Sunday, September 5, 2010

Arsenal Round-Table: What Does the Season Hold for the Gunners?

Hello all!

Welcome to what is probably the first ever Arsenal round table.

Contributing their views to the discussion today are Tottenham Hotspur fan and B/R World Football Writer of the Year 2009/10Willie Gannon, die-hard Liverpool supporter and my namesake Kaustav Bose, sports novelist and author of A Game Apart - Neal Collins, Tottenham-cum-Liverpool fan Vampy Archer, Arsenal team leader Mohamed 'Awesome Eldin' Masri, and Aston Villa team leader (and Prince of Persia)Yoosof Farah. And, of course, me, Kaustubh, Gooner till death.

First, let me thank all the above mentioned writers for their contributions, for this article would never have been possible but for them.

I also wish to inform you that this article contains opinions of such a wide variety of fans - rather than just Gooners - because I wanted to put forward subject matter as unbiased as possible.

With that out of the way, let's move on to the article itself - five burning questions surrounding Arsenal today.

1) Out of Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott, and Samir Nasri, who do you think is best poised to break out and cement a first team place this year?

Willie Gannon:

I wouldn’t really think that any of those three are the finished article or have done anything special to demand a position in the team.

As players, Nasri and Wilshere aren’t a million miles apart while Walcott offers pace and penetration out wide but isn’t good enough to play through the middle.

I’d go as far as to say that I don’t really see any of those three having a huge say in Wenger’s team this year. I think Diaby will be prefered to Nasri and Wilshire in the middle for most of the season and that Walcott’s use will be determined by who Arsenal is playing at the time, for example; he was dropped against Liverpool but played against Blackpool.

For me, of the three players in question I would say that Jack Wilshire will be the one to watch this year. He impressed at Bolton last term and can play out on the left or through the middle and I think he could be the first choice replacement for Arshavin, or even Fabregas if his form is good.

His promotion should hasten Rosicky towards the exit door and maybe even Nasri if he doesn’t step up to the challenge.

Kaustav Bose:

Theo Walcott.

He is probably peaking in his career now and possibly getting stronger and sturdier.
However all of Walcott, Nasri and Wilshere don't seem the fittest players to me even now, they are just a little injury prone. Keep that out, and Nasri and Walcott should both feature regularly. However, with better form, Walcott seems more likely.

Neal Collins:

Walcott looks like he may be regular, about time too. he's been inconsistent for ages now. He's maturing now.

Wilshere should start too, given Frimpong's demise.

Nasri's of no importance.

Vampy Archer:

Samir Nasri is the indisputable first team player now. So, his place in first team is cemented without a shadow of doubt.

Walcott will get more games this season and is best poised to cement his first team place but he has to perform at highest levels regularly and most importantly against big clubs to silence his critics. While, Wilshere will be here and there and I don’t see him breaking in the first team squad this season barring some injury plagues to other first team players. Moreover, I prefer one-legged Ramsey on two-legged Wilshere at the Arsenal midfield.

Mohamed Eldin Masri:

I believe we cannot put Walcott in this one, he is a different mold than that of Nasri and Wilshere. Walcott is the winger/attacker type, while Nasri and Wilshere are attacking midfielders.

As things stand, I believe Walcott had the best start for the season, I think that Nasri should be the one to keep an eye on after returning from injury (assuming he comes back strong), and Wilshere is the one I’d love to see most of this season, seeing how he is expected to fill in for Fabregas (along with Ramsey) once the Spaniard leaves for Spain.

Yoosof Farah:

Theo Walcott, most definitely. The onus is on him now to prove to Fabio Capello he is worth a place in the England starting line-up, prove to Arsene Wenger he’s worth a place in Arsenal’s starting XI, and prove to the fans of England and Arsenal that he can become the great player he’s been promising to be. But most importantly, this is the season he proves to himself he has what it takes to stay injury free, be in top form, and fully showcase his talent to the world.

And after his hat-trick against Blackpool, the football public will expect more and more from young Theodore Walcott.

Kaustubh:

A week ago, I would have answered Samir Nasri with great confidence. However, due to his injury, I think he will take time to get back into form. Moreover, Rosicky is stupendous right now. So he will have a fight on his hands to make the first team when he returns.

So now I will have to go with Theo Walcott. he's been maturing for years, and I think his time has finally come. Against Blackpool, he was absolutely stupendous. If he performs at half that level consistently, I feel he may become our third best player this year - after, of course, Van Persie and Fabregas, both of whom will hopefully stay fit.

2) How do you think Arsenal’s new signings will fare this year?

Willie Gannon:

To be honest, I think the signings are a little odd.

Both - plus Squillaci, who will probably be confirmed shortly - are French and I think their signings say a lot about Arsenal’s scouting system and Wenger’s knowledge of other leagues.

Chamakh looks a decent signing, he should provide another option that they were lacking last year. Unfortunately for Bendtner I think he’ll be the one to miss out for the most part.

The two centre halves are very interesting. Koscielny is a relative unknown and has never played above mid-table in France so Wenger obviously sees something in him that others haven’t.Squillaci is definitely a gamble. It says a lot that Wenger spent some £7m to replace William Gallas and at international level the ex-Arsenal player usually keeps the new Arsenal player out of the team.

He isn’t the quickest, nor the bravest, nor the strongest, so I would even say that Squillaci is a bigger gamble than Koscielny.

Kaustav Bose:

Not remarkably.

I honestly don't think a second class french defender would do that great. The only silver lining is Chamakh.

As far as I saw him he is more of a great header like Crouch or Klose, his shooting skills are below par. What is interesting though is that Rafa Benitez did state unofficially during his Liverpool stay that Liverpool had a big miss not being able to sign him. Don't know how that'll pan out.

Neal Collins:

Both the signings are cheap French signings, typical of Wenger. I'm not sure about Koscielny. Haven't seen him play much.

However, I do think that Chamakh will do well. He adds a physical element that Arsenal needed. He also tracks back and defends. An astute signing by Wenger.

Vampy Archer:

Chamakh looks promising. He has repertoire of tricks, links-up well, and seems to have developed good understanding with the players on the field already. But, this is what I have seen in his Bordeaux days already. He needs to up-level his game a bit. He surely can be a driving force for attaining Arsenal’s ambitions.

Laurent seems a decent recruitment and will have a good season around for sure. But, I think that his first team appearances would be limited this season.

About Squillaci, I would say that it has to do more with Arsene’s French contingent rather than making a genius transfer. A last hour ditch, must say. What I mean is, Arsene could go and make a 15 million recruitment which would have a more decent approach in solving the problems at back.

Let’s be honest with one thing here; we don’t get good and solid defenders less than 10 millions in today’s market. We have an example of Vermaelen here. Now no matter how well we sugar-coat the economic terms and Arsene’s genius reluctance of splashing the cash in pond for big fish it doesn’t change the things around.

If Arsene would have approached this issue that way then not only it would had instilled more confidence in Arsenal faithful but also it could produce some intimidating waves amongst the league rivals.

Mohamed Eldin Masri:

Usually Wenger shocks us with his signings, they almost always perform great, but I can’t say I expect much from Koscielny. And Squillaci will have to prove himself. Certainly glad to have him though.

I think Chamakh can impress greatly, despite the fact the he seems to be an older, more evolved version of Bendtner, which isn’t exactly the dream signing fans wanted.

However, if Wenger can sign Schwarzer before the window closes, the Australian will definitely be the main candidate to become the new fan favorite, especially with his world class skills.

Yoosof Farah:

Laurent Koscielny will do better than Marouane Chamakh, guaranteed. Why? Because it’s much easier for defenders to adapt to the English game than strikers.

Anybody who has played the game will know that as a defender, you can tackle, head the ball away and clear it no problem, but it’s when you’re on the ball as an attacker and have to try and score goals with midfielders, defenders and a goalkeeper in the way, it can be very tough indeed. A lot of strikers, especially in the Premier League, aren’t that special, so it’s only against the very top teams will Koscielny have his work cut out. Chamakh on the other hand, will have defenders on him left, right and centre considering he’s a striker, and an Arsenal striker at that.

Kaustubh:

I think that the buys this summer are typical Wenger buys. French players of whom most of us have never heard.

However, it is also worth noting that most of Wenger's buys also tend to succeed. Would I have preferred Dzeko and Chiellini? Undoubtedly. But Wenger knows what is best for the club, and I am nobody to question him.

I feel that while Chamakh will do nothing spectacular, he will be a good, solid player for the Red & White. Something like an evolved Bendtner. And he'll also work hard on defense.

I have been pleasantly surprised by the two defensive acquisitions. I had not even heard of Koscielny till two months back. However, he's proving to be a good, aggressive defender.

Squillaci, too, will bring the necessary strength and experience.

3) Do you think Arsenal can contend for a title the way they are built right now?

Willie Gannon:

Right now, short answer: no. They need a 'keeper. Without one they’ll be battling City and Liverpool for 3rd, 4th, and 5th. With one they’ll definintely finish in the top four and are an outside bet to push Chelsea and United who will remain favourites.

Kaustav Bose:

I may sound a bit like Mourinho, but the Arsenal still looks dodgy to me. They look weaker to Chelsea or Man Utd and may be even City.

They just haven't had a winning mentality, which is obvious, as they haven't won any thing remarkable for quite some time now.

Neal Collins:

Yes, if Van Persie stays fit, they can be contenders. Last year, they remained in the race till January despite Van Persie being absent. Who's to say they can't contend this year with a similar team and Van Persie?

Vampy Archer:

To answer this question, we have to see how their rivals are built around. And if we look all things considered, I would say not quite there. They will be contending for the champions league spot like past five years but it would take a miracle or giant falling of their rivals if they are to clinch the title this year.

Mohamed Eldin Masri:

Absolutely, that was always the case, but the problem is that when injuries occur, the team that is built right now is no longer the main team, the back up players just weren’t good enough.

Even if Wenger signs Schwarzer, if the Australian gets injured, Arsenal will be back to the idiotic performance of Almunia and Fabianski. The Gunners are going to need all the luck in the world for things to go their way this season, and they usually don’t get.

Yoosof Farah:

If we’re talking about the Premier League, then simply put, no they can’t. It’ll be between Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City this season. They don’t have the experience and quality for the Champions League either; you could easily see Barcelona picking them apart again this season.

FA Cup and League Cup remain good possibilites though, if they concentrate some effort on those competitions.

Kaustubh:

They can, but it will take a lot of luck. Last year, Arsenal ran Chelsea and Manchester United fairly close, and they did it without Van Persie. With him, and if Cesc as well as other major players keep fit, then they can undoubtedly contend.

However, they have not been blessed with that kind of luck since years.

So, the answer is no.

4) If you could sign any one player who has been realistically connected to Arsenal, who would he be?

Willie Gannon:

Of all the players that have been linked, I think Shay Given would be the ideal one to bring in. He’d be available for a good price and you know he’ll do the business.

Other than him I don’t think there is another keeper in the Premier League that is available/good enough for a team in the top four. Wenger could even offer Almunia as part of a trade to get the Spaniard’s wages off their bill!

But when all is said and done I think keeping Fabregas for one more year was the best bit of business Wenger could possibly have done this summer.

Kaustav Bose:

One player for Arsenal? Well, they need a better defender. Per Mertesacker would have been an ideal buy, a towering figure for Bremen and Germany. Arsenal, to me, are like Tottenham - a top team without one major quality defender. Clichy and Sagna are over-rated.

Arsenal also need a striker, and a strong one too. Maybe selling Adebayor was a huge mistake. They need one like him, maybe a buy like Hugo Rodallega even, who was linked to them at the end of last season.

Neal Collins:

A decent keeper, definitely. Either Given or Schwarzer. At the moment, it is looking like the latter. If that happens, then Given is likely to rejoin Hughes at Fulham. All-in-all, that is a fairly possible scenario.

Vampy Archer:

In this media-age, I can’t think if any news of realistically-connected player had any valid grounds. But, I would go with Shay Given. He's a good, solid keeper who will not make mistakes. Precisely what Arsenal need.

Mohamed Eldin Masri:

Apart from Schwarzer, if it’s a defender I’d go for Heitinga. Good, solid, experienced.

If it's a goalkeeper I’d go for Stekelenburg. He really proved his mettle in the World Cup and would be an excellent buy. He'd take the No. 1 shirt for years to come.

Yoosof Farah:

It has to be Shay Given, surely? Arsenal need a goalkeeper more than anything, and Shay’s the man! He's one of the best goalkeepers going around. He was stupendous last season for City. He also wants to leave. No better fit exsts.

Kaustubh:

Shay Given, of course! He's one of the best 'keepers I've seen, and he wants to leave City. Arsenal presents an ideal situation for him.

Arsenal, too, are looking for a good goalkeeper. There are no better ones than Given.

It's a perfect fit.

5) How do you think Arsenal’s season will play out?

Willie Gannon:

A lot depends upon their signings settling and on bringing in a ’keeper.

With a new ‘keeper coming in I think they could, conceivably, win the league, but that’s unlikely.

Without one they could struggle to retain their top four position.

Prediction- With a ’keeper – 2nd to 4th

Without- 4th to 5th

Kaustav Bose:

For all the experience and the strong squad that Arsenal have, if City live up to their expectation, i think the Gunners may be 4th at best. A highly inspired performance can take them a rung higher but no more, methinks.

As of now, that's how i think things stand.

Neal Collins:

Fifth place finish, injuries over Christmas, not enough depth. Same old, I'm afraid.

Significant investment was needed, but not forthcoming. Still, transfer window hasn't quite closed!

Vampy Archer:

Top 4 finish. Would show the glimpses of finally ending the trophy drought but then would fail to capitalize against big teams again and we can’t really exclude the injuries. So, eventually they will fall behind at some crucial time again.

Mohamed Eldin Masri:

If the usual injuries occur, I think Arsenal will go with the usual late season collapse.

If they stay intact and avoid injuries, I believe they can beat anyone with ease when on form. Would certainly love to meet Barcelona with a full squad, they’ve beaten a half injured Arsenal team and bragged about it for no reason, I believe Arshavin, RVP and Co. would certainly enjoy the Nou Camp.

Yoosof Farah:

They’ll battle with Tottenham for fourth place. I can’t decide which North London rival will get that lucrative, illustrious, coveted final Champions League spot, but in any case, it’ll be a close encounter between both sides for it. Also, Arsenal as an FA Cup or League Cup winner come the end of the season is very realistic.

Kaustubh:

If a good goal keeper is signed before the transfer window closes, I say Arsenal comes out of the blue and does well in both the Champions' League and the Premier League. Win at least one of them.

If a 'keeper isn't signed, then we have a season similar to last season. A third or fourth placed finish in the Premier League, and eliminated before the Champions' League semi-final.

That's all. Thank you for reading. Kindly comment. All feedback is appreciated.