Johan Djourou has fantastic composure and acceleration off the mark
Arsenal's 3-0 away win in Zagreb last night is an excellent way to begin our attempt to finish off the job we started in the final four months of last season by clawing back fourth place from our North London neighbours. With 90 minutes still to go it will be premature to say that we have booked our place in the Champs League group stage, but we have given ourselves a major advantage going into the home second leg, and that's all that Gunner's would have hoped for yesterday.
Very encouraging and predictable for me is that this young team is simply getting better all the time. Ever since our performance in the Bernabeu, the 'next-generation' AFC have been consistently proving their worth and their mettle. The likes of Fabregas, Eboue, Van Persie, Hleb, and Adebayor are now a season more experienced, a season more battle-hardened, and many of our youngsters now even have World Cup tournament football experience to fall back on.
This time last year, although I had extremely high hopes for the likes of Fabregas and Van Persie, I could not say with complete confidence that they were fully ready to be regular first team players. Conversely, at the start of this season I can say with huge confidence that they are all ready now to be consistent, high quality performers game-in, game-out.
Plus, unlike the England national team, these young Gunners are not just developing individually into excellent players but significantly know how to play together as a cohesive footballing unit. They all know their roles in the team - and how to seamlessly link-up with one another to cause problems to their opponents. The collective performance of our team averaging 23 years of age against the Croatian champions was possession football of a very high quality- and the three goals were due reward for it. Of course, Arsene Wenger and his coaching staff must take credit for being able to create a team that is at least the equal to the sum of its parts
I have written many times on the qualities of Fabregas and Van Persie (for example, check out in the archives: 14 July 2005 - 'Fabregas is reason why Arsenal can afford to let Vieira go'; 28 Nov 2005 - 'Van Persie's grooved technique is the reason why he won't stop scoring') so although I'm tempted I'll pass on focusing on these two individuals who were the goal-scorers last night. Instead, I want to focus on a player who has consistently impressed me in his few appearances for the Gunners, and who will be starting the season in centre-defence alongside Kolo Toure due to the shoulder injury that has ruled out Phillipe Senderos until October.
That player is 19 year old Johan Djourou. There are not many 19 year old centre-backs who can say they have played World Cup football, but Djourou played two games for a Switzerland team that did not concede a goal during the competition. And for me there is no surprise that the Swiss coach had the faith to select the young Gunner: this is a young centre-back to believe in because he has fantastic composure on the ball, and his acceleration of the mark is outstanding. One example of the latter yesterday was his speed of recovery in getting back to thwart the through-on-goal Zagreb centre-forward when the score was 0-2. He has a sense of calm about his defending that is impressive, and at only 19 years of age he is only going to get better learning from his older peers Kolo Toure and Phillipe Senderos.
Of course, because of his age and relative inexperience the next couple of months may prove to be a difficult baptism of fire for Djourou. But surrounded by the experience of Toure, Lehmann, and Gilberto; plus equipped with what appears to be an exceptional temperament for defending, I'm sure he will be able to handle the responsibilty well.
I also believe that the apparent ease with which Wenger accepted the departure of Sol Campbell (who has decided to join Portsmouth??!) is because he knows that Djourou is ready now to progress into a first-team player and first-choice cover for Toure or Senderos. With what I have seen of Djourou up to now, I agree.