END OF SEASON REPORT CARD: Arsenal's defenders

Well, that's that then. Another season done and the only thing we have to look forward to in the next couple of months is the fixture list for the next Premier League campaign coming out: June 17 at 10am, for those of you who are Addicted as we are.

But with nothing but endless tittle tattle about who might be coming in and who might be departing the Arsenal, we thought to ourselves, what better a time to rate each of our first team players with an end of term report card.

So feel free to post your views on each of our players as we analyse their contribution in the past season - we'll be covering keepers, defenders, midfielders, strikers, coaching staff and the board of directors and major shareholders, so I reckon we'll catch everyone over the next few days.

Today it's the turn of the defenders to be put in the spotlight:

Bacary Sagna
End of season mark: B

After a fantastic first season in North London in which he managed to replace Emmanuel Eboue as our first choice right back, Sagna was offered - and signed - an extended contract with Arsenal. I personally can’t remember the last time that a player was offered a new deal after just one season, but the fact that Le Boss was so confident that he’s secured another world class full back was evident.
Fast forward one year and I don’t think too many people would disagree that Bacary didn’t hit the heights of his first season, but he nevertheless was consistently good. Like his fellow first choice full back, however, his final ball into the box remains poor. We’ve all become used to seeing Sagna charge forward and beat his opposite number to the byline only to see his cross cut out by the first man or sail out the other side of the penalty area without causing a problem. A bit of extra homework on this part of his game could see him become an Arsenal legend. Or increasing the competition for the position by allowing Emmanuel Eboue to contest the role might do both players the power of good.

Kolo Toure
End of season mark: C+

At the age of 28, Kolo is remarkably Arsenal’s longest serving player. He has consistently been one of our most reliable performers over the years, but the past year has been the most fraught in his Arsenal career to date. Toure returned from last season’s African Nations Cup hampered by injury and never fully recovered in the following months. Then during his summer holidays in his native Ivory Coast he picked up a case of malaria which hit his preparations for this season.
Kolo also had a very public falling out with William Gallas - then the Gunners’ skipper - which became so intense that the unhappy Ivorian even contemplated a move away from Emirates Stadium before Arsene Wenger persuaded him otherwise. His new resolve paid in dividends as Kolo stepped up his game and he finished the season strongly, even agreeing a working relationship with Gallas despite the obvious animosity between the duo.
However, Kolo has constantly been charged with not being strong enough in the air for a centre back and with even Wenger admitting that central defence is his team’s weak spot, the former Asec Mimosas player may well find himself on the bench next campaign if Arsene can tempt some new talent to bolster the central problem area of his back four - or perhaps even slot Alex Song into the heart of his defence.

William Gallas
End of season mark: C

What a rollercoaster. After an infamous end to the 2007-08 campaign, Whinging Willie was given a vote of confidence by Le Gaffer at the start of the season, but I can only imagine that Wenger regrets that decision now because stripping your captain of the armband mid-season is a disaster for any club, let along one with the traditions of Arsenal. The infamous sit down protest at Birmingham last season did little to enhance the reputation of William Gallas and even though he was forgiven by his manager, the French player continued his one-man wrecking crusade by falling out with Kolo Toure, criticising Theo Walcott for failing to fulfil his potential and claiming that he had to break up fights between his team mates. Oh and being pictured leaving a nightclub with a cigarette dangling from his mouth. Straw and camel’s back Willlie. Fitness obsessive Wenger took away the captaincy and handed it to Cesc Fabregas.
Ever since that moment, however, Gallas has returned to form. Indeed he has arguably enjoyed the best period of his Gunners career now that the burden of leading the team has been taken from him. With Gallas in the Arsenal team, our defence coped well. When he was missing, then so was our confidence. It’ll be interesting to see whether he remains in North London next term or whether the club’s hierarchy will cash in on the experienced international before he becomes a free agent in 2011.

Johan Djourou
End of season mark: B

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I wanted to see a bit more of Djourou this season. He had 25 starts in the first team, but never really was given the opportunity of an extended run, which is a pity because when we did see him he looked impressive. He can be criticised for the odd lapse, but so can every one of our defenders, so I’m not going to overly hammer him for that. But he is now our tallest centre back and that is becoming increasingly important in today’s physical game, so I’m surprised he wasn’t used more.
At 22-years-old, he is still young, but two seasons ago he started 27 games for the Arsenal, so if you’re looking at it through Arsene Wenger’s eyes, surely that would mean that Djourou has not progressed. In saying that, he signed a new long term contract last September and I for one am glad as I’d like to see him remain at the club. Who knows, if we can sign a commanding centre back to give the back four a bit more stability, then maybe Johan could form a new partnership at the back and feature a lot more in the years to come for the Gunners.

Gael Clichy

End of season: B+

Clichy has been my favourite Arsenal player for a long time and in the past couple of seasons, I would have awarded him with an A grade. In the season that’s just ended you might be surprised to learn that he started 40 games, because it seems that he has suffered more than most from injuries recently. Like Sagna, however, I think Gael had a poor season by his standards and also like his compatriot, his crossing is poor to say the least. Abysmal is actually a better description.
Nonetheless, Gael Clichy is one of the best left backs in world football and a prolonged rest over the closed season should see him return stronger than ever and hopefully more determined because in Armand Traore and Kieran Gibbs the competition for the left back role has probably never been fiercer.

Kieran Gibbs
End of season: A-

What a fantastic season young Gibbs has had. With 23-year-old Gael Clichy the rightful owner of the left back position, Kieran’s opportunities to impress in the first team looked doomed to being fleeting appearances in the Arsenal Carling Cup team. However, when Gael sustained a back injury in the Champions League clash away at Villarreal, the teenager was given the chance he had been waiting for - and boy did he take it.
The 19-year-old has been outstanding. His crossing puts his older team mates to shame and has had many of us Gooners wondering whether Gael Clichy’s selection in the team is now more of an ‘if’ than a ‘when’. Unfortunately, Kieran’s slip against Manchester United in the Champions League semi final was the catalyst for the Mancs to murder us, but as I said earlier, such mishaps are part and parcel of being a defender and in terms of playing to their potential, Gibbs was head and shoulders above his colleagues in the back four this season.

Mikael Silvestre
End of season mark: E

I have to admit that when Wenger first signed Silvestre my immediate reaction was that we’d taken on a has-been defender who might have once been a commanding member of the Man United back four, but whose playing days were all but over given his injury prone nature. Then I thought, ok, perhaps it’s a wise buy because he has a impressive pedigree, bags of experience and he wasn’t going to cost us a lot.
I should have stuck with my gut instinct - Mikael hasn’t exactly covered himself in glory in his first season at Arsenal. And yes, I said first season because that twonk shareholder who slammed Wenger for playing the geriatric has probably just insured that our stubborn head coach will retain Silvestre’s services in the next campaign.
Don’t get me wrong, in the air Mikael still has something to offer. With a head that size it would be difficult not to. But on the ground, he turns with all the speed of a supertanker and his acceleration reminds me of someone trying to wade through treacle. With clogs on. Obviously I don’t see what goes on at training but I would rather have seen one of the young Guns - perhaps Kyle Bartley - being given a chance than wheeling out Silvestre to fill in the holes. The bottom line is Mikael was once a good defender, but the idea of Alex Ferguson agreeing to release one of his players to a top four rival should have told Le Gaffer all he needed to know. Tweety Pie would have been a more effective signing.