Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Senderos's departure is no big loss, but we may have let him down.
I've put a photo up of Phil in the 04/05 kit because I feel that was his best time at the club.
After a rather unimpressive opening couple of games, Phil came in against Bayern Munich at Highbury and was absolutely superb. He was so good after this that he kept Sol Campbell out of the team for the remainder of the season, even keeping his place for the 2005 FA Cup final (some of you may remember this as the last time we won a trophy).
Phil repeated the trick in the 05/06 season. He initially looked horribly exposed against the likes of Drogba in the Prem, but in the Champions League he was part of a five man defence that set a Champions League record for the length of time without conceding a goal. One can only speculate what might have happened if he hadn't have picked up an injury weeks before the final that saw him ruled out.
At the beginning of the 06/07 season, there was a real buzz about Phil. He looked good in the world cup before picking up a nasty shoulder injury, and was handed the no.6 shirt in pre-season.
But then Gallas arrived. And with Gallas's arrival, Phil's Arsenal career stuttered and never really recovered.
Phil is clearly a confidence player. He needs a run of games in which he can build up his belief in his abilities, and acclimatise to the speed of the Premier League (something I don't believe he ever truly mastered). Throwing him in every now and again doesn't work for Phil, and at this level Wenger has to bear some of the responsibility for Phil's demise at the club.
Gallas's arrival turned him and Kolo into our first choice CBs. Consequently Phil never got a run of games after this, instead being intermittently thrown into the team with varying results.
This season he looked like he had begun to re-gain his form. With Kolo at the African Cup of Nations, Phil came into the team, got a run of games, and started imposing himself again.
But, as soon as Kolo comes back, Phil was dropped for the AC Milan first leg tie. An absolutely appalling decision by Wenger. If a player is playing well, play him; what message does it send out if some players are automatic selections? Anyway, Kolo picked up an injury early in the game, Phil came in, and his last decent moments in an Arsenal shirt occurred over the two legs with the rossoneri.
But then, the nadir. Phil's Arsenal career died in the Anfield cauldron, when he lost both Hypia and Torres before their respective goals. After the game, Phil burst into tears in the dressing room, and was given, essentially, compassionate leave by Wenger til the end of the season.
That was the final straw for Arsene - a combination of poor defending and mental weakness that he felt he could no longer continue to tolerate.
Yet one wonders if Arsene didn't help contribute to this situation in the first place. The state of defensive coaching under Arsene has always been under question. He inherited the back-five, bought one of the finest defenders (in Sol) after this, but when it comes to some of his own defensive creations, they've been decidedly hit and miss. Take Kolo Toure: a rock when with Sol, he's been curiously exposed since his departure.
And, perhaps more pertinenly, despite Arsene's protestations of not wanting to 'kill youngsters' by not buying too many older players, did he not do exactly this by buying Gallas?
As it is, Silvestre in for Senderos doesn't weaken the squad, whilst Djourou and Song both now look better long-term prospects than Phil. So, whilst, physically, we've lost a body in the squad, it's one I feel we can afford to leave given the decline in his form in recent seasons.
Phil will be a success at Milan. The slower Italian league will suit his style of play, and he'll receive incredible advice from the likes of Paolo Maldini. But, and remember this, even if he does well in Italy, this is the right decision for Phil and the club at this time.