We’re well into the close season, with the Euros imminent West Brom is but a distant memory. But who should we keep and who should be we saying “thanks for everything” whilst pointing to the door? Here are my thoughts on the 2011/12 squad, with a view to who should stay/go.
1. Manuel Almunia: Not a single appearance for the Arsenal this season, only one spot on the bench. Had some decent games, quite liked him for the reason that he was someone everyone could relate to. A man who ousted the better player through sheer hard work and a positive attitude. However, his errors were high profile and well-documented – he just wasn’t good enough to be a No. 1, none of the top sides would have had him. He goes with good wishes, but not before time. Go (already released.)
13. Wojciech Szczęsny: A solid second season, he has grown in terms of the authority and stature he possesses. And we’ve needed it, given the problems we’ve had in defence this season. I would say though that in the last few games his focus has been a bit lacking, his kicking a little suspect and he’s nearly come unstuck, booting the ball at onrushing attackers. That said, his shot-stopping has been immense and always good for a quote (see his post-match interview regarding his save against Lee Cattermole against Sunderland (H) for my personal favourite). We’ve still got the real deal between the sticks, and I fully expect him to right-fully assume the no.1 shirt. Stay
21. Łukasz Fabianski: Pretty much whatever has been said about Almunia can also be said for Fabianski. Has made the odd decent save but unfortunately he was far too inconsistent and as a result, he never inspired confidence in his defence. It is said that Fabianski feels that his international chances are being hindered by not playing enough club football. Given that the very same player stands in front of him at both club and international level I think its fair to suggest that he move on, if anything not to see his tormentor on a daily basis. Go
3. Bacary Sagna: One of the most consistent full-backs in the Premier League, I feel he’s back to his best after not the greatest season by his lofty standards. A player who loves the club and always puts in a shift, I never want to see him leave! Stay
4. Per Mertesacker: May have been quite surprised by the pace of the Premier League and it showed as he was exposed a few times. On the flip-side, I’m a big fan of Mertesacker’s no-nonsense tackling and there were certainly instances where he saved our bacon. His untimely injury against Sunderland was unfortunate as I felt he was just getting into his stride. Ok, so he isn’t the fastest but neither was Tony Adams – a good Euros and a better reading of the game to make up that extra yard and I think he’ll turn out to be a great player for us. Stay
5. Thomas Vermaelen: Whilst I must admit defensively he hasn’t covered himself in glory towards the end of the season, it must not be forgotten what a difference he made on his return to the side from injury in 2012. Winning every header, last ditch tackling and just generally settling and organising the defence, it was a pleasure to watch this classy centre-back at work. And that’s before we mention his goals…Stay
6. Laurent Koscielny: What an incredible transformation in the space of 2 seasons. In 2010/11 aside from a couple of games generally he was not strong in the tackle, looked out of his depth and had a lack of confidence. These words do not describe the 2011/12 version. Some of Koscielny’s tackling has been simply outstanding this season, and he just looks fearless. It is a testament to him that he is not just in the side to partner Vermaelen, he is there on equal merit. His metamorphosis has had me gobsmacked at times…it really has been a while since we’ve had a decent no. 6! Stay
11. Andre Santos: When he first arrived, he was one of those classic Eboué-like full-backs – decent at going forward, just not all that interested in defending. But the 5-3 seemed to be a watershed moment – not a very good defensive performance in the first half, an excellent goal later and it seemed to sort his defensive head out. I quite like his style of defending – text-book it ain’t, but you would not want to run into him. Always seems to have a smile on his face, just reckon he needs to be a bit leaner in his second season. A good start. Stay
18. Sebastien Squillaci: Another player who might as well not have been there. The writing was always on the wall – once Per Mertesacker was brought in, and with Johan Djourou already there, his slip down the pecking order was complete. Even with the injuries to Vermaelen and Mertesacker, Arsène preferred other options. And when his moment came away to Fulham, whilst he could have done more with the Fulham’s first, he gift-wrapped their winner with an inexplicable across-the-box assist to Bobby Zamora. Admittedly he had not had a lot of game time and criticism here is probably a little harsh, but I do think it’s fair to say for his own sake, probably best to move on. Go
20. Johan Djourou: Has actually been a valuable back-up in recent seasons, but unfortunately for him he wasn’t as good at it in 2011/12. In fairness to him he has been played woefully out of position, and it showed, culminating in his removal at half-time due to ‘injury’ filling in at right-back against Man United at the Emirates. To his credit I suspect he never complained about playing there, and you wish for players that just do what they’re told rather than challenge the manager. My gripe with him is even at centre-back I’ve always felt he was what I call ‘big-for-nothing’, easily beaten in the air for a man of his size. A nice enough bloke by all accounts, but if Ottmar Hitzfeld really thinks Djourou should leave and he happens to agree, (provided we have another centre-back) I wouldn’t stand in his way. Go
25. Carl Jenkinson: So you’ve mainly played non-league football, the highest level you’ve ever played at is League One, and now you’re playing at Old Trafford. And we’re not having a great day. Tough situation for any young player. Whilst eyebrows had been raised with his acquisition and immediate placing into the first-team squad, Gooners love a trier and he does give his all. And the positive soundbites and “My whole family are Gooners” stories aside, he is quite the crosser of the ball. He’ll not be replacing Sagna anytime soon, so I’m happy with him as back-up and who knows, could he be next season’s Koscielny? Stay
28. Kieran Gibbs: Continuing the fine tradition of young left-backs we’ve had at the club, always liked him. Yes, his injury record is not great but it’s worth remembering than he is still only 22 and will get stronger. My only concern is like the previous incumbent, when going forward Gibbs does at times leave a lot of space behind him. However, I think he is greatly benefiting from increasing Premier League game-time and will build on a good season. Stay
As for the other younger players, I feel that Ignasi Miquel is quietly building well on previous seasons’ appearances, and I’m certainly keen to see more of Nico Yennaris, whose lively 2nd half substitute performance against United at home certainly caught the eye.
That’s it for the back, stay tuned for my thoughts on our attack.