Defenders: Out with the old and in with the new

So Phil Senderos has officially left Arsenal – two seasons after he effectively did anyway.

There’s been a lot of goodwill on Twitter and across the blogs and that’s fair enough. Senderos was an uncomplicated player who gave his all, never moaned and represented the club very well indeed.

He was an up-and-down player though, with some commanding performances early in his career contrasting with plenty of wobblier ones at other points. Perhaps not surprising for a young player – one who is still only 25 years old now.

But I’m glad he’s gone.

Why? It’s got nothing to do with him at all. He’s a player who can and probably will still come good given the chance and a fair wind with injuries. Who knows, that may have happened at Arsenal in the past, but it’s not going to happen now. So he needed to go to reignite his own career, but nor is it a bad thing for Arsenal either. As a club, we need to properly address our defence, and we won’t do that by looking backwards.

Which is why there’s no reason to despair at the prospect of Gallas, Silvestre and even Campbell’s departures either. All are past their best, and while Campbell is a special case – his desire was palpable and put others to shame at times last season – even in a best-case scenario he’d have been third choice in 2010-11.

Look at our defensive record over the last few seasons. We’ve conceded 8, 9, 13 and 9 goals more than the league winners since we moved to the Grove, a consistent deficit. We have not eradicated bad defending as a unit, nor have we eradicated individual lapses of concentration – so much so that we are now seen as defensive soft touches. We get targeted between the sticks and we get targeted at set pieces. Such targeting often works.

That’s got to change, and a clean sweep of the brush might not be such a bad thing.

There’s no point worrying that if all three depart, then we’ll only have Djourou and Vermaelen left. There’s no way Wenger would leave it that way.

Sure, there’s a risk that starting next season with a new keeper and two new centre backs might be unsettling for a while. But it’s a risk worth taking compared to another season of the same problems.

In the meantime, I hope Big Phil makes it big and proves Wenger wrong. Not many players have left and done that – but I can’t imagine many Arsenal fans would begrudge him a renaissance if he did.

Busy summer looms as Arsenal’s season crumbles

Blackburn 2-1 Arsenal

Another day, another lifeless defeat.

Our ‘easy run-in’ has turned into a nightmare, with one point from the last 12 and a succession of infuriatingly weak, insipid performances. The alarm bells are ringing loud and clear.

A squad that was meant to end the season on a high – albeit just off the pace – has now completely given up the fight and there seems to be nothing whatsoever that Wenger can do about it.

A loss against Fulham, perish the thought, would leave us on 72 points, exactly the same amount as last season. Progress? It doesn’t feel like it.

I didn’t expect Wenger to lambast Flapianski in his post-match interview, but even he must cringe with embarrassment every time he has to defend such a liability. He was clearly at fault for the second goal. Blackburn saw him as the weak spot – they didn’t have to look too hard to find it – and successfully targeted him. Naturally, it worked.

Elsewhere on the pitch, after a fairly bright start we faded badly. Look at the starting XI and at the bench though and you can see part of the problem is simply a lack of quality available. It doesn’t excuse the lack of stomach for the fight but it does go some way to explaining the paucity of some of our play.

We have so many players out and the backups have simply not been good enough.

Let’s break yesterday’s squad of 18 into three groups.

There are at least five players there we simply wouldn’t miss, other than numerically. Not one of Fabianski, Silvestre, Traore, Vela, or Eduardo has improved this season. You can only assume that the new contracts offered to the latter two were given partly to ensure healthy sell-on fees.

Then there are others from yesterday’s 18 who are good squad players, but too inconsistent, immature, or ageing to be considered first-choice material next season. In that category I would put Eboue, Campbell, Walcott, Diaby, Mannone, Djourou, Gibbs, Eastmond and Henderson.

That leaves, as nailed-on starters from that 18, just Sagna, Nasri, Arshavin and van Persie. The form of Nasri and Arshavin has been up and down but to my mind, the quality is there.

So we are missing a lot of players, and in their absence we have seen that the balance is wrong, the collective will to win has been diluted and the quality is lacking. It’s not a good cocktail at all.

On yesterday’s evidence, it will be a busy summer for Wenger, chopping out the deadwood and bringing in players who possess the kind of drive and quality that will rub off on those of the squad who have the most to learn.

Apologies if this is a bit of a ramble but I thought I’d pour it all out and see how it dried.

Bring on the end of the season.

Match review: The nil-nillest of nil-nils

Arsenal 0-0 Manchester City

Season ticket renewal time is almost upon us – and what better way to offset the pain of some of the priciest tickets in the country than with a reminder of what Arsenal do best: Goals, technique, speed and a never-say-die attitude?

All those things will doubtless be unveiled against Fulham on 9th May, because yesterday’s goalless draw was as turgid an end-of-season game as you will ever see. It was instantly forgettable.

Which is all the more peculiar for the fact that City’s owners are palpably desperate for the kudos the Champions League would offer. If they miss out by a point or two come the end of the season, someone might want to ask Mancini why he ordered his team to come for nothing more than a draw against an Arsenal side with three straight defeats playing on the mind, an impressive cast list of crocks and one eye on the summer sunloungers.

Not that we were able to break down such a stifling lack of ambition. We had no real answer to it – a couple of shots on target only, the best of which was a van Persie free-kick that floated just high and wide.

We all wanted a reaction from the Wigan game, and in terms of commitment and focus, it was an improvement. It’s a shame that improvement didn’t translate into attacking threat.

It was a day for fans of defending, and while City did not venture forward much, of our players it was the “outstanding” Campbell – “Maybe you should take him to South Africa” Wenger said post-match – and the returning Song who caught the eye. Even the much-derided Micky Silver looked good.

If, hypothetically, we had a keeper showing signs of advanced shell-shock and wearing gloves lubed with WD-40, and we were looking for an easy game to parachute him into that would ease his frayed nerves, yesterday’s was that game. Fabianski had almost nothing to do all match, and certainly nothing remotely taxing, even by his standards.

We do have one thing to thank Adebayor for: His pig-tailed arrival in the 52nd minute at least sparked the game into a modicum of life. But once the vituperative songs had died down, there was no more papering over the cracks of a dull game and it and it wasn’t long before it was ambling along again, going nowhere fast.

Even eight minutes of added time, against a Faroese rookie keeper, produced no telling pressure from us and that was that.

“Losing to Wigan was in our heads, it was absolutely forbidden to lose, they didn’t throw everything forward blindly.” Can’t argue with that from Wenger.

From our point of view, it edged us closer to third, and therefore away from having to play a Champions League qualifier, and it arrested a losing streak.

But the Independent’s 4/10 rating seems about right.

Doubting Thomas’s red / Songtral defence

Lionel roars

It’s now just a week to go until Barcelona roll into the Grove, and quite honestly, I think I can allow myself another dose of early excitement. Yes, I know there’s a crucial Premier League game at St. Andrews first up – they’re all crucial now – but without a midweek match there’s plenty of time to think about both.

It’s all about Messi, with his spectacular hat-trick against Zaragoza (“that’s for Nayim”, I muttered) well worth a watch if you’ve not seen it. He’s in such ridiculous form at the moment that the world’s pundits are running out of players to compare him to. I can’t wait to see him play to be honest. I’m sure Wenger will devise a cunning plan involving the periscope sprinklers to negate him.

One person who does find the whole thing a bit weird is Thierry Henry, who has said “I don’t want to play against Arsenal”. I can understand the sentiment but it’s still odd to be seen to be talking yourself out of a place in the starting XI. Perhaps he knows already that he’s unlikely to start?

Verm but fair

I was surprised to learn that Arsenal tonight appealed against Vermaelen’s red card on the grounds of wrongful dismissal. I must admit, I did think the club would take the one-match ban on the chin, but clearly they a) feel they can get this one overturned or b) are sufficiently worried about Saturday to give it a go. Presumably the FA cannot extend it further if the appeal fails?

Songtral defence

Having seen Song drop into central defence against West Ham, and do very well there, it does of course give us more options for Saturday, albeit at the expense of the holding midfield role in which the Cameroonian has so excelled this season. Given the proximity of the next two games, I’m inclined to think Campbell will play in only one of them, and seeing that Arsenal have appealed against Vermaelen’s red, it could well be that Sol is earmarked for Barcelona only. That would leave Song and Silvestre as the only option for this weekend, which might explain the appeal. I could of course be talking absolute guff, but Campbell and Vermaelen, with Song mopping up in front, would be my choice for Barcelona.

Right then, laters.