In recent weeks and days it has become rather easy to lambast and ridicule Arsenal’s Brazilian full-back Andre Santos.
In brutal honesty, his performances at left-back since Kieran Gibbs’ injury have been nothing short of disastrous.
He was arguably partially at fault for Grant Holt’s decisive goal for Norwich against the Gunners, was then ripped to shreds consistently by Schalke in the German side’s 2-0 Champions League victory at the Emirates and then on Saturday, reached his nadir in a horror show display as his side slumped to a 2-1 defeat at Manchester United.
The 29-year-old then added fuel to the fire with his ridiculous decision to seek out the shirt of former Arsenal captain Robin Van Persie at half-time as the two sides departed the pitch with the Dutchman not taking Santos’ shirt in return. That incident compounded with Santos’ increasing defensive ineptitude has seen him face a barrage of abuse not just from his own fans but from the football world at large.
Perhaps Arsenal fans in particular should cut him a little slack. Santos is clearly no mug off the street. He is a Brazil international and at the time of his move to the Emirates from Fenerbahce (where he was a real fans’ favourite and won the Turkish league title) he was first-choice in the Brazil starting XI ahead of the much-heralded Real Madrid star Marcelo. Indeed, after a slightly shaky start to his Gunners career, Santos would establish himself as a secure left-back and in particular, a superb attacking one, which the likes of Olympiakos, Chelsea and West Brom found out last season.
However, just when he looked to be entering into his stride as an Arsenal player, an ankle injury suffered in a Champions League match kept him on the sidelines for almost three months and although Santos eventually would return to first-team action, it is fair to say he has not looked the same player since, particularly defensively.
That much has been evident in his displays so far this season, where Santos has looked shorn of any pace, tackling ability, positional awareness or confidence, all key attributes of a left-back’s defensive duty. Indeed, considering the praise Kieran Gibbs was receiving during the opening games of the campaign, it seems inconceivable that Santos will continue his Arsenal career at left-back.
However, does that mean that the Brazilian should simply be carted to the dustbin, or sold back to Turkey as the transfer rumours have suggested? Or rather, is it not worth making use of Santos’ better qualities, namely his attacking tendencies, in a position more further forward.
Last season, once Gibbs had returned to fitness and taken his place at left-back once again, Arsene Wenger began to bring on Santos in a left-wing position late on in games. This was partly due to the lack of options at Wenger’s disposal and partly due to his desire to shore up his side defensively. However, at times it seemed to work. In the Gunners’ 1-0 win over Manchester City in April, Santos provided a much-needed spark from a left-wing position with his impressive dribbling and ball retention skills.
With the ball at this feet, there are remarkably few better in this Arsenal team than Andre Santos. Despite not having an abundance of pace, the Brazilian has no problem dribbling past players at times and can work his way out of tight situations with a trick or flick that invariably seems to come off. He also possesses a good final ball and when given the opportunity, can finish with aplomb. Without the ball, particularly defensively this season, Santos can be a liability, but once Gibbs returns to fitness, why not push the Brazilian further forward and utilise his best assets?
A fantastic crosser of the ball, Olivier Giroud would surely thrive on the Brazilian’s range of delivery. A superb player of one-two passes and touches, would Santos not combine effectively in tight forward positions with Santi Cazorla and importantly, not have to worry about dashing back the length of the pitch to stop the opposition winger because that will be Gibbs’ job, rather than Santos’.
Clearly, at the age of 29 this is only likely to be a stop-gap measure. Andre Santos is clearly not going to become the new Gareth Bale overnight. Indeed, there are some who suggest that he would be closer to becoming the new Emmanuel Eboue if pushed further forward. However, with Lukas Podolski currently offering next to nothing in the left-wing position, Gervinho and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain both injured and Theo Walcott currently involved in a contract stand-off with the club, would Wenger not be better placed turning to the experience of Santos than either someone out of position and form in Aaron Ramsey or Andrey Arshavin, who looked all but set to depart the club in the summer?
At this point in time for the Gunners, Arsene Wenger needs every weapon he can possibly have at his disposal if he is to revive his side’s flagging season.