Date: 17th November 2008 at 9:57am
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Mikael Silvestre has kept his place in the first team for every PL and CL game since his debut against Everton on October the 18th. That`s a decent run for what was supposed to be a cover purchase to bolster squad numbers. And he doesn`t look as though he might lose his place anytime soon.

Supposedly this was an opportunistic buy. A last minute deal that just come our way more or less by accident. If it was an accident then there seems to be a set of convenient circumstances surrounding the whole tale. Firstly just as the summer got underway Wenger appeared to ‘promise` that of the players he would sign this summer one would be an established PL player. Now we know that he was after Alonso but it is very unlike Le Boss to be so forthright in his transfer pronouncements. But he couldn`t have known about Silvestre at the time surely? True that Silvestre was in talks with ManU about a new deal or a move, possibly to Bordeaux, at the time and just because he is very close friends with Gallas there is no reason to expect that Wenger would have heard anything from Gallas – is there?. So who did Wenger have in mind then?

Then in August Wenger again ‘promised` that ‘for certain` he would sign a player before the 2nd leg of the CL qualifier against FC Twente ‘Will something be done ahead of the second leg? Certainly yes, but before Saturday, no,’ said Wenger when asked at the time about signing new players. Everyone assumed that he was talking about the defensive midfielder that most had craved but surprisingly, and disappointingly for many, Silvestre was the acquisition he made prior to the CL game.

We are led to believe that Mikael was having a medical at Man City when he got a call at the eleventh hour asking him to join Arsenal and signed within 24 hours. Of course that`s possible, and it is the official line. But consider another, admittedly conjectural, possibility. That Wenger had wanted to sign Silvestre for sometime. If he had contacted ManU directly it might have been difficult to get him. Transfers between the clubs are rare in recent years. Even if ManU were willing to sell to us rather than force him to go abroad, as they did with Heinze when he wished to join Liverpool, the chances are that they would have wanted a lot more than £750K for him. So what better way than to wait for ManU to agree a fee and a transfer in principle with another club. ManU then couldn`t in all conscience scotch the deal if it met the terms already agreed. Could it be that rather than a convenient opportunity Silvestre was actually a target for some time?

So why Silvestre then? The Gallas, Toure combination had its weaknesses in the previous season though not quite as weak as some would suggest but certainly Toure wasn`t quite the same player after the ACN and then a bout of malaria. Meanwhile Senderos had had his young confidence shattered by some errors and the derision of unforgiving supporters. Yet Senderos is a player that Wenger rates highly. Perhaps highly enough to let him go to Italy on loan and rebuild his confidence to then come back to Arsenal as the kind of successful centre back that many supporters would wish for. Senderos may well complete a full move at the end of the season but you can see the attractions of such a deal from Wengers point of view if he has a senior player on a relatively short term contract to cover the potential gap left in the squad while retaining some hold, no matter how tenuously, on a player he rates highly. Again this is all just speculation, albeit hopefully entertaining. Silvestre must have just happened our way. It is hardly believable that Wenger is shrewd enough to have been working on such a deal since early summer.

But what`s the purpose of all this conjecture? Well I wonder whether opinions of Silvestre suffer a little from the perception that he is something of an afterthought. A useful bargain but not a strategic buy. Would views of him change if it were revealed that Wenger had targeted him from the outset? That politics prevented a direct approach? If there had been a minor tug-of-war with ManU to get him to sign would we have placed greater value on him? Circumstantially at least the latter is a possibility.

As for Silvestre himself, the combination with Gallas is one established at international level and may well be repeated in the forthcoming friendly round as Silvestre has again been called into the French squad. Not everyone will agree, I know some definitely won`t, but I think Silvestre has performed well even when results have been poor. He reads the game well, closes down space quickly, keeps tight when he has to and displays an experienced command of the art of defending. He also uses the ball well and in recent games you can look back at good accurate use of the ball with his left foot to create attacking moves. And he has also scored for us in a North London Derby – that has to earn him some legend status points.

Whether an afterthought or not Wenger might have just the right player to bring younger defenders along over the next couple of seasons. Gunners folk hero Martin Keown believes so.

“Mikael Silvestre`s arrival has also helped with both the youngsters` development and defensive solidarity. I have been impressed with the way he has wanted to lead and has shown great determination in sorting out the back line, attacking the ball and showing the aggression they need,” said Keown. “People talk about needing height at the back but I was never that tall ? it doesn`t matter how tall you are, the guy who wants to win it most will do just that.”

Now if we can only sort out that midfield…..

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