Profile: Marouane Chamakh, Arsenal’s Next Signing

A few Stone Cold Arsenal readers have asked about Chamakh, what type of player he is and what he could bring to Arsenal. As the deal is almost done and Chamakh is set to become an Arsenal player, we thought we’d share our two cents about the Moroccan star.

Marouane Chamakh was born on 10th January 1984 to Moroccan parents in Tonneins, a small town 75 miles south east of Bordeaux. At the age of 16, he entered the academy of Girondins de Bordeaux and a year later he started playing in their reserve team.

It took him only one more season to join the club’s professional squad and he played his first game in the top flight barely a month after his 19th birthday. During that 2002-03 season, he played in 10 league matches and scored one goal.
The subsequent season, despite the arrival of a new manager, Chamakh confirmed his status as a first team player, taking part in 25 matches in the league and 8 in the UEFA Cup, scoring 10 goals in the process. Having opted to play for Morocco (he has a dual French and Moroccan nationality), he reached the final of the 2004 African Cup of Nations with Les Lions d’Atlas, but lost 2-1 to the host nation, Tunisia.

His performances and the 10 goals he scored in the 33 league games that he played in 2004-05 drew the attention of French champions Lyon. Chamakh wanted to go but Bordeaux were reluctant to sell him. The young and promising striker was unsettled and was relegated to the bench for the best part of the following season.
Nonetheless, he made a further 29 appearances and scored 7 goals, with Bordeaux finishing as runners-up in the league.

During the 2006-07 season, he got his first taste of the Champions League but Bordeaux were no match for Liverpool and PSV, although they beat Galatasaray to third spot in the group stage. Chamakh, who had only scored 5 league goals, was offered a new contract until June 2010.

The 2007-08 season was a turning point for Bordeaux, who appointed Laurent Blanc as their new manager but was somewhat unremarkable for Marouane who only managed 4 goals in 32 league games and as many in 7 UEFA Cup matches.
The following season, Bordeaux were back in the Champions League and had Yoann Gourcuff on loan from AC Milan. The two players hit it off and led Bordeaux to their first champions title in ten years, breaking Lyon’s uninterrupted seven-year dominance of French football. On the score sheet, Chamakh was back to double figures finding the net 13 times in 34 league appearances.

As soon as the title was secured, Marouane publicly stated his desire of leaving the club and Arsenal emerged as the most likely destination. However, Bordeaux who had exercised their buyout option to hold on to Gourcuff, were desperate to keep Chamakh on board too.

Whatever happened behind the scenes, Arsenal gave up on signing the striker, who then chose to stay at Bordeaux to see out his contract but refused to sign a new deal. It is probably fair to say it was around that time that the Moroccan international’s reputation in Europe started going beyond the French borders.

Not a typical goal poacher, Chamakh is comfortable playing as a target man. His obvious strength is his aerial game, not only because he culminates at 6ft2” but also thanks to his great leap and timing.
Chamakh may not be as clinical a finisher as Torres or Drogba (and clearly adequate training will help him improve that part of his game), but he is far from being clumsy with the ball at his feet and has the ability to keep it, to dribble past opponents and to link up with teammates.

Most importantly he has the intelligence and the coolness for making the right decision, even under pressure, and is rarely caught giving the ball away cheaply.

He is also a combative player, a fighter in the very noble sense of the term and he is not afraid of harassing the opponent’s defenders. All these qualities make up for his relative lack of pace, which is the only real flaw in his game.
This season, Marouane has scored 5 goals in 9 Champions League appearances and so far 10 goals in 37 league games. Bordeaux have already surrendered their title to Marseille and there is no doubt that Chamakh will be a Gunner next season, joining Arsenal as a free agent.

To impose himself in the Premier League, Chamakh may need to make his tall frame a bit more muscular but the most important aspect of his integration is likely to be his understanding with at least one of the current key players.
Robin van Persie and Samir Nasri have already welcomed him but it will be interesting to see how he will be used by the manager and whether his incorporation will induce, at times, a shift in the style of play or even a change of the system if he ever becomes indispensable to the team.

Marouane seems to be the type of player who needs the confidence of his manager and his teammates to do well. At Bordeaux, the players, the technical staff and the fans hold him in high regard and the reception he got for his last home game was a testimony not only to his achievements on the pitch but also to his human qualities.
It is worth noting that as a practicing Muslim, Chamakh does not drink alcohol and fasts during the month of Ramadan, which requires a specific training regime. This year Ramadan stretches from mid-August to mid-September and could impact the striker’s adaptation to the pace of the English game. Therefore we should not judge him too quickly, be patient and give him time to settle in.

With a first name that translates to “rock”, one can hope that Chamakh will become the anchor of Arsenal’s strike force. I for one, welcome him and look forward to celebrating the many goals that hopefully he will score and set up.

Thursday, May 20th, 2010 Arsenal, Football, Profiles No Comments

One Nil To The Arsenal As The Fight Back Begins

That’s 1 down and 12 to go. One game at a time and the home stretch doesn’t look as daunting as it did for the last fortnight.

This was a week where everyone was taking pot shots at Arsene Wenger and his Arsenal charges. From Fleet Street hacks to despondent Arsenal ’customers’, from opposing team’s players to the tea lady at Stamford Bridge – criticism of the Arsenal team has been dished out in plenty from all corners.

Wenger observed that it was funny how Arsenal’s qualities are lauded when the team is winning by playing champagne football, yet quickly identified as the team’s Achilles heel when the Gunners hit a difficult patch.

It was never going to be a straight forward game last night. The air of doom and gloom around the Gooner nation, coupled with the collective naval gazing and low spirits that haunted the environs of London Colney, made last night’s task an arduous affair.

If there’s one thing that stood out most, it’s the sheer determination of the Arsenal players to put things right. It was the way they each played for one another and took responsibility for their individual and collective roles.

In the last two defeats, the way Arsenal gave away the counter attacking goals was as painful to the players as it was to supporters. There were already signs during the Chelsea game that some work had gone into the collective team effort, especially in the second half of the game at Stamford Bridge.

There was more evidence yesterday of the teams determination to fight. Liverpool gave a fistful as they sought to take advantage of what was comically described by a certain player as a one dimensional Arsenal style.

One dimensional it wasn’t for Arsenal most definitely mixed it and rightfully gained a result for the spirited effort.
If you believe everything you read, you would have got the impression that there was a runaway train with the title contenders sitting above Arsenal in the league table.

Perhaps what made the victory against Liverpool sweeter was the fact that elsewhere, other teams who recently accused Arsenal of being predictable were themselves employing predictable one dimensional tactics in trying to retrieve a sticky situation at the hands of the Toffees.

The Arsenal players will have drawn encouragement from the fact that their endeavour was also supported by the loss of 3 and 2 points for Chelsea and Manchester United respectively.

The title challenge that seemed to have slipped their grip was tilted back in the Gunner’s direction by a twist of fate that smiled kindly. All Arsenal can do is take a game at a time and ensure that they aim for maximum points.

Man United and Chelsea still have more points to drop and it’s paramount that Arsenal focus on doing what is in their control – and that is fighting tooth and nail for every point they can get in the last 12 games.

The spirit and work rate that the Gunners employed last night will have earned them the belief and confidence needed to approach the next stage of the campaign. The most impressive aspect for me last night was the way the players defended as a team. I would have been happy with a draw simply based on the shift that the team put in – but of course, I’m ecstatic about the win.

A classic example of how this team ethic was supplemented by individual responsibility was shown by William Gallas. The veteran defender literally took no prisoners when a through ball acquainted David N’gog with the whites of Almunia’s eyes.

Gallas appeared from nowhere just as the Liverpool striker was about to pull the trigger and executed the text book definition of a world class tackle. That single incident alone was enough to galvanize players and supporters alike.

It was also heart warming and kind of amusing to note that for a change, very few if any Arsenal fans left the stadium before Howard Webb blew the final whistle. In fairness though, the Arsenal crowd did stand up to be counted, despite a slow start.
All in all, it is a brighter day in the Gooner nation, if only to return to our world famous refrain of ’One nil to the Arsenal’.

Saturday, February 20th, 2010 Arsenal, Football, Match Reports, Premier League No Comments

IS Anti-Arsenalism A Reality Or A Myth

Like many Arsenal supporters out there, I suffer from an acute case of Arsenalitis. It’s a disease characterized by a deep emotional attachment to anything that has to do with Arsenal football club.

Some of the symptoms include chronic insomnia when the Gunners lose games or draw games we should have won; and frequent bouts of hypertension and anxiety attacks when we feel the club is unfairly being misrepresented in the media.

Despite the responsible thing of managing one’s own health and well-being say by not watching or listening to diatribe – you can’t help but notice the blatant cases of bias against Arsenal.

So is this anti-Arsenalism really a myth, or shall we stop beating around the bush and call it what it is – blatant bias and xenophobia by the establishment towards Arsenal?

Years ago, my Liverpool loving friend Dean asked me why I love Arsenal so much. You see, Dean and I grew up together and we’ve been really close friends for just shy of 30 years.

When we were kids, we played our own leagues in the council estates and equivalents of Hackney Marshes. This was in the early to mid 80s when Liverpool were flying and many of the local neighbourhood teams adopted the names of big clubs like Liverpool and Manchester United, despite the fact that we were lucky to even watch a televised match once a month in our part of the world.
The funny thing is that we knew more about the team we supported and the players of the time, than we did about school work and the local curriculum. Prozone would have been proud of us at the time.

Dean was the local Liverpool’s star. Their Graham Souness, the guy who made them tick. He’s the only footballer who I know will nutmeg you and dribble past 3 players, turn towards you with that impish ”gotcha” smile, before smuggling the ball into the goal from a ridiculously impossible angle.
So I wasn’t the least bit surprised about his allegiance to Liverpool. His question to me about the roots of my allegiance to Arsenal did make me think though.

I suppose the biggest driving factor for me is to do with what Arsenal as a club represents. Victoria Concordia Crescit says it all, but it’s much more than that. It’s about the club’s values and philosophy of openness and opportunity. About the clubs desire to go about things in the right and fair way, and about the clubs patience and determination to develop an ambitious vision, stick to it and work hard at realising it.
There are many aspects of Arsenal’s journey over the last 2 decades that are a reflection of my own journey in life. In the last 18 years in particular I’ve identified more with the Gunners than any other development in my life I guess.

Friends tell me in a way that I’m lucky that my wife is also crazy about football. The down side though is that she’s a diehard Chelsea supporter (yeah! I know) – but I guess we all make sacrifices in life and have to live with the consequences.
Perhaps these are the reasons why I feel more sensitive and aggrieved about the open bias towards Arsenal that I encounter every day from the English football establishment. And it’s not paranoia. I know paranoia, believe me.
I’ll give you 4 examples (and there’s loads more) to illustrate my point.

1. Broadcasting of Arsenal Games on TV or radio
I’ll cite the group stages of the champions league. Out of 6 match days, there’s 24 opportunities that 2 radio stations have to broadcast the commentary for the games involving the 4 English sides.

I’ve used radio as an example because on the specific Tuesday and Wednesday nights of the Champions league match days, I was working and where I was , we can only listen to radio.

Out of the 24 opportunities that both radio stations had, only one Arsenal game – the match day 1 game between Standard Liege and Arsenal was broadcast. In a fair world, you’d expect that more than 1 out of 24 Arsenal games would get air time. In most cases, both stations broadcast the same match involving either Chelsea, Man United or Liverpool.
Don’t even get me started on the debacle of the Sky vs. ITV split that sees Arsenal relegated into broadcasting wilderness.

2. Anally Retentive Commentators.
It’ was refreshing that in his last webcast to Arsenal supporters, Wenger confessed that he rarely watches Arsenal games on TV with the volume on. The outright bias and diatribe the commentators have against Arsenal can drive you loco.
It’s almost like it’s a scripted attempt to brainwash Arsenal fans with negativity. Whether it’s constantly referring to Gallas’s drama at St. Andrews in February 2008, or the application of selective amnesia that blanks out any virtues of the Arsenal game and amplifies Arsenal’s shortcomings; some commentators need to be lynched.

In many cases, commentators have publicly referred to the opposing team as ”our”. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if they’re on the opposing team’s payroll, but to be fair, such commentators are just thick.

3. Xenophobia towards Arsenal’s colourful squad
The constant references to Arsenal’s supposed lack of English players is mind numbing and bang out of order. They serve to reinforce stereotypes that promote the dislike of the unknown and the misunderstood, and essentially fuel xenophobia.

The way the non-English mantra is latched on to suggests that there is something inherently wrong with not being English. An argument has been made that the English premier league is actually English in an attempt to justify the xenophobia.
Frankly speaking, in the 21st century, that’s an argument that needs to be filed right between shit and syphilis. There’s no room for that level of ignorance and arrogance for that matter in a game that is prostituted around the world as the best league competition on the planet.
Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the Premier League is only popular in the world because of the myriad of international players and managers in the game. If it was still quintessentially English, the league would still be in the wilderness of the mid 80s to early 90s following the 5 year UEFA ban caused by hooliganism.

Furthermore, the billions of pounds Sky and other TV broadcasters pump into the game is only made possible by the ability to sell broadcasting rights all over the world. The English premier league can’t be a reality without non-English participation.
Inevitably, Arsenal is the whipping boy of this ”you’re not English enough” band wagon. It’s a shame that no one takes notice of the composition of the Arsenal youth and reserves team, and Arsenal’s stellar work in bringing through talented English players for the future.

4. Misguided truths or convenient lies about Arsenal

Take your pick:

  • Arsenal don’t have strength and depth
  • Arsenal need an English spine to win the EPL
  • Arsenal must play ugly to win
  • Arsenal can’t hack it if you bully them or kick them off the park
  • It’s OK to actually kick them weak and brittle Arsenal players
  • Arsenal are broke and there are a poor man’s imitation of the big 2 clubs
  • If Arsenal don’t win a trophy this season then Wenger must go
  • Wenger is a tight fisted egomaniac who refuses to spend money for big name transfers
  • Arsenal are a selling team

You get the picture…

Basically a narrative has been building for several years now to serve the purpose of pigeon holing Arsenal into an also-rans outfit. There will always be a negative edge pursued on any Arsenal story.

A good example is when Andrey Arshavin said that Arsenal needed a miracle to have all their first team players available at the same time. This was swiftly rehashed and reported as “Arshavin says Arsenal need a miracle to win the title”
What is also noticeable is the contempt and disdain that Arsenal and Wenger are held in by the I-Zombies (pundits and hacks) in football. Most of them find it really hard to hide their contempt for all things Arsenal. It’s so pathetic to watch them pretend to be impartial.
It’s true what they say though. If they hate you this much, you must be doing something right. Is choosing to win by playing beautiful football such a bad thing?

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