For the second entry for Unsung Heroes we have Martijn Stolze, an Arsenal fan from Holland. Here he writes fondly of left-back Andre Santos, the lovable Brazilian scamp. Also a side-note: not all of the series is based on Arsenal players. If you wish to contribute, get in touch through the e-mail address on the contact page. Take it away, Martijn!
Life needs laughter. Every team needs a joker. Every court needs a jester. In the court of King vP, with generals Vermaelen, Mertesacker and Arteta standing next to the main man on his throne, there is one person who stands out in his pure life-joy, his love of the joga bonita and a man who tweets, walks and talks as if he was a true believer of the mentality that prevails in all of Latin America, that of the pura vida. That man of course is Andre Santos, the lethal wingback with the killer stare but the heart of gold and the smile that warms me in very unusual places.
I loath with some passion this idea that teamspirit is very prevalent in modern football. As far as I have always heard or read, Wayne Rooney and Nani are sincerely disliked in the Man Utd dressing room (but don’t quote me). Vincent Kompany is the only glue holding the MCFC dressing room together in the thinnest of ways. In the past at Arsenal this has also been the case. Sure, there were the moments of beauty when we beat Barca at home or when Cesc, Na$ri and the like kissed their badges in feigned love for the club, but inside things were always simmering. On twitter recently there was the rumour that a lot of Arsenal players didn’t even attend Gael Clichy’s wedding, which took place before his move to the oil rich Mancunians. And in the last few years, plenty of fights occurred both on and off the pitch. Infighting, that is.
The reason I bring this up, is that this season everything seems different. Big personalities have come along, like the Big Friendly Giant, the bombastic Pole in Goal, the Verminator (returning from injury), Mikel Arteta and his lego hairstyle, and taken control of the dressing room. The WAGS of these gents have taken it upon them to hosts events to bring the team closer together. But in day to day training, this team missed that person who makes everyone laugh, who lights up a simple training ground routine with a mixture of the absurd and the hilarious. That used to be Eboue. Eboue is a legend and I don’t really have to explain that. Yet Eboue was, supposedly, not really very popular with the players, nor did he play a very big role in the footballing part of being a footballer. He was an overpaid mascot. With the whole Africans and Frenchmen vs others divide, he always had friends. But he didn’t endear himself to everyone, that is for sure.
Which brings me on to Andre Santos. If you are expecting an intelligent, detailed and analytical explanation of him as a player, of his footballing history, you are reading the wrong article, although Sam probably has five of those up his sleeve. Andre Santos is funny, is honest, sincere and above all, amazingly enthusiastic. He is the sort of man who can own a small green Smart and feel confident about it. That actually fits well with TV5 and RvP, one of whom owns a Nissan Figaro. He tweets with such bright optimism, a childlike interest for everything new and a clear passion for life. He is a very nice guy but with the experience needed to help a young dressing room like ours progress and improve. He has immediately become very close to the most important players in the team and also become somewhat of a mentor to some of the other players. This season, where we had very few things to celebrate, the most passionate or stirring moments have all included him. The infamous ‘gays’ tweet, the trio of him, RvP and Arteta running arm in arm towards the away fans at Stamford Bridge (which still brings tears to my eyes), the swashbuckling runs up and down the left flank, the important and frankly very well taken goals, his ability to stay very positive in light of an injury that should never have happened.
Arsenal have always been described as a team that play beautiful football. Yet we have always lacked for flair players. In recent seasons, RvP has become a clinical, allround striker, not a trequartista with a free role. We witnessed half a season of flair from the French lesbian before she decided to cash in. Even Cesc was very good, but not that flamboyant. Santos has brought some of that back. His samba style might not always be the safest option as your left back, but he scores goals, provides assists, and gave me hours of excitement about a signing when we snatched him in the summer with this video. But he has since also convinced me (if not others) that he is a very accomplished defender and with some crunching tackles, a powerful run, his dogged determination and his ability to link up with his teammates he has shown me that he can combine samba style flair with a certain defensive stability.
He will always be making jokes and showing photographers that big white smile of his. In footballing terms he has added a little colour to a very bland role in a team, and within that same team he has endeared himself to the players, the coaches and indeed the manager. He cares about the fans a lot, as he proves by tweeting his every move in his ever improving English. He may not have been a key player this season, nor been that much of a bargain, nor has he strung together the play like Arteta. But Andre Santos adds South-American sunshine to a season that was very dreary at times, he adds passion to a dressing room finally showing some cojones , he adds humour to the serious aspects of life and he manages to make me smile whenever I see him in any capacity. And I still love that moment where he went to the away fans at Stamford Bridge, after a match where everyone had written him off after about 30 minutes. He scored a goal, and played very well, and then showed us his passion and excitement when celebrating. In essence, he is a footballer like a lot of us. He enjoys every second of his life. He shows it to the world. And for all these reasons, he is my unsung hero, although, typically, because of this article, I have been very much singing his praise. D’Oh!
While three of the four positions in Arsenal’s defence appear nailed down – Bacary Sagna is surely, as Arsene Wenger pointed out, the best right back in the league, with the excellent Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen forming a solid partnership – there remain doubts over the Frenchman’s preferred choice at left full back. When one of Andre Santos and Kieran Gibbs have lined up there for the Gunners, it has mainly been by default due to the other being injured.
Many agree that in football the consistency in your line-up should come from your defence, as when a permanent three/four/five at the back (or 10 in Stoke’s case) are selected it’s easier for them to blend & gel, and give the team a unity to build upon. However, Santos and Gibbs offer Arsenal different things, and it’s a possibility that, with neither particularly edging the battle, Wenger may well select his left back based on the opposition, and which player suits the specific game more.
It may also be that, as @hazzaboy21 discussed on Twitter, Wenger will make his choice based on the player in front of the potential left back in the left wing position. If a player like Yossi Benayoun was selected, one who was more likely to cut inside, perhaps the more eager-to-overlap full back in Gibbs would be selected to keep the width. Only the other hand, Santos prefers to come inside and at times acts as an extra midfielder, so might perhaps tread on the toes of a roaming wide player like Benayoun. This player influence graphic of the game against Manchester City demonstrates Santos’ liking for dribbling in-field perfectly, as it shows him much closer to the midfielders than Gibbs was.
With Gibbs’ apparent inability to put together a string of games proven by his unavailability for the game against Wolves, doubts remain over his fitness and this may well be the factor that gives Andre Santos the position full-time. Technically, Santos is superb – the typical Brazilian “lateral” who likes to use the ball – and he often drifts inside to exchange passes, win the ball and help Arsenal keep the ball and win the midfield battle.
Santos is also similar to Koscielny and Vermaelen in that he likes to nick the ball away from attackers to start counter attacks – the move for Aaron Ramsey’s miss against City was started by Santos nipping in to win the ball. This enthusiasm may occasionally see him commit fouls, but more often than not it’s vital in helping Arsenal attack from the back as they love to do.
On the other hand, Gibbs is perhaps the complete opposite of Santos as a full back. He loves to overlap the winger, make runs down the left hand side and whip balls into the area. He’s always full of energy and attacking runs, and is also fairly handy at winning aerial battles. Here you would perhaps compare him to Bacary Sagna, who, like the Englishman, likes to overlap the winger, cross into the area and use his physical excellence to bomb up and down the wing.
Perhaps, then, Arsenal would be better off to pair Sagna with Santos to give them variety, rather than having two similar full backs who offer pretty much the same thing. Variety is a big part of Arsenal’s game – the very different Yossi Benayoun and Theo Walcott gave a vital variety on the wings against Manchester City, and they may well strive to achieve the same conglomeration.
This post first appeared on Life’s a Pitch.
In the six years it has been since Arsenal lifted a trophy, there has been one common factor throughout: a problem with our defence. Whether it’s been a dodgy goalkeeper, the defensive personnel or trouble with set pieces, it’s nearly always been our downfall.
There have been several high-profile defensive mistakes at Arsenal over the past six years. Manuel Almunia has made a large number of them – for one, his fumble against Birmingham in March 2010 signified the beginning of the end of Arsenal’s title challenge. That season had seen us still in with a chance of lifting the trophy late in the season, but defensive mistakes, among other things, saw us fall away. Losses to Tottenham, Wigan and Blackburn – all littered with goals that should have been easy to prevent – were the final nails in our coffin for that season.
While other things have contributed to us not winning trophies (refereeing mistakes and injuries come to mind – these can also be traced back to St Andrews) it has long been the case that defensive troubles have been one of the main reasons that we’ve struggled for consistency. The fragility has always been clear to everyone, and you could sense that a mistake could come out of nowhere at any time.
Now, things seem to be different. Arsenal’s first choice defence finally seems to be one to be proud of; the reliable Wojciech Szczesny, one of the best right backs around in Bacary Sagna, our solid vice-captain Thomas Vermaelen, the ever-improving Laurent Koscielny and the enthusiastic (yet temporarily injured) Andre Santos. Left back is arguably the only first choice position which can be questioned – Santos has only been at Arsenal for a few months, and although he’s shown good signs he’s still yet to be tested to the best of his ability.
However, Arsenal have been a lot more solid in defence of late. Szczesny has proven himself as a top goalkeeper worthy of his position, Sagna has always been top quality, Vermaelen has few remaining critics after a storming first season, and Koscielny has set about proving all of his nay-sayers wrong with some outstanding form. Santos has also provided calm and experience, despite his liking to maraud forward – which has in fairness improved our attack too.
In fact, a case could well be made for Koscielny and Vermaelen potentially being the best central defensive partnership in the league. They haven’t played together at the heart of the defence as much as Arsene Wenger would have liked due to various injuries, but when they have they’ve impressed.
The perennial high line seems to have been ditched in favour of a more efficient, versatile style, and the Gunners have had far less problems in the air – be that from set pieces or from long balls. While not the tallest pairing around, Vermaelen and Koscielny are both deceptively strong in the air, and the statistics back that up.
While it may be too late for Arsenal to mount a proper title challenge this season due to a late awakening because of Wenger’s apparent wish to press the snooze button until the end of August, we seem to have sorted out the problems that have haunted us season upon season. The spine of the team is now strong, and we have a tough, efficient base to build upon. Without the shakiness at the back the rest of the team can feel more at ease and more able to do their own jobs, instead of worrying when the next defensive cock-up will come.
Not only have we improved our first choice back-line, it seems obvious that our back-up options are better now too. Instead of the often-erratic Eboué (see the penalty he conceded against Liverpool at the Emirates last season) we have the young, hard-working Jenkinson – while he is still learning, he has incredible stamina and a wicked cross. At centre half Squillaci is making fewer appearances thanks to the shrewd purchase of Per Mertesacker; although he has made a couple of errors, he’s still getting to know the Premier League and has given us a vital boost of experience, according to Robin van Persie. Johan Djourou now seems ready to fill in whenever needed effectively across the defence too, instead of destabilising our defence like he once did. And Kieran Gibbs now offers a more reliable alternative at left back than he did a few seasons ago (when he’s actually fit!).
So you can keep your Gary Cahills (overrated and not at all versatile) and your Christopher Sambas (definitely not what we need, thanks) because we’ve solved our defensive problems on our own. As the old saying goes; Arsène knows.