Squillaci Deal Finally Completed / New Goalkeeper?

The worst kept secret of the week has finally been completed, and Sebastien Squillaci is now officially an Arsenal player. I’m sure you know all about him now from reading about him for the last couple of weeks, so I won’t bore you by repeating his vital statistics.

I will say one thing though, what is it with Arsene and centre-backs with difficult to spell surnames?

We had Thomas Vermaelen, which I can fortunately spell without Wikipedia anymore, and we’ve brought in Kos…  Koscielny and now Squillaci. Okay, it’s probably down to me being dyslexic but still…

It’s a welcome addition and we now have 4 quality central defenders, which can only be good. And I feel a lot more comfortable than I did last season on that front, when we had Senderos and Silvestre on our books.

So as far as I’m concerned that’s the defence sorted out. 4 central defenders, none of which are Silvestre, is great news. Now it’s only the goalkeeping situation that needs sorting out…

And no news on the Mark Schwarzer front.

I won’t get into Almunia and the argument whether he should be Arsenal’s number one. I’ve defended him enough over the last 5/6 seasons but enough is enough. He makes too many errors and the goalkeeping position is a hugely important one. In a game where confidence is king having a dodgy goalkeeper is having a major handicap.

The team on the whole has more confidence if they know the man behind the sticks is reliable.

But is the Australian the solution?

I’ve always thought he was a decent goalkeeper but I never really thought I would see him in an Arsenal shirt. Yes, he is experienced but you could say that about a lot of goalkeepers, like David James for instance. My point is Arsenal’s goalkeeping scouts aren’t exactly covering themselves in glory at the moment.

We did well to bring in Lehmann, but he was frozen out for Almunia. We really should have kept Jens a couple of more years and used that time to find a proper replacement. Now we’re stuck with 2 goalkeepers who make more errors than a Windows Vista Operating System.

Are we ever going to bring anyone good enough in? Wenger was fortunate to inherit one of the greatest goalkeepers to ever play in the Premier League, but since then we’ve missed out on players like Van Der Sar (an unbelievable bargain at £2 million).

Maybe our set-up just isn’t capable of spotting a decent keeper, because I’ve yet to be convinced about Schwarzer.

Theo Walcott Analysis / Squillaci Has Medical

Well, Blackpool were hit for six weren’t they?

The biggest talking point of the weekend was the fantastic performance of Theo Walcott, and his well-deserved hattrick. More specifically, the seemingly unnecessary criticism of Walcott by Alan Hansen on Match of the Day.

Let me say first of all I thought Walcott was stunningly good, but let’s not forget that the kid is only 21. And as strange as it sounds, despite not being a stick on starter for Arsenal, he is more than good enough to be in the England squad and probably should be in the first eleven. But that’s another debate for another day.

Arsenal fans are taking exception to the “analysis” Hansen made of Walcott but I think people are taking things a little bit too much to heart. The main point he was making was that Walcott was a far better player when he is instinctive and doesn’t have time to think, which is a fair analysis. Walcott is devastating when at full speed, and in fact my favourite Walcott moments for Arsenal are in the build-ups to stunning counter attacks, like the Arshavin and Adebayor goals at Anfield. When he is on it, Walcott is breathtaking. And I would have to agree, when he’s a full pelt and doesn’t have to think he is brilliant.

The problem Theo has is when he has time and space and there are too many options available. That’s not necessary and criticism of him, and the part I did take exception to in Hansen’s analysis was that Walcott doesn’t have the ability or potential to progress. I personally believe that he does have the capability to improve in that area, and with Arsene Wenger (and his track record) guiding him the only way is up as far as I’m concerned.

The only frustrating thing about Theo’s performance for me was that I didn’t buy him for my Fantasy Football team!

And the latest news on the transfer front is that Sevilla’s Sebastien Squillaci is undergoing a medical at Arsenal.

I don’t know much about him, but apparently he’s rated at £6.5 million and he’s 30 years old, which on the face of it seems strange, considering Arsene’s policy on players over 30.

But then again, we did have William Gallas (33), Mikel Silvestre (33) and Sol Campbell (35) on the books last season so maybe that policy is changing slightly these days. Maybe Arsenal wants to integrate experience with the youth. £6.5 million does seem a lot for a 30 year old (I sound like Arsene now don’t I?) but Wenger’s track record in bringing in defenders has been good in recent seasons so hopefully he is the signing we’ve been waiting for on that front.

We just need a decent goalkeeper now…

Arsenal 4 Life: An Apology…

Well, my review of the Liverpool game was met with some venom wasn’t it?

Looking back on the review, it did seem well over the top. As the game went on, I was content with the performance but once Liverpool went down to 10 men, I was growing more and more frustrated that Arsenal couldn’t take advantage.

Apart from Rosicky’s shot in the 87th minute Reina had nothing to do really. And the equalising goal we did score was fortuitous to say the least.

But as many have commented, a point away at Anfield isn’t the worst result.

I suppose the difference in supporting Arsenal over the last few seasons, for me anyway, is taking each game as it comes. In the glory days we could afford to look forwards and believe we could make back points later on in the campaign. These days, I view every Arsenal game as a cup tie. The Premier League is ruthless and it isn’t like Spain and Italy, where 65/70 points is enough. In England, you need at least 85/90 points if you want to win the league.

Hence why Benitez and Mancini, successful in their leagues back home, have and will struggle with the Premier League. A conservative approach that works in Spain and Italy won’t work over here. [1]

Anyway, I’m going off an a tangent.

The last few seasons have been a roller-coaster and it is frustrating to see the obvious problems not resolved, like the lack of a goalkeeper or defensive cover in the middle.

So I promise that I’ll try and post with more optimism, so it’s a good job we’ve got Blackpool tomorrow…

What An Absolute Disgrace That Was!

Liverpool (1) – (1) Arsenal
Reina O.G. (89′)
Anfield Stadium, Liverpool

What an absolute farce.

I was hugely optimistic going into the opening game of the new season and I thought that Arsenal would put in a decent performance at Anfield but how wrong I was.

Arsenal have had the best part of 4 months to bring in a competent goalkeeper and they haven’t done so. Arsenal fans haven’t got much confidence in Almunia or Fabianski yet they are the two main keepers we have in the squad.

And today was just ridiculous.

The first half was cagey, and Liverpool give Arsenal a massive lifeline.

Joe Cole flies in on Koscielny in the corner and gets sent off. The tackle was reckless, and you could argue it could have been only a booking but the fact was at the start of the second half, Arsenal had a one man advantage.

So what happens?

Arsenal self-destruct.

Within minutes of the restart some amateurish defending results in half a chance for David Ngog, who is possibly the most unpopular player amongst the Liverpool fans, and from a tight angle he lashes the ball into the net via the near post.

A decent goalkeeper shouldn’t be beaten from that angle!

Manuel Almunia has never been and will never be good enough for Arsenal Football Club.

And for the rest of the half I was hugely frustrated, not just with how the game panned out, but how Arsene Wenger, with his worldwide scouting network cannot find a single goalkeeper who isn’t shit. Honestly, the mind boggles, is it that hard to find a keeper who doesn’t make mistakes in every game?

I honestly believe that Almunia might be Arsene Wenger’s love child from an illegitimate relationship and he is being blackmailed into playing him and keeping him at the club.

How many points does he have to cost us before Arsene says that’s enough?

And literally 3 minutes later, Almunia made another massive blunder to give Liverpool a free header from a set-piece, which should have been taken and we would have been 2-0 down.

Fortunately, that didn’t happen and we only had a single goal to pull back.

But without Fabregas or Van Persie we looked completely lost. We had tonnes of the ball, but nothing to show for it. Reina had nothing to do for the next 40 minutes and Liverpool were extremely comfortable sitting back and soaking up the “pressure”, not that Arsenal were particularly penetrating.

It was the same old story – the game was getting far too narrow and Arsenal refused to get the ball wide and get in behind the Liverpool defence. So essentially Liverpool just had 2 solid banks of four and sat there, which is what you would expect from a team who were down to 10 men.

And the sad thing was, throughout the entire 90 minutes you would never have know it was 10 against 11. Arsenal didn’t make that extra man count and only a handful of players should be happy with their performances.

Sagna and Clichy were energetic as usually, trying to push on at every opportunity and support the attacks, although their crossing was woeful. Vermaelen and Koscielny were solid and seemed to gel well together, and I was pleased at how the débutante performed. Ridiculously though, he was given a second booking for a handball which was nowhere near being deliberate. Torres lashed the ball onto his arm from a yard away and he was given a yellow card. The decision was even more farcical when you consider David Ngog had a clearly deliberate handball unpunished earlier in the second half!

The rest of the team however were a disgrace.

You know how I feel about Almunia, and if Arsene refuses to bring another goalkeeper in before the transfer window closes I might consider giving up on Arsenal. It is completely ridiculous, to be 1 or 2 players away from a real squad challenging for the Premier League. Does Arsene like being “close” to having a title winning squad? I don’t understand the logic!

Unfortunately, Arsenal’s other new signing Marouane Chamakh looked completely lost. His first touch was poor, and his movement was none existent. He really should have been replaced by Van Persie with at least half an hour to go, because he was useless. So it was ironic then, that he contributed to the equaliser which was a Reina howler.

Too many players were on the periphery of the game, and contributed nothing. Arsenal were powder puff, and don’t let Reina’s own goal take anything away from the extremely poor performance. Rosicky and Van Persie had their moments when they came on but overall we didn’t play as a team. The whole game was summed up when Arsenal had 6 men on the break and they managed to waste a golden opportunity to nick all 3 points. It would have been completely criminal and completely undeserved, but the chance was there.

Maybe I’m being over critical as it was the first game of the season, but Liverpool put in more effort and more of a performance today. They had 10 men for over 45 minutes, but because of our deficiencies we gave them the lead.

Things need to change, and fast.

Premier League Predictions: 2010/2011

No matter what the experts and pundits say, no-one (not even a psychic octopus) could even predict the outcome of a Premier League season. Everyone can make educated guesses, but even I was surprised that Tottenham got into the Top 4 last season, and Liverpool collapsed in spectacular fashion.

You can leave your own predictions in the comments section of this post, and we can look back here in 9 months time and see how accurate we were!

Here’s my 2 cents worth anyway:

Premier League Champions: Arsenal

I have to say this don’t I? The question is do I believe it?

Well the biggest news is that Cesc Fabregas is staying for at least one more season, whether he wants to or not. He’s always given 110% whenever he’s worn the Arsenal shirt so I don’t see that changing in this campaign, despite all the talk that “his heart isn’t at Arsenal”. We’ve made 2 signings in Marouane Chamakh and Laurent Koscielny and lost 5, in William Gallas, Philippe Senderos, Mikael Silvestre, Sol Campbell and Eduardo da Silva. So on paper at least, the squad is weaker than last year.

And we still haven’t solved our goalkeeping situation, which for me is the biggest obstacle Arsenal need to overcome if we are going to have a successful season. Jens Lehmann was completely nuts but he was a top goalkeeper. Since his departure the simple fact is Almunia or Fabianski are not up for the task. When your own supporters are calling you Basil Fawlty and Flapianski then you know the fans don’t have confidence in their keepers.

But who do we need? Fortunately it’s not my job to scout and chase possible candidates but names like Mark Schwarzer, Joe Hart and Shay Given have been banded around in recently months with no real substance. Citeh would be insane to release one of their quality keepers to us, and besides, I don’t rate Shay Given at all. One of my closest friends is a Citeh supporter and thinks he’s rubbish on set-pieces and crosses because he doesn’t come off his line. A top shot stopper yes, the ideal solution, no.

Then again, anyone would be an improvement on what we’ve got, so I am praying that Wenger pulls out an 11th hour transfer out of the bag.

My heart says Arsenal will overcome the odds, stay lucky with injuries and somehow pull off one of the most surprising title challenges of recent years. Manchester United haven’t really strengthened, and the same goes for Chelsea. Liverpool have added but are still well off and I just see Tottenham struggling in the league with a possible Champions League campaign ahead of them. That leaves Manchester City, who have a great squad of players but is Mancini the man to gel the team and get consistent results and performances? People are comparing them to Chelsea when Mourinho arrived but along with the big name signings they had possibly the most ruthless manager leading them. And I just don’t think Manchester City have that.

So along with my completely unwavering pre-season optimism, I believe that Arsenal have a real opportunity to do something special this season, if they stay injury free for most of the season. But you ask yourself how likely that is looking at our recent track record!

We should have won the league in the 2007/2008 campaign, and last year we looked the real deal until we lost Robin Van Persie for the rest of the season. With Arsenal, you’re playing with fine margins and everything really needs to go for us if we want to get to the top of the table. Is it possible? Of course it is, and the belief from the squad and manager is there, we just need to keep fighting until the end.

My heart says first, but my head says third.

Runners Up: Chelsea

As I see it, the strongest rivals are Chelsea.

They have a squad of born winners. Winning is all they know and that is so valuable in this league, and they have it in abundance, along with Manchester United. I’ve talked about that winning mentality being so vital in the Premier League and Chelsea and United are streets ahead of the rest of the league in that respect.

People comment on Chelsea’s ageing squad, but that isn’t going to be a major factor for me. They have quality all over the pitch and have that ruthlessness instilled by Mourinho. You could argue that the trophy that they covet the most, the European Cup, could distract them but the depth of their squad is impressive. But like Van Persie for us last season, you wonder how they would cope if Drogba was injured for any decent length of time.

Third Place: Manchester United

Last season Wayne Rooney was immense, taking over as the focal point of the team in Ronaldo’s absence. Manchester United have a knack of essentially basing an entire team around their best player. and while it could be argued that makes them a one man team the fact is it is effective an not many teams can stop it. They do it so well and over the last 3/4 seasons they have been fortunate that Ronaldo and Rooney have both played injury-free for the whole season.

Wayne Rooney would be a bigger miss for Manchester United than Didier Drogba or Robin Van Persie for Chelsea and Arsenal.

And after a draining World Cup campaign, it is possible that Rooney might struggle for parts of the season, although in fairness that’s more of a hope than the likelihood it will happen. But if they pick up one or two injuries in key areas they might struggle to keep up. And the form of Berbatov is key – his inability to score even the simplest chances towards the end of last season cost Manchester United dearly and made the difference in United not winning the league – after all they were only a single point away from Chelsea.

Fourth Place: Manchester City

Manchester City are the unknown quantity really, some are tipping them for the Premier League Title, while others think they will sneak fourth. I just don’t think Citeh have the managerial set-up to win the league, although Roberto Mancini has won Serie A before.

For me, it takes someone special to bring all of those superstars together in such a short space of time and make them into a real force and that man isn’t Mancini, it’s Mourinho. The squad is far too good for them not to make the Top 4 but the title is just beyond them I feel.

Like Arsenal, belief is the key for Manchester City. If they get off to a flyer in August, they could surprise everyone and do it, but when the chips are down I think they’ll struggle. Manchester United and Chelsea always believe they will win whatever the situation, but for Arsenal and Citeh they need the momentum and belief to make it all the way, and that’s where I think Manchester City will fall short.

Plus, the sight of Adebayor lifting the Premier League trophy doesn’t bare thinking about…

Relegated: Birmingham, Stoke City & Blackpool

It’s not just because Birmingham and Stoke City tried to ruin the careers of two of our favourite players (okay, it is a little) and you might think I’m insane choosing teams that finished 9th and 11th last season but hear me out.

Birmingham won’t have Joe Hart and Stoke City… yeah f*ck it, I don’t think they get relegated I just hope they do. I’m not going to lie, I still hold a very strong grudge.

I could argue that they exceeded expectations last season and this year teams will be able to figure out how to play against them, and that the expectations for the new season will be unrealistic and they will struggle with that burden. There, some half decent reasons!

And I would love it if Blackpool managed to stay up, I really would. Everyone loves an underdog and Blackpool on paper are ridiculously out of their depth. But Ian Holloway is a great character and it will be entertaining to see them stay in the league. Who knows, a decent start to the league and they have a fighting chance.

Top Scorer: Wayne Rooney

Absolutely everything goes through Shrek and you can bet after huge disappointment in South Africa he will be hell bent on impressing this season.

He has added heading to his repertoire of goals so expect more of the same this season, and he was only 3 goals off Drogba last year as well.