What if Arsenal were to start next season without adding any players? For a lot of people this would be a disaster, I’m not so sure myself. It seems a very hypothetical question, but it is one that is worth answering I feel, and I’m very curious to hear other people’s opinions on this. Although, either point of view one might take largely rests upon how you view the talent emerging from within.
The first question that would have to be considered is who fills Flamoney’s spot now he is competing with Gattuso for a start in the UEFA cup. Gilberto would be the obvious choice, he showed towards the end of the season he isn’t totally washed up, but I think this is short term. My feeling is that Wenger will look to get Diaby enough games early to lay claim to the spot as his own for years to come. Le boss said after the season that a disproportionate amount of the goals we conceded came from long balls and particularly the second ball, i.e.: flick-ons.
To start with Diaby would add an aerial shield in front of the back 4, thus helping here in a way Flamini couldn’t. I also think Diaby’s development mirrors that of Toure slightly. When Kolo came to the club he was played as a winger, then gradually moved back, but not before developing the creative and technical side of his game. I remember Diaby playing as a second striker for short spell, lately on the wings, but with an attacking emphasis. The knock on Diaby in general seems to be that he appears lackadaisical, making bad choices with the ball, and occasionally sleeping during games. I feel though that the mental side of things, which all these knocks refer to, can be taught.
The Wenger way is to find players with great physical and technical talents, uncoachable after a certain age, then teach them how to use them. Diaby certainly has great physical skills, like Vieira if slightly less aggressive. Technically the only knock would be his long passing, but he can dribble, pass in tight areas, and has a monster shot from range. If Gilberto can pass on the positional aspect to him, he could be the best defensive midfielder since paddy left.
During last season Wenger said, “We are well on the way to turning Diaby, Denilson and Walcott into world class players.”  Not to labour the point above, but I don’t think that refers to Diaby as a winger. I think Denilson looks a top quality prospect also, his season was ruined by injuries. Between those two, I think we have enough cover for Flamini’s departure in the long term, with Gilberto also available next year. Walcott came on leaps and bounds toward the end of last season and Vela, an exciting prospect has already arrived.
Doesn’t mean much, those montages are misleading, but check Vela against Real Madrid on You tube. He does a Henry style nutmeg on Ramos, one of the best defenders in the world, by the corner flag. Assuming Hleb stays and Rosicky can still walk next year; that would give us a quality experienced starter on each flank, with a young super speedy back-up, before we have to consider Eboue.
Talk of Eboue leads us neatly on to the defence, where he should back up Sagna, which I think will be the greatest area of concern.
Up front Ade is assured a place, and while RVP, Eduardo, Bendtner, Walcott, and Vela all have either age or health issues, there is sufficient depth and potential there. At the back things look less certain. It was here that we fell short last year, and bar Alex Song, there doesn’t seem much room for home-grown improvement. Sagna and Clichy look like locks to start for the next 5 years. I think playing Eboue at fullback in home games would give us an extra attacking edge against negative teams, and overall he would be one of the best backup right-backs in the world. Traore looks a quality prospect as reserve for Clichy, although if his move into midfield is permanent there is a shortage here.
The biggest question this summer I think involves what happens with the Toure Gallas partnership. If this is broken up who gets dropped? Toure could play right-back, but that would be very tough on Sagna, the premierships best in his position last year. If Gallas loses out that would be the captaincy to you would assume. The problems with these two playing together were evident in pre-season last year. However, a very easy fixture list – we didn’t play a tough game bar Blackburn away until well into October – and a healthy front-line scoring freely, covered up the problems.
When Toure came back from the ACN he was a shadow of his normal self, hampered by injuries and diminishing confidence. Yet, I think on form he would be chosen ahead of Gallas. If we do buy someone here, it could cause real tension within the squad, the last thing we need is one of the few senior players we have left sulking, setting a bad example to the youth, and diminishing morale. But can we enter next year with no new players here?
Behind these two Song seems next in line, and a real quality, but he is another smaller CB. Djourou has regressed badly, having looked a real prospect his future at the club is in doubt. Senderos is an enigma; capable of genuine dominance, but also stupefying mistakes. I have defended him endlessly, but after Liverpool in the champions league there is much to atone for now. (As I write sky sports has reported a bid for 21 year old defender Zapata of Udinese. If true, perhaps Wenger will keep faith with Toure Gallas for another year, but with a replacement to develop simultaneously?)
Pre-season will be very interesting this year, giving us an indication of what next season will hold. Just as the frailties in the centre of defence were the big issue last year, and proved to be all season. Maybe this year will show us something new and of more promise. I personally hope to see Diaby played in the centre of midfield, with Gilberto passing on his knowledge in a few warm-up matches. Also, I think 4-3-3/4-5-1 suits our players better. With many quick skilful but small players, it gives a more solid base, allowing the inclusion of a genuine holding player.
This could be an easy way to make up for the loss of Flamini’s energy. RVP, Walcott, Vela, and Hleb could all play as wide forwards supporting Ade, whilst Cesc would get relieved of some defensive responsibilities. Arsenal always look at their best when he gets forward, playing passes or running beyond the attack. The only problem would be where could we fit these new signings that will inevitably arrive?