Date:Friday July 18 2008
We will have to wait for the tortuous process of the transfer window to run its course to assess any impact of the final import or export of players into the squad. Going by the last couple of seasons this could even go on until the final minute of the final hour of the final day. But even if there aren`t anymore changes is it true that overall the squad hasn`t improved over this time last season?
If it is that would ignore the natural law of improvement because unless they are physically and mentally incapable of improving all those in the squad will be better players at the beginning of this season than they were at the beginning of the last one. Common sense would tell you that if anyone of us would identify a problem we have doing our jobs we should be able to train ourselves, or be trained, to eliminate the problems. Given the right raw material anyone of us can improve the way we do things. At the very least we would expect to be able to deal with the problems better than previously. Are footballers really any different from any of us in the way that they improve and develop in their professions?
Looking at the squad now compared to this time last season some improvements in our players are more obvious than others. To illustrate the effect that natural development can have on overall squad improvement I have highlighted just four players.
BENDTNER: Didn`t make any first team appearances for us the season before last but gained experience at Birmingham. Last season he managed 17 starts, mainly in the 2nd half of the season, and 23 sub appearances contributing 9 goals and 6 assists. By the end of the season he was looking much more of a first team player linking up play well and with a midfielder`s ability to pick out a clever pass. At 20 years of age he is older than Ray Kennedy was when he had such a positive impact on the 70/71 season. We can expect more from Nicklas next season.
WALCOTT: Halfway through the season some were questioning his rate of progress. In the 2nd half of the season there were fewer doubters with eye catching contributions in the CL against Milan and Liverpool and an assured personal performance in the ill fated game away to Birmingham. In the season before last he had made 13 starts, 19 subs with 1 goal. This season he produced 5 goals and 6 assists from 16 starts and 19 sub appearances. There is a palpable improvement there that will be all the better for the season just behind him. He is a young player of course and will still be a young player at the end of next season but he should be capable of delivering on that early promise.
DENILSON: An injury-affected season prevented us from seeing as much of him as we might otherwise had done. Having made 13 starts and 6 subs in 2006/2007 without scoring we would have expected to have seen more of him. Nevertheless in just 10 starts and 9 subs last season he was able to contribute 2 goals and 3 assists. At 20 he is beginning to show the physical development that added to Cesc`s game last season. He is physically strong for this age anyway but I would expect him to benefit even more next season as he reaches his 21st birthday two third`s of the way through the season. He tackles much better than many give him credit for. From recent quotes he clearly sees this as a defining season for him. If he is genuinely up for it then I believe this could be a breakthrough season for him.
FABREGAS: PFA young player of the year, European championship winner, premiership pass master surely Cesc can`t get any better than that. It is exciting to think that as a player he almost certainly will. Just as Ronaldo became an infinitely better player as a consequence of physical development so will Cesc. Cesc still looked, physically at least, something of a boy at the beginning of last season. He ended it looking and playing like a man - a more complete midfielder. The experience he will have picked up last season not only playing for Arsenal but in playing and winning with his national team could and should lift him to greater heights. There are no guarantees but this season could be his best yet.
There are others of course. Many of you will have your own thoughts based on what you have seen over the last season or so. Unpopular as it may seem Senderos at 23 will get better. Most knowledgeable coaches, and Wenger certainly would, will tell you that central defenders particularly improve with age. Rosicky and van Persie only have to improve their injury records to improve the squad. As for the improvement that Eduardo`s return could bring, on joining the club he set himself a target of 10 goals and 20 to 25 starts. He managed 22 starts with 12 goals and 10 assists in a dramatically shortened season.
The experience gained by Flamini and Hleb may not be replaced on a one for one basis but the collective improvement and experience of a young squad is in the bank with interest still to be earned. And there is still 6 weeks of transfer window indulgence to go!
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Date:Friday July 18 2008
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