Friday, 4 November 2011

Wenger's defensive headache -Walcott offered £80k/week deal -Podolski to replace Chamakh?

Morning Gooners.

It's West Brom up next for Arsene Wenger's men and the manager will be looking to achieve a third Premier League clean sheet at the Grove this season on Saturday.

With the shut out against Marseille a good foundation to build on, the manager has got a bit of a headache on who he will pick at the heart of his defence.

The early team news is good. Thomas Vermaelen has not suffered any adverse reaction for his first 90 minutes since returning from surgery, so will be fit to start against Roy Hodgson's men.

Kieran Gibbs is still not available as is Marouane Chamakh, but Wenger says both will be ready to play again after the international break.

But the big decision comes as to which central defensive pairing the manager will pick: Mertesacker/Vermaelen, Merteacker/Koscielny or Koscielny/Vermaelen.

The Frenchman said:
"The balance is vital. In fairness though, I must say that all the three can play with each other. Koscielny and Vermaelen can play together and Mertesacker can play with Vermaelen and Koscielny.  
"It gives us a bit of an opportunity to rotate a bit when needed and people are tired. 
"Ideally, Vermaelen will play on the left [of the centre-back pair]. But Koscielny can play on the left as well so we have a good potential and balance there. I think that all the three can play at any moment, and we still have Djourou and Squillaci as well.  
"People wanted us to buy a centre-back so much and then suddenly you realise we have plenty."
That last sentence to me is disingenuous. He went out and signed Per Mertesacker in the summer, so he did go out and buy a centre back. We were down to three experienced central defenders last winter with Vermaelen out for practically the whole season and yes, fans were calling for a signing in that area because we were weak.

I don't think anyone has suggested since Mertesacker's arrival that we need to sign another central defender. Everyone can see we're well stocked in that area and behind Mertesacker and Vermaelen there is Koscielny, Djourou and even the forgotten Sebastien Squillaci waiting in the wings. And that's even before you think about rookies like Ignasi Miquel and Kyle Bartley.

The manager has a tough call to make on who will start in the middle this weekend. Does he continue with Mertesacker and Vermaelen or recall Koscielny? Personally I would have the Frenchman back in the team for the German because I think against West Brom you want a back line which is more mobile against pace, something which Mertesacker is not.

That said I was impressed with the Mertesacker/Vermaelen partnership on Tuesday night and I can see the manager continuing with them to see how they perform in a Premier League match together. But that decision would be very hard on Koscielny who has come on leaps and bounds this season, enough to earn himself a call up to the French national team.

There is one game to go before the international break, so we really want to end this period with another home win, so it will be an interesting decision the manager makes.

Elsewhere there is speculation in both the Daily Express and The Sun we're about to open talks with Theo Walcott on a new contract.

It's suggested the new deal could push his weekly wages from £60k to £80k a week, if he agrees to sign the extension until 2015.

I think it's fair to say Walcott has still to find consistency in his performances but is certainly moving in the right direction. Is that because he is under more threat than he's ever been at Arsenal of losing his place in the starting 11? With youngsters like Alex Oxlade Chamberlain and Ryo Miyaichi signed in the summer along with the more experienced Gervinho, Walcott has got to be looking over his shoulder.

Has that made him buck his ideas up and focus on playing? Possibly. But it's also made him talk more loudly about being played centrally, something I don't think he's ready for.

Chelsea inquired about his availability last summer and were told he's not for sale. So there is interest elsewhere. I think he'll sign a new deal. He's only 22 and for all my criticism of him, I think he is a good player. If only he could be more consistent.

There is a lot of transfer speculation around this morning.

First up we'll turn to the Daily Mail who says we're offering a one month trial to 21-year-old USA winger Brek Shea. Don't know anything about the player but the wide areas appear to be well stocked at the moment so perhaps Wenger sees Shea's position somewhere else.

Also in the Daily Mail is news we're keeping an eye on the situation of Barcelona's 17-year-old forward Gerard Deulofeu. Apparently he wants first team assurances.  Perhaps he thinks he should start ahead of that Lionel Messi guy.

And completing a hattrick of stories from the Daily Mail is speculation that Marouane Chamakh could be off in January - a line this newspaper is running heavily - with Sevilla or Everton being his options at the moment.

If Chamakh did leave - and I don't think he will, especially after Wenger agreed to loan out Nicklas Bendtner at the start of the season - perhaps we'd be sign Cologne and Germany striker Lukas Podolski, who The Sun says we could get on the cheap unless the German club sort out his contract situation.

Imagine a van Persie and Podolski strike force. That would scare defences!

The manager holds his press conference ahead of the West Brom game later. It will be interesting to hear what he has to say about his problem in defence - which two of the three he'll pick - a tough call.

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