Can Denilson finally silence his doubters tomorrow?

Arsenal’s season can finish on a flourish if one of it’s players can raise his game in some crucial potential trophy winning games to come over the next four weeks. I speak of course of Denilson, our young Brazilian whose career has been dogged by inconsistent reviews. Arsene Wenger launched a staunch defence of his 21 yr old brazilian midfielder on Arsecom and stated that he has a key role to play against the Italian side.

“When you play against Roma you know there is one battle you cannot lose and that is in midfield because that is their strong point.  They play with a congested midfield and with a lot of short passing on the ground. If you lose that battle you will be second best. If you look at the numbers and the amount of balls he wins, he is one of the top midfield players in the country on many indexes,” Wenger said. “He doesn’t talk too much be he is very efficient.

“I am surprised how little credit he got for what he has delivered since the start of the season. I think he has improved tactically in his first pass and physically in the challenge. He is much stronger than a year ago.  You can see today when he makes a tackle he wins the ball. I am convinced he will be even stronger in six months.”

What Arsene Wenger and I can agree upon is the good progress that Denilson has made since that awful game against Fulham very early on in the season. Denilson’s last game at the Emirates revealed that he is maturing into a fierce tackler and is willing to put his body on the line. Denilson has incredibly high pass conversions last noted by Opta on the 9th of February as 86% of 1637 passes a little down on his previous high of 89%. The match against Sunderland saw Denilson developing the kind of consistency of ball winning that we need at the moment. But it is his shortcomings in other areas of his game that I and others point to in our reservations of this young Brazilian. The problem for Denilson and other young players like him, is that he is in an Arsenal side being judged against the prodigy that was Cesc Fabregas.

Denilson joined Arsenal in August 2006 aged 18 from Brazilian side Sao Paulo, where he made a total of 12 appearances which included the match against Liverpool in the 2005 FIFA Club World Championships. He also achieved success in the South American Championship (Under-17) and Libertadores Cup, both in 2005. He was captain of the National Under 19 side. He was rapidly brought into the Senior International squad as cover for Gilberto for a friendly against Switzerland and all seemed set fair for this young Brazilian prospect who was described then by Arsene Wenger as “Technically good and lots of stamina”

I had to agree then, my early recollections of Denilson from his excellent Carling cup performances were that he was very much like Cesc Fabregas in his style of play, and much was expected of him in the following season. However the emergence of Flamini and Gilberto’s role in the team meant that Denilson rarely got an opportunity to show his worth as Arsene Wenger acknowledged himself in October 2007.

Yes Denilson has been overlooked,” said Wenger. “But he is a fighter and he will appear during the season. He had some great performances last season and I personally believe that he has made steps forward. Now he must keep his head up and not feel sorry for himself. He is still the youngest player here and he already has experience. At the moment he gets fewer chances but that will change for him.”

By the following September after Denilson had been out for some time with a back injury, he was given an opportunity with the departure of Flamini and an injury to Abou Diaby. He was partnered along side Fabregas and Arsene Wenger again reiterated his belief in the player.

“Denilson has different qualities to Flamini but if you look at the numbers at the end of the season you will see he is a very good player. You look at the assists he has had since the start of the season, the balls he wins, the interceptions he has and the distance he covers. He is maybe not a flashy player but he is an efficient player.”

 In January this year Arsene Wenger had again found it necessary to spring to the defence of his young Brazilian following the consistent displays and efforts during the difficult November period.

“I am surprised by two things – by how well he has done and how little credit he gets from the media, I don’t think many people have gone down and deeply analysed his game. If you analyse it a little bit in a deeper way, that means the ground he covers, how much ball he wins, how quickly he passes the ball, where his balls go, you will be quite surprised.  But he is a player who doesn’t attract too much limelight because he is discreet, doesn’t talk and does his job. That’s what I prefer. He’s a very hungry player and he is 20 years old, plays every game under a lot of pressure and I have never seen him in one training session be a little bit within himself. He always gives you 100 per cent.”

On this blog, I have not been one of Denilson’s greatest admirers but in fairness to him, I have acknowledged his progress despite it being painfully slow by the benchmarks of our necessity. I wrote then of Denilson last September

“Denilson on the other hand is physically too lightweight at the moment and in my opinion he needs another season or two to mature into what Song brings to the table now. Denilson will remain a vital and creative member of our squad, and please do not think that I regard him as a weak player. His recent tendency to panic and lose focus is something that we have not seen from the Brazilian, and I suspect that the enormity of the role given to him by Arsene Wenger had got the better of him. He must be protected with regard to his confidence and with others like Aaron Ramsey in the wings, he must improve his game, but for me it is Song, not Denilson who is the solution to the Flamini void.”

Many attack me for not giving credit to Denilson, and have seen my observations of him as petty and unkind. But FTK says it as it is, and my most damning criticism of Denilson was to state that he lacks a footballing brain and is apt to ball watch. His recent excellent assists indicate that he is at last maturing in that department. But looking through the archives, I found this critique of Denilson by a Times Journalist.

In a devasting analysis of the United game at the Emirates, Denilson’s lapses of concentration are highlighted in a series of stills and playboard analyses. The journalist states

United exerted greater pressure and created more scoring chances — as the goal attempts and passing figures indicate — partly because of the lack of defensive cover provided by Denilson, whose role as the holding midfield player is shown by Arsenal’s average touch positions. The Brazilian’s failure to track back nearly cost his team several times,

It is Deni lson’s lapses in concentration which have impeded his progress, and this aspect of his game is now improving. He now needs to build upon his ability to make good assist passes, by improving his strategic awareness in defensive midfield. He is now at the stage where Flamini was prior to his dramatic overtaking of Gilberto, and if Denilson can just focus on his range of passesin central midfield and look around him as the play switches to defence, then he will finally come of age and be even better than Flamini. In Denilson’s case, I believe that he has merely been a slow developer, and perhaps the worst thing that could have happened to Denilson was to see the departure of first Edu, then Gilberto. his fellow countrymen would have nursed him through his doldrums.

Tomorrow on the Champions League stage, Denilson will carry the expectation of his manager and the hopes of many Gooners. I sincerely hope that the lad can deliver in the way that I know he will be able to in seasons to come. If he can deliver a bravura peformance and cut out the silly errors of conceding possession too easily, it will give him the confidence to begin the assault upon the final third of this season. Denilson’s future is in his own hands, and I for one wish him all the luck in finally achieving the accolades of greatness upon the field of play where it counts.

Fabregas the King.

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