Arsenal Experience: Do The Young Gunners Need It Or Are They Making It?

Brad SimkuletSenior Analyst IAugust 4, 2008

There’s much talk floating around about what Arsenal needs in the transfer market to succeed in the upcoming season.

A powerful central defender is generally agreed to be a necessity, someone in the mold of Tony Adams, but it is a team role that Arsene Wenger has assured fans he will not be strengthening.

Instead, Wenger’s focus is in the holding midfield role, where the main candidates being discussed are Aston Villa’s Gareth Barry, Udinese’s Gokhan Inler, and Liverpool’s Xabi Alonso.

The Gunners’ loss of Gilberto Silva and Mattheiu Flamini has certainly precipitated Wenger’s interest in defensive midfielders.

Wenger does have a couple of talented youngsters who could fill the position, most notably Abou Diaby and Denilson, with the latter being the most likely choice, having already filled that role from time to time. Most pundits suggest, however, that what Arsenal needs most in a defensive midfielder is “experience,” which, it is implied, neither Diaby nor Denilson have.

And these same pundits seem to think that Wenger’s best choice for the position, despite the manager's comments to the contrary, is Barry.

This raises some interesting questions.

What constitutes “experience”? And does Barry have it?

If experience means nothing but age, 27-year-old Barry is a good choice. But if experience means more than age, if experience means playing in tough situations, huge tournaments and meaningful cup games, Gareth Barry might not be the best choice after all.

Compare Barry’s numbers to 20-year-old Denilson’s: Barry has 38 goals in 327 appearances for Aston Villa; Denilson has zero goals in 35 senior appearances split between Sao Paulo and Arsenal.

Barry has 20 senior caps for the English National side; Denilson has zero senior caps for Brazil, but he captained their  U17s to the 2005 South American Championship title, and remains captain of Brazil’s U20s.

Barry was in the losing side for the 1999/2000 FA Cup and won the 2001 Intertoto Cup; Denilson was in the losing side for the 2007 Carling Cup, but he won the Copa Libertadores and FIFA Club World Championship with Sao Paulo.

So far as playing and leadership experience are concerned the two men are comparable (Barry captains Aston Villa and he served as England U18 captain), but as far as trophies are concerned Denilson Pereira Neves has the decided advantage.

So is it just age? Is it simply emotional maturity that matters? Perhaps so, but winning things must have some sort of positive impact on a player’s maturity and experience.

Considering the comparison between Barry and his potential Gunner competition, what makes Barry a better choice than Alonso, whom the most recent rumors have Arsenal linked to once again?

Probably the only thing that edges Barry as a potential target past Alonso, a man who has won the Champion’s League, the European Cup, and the FA Cup, is that Barry is English, which has nothing to do with experience and everything to do with necessity in the Blatter/Platini era.

Clearly, Alonso is superior in experience to Barry, and it is arguable that Barry is only vaguely and intangibly more experienced than Denilson. So couple these facts with Barry's outrageous £18 million price tag, and he becomes an extremely unlikely target for Arsene Wenger.

Furthermore, knowing Wenger’s love for youth, Alonso also seems an unlikely choice even if he would be the perfect fit with his amigo, Fabregas.

The most likely signing, it seems to me, is Inler, despite Udinese’s insistence that Inler is not for sale. The 24-year-old Swiss International fits the bill for Wenger's transfer policy and game philosophy: he is cheap, fast, strong, and young.

As for experience, he has played in an Euro Cup, which is more “top level” experience than Barry can claim.

Let’s face it: Pundits and fans may want Wenger to buy experience, and he may even pay lip service to experience in interviews, but when it comes down to it Wenger buys “quality” and lets the “experience” come as it will.

Expect Inler or some other surprising “quality” defensive midfielder to be joining Arsenal soon, rather than the unlikely Alonso

And just forget about Barry. It ain’t going to happen.