When Wenger was forced to accept Gallas as part of the deal that saw Cole move to rivals Chelsea it left a sour taste in my mouth. It was at a time when our invincible squad were being torn apart, the deal appeared to show Mourinho getting one over on Wenger. Gallas was not the type of player I wanted at the club, even before he joined us he had a reputation for sulking, for demanding what position he played and for causing unrest amongst team mates.
His appointment as captain was a big ‘two fingers’ up to Gilberto and Toure, part of the few survivors of the invincible XI and it was inevitable that both would eventually leave the club. Say what you want about the emergence of Flamini and Diarra, when he wasn’t given the captaincy, Gilberto was pretty much told ‘your time is nearly up at this club’ his performances in the 2010 world cup are evidence that Wenger made the wrong decision. Gallas’ off-field arguments with Toure showed that things haven’t been right in the dressing room for some time and their partnership on the pitch didn’t help – nether being the ‘proper’ old-fashioned CB that we used to be famous for.
Add to that the introduction of more players who just didn’t seem to cut it. Before his one good season, Flamini (who before that season I always claimed wasn’t physical enough to play CM) was another ‘sulky’ player, complaining about being played LB when he should have been happy just to get in the team. He grew on me, but the rubbish with him and Hleb about ‘team spirit’ and ‘loving playing for the club’ only for them to go the following season grated. Hleb, is another that I just didn’t take to. He was weedy, backed out of challenges and on my first trip to the Emirates Stadium had an open goal and opted to pass back to a team-mate who was surrounded by defenders.
I never disliked Adebayor as much as some, but the way he left was further evidence of problems in the dressing room. This was one thing that in the George Graham days was never an issue – we may have had a bunch of addicts and gamblers, but at least they stuck up for each other and fought for each other on and off the pitch. Our squad in the last few years was about as far from that as possible, we had weedy bottlers on the pitch and discontent off it.
The emergence of Song in midfield and the signing of Vermaelen (a ‘proper’ centre back) last summer were both a step in the right direction. Offloading Hleb was also good news. We still had issues though and my main gripe was Gallas being seen to ‘win’ in his dispute with Toure who was sold. I also wanted to see us sign a replacement for Adebayor which didn’t happen. The way our title challenge fell apart showed that we didn’t have the ‘spirit’ that Wenger kept going on about.
This summer, Wenger has done everything I wanted him to. He brought in Koscielny, letting Gallas know that he didn’t rule the roost and unsurprisingly Billy No Mates didn’t stick around. Offloading Silvestre who I thought was a liability in his few starts last season was also good news. It now seems that Squillaci will be joining us and that gives us three ‘proper’ CBs for the first time since Adams, Bould and Keown. We also have solid full backs in Clichy and Sagna and quality cover in Eboue and Gibbs.
I see Alex Song as our most important player, the only physical midfielder who adds something to the defensive side of the game. Whilst it is sad that Frimpong was injured as he looked to potentially be quality cover, Wilshere seems to have emerged as a cover for Song. Whilst there have been comparisons going forward to Brady and Bergkamp, I have seen more of a ‘David Batty’ in Wilshere playing more defensively – and that isn’t a bad thing! It is nice to have youngsters who seem to enjoy the physical side of the game and aren’t afraid to put themselves about.
We still have an abundance of ‘luxury, flair players’, which will always be the case when Wenger is in charge. But they don’t shy away from a challenge like Hleb did. Arshavin’s response when fouled against Man Utd was to dust himself off and score a screamer. Nasri seems to love putting himself about too. Rosicky and Theo could do with toughening up IMO but with so many more physical players in the team, that isn’t such a problem and I do ‘like’ both players – I used to say the same about Pires but loved having him at the club.
Up front we now have three strikers all of whom are good enough to start every week and all full of confidence. I did like Eduardo, but Chamakh has the physical presence to lead the line that he didn’t and seems to have a lot more to his game. Eduardo just seemed to want to be in the box to score goals and looked lost if he didn’t have a partner up front, but Chamakh can hold the line, drop deep and support or do pretty much whatever Wenger asks of him. I have seen him do all of that in just a handful of games – and that’s whilst he’s ‘adapting’ to the Premiership!
There is nobody in the squad that I dislike in the way that I used to dislike Gallas and Hleb. All of the dead-wood has finally been offloaded. I don’t even dislike Denilson and Diaby, both are good ‘squad players’ and we need a big squad if we are going to compete on all levels – we have been saying we need depth and that is what they give us. The goalkeeper situation may be a little frustrating, but even if Wenger doesn’t manage to get his man (which looks to be Schwarzer) we were top of the league for periods of last season with Almunia in goal and I have seen keepers who were rubbish in their mid-20s suddenly become ‘decent’ as they got older (James, Friedel, Howard) so I don’t want to rule Fabianski out. After keeping his promise of signing two defenders I am willing to give Wenger the benefit of the doubt on the goalkeeper situation.
For the first time since the invincibles I like our squad, there is nobody in the squad that I dislike. I actually think that Wenger has done his job this summer in terms of signings and I can’t ever remember being as content at the end of a summer since transfer windows were put in place. If we don’t win anything this season then for a change I won’t blame Wenger’s signings. If we don’t win silverware this season it will not be through lack of ambition and that pleases me. In recent seasons I have almost wanted the team to fail, to show Wenger that he needs to make changes to attitude, to show him that you can’t win with just airy-fairy flair players and to show him that when players leave they can’t always be replaced ‘from within’. I feel that he has changed his approach, in signing Vermaelen, Koscielny and now Squillaci he has added ‘tough’ players to give us a bit more bite. This feels much more like ‘my Arsenal’ and I will be sticking up for them rather than slating them when they under-perform, which is something I haven’t done since the days of Adams and co.