I had a chance to watch the depressing England win over Japan yesterday and a few things stood out:
- Tom Huddleston is garbage. With him on the field England were reduced to playing route one football with Huddlestone pounding long balls from the midfield to the lonely Darren Bent. Not only that but with World Cup officials tossing out cautions for any tackle that takes the man no matter how much ball they get Huddlestone’s “tackling” ability was removed and the Japanese midfielders ran him off the pitch.
- Rooney tried to get Theo involved but he was the only England player to even see Theo on the right side. Huddlestone was too fascinated with gazing at his navel to see Theo down the right, I suppose.
- Rooney’s temper will undo him and with him England’s hopes.
- As I tweeted yesterday during the game, Smart move by Capello putting on ManU’s 2nd leading goal scorer, Owen Goale.
- The Japanese keeper kept them in the game, too bad his defenders panicked. The cross by Joke Hole that led to the first England goal would have easily been handled by the keeper, but the defender simply panicked and tried to head the ball away.
- How much longer can Lampard claim penalty duties? He’s missed his last two consecutive attempts and yesterday’s was 50% good keeping and 50% poorly taken.
- Joke Hole was pretty good for England, but more important was the introduction of Gerrard who kept play ticking over in midfield. Cole was more important on the wings and while everyone seems to rate him highly I kept thinking he was decent but lacking in versatility, which brings me to the title of the article…
I was reading Gunnerblog yesterday and apparently some Fleet Street nitwit has decided that Arsenal are going to use all of our wealth to sign Joke Hole on a free.
Ok, look, I’ll be fair to Joe, three years ago, he played in 52 games for club and country he amassed 9 goals and 7 assists. 16 goals created or scored is a career high total haul and that was also the one injury free season he’s had in the last 4 years. He also brings the experience of winning 8 major trophies and a winning mentality is an important quality which can often be overlooked. It’s also something that some Arsenal players need badly. He’s also versatile: his natural position is on the left wing but in yesterday’s England match he replaced Theo on the right and can play centrally in the Cesc role at Arsenal. And finally, he is a legitimate ball crosser which Arsenal need badly now that we have three aerial threats in Bendtner, Chamakh, and van Persie. I’d just about take him on that last quality alone, honestly.
But with his good qualities come plenty of bad. He’s had a pretty spotty career due to injuries, which means Arsenal would be getting yet another injury prone player. He’s also very poor defensively. No matter which system we play, our wide midfielders need to be able to tackle and win duels. Joe Cole is more like Arshavin in that regard than, say, Nasri. Which is in itself not really saying much.
I’m also concerned about his overall talent. At 28 years old you should be at the top of your game and while he did notch a career high in assists this year this is pretty the best you can expect from Joe Cole, he’s at the top of his game. He’s also reportedly on £80k/wk and looking for a raise to £100+. No one on Arsenal makes that kind of salary and I’d have to wonder what Arshavin and others would think of this guy coming in and making more than everyone else. And finally, he’s a left sided midfielder on a team with two left footed mids in Nasri and Arshavin. Yes, he can play on the right and in the middle but those places are well covered as well as long as Cesc stays.
So, what if Cesc goes (that’s still not a certainty)? Then would I like to see Joe Cole in the midfield?
No. I’d rather see someone like James Milner come in and push Diaby, Nasri, or Arshavin up into Cesc’s role. First, Milner is just 24 years old and already has had as spectacular an individual career as Joe Cole. No, he doesn’t have the medals, but he does have similar career stats — and he’s 4 years younger.
Overall, last year was a breakout year for the young man and he ended up third in the League in total assists. Moreover, he either scored or created nearly 37% of Aston Villa’s 52 goals. Meanwhile, Joe Cole was part of just over 11% of Chelsea’s 103 goals. Getting Joe Cole for Arsenal, then, would be similar, in my mind to getting Silvestre. Both were cast offs from a great team which just did the double and he played only a minor part in it.
Toward the end of last season, Milner was moved to the center of the Villa midfield and really blossomed. Some of his best games came as the deep lying playmaker that everyone wants Denilson to be for Arsenal. For example, at home against Everton in April, Villa played to a 3-3 draw and Milner played in the central role, made 3 of 5 tackles, 1 interception, scoring a goal, and completing 85% of his 62 passes.
Arsenal had a very similar fixture against Everton in January which also ended in a draw (2-2). In that match Denilson also completed 85% of 61 passes, made 6 of 9 tackles, had 5 interceptions, had a block and a clearance.
Ok, Denilson had a better game than Milner but overall James Milner had a much better season than Denilson. Though, to Denilson’s credit he was stricken with back problems all year and found it hard to get into a groove. But again, that just proves my point about Cole and his injury situation. Do we need another injury prone midfielder on this team?
My regular readers know that I rate Denilson, but there is a little something extra that Milner brings to the table that Denilson seems to lack at the moment — he’s hungry, very hungry. In the two matches against Man U that Arsenal played, many people slated Denilson’s performance. I felt that the game in August he played very well and it was Diaby and Almunia’s mistakes that undid us there. But in contrast, the second game against United in January when we really needed him to step up, Denilson had what by all measures was his worst performance of the year. Maybe that was due to injury as some have suggested?
Milner on the other hand, really stepped his game up both times against United and Villa benefited from that with a 1-0 win and a 1-1 draw. Like I said, Milner is hungry.
And that’s what I really want from whomever we bring in, hunger. I want to see a guy like James Milner who is going to leave it all on the pitch for the Arsenal. Could that be Joe Cole? Maybe. Could that be Gourcuff? I haven’t said much about Gourcuff because I have only seen him play a couple of times, so I honestly can’t say but on paper he looks the real deal. He had a break out season last year and seems to have taken a step back this one, but he’s clearly very talented. Does he have the hunger? Could he stop United? Would he be the all-action midfielder against Spurs that Cesc was this year? I don’t know. Could Denilson do it? He has the talent, but there are question marks for me about his hunger. Wenger works with him every day, he’ll know best, and I trust him to see the problem with this team’s lack of hunger and go out and correct it.
If that’s Joe Cole, so be it, but I suspect not.