Is There Life Left in Silvestre?

By on December 26, 2009

Regular guest contributor, Ted Harwood, takes a look at Mikael Silvestre, following a solid performance against Hull City, and ponders his usefulness.

Mikaël Silvestre was perhaps a puzzling signing to many Gooners in the late summer of 2008.  He seemed to have everything in the “no” column as an Arsenal signing: 31 years of age, longtime stalwart (if that’s the right word; it’s probably not, maybe something more like “mercurial enigma”) at Manchester United, and was seen by many as injury-prone.  He was the first player since 1974 to move directly from United to Arsenal, and seemed to signal the end of a slow summer transfer window.

With Kolo Touré and William Gallas seemingly holding down the center of defense, and Gaël Clichy on the left, Wenger no doubt saw him as a squad player drafted in as much for his sage qualities as his abilities on the pitch.  Indeed, the Boss said “We have a strong squad, but a young squad, and Mikael’s versatility, experience and calibre will provide the extra depth we need to reinforce our challenge for honours this season.

His defensive adaptability will serve us well, and it’s a big plus that Mikael has top level experience and a great understanding of football in the Premier League.”  Fifteen months after his signing, Arsenal have called upon his experience nineteen times in all competitions, and the results, while mixed, have lately become more encouraging again.

The thing about Silvestre in his time at Inter, Manchester, and Arsenal, is that his play has always been seen as a little inconsistent.  This sporadic form makes Silvestre a slippery player to get a feel for, a characteristic that leads supporters more to disappointment than hope, sadly.  My United-supporting friends often complained about him and Wes Brown bumbling away at the back in 2005; the jury was perpetually out.

Silvestre’s time at Arsenal has followed this pattern as well, his first months marked by an own goal at Fehnerbahçe and criticism from Wenger following the 4-4 draw with Tottenham.  He featured in the 2-1 win versus United a couple of weeks following the Spurs match, an occasion which surely pleased him.  But after this run, he mostly faded into the background, playing only occasionally in the first team.

Silvestre was playing mainly in the reserves side this season until all kinds of bad voodoo started up at left-back.  Shaking off the rust, Silvestre had to slot into the first team following Traore’s injury at Anfield, and the worries filtered in from Goonerland.  How would a well-aged left back, one who had looked a little shaky at times despite good performances captaining the Carling Cup and Champions League sides, fare once given regular time in the XI?

Burnley was always going to be a good test.  In Chris Eagles, they possess a talented winger (and a former teammate of Silvestre’s), perhaps not the most technical, but a guy with pace who had given our defense a really tough time in the Carling Cup last year.  Silvestre did indeed struggle to keep up with the Burnley man, Eagles rifling a good shot off the post and pinning the Frenchman back in his own end, thus limiting any offensive contributions from the left back.  A third of Silvestre’s passes went astray.  Rumblings began around Goonerdom, the doomers fearing for our defense and for Manuel Almunia’s confidence.  No news from the physio room, and Hull City looming, Silvestre would pull on his boots again at the weekend.

Hull, however, possess no Chris Eagles.  Silvestre looked a new man, perhaps having worked out a few more kinks, shaken loose a few more cobwebs.  He was rampant, involved in attack, and holding down the left side with no problems.  He made three times as many passes as he had at Turf Moor, only a couple going astray, he was shooting, he was smiling.  For a fourth-choice left back, he looked great and comfortable, as he had captaining the young guns at Olympiacos earlier in the month.

Despite the mixed bag that has been Silvestre’s season, he is still a player with a lot of top-level Premier League experience, and every game he plays for the first team can only increase his confidence and form.  The impending return of both Clichy and Traore will see him return to reserve status, but I feel that a string of games, should it be necessary, will see Silvestre return to decent, if unspectactular, form.  He will never burn up the turf with sheer speed, but his wisdom is an asset as much as anything, and hopefully he can feature as needed in the FA cup and as injury cover, and keep offering good service to the Arsenal into the future.