Arsenal to see out his contract while stagnating as a footballer.

I’ll always remember Andre Santos for his cuddly smile, hilarious tweets and other off the pitch shenanigans, but on it, he was one hell of a liability and Arsenal paid dearly on several occasions as well.

I wish Andre Santos all the best in his time with Flamengo, but from the depth of my heart, he will not be missed.

Sayonara.

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Rating Arsenal’s Defenders’ Performances in the 2012/13 Season

A bedrock for next season?

Arsenal and defending – two words that don’t go in tandem with each other.

Arsene Wenger has built his football on free-flowing attacking football and times without number, his team has been caught out at the back and there are even times when the Gunners shoot themselves in the foot as they become plotters of their own downfall.

As expected, injuries, suspensions and decline of form took its toll on Arsenal’s defensive rearguard and Arsene Wenger managed to use almost all the defenders in the club’s payroll at some point in the season.

While the big guns featured regularly in the Premier League and the Champions League, the Capital One Cup served as a breeding ground for some young guns and fringe players, and the dead-rubber game against Olympiakos also saw deadwood like Sebastien Squillaci get a run-out as well.

While Per Mertesacker cemented his status as Arsene Wenger’s first choice defender, Thomas Vermaelen partnered the gentle giant by the mere fact that he was the skipper, because his form painted a different picture. When the manager realized how appalling his skipper had become, he made the bold move to axe the Belgian in place of a resurgent Laurent Koscielny.

While Wenger shuffled between his defensive trio of Mertesacker, Vermaelen and Koscielny, there was no room for Johan Djourou that was shipped out to Hannover 96 and the defender has reiterated his desire to remain in Germany. As for Sebastien Squillaci and Ignasi Miquel, they are living on borrowed time.

In the fullback positions, Bacary Sagna’s second leg fracture last season paved the way for Carl Jenkinson to get some first-team action under his belt. On Sagna’s return, he was drafted into the team and failed to replicate that the form of the yesteryear. On the left, Kieran Gibbs was an automatic starter but his fitness was a thorn in his flesh allowing Andre Santos to put up his calamitous outings on a consistent basis.

With Andre Santos failing to impress and Gibbs suffering one of his trademark injuries, Wenger wasted no time in delving into the transfer window to acquire Nacho Monreal’s services.

This is the second installment of a four-post series focused on Arsenal’s performances in the 2012/13 season. I’ve already shared my views on the performances of the goalkeepers but today’s post is focused on Arsenal’s defensive rearguard.

Feel free to share your comments.

Thomas Vermaelen – 39 Apps, One Goal

With club captain, Robin van Persie, departing to join Manchester United, Arsene Wenger was forced with a decision to make regarding the man that was going to lead his team in the 2012/13 campaign. I was looking forward to a new era under the reins of a captain that signed a new deal without thinking twice, stating his love for Arsenal was his primary reason.

He has the aggression of Nemanja Vidic, leaped off the ground easily like a kangaroo, has a gung-ho attitude, good technique on the ball and offered a threat in the opposition’s goal.

The Verm was part of the Arsenal side that kept three clean sheets on the trot but an illness prevented him from playing in his team’s crucial visit to the Etihad Stadium, and his able replacement, Laurent Koscielny, scored the goal that earned Arsenal a share of the spoils. Koscielny and Per Mertesacker played very well that day but Wenger inexplicably chose to bench the “slow” German against Chelsea, as he was probably scared of the pace of the Blues’ attack.

Playing Vermaelen and Koscielny together was like a time-bomb and the captain was culpable for two schoolboy errors that led to both goals scored by Chelsea. They struggled again as a pair when Olympiakos visited the Emirates and despite the fact that the Verm was the weaker link of the two, Koscielny was sacrificed for Mertesacker when the Gunners visited Upton Park to play West Ham.

When Arsenal visited Old Trafford in a game marred by the escapades of Robin van Persie, it took only three minutes for the Red Devils to take the lead when Vermaelen handed RVP a nice assist on a platter. Fast forward to the Capital One Cup quarterfinal clash with Bradford City and despite scoring Arsenal’s late equalizer, Vermaelen missed the penalty that saw his team crash out of the competition.

More appalling performances particularly against Liverpool (home) and Manchester City (home) followed but the last straw was undoubtedly his atrocious outing against Tottenham (away). Wenger axed him from the squad from that moment on and he could only manage a game against Norwich (home) because Mertesacker was suspended.

I must truly say that the Verminator has been a big disappointment in his first season as captain of Arsenal Football Club.

Rating – 4/10

Per Mertesacker – 44 Apps, Three Goals

After playing 27 games in his first season with Arsenal, Per Mertesacker’s season reached an abrupt end when Arsenal visited Sunderland in that pitch good enough to raise cattle. He recovered in time for Euro 2012 but he failed to make any appearance with Holger Badstuber and Matts Hummels playing every game for Germany in the tournament.

Mertesacker began the campaign alongside Thomas Vermaelen and they worked in tandem to get three clean sheets on the bounce at the start of the season. If you thought Mertesacker’s performance against Liverpool (away) was superb, his outing against Manchester City (away) was one of his best in Arsenal colors, as he made so many Per-fect Merte-ceptions in the course of the game.

He proved his worth to the squad when he wasn’t on the pitch as Arsenal struggled in his absence with Vermaelen and Koscielny failing to click with each other. When they played with each other, they lacked the calmness, coordination, composure and positional discipline the BFG had.

He also added goals to his game with three headers against Tottenham (twice) as well as the match winner in the crucial game against Fulham (away). This season, Mertesacker became a mainstay in the team and he has excelled admirably in his defensive duties.

He’s known for being a very clean defender but he got his hands dirty with his first red card in Arsenal colors. However, that game will be forever remembered for the innovative tackle he attempted with his back. It was a truly remarkable season for the big friendly giant and I hope he builds on it.

Rating – 9/10

Laurent Koscielny – 34 Apps, Four Goals

Laurent Koscielny was Arsenal’s best defender by a far mile last season and he had grown from strength to strength since that his horrendous error in Wembley against Birmingham City. After signing a long-term deal with the club, he didn’t begin the campaign well as an injury hindered his progress.

He marked his return to first-team action with a late equalizer against Manchester City (away), forging a formidable partnership with Mertesacker. His inspired performance at the Etihad coupled with Vermaelen’s return to the team saw the manager sacrifice Mertesacker in the home clash against Chelsea. Despite the fact that Vermaelen was at fault for the set pieces that led to the goals, Koscielny also had a hand in both goals as he failed to mark Fernando Torres probably for the first and the ball deflected off his shin into the net for the second.

This led to the Frenchman spending a lot of time in the dugout but he featured and scored a vital goal in that pulsating encounter against Reading (away) in the Capital One Cup. When he was recalled back into the first team following Vermaelen’s dip in form, he grabbed the bull by the horns and took his chance against Bayern Munich (away) with an outstanding performance capped by a headed goal late on.

Since then, Koscielny became an ever-present figure and he contributed immensely to Arsenal’s cause with that assist for his defensive partner, Per Mertesacker, against Fulham as well as a plethora of vital interceptions in defense. To crown a great season for the Frenchman, he scored the goal that secured Champions League football for his team for the season in a row.

Rating – 8/10

The goal that guaranteed Champions League football

Bacary Sagna – 30 Apps, No Goal

In recent times, Bacary Sagna has been marred by long-term injuries that has taken its toll on his career. Suffering two fractures on the same leg must have been a horrific experience but as we all know, football isn’t really a forgiving sport.

With Carl Jenkinson deputizing admirably in Sagna’s absence, many wondered if the Bac Man would replicate the form that won him a place in the 2008 PFA Team of the Year. After a couple of Under-21 fixtures under his belt, Sagna made his long-awaited return against Queens Park Rangers (home), much to the delight of the Arsenal faithful.

Sagna’s continued run of games dented Jenkinson’s progress but unlike the young Englishman that swung crosses into the box with consummate ease, Sagna’s distribution was downright erratic with the ball ending up as a throw-in most times. Then came the torrid run of performances, as Sagna was consistently caught out against Chelsea (away), made Gabby Obertan look like Ronaldinho when Newcastle came to town and his poor clearance led to Gaston Ramirez’ goal when the Gunners visited St. Mary’s.

Amidst the horrible vein of form, Sagna got his moment of redemption when an injury to Koscielny forced Arsene Wenger to play him in an unorthodox center back role with Jenkinson drafted to the right. The fullback’s naivety played a role in him being sent off for two bookable offenses and with Aaron Ramsey becoming a make-shift right back, Sagna was a colossus in defense alongside Mertesacker.

As he continued to struggle with form, Sagna got on every Gooner’s bad books when he foolishly squandered possession to Robin van Persie before hacking him down in the box, forcing the ref to point to the spot. This has been a season Sagna couldn’t wait to come to an end.

Rating – 4/10

Carl Jenkinson – 21 Apps, No Goal

Despite the fact that Carl Jenkinson hasn’t had as much game time as he would have wanted, this has certainly been one hell of a campaign for this young lad.

While Sagna nursed his leg injury, Jenkinson deputized in his stead, putting up committed performances that endeared him to the Arsenal faithful. His work rate was exemplary and he covered every blade of grass like his life depended on it.

His fairy tale campaign reached its zenith when he was called up by Wily Ol’ Woy Hodgson for his maiden international appearance and he featured in the Zlatan Ibrahimovic-inspired performances in Sweden’s 4-2 win over England. I still can’t get over Ibrahimovic’s incredible 30-yard overhead bicycle kick goal, and it gets better with each passing replay.

Jenkinson also signed a long-term deal with the club but his performances against Swansea (home) and Sunderland (away) showed that even if youthful exuberance is the order of the day, there’s no substitute for experience.

What I can take from this season is that Arsene Wenger can rely on this young lad to put in a great shift when the need arises. With Jenko in our ranks, the future is very bright.

Rating – 7/10

Kieran Gibbs – 34 Apps, One Goal

For those that don’t know, this was the first season Kieran Gibbs had over 30 games for Arsenal in an entire campaign. He’s a player that has become synonymous with injuries and he showed that yet again this season, forcing his manager to delve into the transfer market when he nursed a thigh strain for six weeks.

Gibbs has been highly impressive this season and his output on the final third has drastically improved as well, with the Englishman having five assists to his name this season. For a considerable chunk of the campaign, Gibbs was a mainstay in the team but when he suffered a lengthy lay off, the manager signed an experienced Spanish left back, that has brought stiff competition between both players, which also brought about stellar performances from both players, for the good of the team.

Gibbs also scored a screamer against Swansea in the FA Cup and it looked like a goal worth winning a football match but Arsenal’s lax defending brought Swansea back into the contest. With Monreal bracing himself for his first full season in England, Gibbs will be in for a challenge and I’m sure he’s relishing it.

Rating – 7/10

Nacho Monreal – 11 Apps, One Goal

January 30, 2013.

Arsenal host Liverpool in a Premier League encounter of huge significance to both sides. The visitors open the scoring with a deflected shot from Luiz Suarez then Kieran Gibbs suffers an injury forcing the manager to make a tactical change. With the only defensive options on the bench being Laurent Koscielny and Andre Santos, many Gooners (me included) rightly believed that the Frenchman would be summoned, thereby making Vermaelen play the left back.

The fourth official raises his board up and Andre Santos comes into the pitch much to the fury of some fans that haven’t forgiving him for his antics in Old Trafford. Within moments of his introduction, Jordan Henderson skips past him with ease and instead of trying to win the ball back he doesn’t even make a decent challenge. With a stroke of luck, Liverpool is two up.

Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott save the day but Wenger has seen enough from the atrocious Brazilian and he delves into the transfer market to buy Nacho Monreal. Just two days after his arrival, he makes his debut in a baptism of fire against Stoke (home). He was part of that defense that held the fort against Sunderland (away) but he couldn’t play against Bayern (home) because he was cup-tied.

After making the match-winning assist against Aston Villa (home), he becomes part of that defense that struggled badly against Tottenham. Following Arsenal’s Champions League exit, Monreal scores the first goal against Swansea the first of many goals Arsenal scored in its surge for fourth place.

With Gibbs returning to fitness, he and Monreal battled for the right to become Arsenal’s No. 1 left back and this competition brought the best in both players. While Monreal offers a keen sense of security and stability at the back, I feel he should improve in his distribution on the final third. The battle with Gibbs continues next season.

Rating – 7/10

Andre Santos – 12 Apps, No Goal

To be honest, Andre Santos is one of the most lovable characters in Arsenal.

His lovely smile, his hilarious tweets and nice attitude off the pitch. I still have fresh memories of all three goals he scored last season – the match winner against Olympiakos (home), the vital equalizer in that RVP-inspired win over Chelsea (away) and the equalizer before half time against West Brom (away) on the final day.

This season, things have gone awry for the Brazilian and his performances on the pitch have been nothing short of appalling. His poor positional awareness and dismal defending has cost his team times without number with his performances in the games against Schalke (home), Manchester United (away), Liverpool (home) and Brighton (away) bringing him to the bad books of Arsenal fans.

His performance against Manchester United was so putrid yet he couldn’t even wait for the game to be over before requesting for RVP’s jersey, as that probably meant more to him than the game.

After another bad showing against Liverpool, the manager went to the transfer window when Gibbs suffered an injury, clearly indicating that he had no further plans in his team.

In his touching goodbye message to the club and the fans, Andre Santos thanked everyone for their support and hopes to come back soon. For the good of everyone concerned with Arsenal, I hope that Gremio signs him on a permanent basis.

Rating – 2/10

Sebastien Squillaci, Ignasi Miquel and Johan Djourou – Collective total of Six Apps

Ah! The deadwood.

Arsenal bought Sebastien Squillaci with the hope that would use his “experience” to guide the younger defenders in the team as well as putting up a good shift when the need arose. Squillaci was so poor that his only appearance this season coming up in a dead rubber fixture against Olympiakos. Thank Heavens his contract is expiring soon.

Rating – 0/10

Ignasi Miquel is a youngster tipped for great things but I still don’t know when he’s going to realize that potential. All he can boast of this season was a start against Coventry (home) in the Capital One Cup and a late substitute appearance against Sunderland (away) when the Gunners wanted to preserve their priceless 1-0 lead. Not good enough.

Rating – 2/10

Johan Djourou was Arsenal’s most consistent defender in the 2010/11 season. When he got injured in the tail end of that campaign, his team struggled which highlighted his importance to the side. Last season, he struggled in make-shift positions as a fullback and wasn’t even convincing enough when he played as a center back, earning an unwarranted red card against Fulham (away) that put his team under intense pressure.

This season, Djourou could only make two appearances in the Capital One Cup before he was shipped out to Germany. Shame.

Rating – 1/10

So there you have it, the second of four posts focused on different playing positions in the team. My take on the midfield comes up next.

The voting sequence for the 2012/13 End of Season awards is still ongoing, so feel free tomake your votes count in the polls.

Sayonara.

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Arsenal Latest: Injury Concerns, Post-Sunderland Ramblings and Andre Santos Out

With the African Cup of Nations out of the way, football fans like me look forward to the end of the campaign to see Nigeria play in the 2013 Confederations Cup. The draws haven’t been “too kind” for my nation as Nigeria has been drawn with World and European champions, Spain, South American champions, Uruguay and Tahiti completes the numbers.

There’s a lot of football to be played between now and June so all focus would be firmly fixed on Arsenal’s surge for a fourth place finish as well as going all the way in the FA Cup. As for the two-legged tie against Bayern Munich, you’ll hear from me in the coming weeks.

Champions League football is back on our TV screens as the fiery Celtic will take on the Old Lady, Juventus while Valencia hosts the Arab moneybags from Paris. Every neutral is also anticipating tomorrow’s mouthwatering clash between Manchester United and Real Madrid, and Jose Mourinho was seen in Old Trafford when Manchester United eased past Everton to go 12 points clear at the top.

That win over Everton was good from an Arsenal perspective as it gave the Gunners some breathing space from Everton, with Tottenham and Chelsea the new targets set in place. Both teams were successful in the weekend as Gareth Bale inspired his team yet again to a victory against those French folks at Newcastle, while Chelsea ran riot past Wigan.

Arsenal’s cause wasn’t helped against Sunderland after to turning points in the game – Jack Wilshere’s thigh injury and Carl Jenkinson’s red card.

Nonetheless, the Gunners defended valiantly and a win with the odds stacked against them must have bolstered their confidence. I was very impressed with Bacary Sagna’s positioning and discipline. Despite playing out of position when Laurent Koscielny got a knock during the warm-up, Sagna was drafted into the middle in the last minute and boy, did he put up a show. 

Aaron Ramsey’s work ethic is what commending as well, as he became Arsenal’s right back after Jenko’s red card and in my honest opinion, he did very well there. This was a player that was pulled out from his national side with a calf injury but he worked his skins of for his team in the Stadium of Light.

Wojciech Szczesny was a beast in goal and he commanded his area like a general in battle. He also made some good saves as the game progressed and it was good seeing the big Pole keep his second clean sheet in a row with fixtures against Blackburn and Bayern Munich coming up.

Szczesny has praised his team’s character (via Arsenal.com) in the wake of the nervy victory against Sunderland and he hailed a defensive rearguard that had never played together before. To be frank, that was the first time I witnessed the Jenkinson-Sagna-Mertesacker-Monreal combo and they were brilliant.

Arsene Wenger hailed his team’s display and hopes that they can build on it. Results like these inspire confidence and one can understand where the manager is coming from. When Arsenal played Sunderland and Stoke at the start of the season, the team hadn’t adjusted to the loss of Robin van Persie and despite keeping clean sheets at the back, the Gunners were shooting blanks in attack.

But with Arsenal running out of games, they’ll have to ensure that they don’t drop any more points, as the teams above them continue to win while sides like Everton as also breathing down their necks as well. Mikel Arteta has acknowledged that qualifying for the Champions League this season won’t be an easy feat, but he remains confident that Arsenal has what it takes to cross the finish line come May.

This was the period last season when the Gunners lost to AC Milan and Sunderland in quick-fire fashion but the 5-2 win over Spurs sparked a revival that paved the way for a good end to the campaign.

The game between Sunderland and Arsenal turned out to be a battle and like every battle, there were some casualties.

Jack Wilshere ran the show against the Black Cats in the first half and it was no surprise when he was directly involved in the game’s only goal. It took a solo run from the maestro to teeing up Theo Walcott that looked up before cushioning a pass for Santi Cazorla and the rest they say was history.

In the early minutes of the second half, Wilshere clashed with Alfred N’ Diaye and within seconds, he notified the bench that his time was up. That wasn’t a great sight as everyone connected with Arsenal became deeply concerned, and shortly afterwards, he was replaced by Abou Diaby.

Arsene Wenger stated that he may be out for four to five days, and the club will be doing everything possible to make sure that he’ll be fit for the clash against Bayern. The quality in the squad should be more than enough to see out the threat of Blackburn this weekend.

With Jenkinson suspended for this weekend’s match, Arsenal will be thin-bare in defense, as Koscielny is currently out of action, as well as club captain, Thomas Vermaelen, that’s currently nursing an ankle injury. The Daily Mail reports that Arsenal’s skipper has had an anti-inflammatory injection on his ankle in the club’s bid to avoid a surgery for the player.

If Vermaelen goes under the knife to solve his ankle problems, the chances of him featuring this season will be slim to none. 

On the bright side, Lukasz Fabianski made his long-awaited return to fitness in Arsenal’s Under-21s 2-2 draw with Manchester United. Hot prospect, Chuba Akpom, scored both goals in the contest and other promising players like Serge Gnabry, Thomas Eisfeld, Nico Yennaris, Martin Angha, Conor Henderson and Ignasi Miquel featured as well.

For those who say that Arsene Wenger is very mild on his players, here’s another reality check.

Enter Andre Santos, a panic-buy from Fenerbahce in 2011 that was believed to join the long lineage of great Arsenal left backs after Gael Clichy decided not to renew his contract to opt for the petro-greens of Manchester City. Kieran Gibbs was touted as Clichy’s long-term replacement, but he wasn’t reliable enough to stay fit.

With Gibbs facing a spell on the sidelines during that period, the left back slot was Andre Santos for keeps and like every new signing, the fans watched his games with optimism. His opening goal against Olympiakos came from one of his forays forward and he also played a key role in the away games against Chelsea and West Brom with well-taken goals after darting forward.

He was more or less a wing back, as he derived joy in bombing forward while neglecting his defensive duties. To spare his blushes, he had a red-hot Koscielny, that always covered ground to make vital interceptions when Andre Santos was out of position.

Kieran Gibbs return to full fitness as well as consistent game time saw the player become reborn and he became a bright spark in Arsenal’s campaign thus far. More games for Gibbs ultimately meant that Andre Santos was going to spend more time in the dugout but when the Brazilian was summoned into the pitch, he became a Chamakh 2.0.

He was badly exposed in Arsenal’s shameful group stage defeat to Schalke 04 and the more Andre Santos played, the higher the risk of Arsenal conceding a goal with a cross from the right hand side, as if the team’s defensive problems weren’t enough already.

While his cup was getting full with the fans, he reached his breaking point when he exchanged jerseys with van Persie at halftime, despite putting up a torrid display all game long. While Arsene Wenger kept calm, fans voiced their disgust on that act and many Gooners put the all-smiley, cuddly maverick on their bad books.

Despite the pleas from the fans for the club to get a striker and a holding midfielder, Arsenal acted faster than Usain Bolt on transfer deadline day when Kieran Gibbs picked up an injury against Liverpool. With Thomas Vermaelen’s fitness being an issue, the chances of featuring him as a left back for a considerable chunk of the season weren’t in Wenger’s lexicon.

So the club swooped for Nacho Monreal that has slotted in superbly into the defensive line, like he has been there for ages. Arsenal has decided to offload the Brazilian to Gremio, and he’ll be there till the end of the season.

This means that Monreal will make the left back slot his for keeps, till Kieran Gibbs returns to full fitness, then the real battle will begin.

Sayonara.

 

Post-Man Utd Ramblings and Andre Santos the Scapegoat

Inevitable

 

For some strange reason, I wasn’t surprised by Saturday’s disappointing result in Hades Old Trafford. The stats were certainly against the Gunners as Arsene Wenger’s men have put up appalling displays in the Theater of Dreams (*spits*) in the past and one can look no further than the humiliating capitulation the Gunners suffered last season.

The game had barely settled when another Thomas Vermaelen error (sighs) allowed Robin van Persie to blast the ball home, giving the hosts the edge early on. Unlike Emmanuel Greedybayor, van Persie “respectfully” failed to celebrate his goal, with both hands on the air, pleading to the Arsenal faithful.

Looking at both ends of the scale leading to Man Utd’s first goal, it’s fair to point out that despite being the new captain of the club, the Verm has been disappointing this campaign, and his errors have proved very costly for his team this season. As Arseblogger rightly pointed out, had other centre-halves made the mistake he did on Saturday for the van Persie goal they would have been slaughtered by Arsene Wenger, a manager with an iron fist wearing a velvet glove.

As the No. 1 football citizen of the club, Vermaelen needs to spur on his team with inspiring performances and I can bet that watching that goal go in that early took the steam off the lads as the game progressed.

Van Persie on the other hand, was a constant threat to his former employers and it took just three minutes to show the Gunners what they let go for footballing reasons. I’m certainly in no mood to open up healing wounds but seeing van Persie excel in a rival team while his replacement, Olivier Giroud, is still struggling is a very bitter pill to swallow.

After the game, van Persie stated that he didn’t want to celebrate his goal to antagonize the Arsenal faithful but when Arsene Wenger was asked about his take on RvP’s goal, he humbly stated that he doesn’t give two fledgling fucks, putting it mildly,

“Honestly, that doesn’t bother me at all. That doesn’t matter. What you want is to win the game. You don’t care about who scores in their team. What is most important is that you don’t make a mistake at the back and you don’t give chances away.”

The gaffer also spoke about Jack Wilshere’s red card, claiming that it was unlucky. This season, Premier League referees have come under the spotlight for the decisions they make on the pitch but like the 11 players on the field, many refs have struggled with consistency as well.

I’m not going to defend Wilshere because he was warned a couple of times but his rustiness got the better of him as Patrice Evra robbed him off the ball before getting scythed down shortly afterwards.

Turning point of the game…from an Arsenal perspective

However, Manchester United’s Tom Cleverley was in a somewhat similar situation to Wilshere in terms of walking on a tight rope after getting a booking and Sir Alex Ferguson wasted no time in replacing him with that T-Pain wannabe, Anderson. Wenger had the option of taking Wilshere out for Francis Coquelin, but with the Gunners trailing, Wilshere’s qualities were needed on the pitch but it was not to be, I guess.

Then there’s the issue of Arsenal’s toothless attack.

With Gervinho and the Ox out injured, Arsenal has become thin bare in terms of attacking personnel and it’s really disheartening to see the lack of cohesion among the front three in recent games.

Lukas Podolski has struggled for form and fitness, Aaron Ramsey’s outing on the right is rapidly becoming a failed experiment, Theo Walcott is still finding it hard to command a first team berth and Giroud has failed to hit the ground running.

The Frenchman had half chances to bring Arsenal back into the game but he failed to capitalize on them, meanwhile, van Persie wasted no time in burying the very first chance he had.

That shows you the big picture, doesn’t it?

However, Giroud has already fixed his sights on tomorrow’s game against Schalke 04 in Gersenkirchen, stating that his team should forget the critics and get in shape for the game against the German outfit. As always, Giroud knows how to get himself into very dangerous positions but he really needs to improve on his finishing, because he really sucks in that department.

To think that he slammed in 21 goals in Ligue 1?

Finally, I’m going to voice my opinion on this humorous incident involving Andre Santos and van Persie in the stroke of halftime.

When Kieran Gibbs started every game at the beginning of the season, Andre Santos spent a considerable amount of time on the bench, which afforded him the time to execute a Grand Theft Auto speeding stunt that saw his Driver’s License revoked for the best part of one year.

Gibbs was part of that brilliant early season back four that kept consecutive clean sheets and put up stellar defensive performances, which in turn caused the players, fans, club and media vultures alike to wax lyrical about the defensive Dark Lord, Steve Bouldimort.

With Gibbs out injured nursing a thigh strain, Andre Santos was awarded with a golden chance to stake a claim for the No. 3 jersey but his outing against Schalke 04 was very atrocious. He didn’t do too well against Norwich and QPR either but a game of this magnitude required top-notch concentration levels.

As expected, the match opener arrived from Andre Santos’ flank when Antonio Valencia and Rafael connected well before drilling  in the cross that was enough to put the Gunners to the sword.

When we taught that we had seen it all, Andre Santos couldn’t even wait for van Persie to enter the tunnel before requesting for his jersey, as that was his problem at that point, rather than reflecting on a poor first half he had.

This act caused an outrage on Twitter and the Brazilian left back was on the end of some harsh tweets from Arsenal fans as well as recognized journos.

Even ex-Gunner, Ray Parlour, got in on the act,

“That’s a joke. I wouldn’t have that. At half-time? He should be concentrating on his game and he was having a nightmare.”

“He can’t play in a back four as he gets caught out of position all the time.”

In fairness to Andre Santos, the entire Arsenal team pretty much sucked on Saturday (with the exception of Vito Mannone, I guess) but the backlash of his actions could have further ramifications in the future.

According to the Mirror, the Samba Boy has been heavily linked with a move to Turkey, and I see the Gunners cashing in on the maverick if the right offer comes. Besides, Arsenal is not a selling club, but a trading club.

This excellent article by Poznan in my Pants will give you more clarification on my last sentence.

Maybe it’s just me, but Andre Santos has clearly shown that he cannot be Arsenal’s left back for the long term. With Kieran Gibbs’ injury demons catching up with him yet again, it wouldn’t be a bad idea cashing in on Andre Santos to get an established left back like Leighton Baines.

But as the saying goes – Arsene Knows Best.

Sayonara

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