A quiet day on the news front yesterday. Perhaps the most ‘tantalising’ comments concerned the importance that Arsene placed upon the retention of Philippe Senderos. Complimenting him on his abilities in the air, Le Boss noted that these were important in England. It seems a throwback `to decades past for him to say that but invariably when you consider his point, it is true. Damn his logic! It seems also that he learnt much about playing his cards close to his chest during his career for whilst he is positive about the contribution Senderos can make, it is impossible to say whether or not Philippe will participate for more than the odd game when Gallas or Toure is unavailable or, well, basically, knackered.
There is no doubt that Senderos had a good weekend; he was comfortably the most consistent of the central defenders at The Emirates Cup. However, it seems inconceivable that either Gallas or Toure will be absent from the Fulham game unless fitness reasons prevent their selection. And therein lies the defensive conundrum that Arsene must solve. It is patently obvious that the pair of them are the most experienced defenders at the Club yet as a pairing they are incompatible or have been so far. The question is whether or not Arsene can wait to form a judgement on that.
Each of us has his own theory as to why Toure and Gallas have proven to be unsatisfactory as a partnership; they are either too small, lousy in the air, lacking in concentration, Gallas is to blame, it can’t be Kolo. For me, there are two factors that are largely at fault. Firstly, Gallas’ season last year was disrupted. He made it to the Club by a Gnats whisker last August, lacking any preparation time with Toure to form one of the key partnerships in any team. He then suffered considerable misfortune with injury, missing several months. Secondly, when he was finally fit, he came into a team devoid of it’s scorers and any number or combination of players. The situation was hardly conduicive to building a partnership. As we are in pre-season, it seems from the weekend that little if anything has improved yet this not the time to raise questions; there are two games left before the proper stuff starts and so it has to be a time of perserverance.
It has to be the case because the spine of the team is key to any success. The difference between Champions and Challengers is the line drawn down the middle; Chelsea proved last year that if the centre backs and goalkeeper are not your first choice, it is extremely costly. Arsenal need Gallas and Toure to work. The defence needs their experience; the full backs look good and have experience but Toure and Gallas ought to augment it to bring in solidity. If this works, the spine of the team looks a little bit more than half decent; Lehmann, Toure, Gallas, Gilberto, Fabregas, RvP. Genuinely, I believe they are good enough in comparison with their peers within the European game. Only one of them can be questioned in terms of an out-and-out goalscorer and lets face it, van Persie’s return last season was none too shabby, on course for being in the top three of the Premiership’s leading goalscorers until injury struck.
The problem is with Gallas and Toure is when to draw the line over whether or not the Partnershp works. Do you give it a dozen games? Half a season? The whole campaign? Do you react the first time it falls apart? Unless Arsene is brave in his decision-making, waiting to see if something happens, it will be costly. And who to replace them with? Nortveidt and Bartley are non-starters for this season, too youthful for the Premiership which leaves Senderos or Djourou. As regular readers know, I have time for Senderos; shorn of confidence by Drogba, I believe he is capable of a long Arsenal career, the start to it is closely paralleled with that of Adams and to a lesser extent, Keown. He was outstanding in the 2005-06 Champions League campaign.
However, his problem is that I believe Djourou is a better all-round defender. Indeed given the similarities in their physique (Senderos is 6’3, Djourou 6’4) Djourou’s touch and distribution is superior. In that respect, Senderos is likely to be unlucky at club level, losing out to Djourou in the long term unless Johan is moved into the centre of midfield. Whether that begins this season depends on others and Senderos’ own confidence. One of them is sure to be Gallas’ long term replacement given his age and in all likelihood his departure out of the Club in a couple of seasons (I cannot see him being here in two years time even if honours flow – Gallas’s ego surely won’t be able to cope with a one year rolling contract). Whether it will be Senderos or Djouro, time will tell.