Arsenal fans are gearing themselves for an influx of players, we are waiting with baited breath. We are also aware that the exodus from the Emirates will be a big one this summer. Players who have not made the grade, others who have not had the opportunity and some who think the grass is greener on the other side of the tracks.
Starting at the back, the first player to be shown the door is Manuel Almunia, probably a season too late. Almunia had a nightmare season, at fault against WBA in both games and dropped after each game, Wenger will let Almunia go for anything and I think Almunia will want to get away from the club, he ranks 3rd choice at the moment.
Wenger’s other decision will be whether to bring in an experienced goalkeeper, if he does then either Vito Mannone or more likely Lukas Fabianski will also leave this summer.
In the defensive line, Sebastien Squilaci will be allowed to leave on free transfer if we sign both Samba and Gary Cahill. Squillaci was signed as fourth choice centre-back, but due to injuries to Vermaelen he appeared 32 times for Arsenal. Wenger will keep him as 5th choice centre back if he fails to land both his centre-back targets.
Gael Clichy looks like he will definitely leave this summer. Wenger does not appear to have made any effort to keep the France international and he is right not to open contract discussions with him. The only question is where he will go and the price. Roma appear to be the favourites and the fee around £8M.
Emmanuel Eboue our loveable Ivorian could also be on the way out. I would be sad to see Eboue go, not necessarily for football reason, but he is the joker in the pack, the man who will greet every player at the end of each game, the player who leaves the pitch last. Eboue could be frustrated with his lack of first team opportunities and ask to leave. If he does leave his fee will be around £8M.
Midfield could see several players leave. Denilson has started that he wishes to leave, well the feeling is mutual. This player has been given 5 seasons to prove himself, an opportunity not afforded to Sebastien Larsson or Fabrice Muamba, both of whom are better than Denilson. There will be no tears shed over his departure. Denilson has been offered as a makeweight in our attempts to lure either Willian or Costa from Shaktar Donetsk. The value of Denilson will again be in the region of £8M.
Tomas Rosicky will be allowed to leave and his destination will be the Bundesliga. Rosicky has never recovered from his massive injury. Arsenal have remained loyal to him, but this summer he will be told his is no longer required and will go on a free transfer.
The interesting player is Andrey Arshavin. A player of immense talent; but the laziest player in our current squad. His former club have made noises about buying him back, but the player has stated he does not intend to leave. If Wenger secures Gervinho and one of Willian or Alvarez, Wenger will listen to offers for the Russian in the region of £10M.
The one player we all expect to see leave this summer is Cesc Fabregas, forget about the Barcelona posturing over lack of transfer funds or that Cesc’s value has dropped, Guardiolla is obsessed with Cesc and fee of around £30M plus players will be agreed this summer.
Nicklas Bendtner has made is clear that he wishes to leave and there is interest in the Dane. Bendtner was never given the chance to play as a striker; Wenger was obsessed in playing him on the wing. Bendtner has neither the pace nor the ability to play in the role, Arsenal‘s valuation is £12M and we should stick to this figure.
Another player never to have fulfilled his potential is Carlos Vela. Is Wenger prepared to give him one more season to prove he can make it or will Wenger say its time to say goodbye? There will be plenty of takers in Spain and Vela will have some success there, the fee will be around £6M.
We could see up to 11 players leave this summer; these departures could add £82M to Wenger’s transfer budget which is already reported to be £60M! What players can Wenger bring in with £140M?
In whose hands is the future of Arsenal? This is the question we have all been asking. Almunia was the number one, but a mystery “chest” infection which has taken a long time to clear up ahs given the third choice keeper Mannone a chance, Fabianski is back from injury and should feature tonight against Liverpool. Arsene has not taken the opportunity of Almunia’s return to restore him to the first team, so where are we in regards to goalkeepers.
Almunia has been our number one for a couple of seasons, since Lehman’s clangers. Almunia is a good shot stopper, but he does not command the penalty area as he should. He is indecisive as to when to come or when to stick to his goal-line. He does not come out for corners and this helps create a sense of panic in the defence, a goalkeeper should come out for most corners, by staying on your line you are hoping the header will come straight to you. When he does come out, as against Manchester United this season, and most of his errors over the years have been against the big teams, he invariably gets it wrong.
Fabianski has a chance to stake his claim tonight as he face Liverpool in the Carling Cup. His injury could not have come at a worse time, with Almunia out; it was the opportunity for the Polish international to cement his place in the starting line-up. Fabianski has not been without his faults when he has been in between the sticks for Arsenal, most notably in the FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea. His problem is the reverse of Almunia; he comes charging out too often.
Mannone expected to start the season as the third choice goalkeeper and even go out on loan. With the injury to Fabianski, he was Almunia’s understudy. When Almunia went down with a chest infection, Mannone stepped in and had a baptism of fire against Standard Liege, when he conceded two goals in five minutes without touching the ball. Since then he has shown to be agile and a great shot stopper. Mannone comes out to collect the ball from corners, but on a couple of occasions he has opted to catch the ball rather than punch and we have paid.
Wenger has been reluctant to hand the gloves back to Almunia and the Spaniard has had to sit on the bench for the last three games and watch as Mannone has continued to be Arsenal’s number one. Mannone is not the finished article and has made two mistakes, against Birmingham and against West Ham, but he has been solid. Some pundits claim that it is his continuing presence that is creating jitters in our defence, well this is rubbish. Most teams seem to buckle when you have ball after ball launched into their area, it is not the goalkeeper.
Saturday is a big game. Last season we threw away lead after lead to Tottenham and that was with Almunia in goal. Wenger knows we cannot afford to drop any points at home and will pick the goalkeeper that will do the job for us. Sod’s law states that if Almunia comes in he will drop a clanger and Wenger will be blamed for bringing in a goalkeeper with no match practice, if however Mannone stays in goal, you can see the press sharpening the pencils ready to slate Wenger about using such a novice in a high-pressure game.
We have three good goalkeepers, Fabianski and Mannone are the future but is either of them ready for the challenge now?
Arsenal suffered two injury setbacks on Tuesday night. First Almunia went off with an ankle injury and the Gallas had to leave the field after Rossi fell on him. Whilst both are blows for Arsenal, just as we are getting players back, the loss of Gallas will be felt more at the club than Almunia’s absence.
Almunia is expected back soon, but even if he were out for a longer period Fabianski has the quality to step in and make the number one jersey his own. He showed no nerves on Tuesday, despite ITV’s co-commentator Ronnie Whelan urging the Spaniards to test him out. In fact within minutes Fabianski pulled off two great saves. Fabianski is a very confident and able goalkeeper and I would have no qualms about him playing in goal for the rest of the season, I do not think it would weaken that position.
Fabianski was modest in a recent interview saying, “I am maybe not ready to take over the No1 spot yet but I am ready to play. I respect what Manuel has done for the club. He was playing great for the last couple of months. Now the situation is like this and I have to play – I am ready.”
For his efforts in the Carling Cup and the FA Cup, I hope Fabianski is selected for the FA Cup semi-final, irrespective as to Almunia’s availability.
The loss of Gallas will hurt us, Gallas was having a scan last night to disclose the extent of his injury with most pundits predicting a long absence after damaging medial ligaments.
Djourou is a good defender and for a while this season it appeared that he was going to be the number one centre back with Gallas and Toure vying for the other spot. Once in the team he is solid, good in the air (an advantage on both Gallas and Toure), fast and strong. I have no issues over Djourou’s qualities, but you cannot compensate for is experience.
Gallas has been a rock this season for Arsenal, and I am still of the opinion that he should never have lost the captaincy. He reads a game wells, he knows where to be at the right moment so his defending becomes effortless. He has put in some master performances this season and scored vital goals for us, the winner against Hull City in the FA Cup, vital Champions League goals at the start of the campaign against FC Twente and Dynamo Kiev and a last gasp winner against Portsmouth.
Gallas will be missed after his injury in Villarreal because he organizes the defence and the team and is still our natural leader.
Last season Arsene Wenger made Almunia our number one goalkeeper after a couple of howlers from Jens Lehman. Almunia grasped the opportunity and made the number 1 jersey his own.
Almunia was not, and is still not the most reassuring of goalkeepers. He has reserved his clangers from games against Manchester United, but these have been few and far between over the last couple of seasons.
Almunia is a very good shot stopper; he has saved numerous near certain goals this season. His other great attribute is penalty saving. He has saved several vital penalties this season, Martins, Ashley Young and last season, Robbie Keane, as well as making an important penalty save against Roma.
He commands his area well at corners, rarely making a blunder and without the histrionics of Lehman, even if that was greatly entertaining.
If there was a criticism of Almunia, it is his reluctance to come out and pick up the ball in the area and relieve the pressure off his defenders.
The real question does Almunia have the presence to give Arsenal the edge in our quest for trophies. He is not a big name goalkeeper because he has not played on the on the international stage, nor has he been a first team regular for a long period. Opponents do not look at him in the same way as they do with Cech, van der Saar or Reina, we do not have that same psychological advantage that our rivals have.
Almunia is a good stop-gap goalkeeper until Wenger thinks Fabianski is ready to take over the number one shirt, that time is fast approaching.