Sunday, April 29, 2012
Patrick Vieira, the lynchpin of three title-winning teams, had been abruptly sold in the summer of 2005 and we had failed in our attempts to buy a replacement. Fabregas and Gilberto did their best to strike-up an effective partnership in midfield, but couldn't cover up the fact that we had a hole in the middle of the side.
After a poor start to the season, we were struggling to make the top four. Arsene decided to go out and splash some cash in the January transfer window, buying three players in the process. Though our opinions of him are, obviously, quite negative now, it's easy to forget that one of these signings, Adebayor, was actually critical to us making fourth place. Theo Walcott was a high profile signing, but didn't actually play a game until the next season. And the other other player was a lanky Frenchman from Auxerre - Abou Diaby.
Abou's impact wasn't as great as Adebayor's, but he definitely made a positive contribution to our quest for fourth place. A dozen league appearances were enough to make quite an impression on us all, and I, for one, was convinced that we had a major talent on our hand.
Maybe we did - but I don't think we'll ever know now. On May 1 2006, at the end of a game that Arsenal had completely dominated and were winning 3-0, Sunderland player Dan Smith made a ludicrous, dangerous tackle that resulted in an ankle fracture. (He's now playing non-league football, where he belongs). While the exact details aren't known, it's likely that Abou fractured both his tibia and fibia, dislocated his ankle, and suffered severe ligament damage.
While Eduardo's injury received considerably more coverage, Abou's was probably almost as bad. He had three surgeries on his ankle before returning to the first team in January 2007, and was told by one doctor that he was lucky that the injury didn't end his career.
After appearing to recover from his injury, Abou made 28 appearances in the 2007-08 season, 36 in 2008-2009, and 40 in 2009-10. Yet he only made 20 appearances last season, and he's played about an hour or so of league football in total this season. (He was ruled out of the last two games of the season after yesterday's game.)
For a brilliant overview of the injury travails that Abou has faced, read this article on the Beautiful Groan.
The article (written by a physiotherapist) basically says this - the severity of the injury suffered by Abou in 2006 was such that it affects the entire way that Abou moves his body. This means his body is almost fundamentally imbalanced, which causes new injuries to occur on a periodic basis.
Now, I think Arsenal fans have been very patient with Diaby - mainly because most of us realise what an incredible talented player he potentially is. Looking through his stats, he has a very unique skill-set - he is a brilliant dribbler, he can pass well, he can score and make goals, and he also has physical presence. He has the potential to be a monster in midfield.
But none of this matters if you can't get on the field.
I just think this season has shown that Diaby will never be a player who can consistently (and that is the key for me, consistently) play football at a top-class level. He will have patches where he is fit, but I think his awful injury has destroyed his ability to regularly stay fit. Ultimately, I think it's time we used his squad place, and the wages we are paying him, on someone else.
Some Arsenal fans have pointed to Robin van Persie as an example of why we shouldn't give up - but I think a more instructive example would be Owen Hargreaves. No one can doubt Hargreaves talent, but United ultimately cut him loose at the end of last season because he could not maintain his fitness, and they could not justify paying someone wages who did not play football regularly enough.
Similarly, others have mentioned Tomas Rosicky as a reason why we should keep Diaby - but Rosicky's injury was nowhere near as severe as Diaby's. Rosicky's was a freak injury that was essentially misdiagnosed; Diaby's problems are better known, but they are simply much harder to fix, and there is the impression that they have fundamentally weakened his ability to play regular football.
I would like nothing more than for Diaby to stay, regain his fitness, and become a dominant member of our midfield. I just don't think this will ever happen. And the longer we keep him, the longer we are denying his squad place to someone who could actually contribute to the team.
Of course, even if we wanted to sell him, there is the issue of the long-term deal he was given at the start of 2010. Quite who decided this was a good idea isn't clear, but it may mean that our ability move him on is limited, due to the inflated wages he is currently earning. But it's now come to the point where I think he needs to leave on a free, if need be. The short-term financial hit will be outweighed by the money we will ultimately save by paying a non-playing squad member for the rest of his deal.
So there you have it - a sad story of a brilliant player, but one who I don't think will ever truly shine in the way we once hoped. Still, at least we'll always have this moment. Thanks, Abou.
Saturday, April 28, 2012
* We started brightly and with a lot of purpose, so it was only natural that we conceded with Stoke's first shot on goal. We do this far too often, and it's almost become a bit comical how we don't make it hard enough for teams to score against us. You only have to think back to Wigan, less than two weeks ago, to see how sloppiness in defence causes us problems all too frequently. We've now conceded 44 goals this season - a record for us in a 38 game Premier League season. Yes, the 8-2 has skewed things - but those 8 goals still count. Ultimately, teams which concede sloppy goals don't win trophies, especially when they so frequently mis-fire at the other end of the pitch as well.
* Watching the goal, it's disappointing to see Vermaelen at fault once more. Yes, it's difficult to defend against a player who, really, is a freak of nature. But in the second half, Koscielny out-leapt Crouch, winning the ball, and taking him out (fairly) in the process. Vermaelen could have done more to prevent the goal than he did, ultimately. For me, these little errors that TV makes in defence keep on adding up - and they have cost us a lot of goals this season. By contrast, Koscielny was magisterial once more. In any season, he'd be my run away player of the season.
* But LK isn't because Robin van Persie is a phenomenon. A neat little goal, his first in open play in 7 games, was a welcome sight. He had chances to win the game, but we can only be so harsh on a player who's basically saved our season.
* Tomas Rosicky had a good game, and supplied a fantastic ball to van Persie for the goal. I still worry about Rosicky's almost complete lack of goals, but when's he creating so many goalscoring chances, and he's running his arse off in midfield, he's a great part of our midfield.
* Two other midfielders who I thought had a good game were Benayoun and Ramsey. Yossi is just a consummate professional, and put in a great shift - it was he who won the ball that led to our goal. I like his tenacity, and I think he is a greater goal threat than Rosicky, even if YB doesn't have the same ability to dictate the game. I would love it if he stayed, but I don't think he will because he wants regular football. As for Ramsey, I thought he put himself about, didn't hide, and linked play neatly. He has had a real dip in form over the last few weeks, but today he did the simple things well, and put in a solid 7 out of 10 performance. He just needs to get through the last two games, and have a decent pre-season, and I'm sure we'll see a much better player next year.
* Someone who didn't have a good game was Gervinho. He has had a distinctly average first season in English football; you could even call it a poor one, if you were to be unkind. He has the pleasing ability to get past players and find himself in decent positions, but his decision making is terrible, and he ultimately squanders possession and opportunities far too often. He has to make a big step-up next season if he wants to remain at the club - but with another African Cup of Nations on the horizon, I worry about his future.
* We were lucky in the end not to lose it. We looked fairly flat in the second-half after a decent first 45 minutes, and it was Stoke who came closest to taking the three points. We generally just about dealt with their long-throws and punts downfield, even if Sagna had to acrobatically clear at one point, and Szcz had to make a few rather unconvincing punches. That said, the lack of protection afforded by the ref to Szcz was borderline disgraceful. I kinda missed Jens - I'd have loved to see some of the Stoke players try it on with him in the box.
* I don't think the push on Benayoun was a penalty. If that had been given against us, I would have been furious. Yes, we should have had more penalties this season, but that wasn't one of them. Shawcross's handball was clear as day, in contrast, even if it was probably just outside the area.
* To a degree, the lack of options on the bench was frustrating again. I can understand Wenger's reluctance to play the Ox, because we needed our midfielders to be defensive solid, and there was also the chance that Stoke might try to destroy another one of our player's careers. Santos and Diaby did OK after they came on, but they didn't really change the game for the better. I almost laughed when Chamakh came on. He is a completely pointless player. The occasional ability to hold-up the ball is not enough for a player who probably takes home an eye-watering weekly pay-cheque. He has been an enormous disappointment as a signing, and I can't wait till we see the back of him.
* Stoke fans - it doesn't look good when you boo a player because he had his leg snapped by one of your players. I'd ask you to think about your actions, but this involves, well, thought. I suppose I'd be permanently pissed off if I lived in Stoke, though.
* Ultimately, it's a good point. This has become my least favourite game of the season, and I think I'm right in saying that we haven't beaten Stoke at the Britannia when they've had eleven men on the pitch. Lest we forget, we put in one of our worst performances of the season during this game last year, so today's game was definitely an improvement. With Newcastle getting routed, unexpectedly, our fate is now firmly in our hands. Personally, I think one more win will see us over the finish line, and both our remaining games are eminently winnable. We need to ensure that Norwich at home doesn't turn into one of those games where the team think they've won before they take the field. Complacency may well be our biggest enemy as we head into the final stretch.
Thursday, April 26, 2012
Friday, April 20, 2012
Monday, April 16, 2012
Thursday, April 12, 2012
This is my first attempt at blogging from a smartphone, so it'll be brief and riddled with errors (probably) but here are 5 quick questionable that arise from yesterday's game.
1 - Does the professional foul rule need to be changed when a penalty is awarded? It seemed a bit ridiculous that the game ender after 10 minutes yesterday after the gentlest of tugs on Theo's shirt. A penalty and red card just seems a bit much for such offences. If it's outside the box, or a Suarez™ handball, maybe a red is needed, but i think decisions like that are unfair, and lead to boring matches. I actually felt for Wolves until Karl Henry came into the picture.
2 - Has Theo had a good season? 11 goals suggests yes, but poor elements in his all- round play means a positive answer can only be equivocal.
3 - Has Yossi done enough for a new deal? I say get him on a rolling one year deal.
4 - Who should be our first choice left back? Santos or Gibbs? I have to go with Santos. He's a Brazilian lateral. He actually plays the joga bonita. He's ace, which isn't to say Gibbs hasn't been impressive this year.
5 - In marks out of 10, how hilarious is spurs' collapse. (N.B. 11 is an acceptable answer).
What do you think? Have at it.