Despite a wide array of attacking talent available to Arsene Wenger, it is clear in my mind that Kolo Toure is the most important player at Arsenal right now. In the last week, Kolo has stood firm (touch wood!) while Gallas and Djourou have both suffered knee injuries. Now it is Kolo’s time to show us why the fans love him and why he was rated one of the best centre backs in Europe only two years ago.
This season has been an up and down one for Toure. He has struggled to find his best form while William Gallas has gone on to find some of his best. The two appeared to be at loggerheads and unable to play together. Personally, I believed, as a pairing they did not work. They had both been employed as sweepers alongside Sol Campbell and John Terry at their respective clubs. Both were brilliant. Together, they looked distinctly average. However, then came Gallas’ revival. He looked like a world beater at times and carried the defence. The majority of the time these displays came when he was alongside Djourou.
Then came the turning point…Kolo Toure handed in a transfer request; he felt unappreciated and ready to leave. Wenger assured him that he still had faith in him but that at that present time he was not deserving of a first team start. Suddenly Kolo realised it was all on him and since then he has gradually become the Kolo of old. Having patched up his difference with Gallas, he set about rediscovering his old form. Recently he has looked like the rock we all knew he could be.
The marauding runs of a Toure who is full of confidence have returned, even stopping to mock Robinho. However, the more important parts of his game have returned. His awareness of the game has returned and he is now reading situations brilliantly. He and Gallas have worked out a way to play together and there are no doubts that Kolo’s return to form made it work. Gallas was already at the top of his game; he just needed the man next to him to do so. Just as it was working well, Kolo had to re –think once again. In came Johan Djourou.
Djourou is the kind of partner I believe Kolo works best with. Kolo knows Djourou will attack the first ball before it bounces. Toure can then react as he knows few defenders will win every header cleanly. Toure was always at his best when he used his pace to cover and anticipate danger. He was a monster in Villarreal and once the shock of losing Gallas past, Toure put in a quality defensive display in the second half, stopping what looked like two huge goalscoring chances for the home side. Just as it seemed Djourou could do a good job, he got injured at Wigan. Kolo has to re-think once again.
It seems Wenger will go with Mikael Silvestre at centre back from now on. He has the other option of switching Sagna to the centre and using Silvestre at left back. Gibbs looked slightly out of his depth and experience could be crucial in these next two massive games. Either way, Toure is going to be the main man. If we are to win anything this season, Toure is going to have to be man of the match in all of them. With Gallas, Almunia and Clichy out, Toure is going to be playing amongst a very disjointed and thrown together defensive unit. Toure will have to be alert to everything, anticipating where the ball will be and using his electric pace to deal with it. There is no time to be pretty and Kolo needs to use his desire to pull us through.
On Wednesday night, Toure will not be against one outstanding striker, but against a team who play fluid attacking football. Toure grew to the task in Villarreal and now he must produce the same. Maintaining his position will be crucial and he must not get dragged out. We need him in the thick of it as Villarreal will no doubt pose a threat. He must organise the defence to deal with the clever runs of Rossi, the creation of Pires and Fernandez.
At Wembley, it will be a completely different task; in the form of Didier Drogba. I am sure Toure’s partner, whoever it may be, will have task to try and stop the supply to Drogba in the air. However, Toure must use everything in his locker to deal with the rejuvenated Drogba. He has been a thorn in our side throughout the last few years and Toure has to use all his knowledge of his international team mate to stop him. It was a completely different Chelsea we played at Stamford Bridge; I thought we had won it when we went 2-1 up, they just didn’t look like scoring. When Drogba is in their side, I never think this.
With Gallas out of the game, Kolo is the only man I believe could deal with Drogba. I would prefer Sagna to Silvestre simply due to his pace. He can fight in the air just as well as Silvestre and will be able to recover quickly and cover the ground at a similar speed to Drogba. If we want to return to Wembley this season, Toure will be crucial.
Two years ago I never thought I would say this but I am glad I am about to. Alex Song has a massive role to play. Over the last few weeks he has dominated the centre of the park and forced his way to the top of Wenger’s list. He is now number 1 choice to partner Cesc Fabregas, at least he should be. He has hunted down opponents and more often than not, timed his tackle to perfection. His positioning has improved and he is now looking so much more mature and confident. The way he took his goal on Saturday emphasises how much more he has in his locker. Why is he important you may still be wondering?
Well…Villarreal are similar to Arsenal in the way they interchange positions in the final third. In Spain, Song did not let this faze him and bar one or two small errors, he dominated the centre of the park. In the second half, most of the things that came through him did not get past him. He was simply awesome. If he can re-produce this, we can pick the Spaniards off and explode through the huge Senna shaped hole that is now present in their midfield with the captain out injured.
At Wembley, we are all aware of the threat Lampard poses from midfield. Whatever people think of him, overrated, lucky, brilliant etc, he is still a threat. Song will have the job to sit in front of the weakened back four and provide the springboard for the likes of Arshavin and Fabregas. If we can shackle Lampard, we stop half the service to Drogba; do this and we are half way to victory in my opinion. If Song does not bring his A game, our midfield could be overrun, leaving our defence vulnerable. I think Denilson just does not bring enough bite to proceedings to stop Chelsea’s midfield.
If Toure can lead the defence in the same manner as Gallas has recently, our forward players can start to dominate the game. In my mind, there is no better attacking combination than that of Cesc, Arshavin, Nasri, Van Persie and Adebayor. Add Theo and Eduardo to that list and it is a scary thought. We got to see Fabregas, Arshavin, RVP and Ade on the pitch at Wigan and it was exhilarating. We had pace, creativity, fluidity, finesse and skill. If these four get it together, neither Chelsea nor Villarreal will be able to cope without sacrificing their attacking endeavour.
It is a pity that as soon as our attacking players returned, our defence fell a part. However, to win something at Arsenal, it seems the players have to deal with this never ending cycle. It is where the best players stand up to be counted. This time belongs to Toure. The fans favourite has to bring it home for Arsenal. If he excels, this team will win.