Backs from the dead.... and the future
There was much agonising over this week as Arsenal said nothing and the Swiss FA said a great deal about the extent of Djourou's injury. The centre back had gone from his season potentially being at an end due to cartilage damage to being fit for the weekend game in the space of 4 or 5 days. It's not known whether the Swiss FA made their own assessment of the player or simply relied on information fed to them by the Arsenal medical team. I suspect it might be the latter in which case the gloomy prediction prior to the Swiss friendly against Malta and the more heartening news when it was no longer possible for him to play might be consistent with the club's more cautious concern over the fitness of other key players for international duty. After a week of silence from the club following his departure at half time in the Newcastle game Johann has today, on the club's website, apparently declared himself fit for the game against Wolves at the weekend.
It's reassuringly good news as the centre back crisis was as much a feature of this last transfer window as the keeper crisis was of the summer's. On both occasions Arsene failed to find a player fit for purpose bringing forecasts of our inevitable doom as a direct consequence. Though we have resources enough to cope, in maximum 25 man squad there's a limit to how many centrebacks you can have without making it harder to cover other areas adequately, Johann's season so far has been an impressive one. From the position of back up player as the season opened he looks to some degree indispensable now. The team's defensive record with Djourou in the side has been impressive though a good proportion of the games he has started have been against relatively modest opposition in domestic cup games. Champions league games have been less impressive with the team conceding 6 goals in the 4 games he has played. Whatever stats may or may not tell you though he has looked aerially strong, decisive and alert in pretty well every game he has started this season.
Squillaci is perhaps the least favoured of the centre back options available at the moment. Being on the pitch in games lost from winning positions is bound to lead to someone being at fault and if Almunia or Denilson aren't on the pitch someone else will have to take the flak. He has shown some ability notably in the earlier games he played but hasn't perhaps had the games against lesser opposition that Johann has had. Our other new signing Koscielny seems, so far, to have had the opposite experience to Squillaci as his reputation and performances have grown as the season has progressed in the same way that Seb's seems to have gone backwards for the present. Kos has featured in more games than either Squillaci or Djourou and has scored more goals, though all three have found the net this season. He has also picked up more cards, 2 reds and 4 yellows, than the others. He's had a pretty eventful season so far and in the process his elevation to the Arsenal first team has earned him his first international call up. The French national team coach Laurent Blanc revealed that they'd been watching him since he signed for Arsenal saying "He's definitely one for the future and the more I see him play, the more I'm impressed by his intelligence, vision and ability to bring the ball out of defence."
The centre back unit this season is entirely new as even though Vermaelen joined last year he and Djourou had little opportunity to play together due to Johann being sidelined for the season. I doubt that we have yet found our most effective pairing but the resources we do have, with Vermaelen still to be re-integrated, all have their qualities. It'll take some time still to grow together to be as solid as it can be but there's a good mix of talent at our disposal.