Preview Week Day 1: Goalkeepers and Defense

By on August 10, 2009

William Gallas


Manuel AlmuniaIn the eyes of the supporters, Arsenal’s goalkeeping situation, while a source of frustration among some fans a year ago, seems to have leveled off. There are still many out there who believe that the Arsenal absolutely cannot win trophies with Manuel Almunia as their number one keeper. Yet they have laid off of calls for a new keeper as the club obviously has more pressing needs. I’ll admit I’ve always liked Almunia and I feel as though over the last two seasonshe has proven himself good enough to be starting keeper at a big club. Does he make the occasional gaffe? Of course, he does. But almost all great keepers do… remember Lehmann? Seaman himself was not averse to making a silly error in a big match.

Does Almunia still have weaknesses? Yes, he does. His decision-making at teams leaves a little to be desired and his most questionable mistakes stem from this. But when considering a keeper, one must consider the defense which plays in front of him, and Almunia has never been blessed with a truly solid back four. Almunia has, however, showed up in big matches and made big saves including a number of penalty saves. At 32, Almunia is just now hitting a keeper’s best years and, with 2 full years as the number one at a big club already behind him, I expect to see continued improvement on his part.

Lukasz Fabianski continues to improve after 9 starts in the League and FA Cups along with 5 in the Premier League and 2 in the Champions League last year. He has also proved himself capable of making some astounding saves as in the Carling Cup match home to Wigan. At his age, his indiscretions seem more excusable and I feel Fabianski to be a more than capable backup to Almunia. Vito Mannone looked less than confident during the preseason but he has time to build his confidence back up in the Reserves this season as I can’t see him getting Cup starts over Fabianski who will be in need of matches this year even moreso than last.


Emmanuel EboueFollowing the 2007-08 season, I think most people would’ve agreed that Arsenal had the two best full backs in the country in Gael Clichy and Bacary Sagna. Yet, both suffered a setback of form last season. Sagna seemingly forgot how to cross the ball and Clichy just wasn’t himself either as both suffered injury problems. When Clichy went out towards the end of last season, Kieran Gibbs deputized brilliantly, excepting his untimely error against United in the Champions League semifinal. Emmanuel Eboue remains Sagna’s backup at right-back but for how long? The rumours of an impending move to Fiorentina have quieted considerably in the last two weeks and considering that he has played in every friendly in that time it seems a bit unlikely that he will now move. At least I hope so. Never mind Eboue’s valuable utility, he is our primary cover for Sagna. We just do not have a third right-back in the first team. An Eboue sale followed by a Sagna injury would be devastating. Armand Traore has played at left-back this preseason after having been moved to left-midfield in the reserves and played there all last year on his loan to Portsmouth. He seemed to struggle a bit this preseason to return to the full-back mentality while Gibbs was rested following his summer international duty.


Thomas VermaelenI’m not going to rant on and on. We all know this is a crucial spot in whatever Arsenal’s fortunes this season may be. The possible ramifications of the departure of Toure, who had been slowly losing the confidence of the manager over the last 18 months, have been hotly debated since his move to Manchester City. But it now appears that Vermaelen was bought to replace Toure, whom Wenger expected to leave. With Senderos likely to move to Everton, another center-back will be needed and Arsene has said he “may buy.” After the absolute train-wreck that is Mikael Silvestre at center-back last season, it boggles my mind when Arsene says we have “five” center-backs and then names Silvestre (first, no less!) and Song. To me, that means we have three center-backs. Neither Silvestre nor Song should be one of the first four center-backs. Silvestre is constantly exposed for the slow, old man that he is and Song is needed in midfield if only to keep Diaby from playing.

I expect William Gallas to come back strong this season and pick up where he left off after he was injured at Villareal last season. It was a bitter pill to swallow for Gallas, who had hit his best run of form since joining the club. You really have to have some respect for Gallas personally. I think everyone thought he would just absolutely meltdown and possibly implode or spontaneously combust if he was stripped of the captaincy. But Gallas responded. I developed a newfound respect for him after he came through that trial to produce his best-ever performances for the club, defensively-speaking on a week-to-week basis.

Thomas Vermaelen is pretty much an unknown entity. We saw him in the preseason and he didn’t look especially commanding in the air thoughJohann Djourou van Persie and Wenger have praised his aerial ability. Vermaelen was captain at Ajax and to have another captain-like presence at the back could prove very useful. He has already shown that he has settled in the team and become one of the lads by getting injured almost right away. Johann Djourou is in the papers recently talking about filling “Kolo’s boots.” But Djourou is starting the season as the #3 center-back behind Gallas and Vermaelen. This year seems crucial to Djoruou’s future at the Arsenal and I expect he will have ample time this year to make an impression and a claim to Vermaelen’s place.

COMING UP: Preview Week on Arsenal Station continues building up to Saturday’s season opener at GoodisonPark tomorrow with the midfield, Wednesday with the strikers, Thursday with a Carling Cup preview, and Friday with our overall look at Arsenal and the Big 4. [digg=http://digg.com/soccer/Preview_Week_Day_1_Goalkeepers_and_Defense_Arsenal]


  1. bonface

    August 10, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    For sure this is not enough for Arsenal and i think
    Wenger must do the neccessary signings before the end of this week or he may become the great loser in the premier league

  2. ArsenalStation

    August 10, 2009 at 3:29 pm

    bonface, I don’t understand the pressure that the supporters seem to put on themselves. For instance when you say he “must do the neccessary signings before the end of this week or he may become the great loser in the premier league.”

    The situation is hardly that apocalyptic. Of course, we would all like to see the signings but we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking they will be before the Everton match. The real deadline is the end of August. And no matter what Wenger does from here on out, he could never “become the great loser in the premier league.” That job is held by Phil Brown.

    Thanks for reading and commenting. I hope you enjoy the site.

  3. SweetLeft

    August 10, 2009 at 8:39 pm

    Very good post. I’m not quite as “down” on Silvestre or Diaby as you are. Silvestre had a couple of good games last season. I continue to hope that, one day, Diaby will emerge from his chrysalis and take wing. I do have to say, that glimmers of this event have been few indeed.

    I’m a fan of Traore too. Having played outside left for Portsmouth last season, he’s shown great versatility to return at left back. He shows a couple of judgement errors, but going forward he looks much better than Cliche and can actually cross the ball. I agree that this is a Sagna weakness (virtually never gets it past the first defender). It’s a weakness also or Gael, who has made a couple of bad errors that have cost games over the last couple of seasons (Spurs last, Birmingham before last).

    I’d like to see Hangelaand come in at centre back. I expect both Gallas and Silvestre to leave next season. Fulham look set on keeping H, but maybe money plus Senderos would dislodge them. Rest of the team is OK (but you know that I think Adebayor s a huge loss).

    See you on Saturday.

  4. ArsenalStation

    August 10, 2009 at 9:33 pm

    I absolutely agree with you about Hangeland. He is just what we’re missing in central defense. What is more, it just seems so obvious. Hodgson does look intent on keeping him but if Arsenal come in for him even he said he would have the consider it. Fulham would not be able to turn down even a decent bid.

    I know you think Adebayor is a loss but personally I am not convinced. Though we will know in a few months. I also see Diaby’s potential but I also don’t see him fulfilling it… at least not at Arsenal.

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    June 19, 2010 at 9:05 am

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