September 12, 2007
When fans of the English Premier League refer to the ‘top four’, they are generally talking about Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal. However with the influx of the new TV money there appears to be a tide of contenders threatening to break the dominance of the big four.Ever since Rafa Benitez joined and started reshaping a Liverpool side that often failed to deceive into genuine contenders for honours and Roman Abromovich came in and gave Mourinho so much money to spend that they could afford to buy £21 million bench players like Shaun Wright Phillips, the top four places in the league table have generally been filled by those teams each season. Finishing in one of the top four places gains qualification for the Champions League- the two top automatically enter the group stages while the teams that finish third and fourth play a two legged tie against often substandard European opponents.
The last time the stranglehold on the top four was broken was by a spirited Everton side in 2004/05, who finished three points ahead of a Liverpool team distracted by the Champions League – but the Toffees then failed to advance in either the Champions League or the UEFA Cup, losing to Villareal and then getting thrashed by Dinamo Bucharesti. Liverpool still qualified for the Champions League the next season by virtue of them picking up the trophy and being allowed back in by UEFA. Other than Everton, the closest a side has come spoiling the party was the Tottenham Hotspur team of 2005/06, who led a struggling Arsenal side for large parts of the season before succumbing on the last day of the season to West Ham United and thus gifting Arsenal their place in the Champions League qualifiers. While most do not think that another team will break into the top four very soon, with the amount of big spending and the types of players being brought into the Premier League, anything is possible. Here, I will take a look at the four teams that I feel are the most capable of doing so.
June 26, 2007
Summers are known for two things in the football world- the scarcity of the sport that everyone loves to watch and the inevitable rumours of players leaving Arsenal. Who will it be this year, Vieira to Real? Pires to Inter? Henry to Barca? Ashley Cole to Chelsea? These are many of the questions that have troubled Gooners across the world. Coming into this week, Vieira had gone to Inter Milan via Juventus two years earlier, Pires had gone to Villareal, Ashley Cole had gone to Chelsea in a part swap for William Gallas yet one person remained- Thierry Henry. For the past eight years, Henry hasawed not just Arsenal fans with his pace, vision and skill but the whole of the Premiership. Defenders knew not where to turn when the Frenchman ran at them, knowing committing themselves could leave them grasping at a red and white shirt that had just slipped the ball through their legs, or even worse left them flat on their backsides as Henry has done to too many defenders these past years at Arsenal. But when Barca came calling, instability at his beloved Arsenal as well as a desire to win things led him to the only other club he said ‘played the Arsenal way’. Here I compare and contrast the likely replacements for Henry. Now he’s gone- who best to fill his place? This is no doubt a question thousands of Arsenal fans across the globe are asking themselves.
– Darren Bent
The Charlton forward guarantees one thing- goals. The man regularly has featured in the top ten in terms of goals scored rankings, and would take a move to jump up a division with open arms considering his team Charlton were just relegated. Bent being a lifelong Arsenal fan, the club would have one of its own playing up front and surely he would not desire to leave us, even to go to the likes of Real Madrid or Barcelona; however, being English he will undoubtedly cost far more than he is worth : he has been valued at around £18m pounds by his club , and they look unlikely to sell for anything else. Also, according to reports, he has nearly sealed a move to Tottenham, and even though he would probably opt for us and Champions League football if we went in for him- I doubt we should get into a bidding war for a player that has never set the world alight.
– Nicholas Anelka
The ex-Arsenal man name has surprisingly cropped up, as Wenger seems to want to finally have Anelka realise his potential at Arsenal Football Club. Although he left the club in acrimonious circumstances when his brothers forced a move, he seems to have matured as both a footballer and a person. He offers a quick fix- he will stay for 2-3 years while the likes of Bendtner, Vela and Adebayor develop as better players, as they have promised to do ever since they were brought to Arsenal as youth players. He should score goals as he knows how to play the Arsenal way. Anelka comes cheap, seemingly available for around £9 million pounds- causing many Arsenal fans across the globe to call for his signature. All throughout Anelka’s career, he has never reached the heights he did at Arsenal- only hitting more than 20 goals once in the last six years. Also, his desire to leave Bolton, a club that just a year ago took a gamble of nearly £9 million pounds to lure him from Fenerbahce to the Premiership could prove troublesome for Arsenal in the future. Who’s to say that he will not leave Arsenal in a year’s time if say AC Milan, Real Madrid, Barcelona or Inter come in for him?
– Klaas Jan Huntelaar
Klaas Jan Huntelaar is an intriguing player. Even more of a goal poacher than Darren Bent, he has scored for fun since he started his professional football career. How many times this season and last have we seen an Arsenal player pass to another despite being in a good shooting position? Having hit 72 goals in the past two seasons, yet not having a single assist to his name shows that he is capable of putting the ball in the back of the net and perhaps has the one thing most Arsenal forwards do not- selfishness. How many times this season and last have we seen an Arsenal player pass to another despite being in a good shooting position? What goes against Huntelaar, however, is that his goals have mainly been scored in the Dutch Eredivisie, a weaker league than the Premiership. Comparisons to one Mateja Kezman, who flopped at Chelsea despite scoring a boatload in the Dutch league have been made- I feel a comparison to Ruud Van Nistelrooy suits Huntelaar better as he seems to have all the tools to succeed in the Premiership. Also, his partnership with Robin Van Persie has flourished in the few games they have played together on the International stage, and Arsenal could only reap the benefits of them playing together all the time. Although not cheap at £15 million pounds, he is certainly not unaffordable , and a £15 million pound investment for someone that will score goals for the next 5-10 years is not one too extravagant to make.
– Fernando Torres
Fernando Torres is one of the still remaining stars of the Spanish league that has not moved on to a bigger club. Now the captain of Athletico Madrid, it is his time to go on if a suitable offer came in for him since his club have not qualified for Europe and do not look like qualifying for the Champions League for another five years at the very least, with Real, Barca, Sevilla, Valencia all possessing better players and more money than them. Perhaps his price tag has put off potential investors- a reported £28 million pounds is required to break his contract, although a supposed £15 million pounds & Reyes deal is all that is being mentioned for Arsenal at the moment. Could he do well in the rough hustle and bustle of the English Premiership? The answer to this question would determine whether he would turn out to be a massive success or a huge flop. Comparisons with Thierry Henry have been mooted, with the Spaniard being able to score with either foot or his head equally well. Also, he forms a reward-reaping partnership with Arsenal midfield maestro Cesc Fabregas on the international stage and would surely only enhance that partnership with the Gunners. The disadvantage of Torres is that he would take a year or two to bed in; with Tottenham & Newcastle heavily strengthening along with the rest of the top four, Arsenal cannot afford to be left behind. Also, are funds present to finance a move for both Torres and the winger to solve the width problem so evident on the pitch at Ashburton Grove?
– Ryan Babel
Ryan Babel has been linked with Arsenal almost since the start of the new millenium. Equally adept at playing on the wing or up front, he has already been compared to Thierry Henry by Dutch coach Marco Van Basten and will only improve with time. Available for a mere £6 million pounds due to a buyout clause in his contract, he could fill Arsenal’s need of a new striker and new winger in one swoop while still leaving plenty of money in the transfer budget for other players. As with Huntelaar, he has played with Van Persie on the International stage and he recently shone in the European U21 Championships with the victorious Dutch team. He has repeatedly come out in the press speaking of his desire to play for Arsenal and under Wenger. However, Babel has never really impressed me- his poor first touch means he would find it difficult to thrive in the Premiership. I consider Babel a slight upgrade on the ever improving Walcott, but Arsenal would be best suited letting the Englishman have his time in the first team rather than buying the Dutch player. A somewhat headless chicken on the wing and someone that has never been prolific up front, he would take at least 2-3 years to reach his pomp- time that we cannot afford. Could Babel come in and replace the 30 goals a season that Henry used to give us? He is hardly someone to put your hopes and dreams on, and in the 2-3 years that Babel will take to adjust and reach his full potential we will have Walcott ready to terrorize defenses across the continent. One for the future, and Arsenal have enough of those players- someone is needed to come in and make an immediate impact.
All of these players have aspects to their game that have made them much vaunted across the football world. The pace of Babel, the intelligence of Anelka, the guile of Darren Bent or the selfishness of Huntelaar could help us in our quest for honours. The best man for Arsenal out of all those players is Huntelaar. He will be able to come in and make an impact on both the domestic and the European stage, something that we need a striker to do greatly. He possesses the selfishness and skill needed to succeed in the unforgiving Premiership and would no doubt placate fans who have wanted a big name player at Arsenal. This player is just hitting his peak and remember- he was the first man to net at the newly opened Emirates stadium, a sentimental thought to hold in the hearts of Arsenal fans. Those that have seen him play will know he was born score goals and he would only blossom under the tutelage of the wise Arsene Wenger. Although he will be able to make a mark now, he will also be there for the future and would complement either Adebayor or Van Persie equally well. Also, we will have a player that we know can do the business, in case of injuries and when Adebayor travels to the African Cup of Nations. One for the present and the future, Klaas Jan Huntelaar could become the ‘super, super class’ of player Wenger wanted at Arsenal.