Arsenal Sign Sebastian Squillaci, Learn Champions League Draw

Hamlet AbayaCorrespondent IAugust 27, 2010

PARIS - FRANCE- NOVEMBER 18:  Sebastien Squillaci of France during the France v Republic of Ireland FIFA 2010 World Cup Qualifying Play Off second leg match at the Stade de France on November 18, 2009 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
Michael Steele/Getty Images

With news that Sebastian Squillaci has finally signed for Arsenal, it appears that Wenger has solved one of the two glaring personnel problems facing the club, the other being the goalkeeper position.

At season's end, Arsenal lost four centre backs. 

William Gallas was offered a contract extension earlier during the season but opted to let it run out before eventually signing for Spurs.  Sol Campbell, who was signed during the January transfer window last season, also had a choice to rejoin Arsenal but opted to play for Premier League returners Newcastle United.  Both Mikael Silvestre and Philippe Senderos left as free agents, the latter signing for Fulham.  

With just Thomas Vermaelen, oft-injured Johan Djourou, and new signing Laurent Koscielny as the only real viable options for centre back, Arsene Wenger would have been forced to deploy defensive midfielder Alexandre Song or untested 20-year-old Havard Nordtveit in the centre of defense if anything happened to two of those three. 

That is exactly what happened against newly promoted Blackpool.  With Koscielny serving his one-game ban and Djourou out injured, Wenger played Song in the heart of defence. Song has been hit-and-miss at that position in the past because though he is great in the tackle and is an excellent passer, he lacks the perfect positioning, aerial ability, and overall familiarity in that position.  Luckily, he wasn't facing Ibrahimovic and Messi.

But with the Squillaci signing, Wenger relaxed his under-30 signing policy and appears to have solved the team's centre back conundrum with an inspired piece of business. 

He offers the team the legitimate option of an experienced defender who will compete with Koscielny for the right centre back spot, and he didn't cost a fortune. The 24-year-old Koscielny cost between £8 and 10 million while the experienced Squillaci only cost around £3 to 6 million, depending on whom you ask. 

It was a nice piece of business all around.

Whether he turns out to be the next Vermaelen or Pascal Cygan is still unclear.  But at least Wenger finally addressed this lingering problem in defence. 

With the Squillaci signing done and dusted, there was also the question of who Arsenal would draw in the Champions League.

At first glance, a quick look at the Champions League Draw appears to have been a very favorable one to Arsenal.  Facing Shakhtar Donetsk, SC Braga, and FK Partisan Belgrade, Arsenal managed to avoid marquee names the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, or Inter Milan.  

What people overlook is that even though on paper Arsenal should dominate, as in any sport football is played on the field, not on paper.  An off night, a mental lapse, weather, travel, the pregame meal, and players' personal lives could affect what happens during the game and could swing momentum the other way completely. 

Furthermore, these are all teams that were at the top of their respective leagues or competed against accomplished teams in the qualifying stages.  Though Arsenal are by far the best team in the group, any one of them could cause problems and be a lucky bounce or two away from an upset. 

Shakhtar Donetsk, who were the champions of the Ukrainian League last season, just signed former Arsenal striker Eduardo, who will surely be fired up to face his former club. 

Though the club treated him well, overseeing his rehabilitation from a horrible compound fracture and ankle dislocation by thug Martin Taylor, he will  will be buoyed by the chance to play so soon in front of Arsenal supporters and will undoubtedly have a little extra motivation.

SC Braga, who came in second in the Portuguese Liga, are dubbed Arsenalistas for their use of Arsenal's red and white home kit colors. They boast 17 Brazilians, so they probably have great technique, skill, and flair.  Furthermore, they beat both Celtic and Sevilla during the qualifying round, so they should not be underestimated.

And although FK Partizan appear to be the easiest team in the group, they are as yet an unknown commodity and like the Shakhtar away match, the away tie against them is going to involve significant travel, which often drains players before a match, resulting in sub-par performances.

At the very least, Arsenal are not in group G, with AC Milan, Real Madrid, Ajax, and Auxerre, or group A, with Inter Milan, Werder Bremen, Tottenham, and FC Twente.  Both those groups could realistically see any number of combinations advance to the knockout rounds. Then again, Arsenal could have been a little luckier and had a group like Barcelona's, against the likes of Panathinaikos, FC Copenhagen, and Rubin Kazan.

Having said all that, the likelihood of Arsenal not winning the group and advancing are slim.  There is just too much quality on the side, and if everything goes as it should, the Gunners will roll on pretty smoothly.

Yesterday was good for Arsenal.  With the Squillaci signing in the bag, and a seemingly easy path to the Champions League knockout rounds, all that's left to do is sign a goalkeeper to replace the error-prone Almunia and Fabianski. 

With only a few days to go, I really hope it happens.