Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Wednesday April 16 2008
With our season having petered out, some might contend that Arsene should experiment in our final four league games and look to find out a little more about his players before withdrawing into his summer cocoon to mastermind next season`s assault. On the other hand, with Chelsea still in European competition and with Manchester United to visit the Bodge in search of another Premiership title, second place is still very attainable and with some very winnable games remaining, perhaps we should concentrate all of our efforts into that?
It`s certainly a conundrum for the manager. He showed signs of experimentation in our fixture at Old Trafford by playing Alex Song at centre half and deploying Robin van Persie as a left winger. On the final day of last season at Fratton Park, Arsene eschewed the prospect of third place by fielding some of his youngsters. It was the beginning of the Eboue experiment as it were, where he was played as a winger. (An experiment that has failed, more on that in a second). Johan Djourou played in central midfield and the likes of Jay Simpson and Mark Randall were substitutes. I would offer that such wholesale changes would be a little too risky. We have been in a horrible spell of form lately and I would have serious compunctions about risking losing confidence even further with indifferent results as we go into the summer. I think it`s important to finish the season strongly to allow the squad to regain some belief going into the close season. But I don`t see why some small adjustments cannot be made.
Firstly, we have to consider an alternative to Cesc Fabregas who has admirably been running on empty for a little while now. As ever, the criticism he has attracted in this period is exposed as entirely far fetched when you look at his assists record since March. But I think it`s worth giving him a breather for one or two of the games on the bench and allowing Diaby to prove himself in the central birth he craves. Diaby is utterly wasted out on the left; in the centre he would provide a different approach to Fabregas with his power and impressive dribbling skills. I think it is worth considering as a variable alternative, we have come to rely too much on certain characters and need to be able to give these players a breather every once in a while. Comparisons are painfully simplistic, but one can look at Ferguson, who once every ten games or so will leave one of his superstars on the bench for home games against 'lesser` teams. They are always available to introduce if things go a shape of the pear.
Alternatively, Denilson (reward for his capture?) appears to be Fabregas` mini me, cut from the same stylish, swaggering cloth. Like Diaby, he looked very impressive at the back end of last season and giving him some more minutes can only benefit us for next year. Now, I believe Emmanuel Eboue attracts far too much criticism for his displays in an Arsenal shirt this season. However, I think the manager has to accept that he does not make enough of an attacking contribution to be a right winger. I do think that too many have been too hasty to forget his performances as an attacking full back in the past, I would argue that he should be in the squad as Sagna`s back up and somebody who can allow Sagna the odd match to rest his limbs. I think Kolo Toure needs to spend the rest of the season relaxing in a hot bath. Burn out is never more noticeable than when it happens to a player as energetic and rumbustuous as Toure. He has played pretty constantly for four years and his current malaise is entirely understandable. I have no concerns for his long term future; I just think he needs to take a load off his back with a pack of silk cut and a pint of the black stuff (metaphorically speaking you understand. If I see him with either of the aforementioned in one of my local boozers this summer, I will confiscate and, ahem, recycle). Eboue needs to play at right back for the last part of the season with Sagna still out. He needs to learn how to do it again in readiness for next season. His discomfort on the flank is understandable, as a full back, he would have Alex Hleb in front of him, creating space for him to power into. Whilst an erstwhile runner, Eboue is no Alex Hleb on the football, beating players is not his forte. Let him get back to doing what he does best.
Fabregas and Sagna will likely be involved in international action this summer (shakes fist towards heavens maniacally). I think we can afford these changes. With a space now vacated on the right hand side, it would be an excellent time to accelerate the development of Theo Walcott. Too much pressure is put on this lad and the whole world seems to think him incapable of average. One week he is the most awful player ever to don shinpads and another example of Arsenal destroying indigenous talent, the next he is the finest player ever to pass urine and should play every position on the pitch on his lonesome. You know, like one of those old Bugs Bunny cartoons? However, we have seen Walcott develop into a very good impact player to unleash onto weary defenders (witness Theo`s passable Forest Gump impression at Anfield). With the pressure and the spotlight focussed not so keenly in the last four games, I think it would represent a good opportunity to get him to exude an effect over 90 minutes.
As I mentioned earlier, it is important not to take our remaining opposition too lightly and finish the season strongly and with a big a points total as we can amass. Probably one or two of the aforementioned changes in each game would suffice. There have been points this season where Wenger obviously has not trusted his squad players and this is a good chance for some of them to stake their claim. For players such as Gilberto and Mad Jens, I think their focus will be razor sharp as they propel themselves with longing into the shop window for watching suitors. (Visions of Amsterdam instantly come to mind). I saw an interview with Adebayor in which he revealed that he was desperate to hit the thirty goal mark, as Henry apparently predicted last summer that Ade would hit that lofty number. (Incredibly he is still criticised. I urge you to go and look up Ade`s shots to goals ratio compared to Ronaldo. It might surprise you). Complete overhaul is neither desirable nor necessary, but Arsene can use the last four games as a canvas for his developing masterpiece. As King Whitney Jnr. once said, "Change has a considerable psychological impact on the human mind. To the fearful it is threatening because it means that things may get worse. To the hopeful it is encouraging because things may get better. To the confident it is inspiring because the challenge exists to make things better."LD.
Date:Wednesday April 16 2008
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