WTTGT Writer: Ben Walshe
I swear Arsenal get a ridiculous amount of injuries to key players – as seen in the recent North London derby – with reliable right-back Bacary Sagna suffering a broken leg which will supposedly keep him out for around three months.
This amounts to three months without the most consistent defender Arsene Wenger has at his disposal; three months without a man who has established himself as arguably the best right-back in the world. Three months without that incredible haircut!
Okay I can handle the last bit, but still, it’s a big blow for the Gunners. In previous seasons Emmanuel Eboue would be the logical replacement, but with the Ivorian utility man leaving in the summer it makes things a little more complicated. There are a list of possible candidates, none of them ideal, but all of them with various strengths.
Firstly, youngster, Carl Jenkinson. He signed from Charlton over summer, and this teenager certainly has a lot of potential. He is strong, fast, works hard, decent going forward and can whip in a lovely cross. I liked this signing when Wenger made it, and I think Jenkinson can contribute to Arsenal and have a good career here, however, to ask him to play for three months in place of Sagna is a big ask, particularly considering that not so long ago this lad was playing Conference. Notably, he played well on Sunday against Sunderland, and he appears to be Wenger’s front runner.
I don’t think he has the necessary experience to be thrown in like this. We saw him against Spurs and United and he looked very out of his depth. That is to be expected, and personally I think Wenger was wrong to throw him in the deep end like that. I don’t think he is ready to be a regular for Arsenal. It would put a lot of pressure on his young shoulders, and he shouldn’t have to deal with that. I still think he should be restricted to substitute appearances in the Premier League, and be given a starting berth in the Carling Cup fixtures.
Francis Coquelin is next. The young Frenchman has looked an absolute class-act when given the chance this season. He was certainly not disgraced in the United mauling and was one of the best players on the pitch against Spurs. Calm, composed and energetic, Francis looks a huge talent in central-midfield, and looks to be ahead of Emmanuel Frimpong in the pecking order. When on loan at French side Lorient last season, Coquelin played at right-back several times and certainly gave a good account of himself. He is deceptively strong, a good tackler, and most importantly intelligent. He strikes me as a player who has the ability to play more than one way and in more than one position. I think he would perform very well at right-back, however, given his recent performances I think he has earned himself a place in the starting eleven over the slightly out of form Aaron Ramsey. Alongside Song and Arteta, I think Francis can excel and learn a lot, while contributing a lot defensively and offensively. Because of this, I think he should be kept in midfield, and only be moved to right back if there is an injury during a game.
Option number three is Brazilian, Andre Santos. Santos is my favourite option to fill in for Sagna. He is fast and good going forward. I absolutely love what he brings offensively. After years of Gael Clichy being able to go forward but never really delivering an end product (the Frenchman only scored two goals and made ten assists in 284 appearances) it is good to see a guy who looks capable of getting the job done up the field. His dribbling ability is clearly very good, and although he does not appear to have much of a right foot, he looks an excellent crosser of the ball.
Defensively, he is much better than I thought he’d be. He is fairly strong, looks reasonable in the air and strikes me as a good tackler. Admittedly in the Blackburn game we saw some average defending in terms of keeping opposition players onside (or nearly onside as was the case with bloody Yakubu). However, we also saw some very good stuff, and personally I think we can give him the benefit of the doubt, as it was pretty much his first game for the club and he needs time to learn a new system with new players. Finally, Andre has experience, and that is important considering he will be playing in an unfamiliar position. Santos has played at a good level since 2004, and has international experience as well. The importance of this cannot be underestimated. And, let’s be honest, playing at right-back is not that much different to playing left-back. The principles are the same, the tactics will be the same and he will be encouraged to play his natural game.
You don’t play international football without being a good player – well usually anyway. We all know Andre is a good player, and I was thrilled when he was signed. I have high hopes for Kieran Gibbs, I think this season he will show how good he really is, but again, he lacks experience and needs to continue the recent good work he has put in at left-back. A back four of Santos, Mertesacker, Koscielny (until Vermaelen returns) and Gibbs looks good to me.
There are of course other options, such as Johan Djourou and Laurent Koscielny, but personally I believe these are not viable options just yet. Djourou looks like a player with absolutely no confidence, and his showing at right-back against Blackburn was quite frankly awful. Along with this, his technical ability certainly leaves a lot to be desired, and I do not think he is ready for first-team football yet, much less playing out of position.
Koscielny would be a good choice, however, Thomas Vermaelen is still going to be out for another two weeks or so, so we really need Laurent in the middle with Mertesacker. I have a lot of faith in Koscielny, and if he can start to play consistently he can be a world-class player. We have seen what he is capable of; we just need to see it more often. Also, to move Kos out to right-back would leave either Johan Djourou or Sebastien Squillaci (shudders) to play at centre-back, and in my opinion neither of those two have the confidence or the ability to play there. When Vermaelen comes back I would be okay with pushing Kos out to right-back, but for now I am in no doubt that he is needed in the middle.
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