By Ollie Irish
First in the alphabet… first come May?
Goalkeepers – Arsenal are a top-four team without a top-four goalkeeper – still. A top-four keeper is one who makes very few mistakes, and therefore one who, crucially, inspires confidence in his defenders. Manuel Almunia can be a wonderful keeper at times, then later in the same match he can flap for a ball like a baby bird; he is not a top-four keeper. Neither is the promising Lukasz Fabianski, who reportedly looks superb in training – but what use is that if he then self-destructs in competitive games? The biggest fear for Arsenals fans going into this season is that Arsene Wenger won’t buy a top-four keeper. It looks likely that Mark Schwarzer will stay at Fulham, on the orders of new manager Mark Hughes, but I wonder why Wenger doesn’t pull out more stops to sign a proper No.1. Perhaps that’s exactly what he’s doing, but I suspect instead that he will shrug and stubbornly stick with the flawed keepers he has. If so, Arsenal will lose precious points throughout the season due to errors under the crossbar, as they did last season. Such a costly drip-drip is corrosive to morale.
Defenders – At centre-back, the divisive figure of William Gallas has been replaced by another Frenchman, in the form of gangly Laurent Koscielny (pictured above). It’s too early to judge Koscielny but from what I’ve seen and heard he’s got what it takes to form a very effective, if inexperienced partnership with Thomas Vermaelen. Pre-season reports say he is composed on the ball and plays with his head up. Good signs.
With Big Sol Campbell now at Newcastle, and Mikael Silvestre also gone, Arsenal really need to sign one more centre-back though, and soon. Bosnian Emir Spahic could join from Montpelier. Germany’s Per Mertesacker, who would have been a very popular signing, will not play for Arsenal any time soon, however – Werder Bremen don’t want to sell him.
Arsenal look strong enough at full-back, with Gael Clichy (back to near his best come the end of last season), Bacary Sagna, Kieran Gibbs and Armand Traore available; Wenger is not one to neglect FBs, but I do think he could find a better reserve left-back than Traore, who is poor when put on the back foot. Utility man Emmanuel Eboue will get his chances too.
Midfielders – First things first: the Catalan elephant just left the room. Cesc Fabregas is staying put, probably for one more season (a la Cristiano Ronaldo). He will skipper Arsenal this year, which is a huge boost for the club – after all, he’s a world-class midfielder with two major international trophies tucked safely in his shorts, so what’s not to like?
Around Cesc, who is obviously the team’s fulcrum, Arsenal have a solid bunch of MFs, though I think they could do with one more experienced defensive midfielder – Emmanuel