So, the great marks out of ten review begins. Avanti!
A 7 I hear you cry? Surely Jens has had a poor season, flapping about too often, his mind not always on the ball as he has no world-cup to keep sharp for. Well, rubbish, rubbish, rubbish. If Jens has had a poor season it's because he's far too often had a shambles of a defence in front of him. If a goalkeeper is, justifiably in this case, unsure of his defenders, mistakes happen. But even then, how many times has really been at fault this year? Some glaring errors are obviously notable; sometimes his penchant for streaming out of the goal does back fire - Sheff Utd away and Fulham home come to mind. But he is still capable of producing match-winning performances - Utd away, Reading at home - and we would have lost matches such as those against Chelsea if not for superb last minute saves. In short, he's still a keeper who win matches and he remains one of the best about.
There's a phrase you can use for quite a few of our player this season: 'solid but not spectacular'. Unfortunately Manuel falls squarely into this category. He's done reasonably enough when called upon, even if I'm worried that alternating goalkeepers is not a strategy which breeds defensive stability. Arsene should have chosen one and stuck with them. The feeling I persistently get with Almunia is that he is a fairly reliable keeper, but not one that will win the team matches. I still think he could have kept out the first goal in the Carling Cup final. That's why I don't think he's no.1 material, and also why calls in some quarters to drop Jens earlier in the season were unfair. And with the signing of Fabianski, Manuel must surely be reviewing his situation.
Perhaps a little harsh, I must admit, but I struggle to think of what Justin really offered the team this year. Stability at the back? Perhaps, but only in contrast to Eboue. Justin has hardly set the world on fire, perhaps understandably given his position, and he's never really looked a defensive rock. He's come on a long way this season, but he needs to improve considerably to convince me of his abilities.
He has been the better of the right backs this season, offering far more going forward, and contributing more to the team's general play. Yet the diving remains; the theatrics remain; he switches off defensively far too often. Eboue looks the greater prospect of out of our two right-backs, but it would be an area I would improve with signings.
After ostensibly forcing his way into the first team last year with several strong performances in the Champions League run, Phillipe has had a torrid season. Aside from several more than reasonable performances in the Carling Cup, he's been unable to really break back into the team due to the signing of Gallas and a spate of injuries. He could well go in the summer, if not next season, if his luck doesn't change. Yet I still think Phil has the makings of a world class defender. I also think that Gallas and Senderos might be our strongest centre back partnership. If Arsene isn't going to use him, a tall centre-back with aerial dominance should be a priority, as our present inability to deal with set-pieces is embarrassing.
We all love him don't we; everyone loves a trier and you know that you'll always get 100% from Kolo. But without a tall dominant player next to him, Kolo looked shaky on a number of occasions last year. Could it be that his position as a fans' favourite has muddied our perception of his defensive abilities? I think maybe. I know he'll certainly be looking to improve next season, as he's been at fault for a number of goals this year. Dropping him still seems almost inconceivable, however, which is not always a good thing.
Hasn't performed to the level we've hoped, but has not been as bad as many people claim. Remains a better centre back than Kolo, and must be baffled by our inability to organise our defence after his time at Chelsea. As it is, if we don't win anything next season, he will leave. Must stop mouthing off in the press, even if his comments often have a strong kernel of truth to them. (not the bits about 'The Great William Gallas', by the way.)
I continue to be impressed by Johann, even if he, again, can't head too well. Very comfortable with the ball at his feet and has an excellent sense of defensive timing. Will look to break into the first team a bit more next year.
One of the real bright spots of last year was watching Gael emerge into a more than adequate replacement for 'he who shall not be named'. He can tackle, pass and get forward, even if his crossing is an area for improvement. In short, he is willing to work hard and he has the ability to go with it. I'm genuinely excited about the continuation of his development next year and he's convinced me that he's a potentially world-class left-back.
Very young and showed it, andt 17 it could really go either way. Currently better going forward than defensively, he may find his opportunities severely limited by Clichy.
Our defence was a constant source of weakness last year. It was unable to deal with set-pieces and aerial threats, it constantly looked poorly organised, and it seemed to be able to let teams score with their own shot on goal - quite the party trick. Organisation and steel is needed, as is a decision regarding whether Gallas and Kolo are compatible. Because even if we get a few goal-scoring midfielders in, their impact will be blunted if we continue to concede so cheaply.