Arseblog: Tuesday 29th July 2003

july 29th

07.36 – “I do not expect to sign any more players. We have lots of good young players and I am pleased with their attitude. It is a year when I want to integrate some of these into the squad.”

Arsene Wenger speaking to somebody, somewhere, sometime yesterday I think. Ok, so we’ve invested a lot of time and money in creating a youth academy that long term could save the club millions in transfer fees. Looks like that’s going to start this season.

You all know the names of the young players we’ve got who are close to the first team. We’ve got some very good players on the way, and maybe AW’s hands are tied a bit by the financial constraints, but as has been pointed out here before, if he keeps buying big name players then it makes it impossible for the kids to get their chance. I’m happy for the youth to get their chance, because I honestly believe that we have potentially excellent players in midfield and up-front who will do themselves and the club justice when called upon.

However, like this time last season, I’m concerned that we’re not strong enough defensively to mount a serious challenge on both the Premiership and Champions League next season. We have Sol and Martin Keown who are an excellent partnership, but MK5 is now 37 years of age, and has been spending longer and longer out injured each season. I think it’s fair to expect him to miss a chunk of the season.

Then we’ve got Cygan, who to my mind is not good enough for Arsenal. He’s a nice tidy player with the ball at his feet and plenty of time, but defensively he’s suspect, prone to errors and I think he’s mentally weak too. He can’t cope with the pressure of playing football at level with such high expectations. He should be 4th choice at best. I keep hearing people say ‘Oh well Pires was crap in his first season’ but it’s a lazy argument. It was obvious to anyone with half an eye for a player that Pires was a class act. Cygan scares me. He doesn’t quite scare me like Stepanovs, but he scares me nonetheless.

In my opinion we lost out on the Championship in May because we struggled defensively in certain games. Most of those games featured Cygan. I know he’s not fully responsible for the results, it’s a team game and all that, but the statisics say something. When Sol and MK played together in the league, we didn’t lose a game. All the defeats came when Cygan played. Dismiss that as meaningless if you want.

After Cygan we’ve got new boy Philippe Senderos who comes with Great Expectations. People are talking about him being a first team regular by the end of the season. They’re talking about him being the new Tony Adams. A lot of pressure for a young boy. Myles Palmer reckons Senderos will be a top centreback (and bizarrely reckons new keeper Jan [sic] Lehmann will be a top centreback too), even though he’s never seen him play. That’s the sort of hype Senderos is creating. But are we expecting too much from a lad of 18? I think we might be, and that’s why I think we need to buy a centre-half.

Imagine a situation where Arsenal are chasing the league and the Champions League. Two decisive games coming up, away at Old Trafford and away against Real Madrid in the CL. Keown is injured/suspended. Sol is injured /suspended. That leaves us with Cygan, Senderos, Stepanovs or Tavlaridis for the centre half positions. Imagine Cygan and a rookie like Senderos against Raul, Zidane, Figo, van Nistelrooy, Ronaldo etc.

Weak, in my opinion. When we have such strength in depth in almost every other position on the field, I can’t understand why we’re so weak at the back. Unless Senderos really is something special, and takes to Premiership football like a duck to water, with no problems settling in or getting used to the pace and physical side of English football, we’ll struggle when we go beyond Sol and Keown next season.

I dread to think how we’d cope if Sol ever picked up a long term injury.

What are the choices available to us though? Well, Gio has been linked with a move to PSV, and Sylvain Wiltord was linked yesterday with a £5m move to Lyon who are looking for a striker to replace Sonny Anderson. Now, PSV have Kevin Hofland and Lyon have a certain Edmilson, who AW tried to buy at the same time as Edu but couldn’t get a work permit for him. Both quality centre-halves, both of who I’m sure we could afford in a player+cash – or even no cash, straight swap – deal. It’s even been suggested that Lyon were willing to let Edmilson go on loan. Signing either of those two would add the quality and the depth we need at the back if we want to realistically challenge at home and in Europe, and in my opinion would give us the strongest squad in the Premiership.

For all our great young players coming through in various positions, there isn’t an outstanding centre-half among them and let’s face it, Keown is going to retire at the end of the coming season anyway, we’re going to have to buy a new defender then anyway. Why not bring somebody in who can learn from Keown on the pitch and during training? If Senderos comes through it’ll mean we’ll have 3 top class centre-halves, plus Cygan as back-up when needed. He’s not going to complain and demand first team football. He knows he’s at a club way beyond his level anyway. 4th choice would be fine for him.

Without a signing I think we’re taking a massive gamble. We’re gambling that Sol and MK5 will stay fit and unsuspended for most of the season, we’re gambling on Cygan improving immeasurably, and we’re gambling on an 18 year old kid who’s played all his football in Switzerland. For me that’s too big a gamble for a club with the ambitions of Arsenal to take.

I’m not talking about going out to break the bank to sign a Cannavaro or a Nesta, but there’s got to be somebody we can bring in within our budget. Gio you could value at £4m, Wiltord more or less the same. In the current market I think Hofland could be bought for £7m, Edmilson much less. Is that more or less of a gamble than doing nothing?

We’ll see next May I suppose.

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