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How Different It All Could Have Been

You may well be aware that unconfirmed reports are emerging this season that William Gallas has been stripped of the captaincy and has not travelled to Manchester for the game tomorrow. Ordinarily I would like to wait for the veracity of these reports to be verified before commenting in this way, however, I've got to be up for bloody 5am tomorrow to go to Manchester myselfand by the time I get back I imagine the subject will have been somewhat exhausted. I should probably also point out that a lot of this article will deal in unabashed conjecture informed by three years of me reading between the lines. I should also point out that this article may cause gross offence to some of you as it will contain praise for Philippe Senderos.

The first thing to get the mind racing is, presuming the reports are true, what is the manager's contingency plan for the captaincy? Arsenal is not a side particualrly blessed with leaders, Gallas and Silvestre are our only outfield players in excess of 26 years old. Some reports suggest Almunia, others Cesc, but with Cesc suspended tomorrow others speculate that Clichy will be given the armband for the first time. I think possibly the best course of action for the manager would be to appoint Almunia until the end of the season, or if he is a bona fide first choice, possibly Silvestre. They would be experienced no risk interims capable of taking the mantle until May. I would hope that Wenger would have a quiet word with either Clichy or Fabregas, whoever he deems to be the best long term choice, inform them that they will be full time captain from next season and allow them a few months to prepare away from the spotlight and the controversy that currently resonates around the position. That's my two cents worth anyway.

But once I had tossed that salad in my mind and solved Arsene's problem for him (it's o.k. I don't charge for the advice Mr. Wenger), it got me to thinking how different things could have been, the roots of this problem lay in 2005. Once the deal had been brokered to sell Patrick Vieira Arsene had to decide who to appoint as Arsenal captain. Ashley Cole ruined his chances with his midnight liaison in a London hotel, Dennis Bergkamp could not play every week, Sol Campbell had lost his place to Philippe Senderos, who finished the campaign having not seen his team's net ruffled in ten consecutive games for Arsenal and Switzerland. Arsene has since confirmed, as I suspected at the time, that he thought long and hard of giving the captaincy to the exciting Philippe Senderos, who seemed to be demonstrating the sort of leadership that earned him the nickname 'Swiss Tony.' (I have no compunction admitting that he was my first choice). Something strange happened during that pre season, Arsene took Philippe Christanval on trial and played him in a few pre season friendlies. After a few moderately impressive performances, Wenger released Christanval telling the press that he had enough central defenders. So why did he take Christanval on in the first place? My thought at the time, and this is only my inference, was that Sol Campbell wanted to leave the club, with Senderos in the frame for the captaincy, it essentially would have cast Campbell asunder on a permanent basis. Christanval I believe was a contingency plan whilst he convinced Sol to stay. (I reiterate, only my interpretation, in the words of Thom Yorke, I might be wrong).

Wenger ended up appointing Henry the same week that he released Christanval. Henry turned out to be an uninspired choice as skipper, foisting yet more responsibility on the top scorer, set piece specialist, penalty taker, top assists maker and club focal point. It clearly did not sit well with Thierry who was already considering his future with the club. In the long term, I think the armband accelerated his decline at the club. Meanwhile the 2005-06 season saw Sol Campbell endure a torrid time, culminating in an alleged mental breakdown and subsequent disappearance during a home defeat with West Ham. Senderos meanwhile, manned a defence that went unbreached for ten consecutive games as the club went to the Champions League Final. Senderos was dropped in Paris, but went to the 2006 World Cup in Germany and not only scored, but also manned a defence that did not concede a goal in open play in the whole tournament. (They were eventually eliminated on penalties following a 0-0 draw). Whilst Henry and Campbell proved not to be up to the job, Senderos was proving himself time and again at the top level of professional football.

Senderos was injured in Germany and missed the beginning of the following season, Gallas was bought in and Wenger never showed the same faith in Swiss Tony again. Senderos went on to make mistakes for which the supporters castigated him, but I am not entirely sure he has made more mistakes than Toure or Gallas in the last two years. What is clear is that without a run of games, no defender can hope to assert himself on a team. Silvestre's first couple of games were car crash stuff, horrible performances, but slowly he has looked more assured. Arsenal's best form last season, offensively and defensively, arrived when Toure went to the African Nations Cup, conceding 0.9 goals a game, compared to the season average of 1.1 goals a game without Senderos. I can't help but wonder how different it all would have been had if Wenger would have stuck with his gut that this domino effect might never have happened. If only Arsene had taken my advice back in 2005.LD.

P.S. Now watch as Gallas appears at Eastlands tomorrow with the captain's armband and this whole article is rendered irrelevant.

Click here to join in the debate on the club forum.

The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Friday November 21 2008

Time: 9:59PM

Your Comments (oldest first)

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The silence on is deafening... they are taking fans for a ride.
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21/11/2008 22:26:00

since 2005,I have had exceptions to some of AW's decisions,(of course in hind sight) he chose to play Ashley Cole and Sol Campbell in that Champs Lge Final,(contrary to the never change a winnig team philosophy,then both left),subbing Pires in the final& subsequently selling Pires,the whole Reyes fiasco,the whole Gilberto/Gallas captainship issue,letting important players leave etc. This is arguably the most trying period for AW since he got here and I think it will make him stronger,more cynical,more ruthless and even more suspicious of the media,all attributes to make him even better as a manager. So its up to AW to clear this mess.
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21/11/2008 22:40:00

it's upsetting watching my favourite clubs fall apart/suffer serious problems. Pompey loosing HR was obviously a big blow, and arsenal seem to lack leadership (insidentally, sol is a great [if expensive] captain for us now) - and west ham (who I went to see play last weekend [against pompey] and there crowd were just dead. none of there "famous" atmosphere, not a single song or word... even about bubbles! all this, whilst Man U, Chelsea, spurs and Man City spend extortionate amounts of money. it's very upsetting.
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21/11/2008 22:45:00

Dutch, just rescued you from the aggressive filter. You can link what you like fella. You know I always enjoy reading and discussing stuff with you. Real Shame about Senderos. I don't see a way back for him but we have not treated him well. There aren't that many better young central defenders about with his qualities. Having said that I think AW now sees the game being played in future with better athletes at the back. We shall see. Have a good day tomorrow, mate. UP THE ARSENAL!
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21/11/2008 23:04:00

I've always found the criticism that Senderos has come in for very unfair. Undoubtedly he has made mistakes in the past for Arsenal, especially when he's just come back into the side, but when he was had a good run of games under his belt he has in my opinion looked a fantastic prospect at centre back given his age. Where was Steve Bould when he was 23? Fabio Cannavaro was uncapped and cutting his teeth at Parma when he was 23. Many of us have called for a "stopper" centre half in recent times and it seems strange that the man who came closest to fitting the bill in that respect was sent packing.
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21/11/2008 23:47:00

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21/11/2008 23:47:00

after several months in italy swiss tone should def return back to his best
fran merida
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22/11/2008 00:40:00

The most disappointing part of this situation is that, despite all his mistakes, Gallas (along with Clichy) seemed to be the only one who gave a ***** at too many instances the last two seasons. It seemed like every time we were down or drawing with a team we should have been beating, he was the pushing himself harder than the rest. For a season in which most of us have complained about indifference and lack of desire, we can't afford to drop someone who actually tries. Its fine if he's dropped as captain, but we need him on the pitch.
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22/11/2008 00:44:00

It does my head in with all the Match-of-the-Day-Style Arsenal fans going on about how rubbish Senderos is. Once the word gets out that he's bad, everyone believes it until Alen f***ing Hansen says he's not. He's done really well Senderos, and it really pi***es me off that so few people apreciate him.
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22/11/2008 00:55:00

Agreed TPowell, by the way.
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22/11/2008 00:59:00

Yeah but your forgetting one thing, Senderous is worse than Michael Dawson
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22/11/2008 02:32:00

Agree to an extent Rob, but lets not make him out to be Franco Baresi. He lacks composure and is prone to rash judgements.
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22/11/2008 02:59:00

A tough case well made. I haven't watched Milan that much this season. Why has Big Phil made only one appearance for them?
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22/11/2008 08:52:00

A terrific article! le Boss has made a number of mistakes (easy in hindsight I know) and the way big Phil has been treated is one of them. When criticising the mistakes Phil made and some of them were rather high profile, we tended to forget his youth and also the many good things he did in a game. He is one of the few proper defenders we have had at the Arsenal in recent years. Matthew Upson was another again still young and finding his feet when he was with us, all he needed was more time, look at him now! I hope that Phil regains his form and confidence in Italy and returns to do a good job for us. In the meantime Arsene has to find a new captain, I suspect for this afternoon it will be Almunia or maybe Clichy longer term I am not sure, perhaps one of those two. I don't think the captaincy would do Fabregas any favours, he needs to concentrate on regaining his form then maybe in another year or two, if he is still with us, he can be captain. Come on the Arsenal!
norfolk dumpling
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22/11/2008 09:04:00

I think it's eay to look at Senderos with rose tinted spectacles given our current defesive problems, but at the end of the day he made a lot of mistakes and didn't have the confidence to bounce back from them. AW gave him a lot of opportunities, before he finally decided he couldn't keep on playing him anymore. I thought Senderos had a lot of potential but just wasn't mentally strong enough. Who knows, he may still go on to be a great player, AW himself suggested defenders reach their peak at a later age. Which is why I feel you need to buy in experienced defenders, let them make mistakes and learn at another club. I remember Rio Ferdinand making some howlers at West Ham before maturing into a classy defender at Leeds and then MU.
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22/11/2008 11:23:00

At big clubs the expectations are too high, the fans and manager can't tolerate a series of bad games from a young defender that costs you matches and potentially trophies. Errors from defenders have much more series consequences usually than that of midfielder and strikers. In lesser teams where they are not competing for trophies or where there are no other options these mistakes are less likely to lose the player his place in the team. There are occasional exceptions such as John Terry and where a defender has the confidence and ability to make it from a young age at a big club. One obvious way round this is to loan out young defenders for extended period to another premiership club as MU did with Johnny evans.
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22/11/2008 11:36:00

Senderos was a donkey! Gilberto was finished at 28! Get over it and move on!
Bergkamp was a Myth
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22/11/2008 12:25:00

I always had time for Senderos. In hindsight, it does look as if bringing in Gallas slowed down his career. If you recall, Wenger didnt want to do the Cashley deal, which meant he wanted to go into the season with Toure & Senderos as 1st choice CB. His career regressed from there, and its unfortunate. How different it could have been, indeed.
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22/11/2008 14:09:00

sendo was sent on laon as he wasnt seemed good enough an loan deal might do him good, i wud compare him to our player dawson started off great full of heart, but lately has been found out like sendo was. gallas wanted to leave chelsea by also stating sell me or ill score an own goal
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22/11/2008 15:35:00

Time to call back Senderos and Traore from loan, and get rid of gallas and sylvester. Those two are affecting the form of the full-backs.The Arsenal defence has never been strong (since campbell and Keowne) without big Phil playing, and those who don't rate him have very limited football understanding.
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23/11/2008 01:04:00

Bring back Senderos! lol. As captain! teehee. Then there's Clichy - the moments v Birmingham and Spurs illustrate his captaincy credentials perfectly. This is how far we have fallen. Bring back Henry and Pires and Vieria and Hleb and Flamini and Gilberto or do something about replacing them with talented MEN instead of fancy boys.
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23/11/2008 04:24:00

No rose tinted specs, I've maintained for a long time that Senderos should be a first team player, he's been dumped on. The manager has allowed certain players to be dumped on in his tenure. Manninger was one who we wouldn't play despite the form of his lifetime, yet he forced Manninger to lay when he was injuured resulting in a loss of confidence and the loss of a great goalie. Stepanovs is often ridiculed, he had one awful game for Arsenal at Old Trafford, he was equally as awful as any other player on the pitch that day, but the manager let him bear the cross alone.
Little Dutch
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23/11/2008 12:59:00


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