Out with the old, in with the new
It is no secret that off the field, Arsenal’s build-up to the 2007/2008 season has been far from perfect. There was the loss of a certain Arsenal legend, the resignation/sacking of one of its most influential board members as well as the constant speculation that the club was in crisis thanks to a media barrage from just about every newspaper from an English-speaking country. But I am a realistic supporter and an optimist at heart, so instead of harping on the problems the club may have at this point in time, I would much rather focus on what the club does have at its disposal to achieve some success this season.
The club has lost two truly great players of the modern era in Thierry Henry and Fredrik Ljungberg, as well as Jose Antonio Reyes, Julio Baptista and Jeremie Aliadiere, but it has also signed the likes of Croatian striker Eduardo da Silva, French defender Bacary Sagna and Polish goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski to compliment a young and talented first team squad. There was a little bit of an outcry from a select group of Arsenal supporters about the supposed lack of big names being brought in, but the fact is that manager Arsene Wenger has never had much success with bringing in big name players and has proved to be far more adept at purchasing unknown gems and integrating them into his preferred style of play.
The new players have already shown signs in pre-season that they are more than up to the task. Fabianski looks set to challenge Jens Lehmann and Manuel Almunia as the team’s first-choice goalkeeper, and will no doubt be given chances in the Carling Cup if not the Premiership. Sagna has slotted neatly into the starting team on the right side of defence and looks set to maintain that position throughout the course of the season. Eduardo has also fit in well with various attacking partners and looks an exciting prospect up front. If his scoring record in Croatia is anything to go by then once settled, he is likely to be a reliable source of goals for the club - especially in games where Arsenal’s champagne football is not reaping the rewards.
The Arsenal Squad (Goalkeepers & Defence)
As for the rest of the squad, they are a year older and wiser and should prosper with the more individualistic senior players like Henry and Ljungberg now plying their trade away from Emirates Stadium. William Gallas and Kolo Toure struggled at times last season - mainly due to persistent injuries to the Frenchman - but the signs are there that the two are beginning to form the defensive partnership that will be crucial to the club’s success in the new season. Both players are athletic and composed on the ball and natural leaders on the pitch. If the pair can click then the Arsenal defence will be a much tougher nut to crack than it has been for the past three seasons. In the case of any injury Swiss duo Phillipe Senderos and Johan Djourou will be first-choice cover. Senderos has looked sharper than I have ever seen him in pre-season and Djourou remains an outstanding prospect. Both players will need guidance on the pitch from their more experienced teammates but can be relied upon to do the job when called upon.
The aforementioned Sagna will slot in on the right side of defence with Justin Hoyte and Emmanuel Eboue providing cover whilst the exciting Gael Clichy is a certain starter on the left. I have previously mentioned the importance of Clichy’s role to this side, but it is worth reemphasising. With a lack of width on the left wing the onus will be on the Frenchman to use his remarkable engine to motor up and down the left flank in a manner similar to ex-Real Madrid wing-back Roberto Carlos. Clichy has looked outstanding in pre-season and all the signs are there that this could be a very special year for a vastly underrated player. If the unthinkable does occur and Clichy takes a knock then fellow Frenchman Armand Traore will slot into his place. The 17-year-old is a raw prospect; strong, lighting quick and bursting with enthusiasm, and like Senderos and Djourou I have no doubt that he is a reliable enough defender to cover for Clichy when required.
What do you think?