Denilson – The One That Got Away?

By Daniel Cowan
In Arsenal
Apr 23rd, 2014

Welcome to another Guest Wednesday. This week I welcome @SweeperKeeper1 who tells us why he thinks Denilson was the right player at the wrong time.

When Mathieu Flamini left the Emirates in 2008 to go to AC Milan, Arsenal said farewell or “Au Revoir” to the type of midfielder Arsene Wenger preferred between 1997 and 2008. Flamini was hardworking, energetic whilst being positionally strong and fierce in the tackle as well. He continued in the mould of Petit, Vieira and Gilberto as players able to help Arsenal drive forward but also well-versed in the dark arts (although being limited technically compared to those players).

Wenger changed his approach slowly after Patrick Vieira left the club and anointed Cesc Fabregas as his successor; a changing of the guard as such as Arsenal turned away from the physical, athletic specimen across the pitch to a more continental approach with a lone striker up top and a trio of midfielders who all must be technicians and comfortable on the ball. Despite this change in philosophy, Wenger continued to play a physical midfielder in a 4-4-2 until the aforementioned departure of Flamini and from there Wenger decided to implement this style of play in the Premier League.

Denilson started the 08-09 season with Cesc Fabregas in a 2 man midfield, and was admirable adapting his game to allow Fabregas the freedom to utilise his creative ability further up the pitch. He was able to sweep up the play behind him whilst recycling the ball effectively. When Fabregas returned from a long-term knee injury Wenger decided to switch to a 3 man midfield, with Song joining Denilson and Fabregas in the team. The balance was there with Denilson still as the holding midfielder with Song helping him out at times whilst pressing higher up the pitch with Fabregas at the top of the trident being the playmaker and creating higher up the pitch.

When Denilson first signed for the club Wenger described him as being “a little bit in between Tomáš Rosický and Gilberto”. His role was to act as the ‘link’ in the midfield, win the ball back just in front of the defence, keeping possession, recycling the ball to the more creative players, and knocking sensible passes out to the full-backs. His job was to keep things simple and keep the game ticking over calmly. For all the talk that Denilson was a sideways passer, he was always able to split defences open from deep with his Cesc-like long balls from deep and he was mostly a player capable to play on the front foot, dictating the tempo whether to keep the ball or quicken the game up with  risky passes forward and 1-2s.  He was never a Flamini or an Alex Song, who got the pulse pumping of the crowd with their slide tackles and acts of “bravery” on the field but a calm interceptor and a much more intelligent tackler able to initiate attacks rather than aimlessly clearing the ball. Denilson was able to stay generally deep and break up play and did it, without often being tempted to venture too far up the pitch thus breaking the whole shape of the team unlike Alex Song’s wandering legs in his later years at Arsenal.

2008/09 was a breakout season for Denilson and the stats back it up compared to Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini.

Denilson (08/09)

Arteta (12/13)

Flamini (13/14)

Games played





146 (4 per game)

97 (2.85 per game)

37 (1.54 per game)





Tackles won

148 (4.11 per game)

110 (3.24 per game)

44 (1.83 per game)

Pass Accuracy




Unfortunately for Denilson, he couldn’t continue in the vein of his 08/09 season as he suffered from a peculiar and debilitating back injury where it was found out he had a small fracture in his back at the start of the 09/10 season and returned to get injured again later on in the season with a groin strain. These injuries appeared to set him back and coupled with the emergence of Jack Wilshere, limited his appearances to mainly cup games with the odd league game here and there.

In the 11/12 season where with Aaron Ramsey returning from injury, too many midfielders and limited spots, Denilson was the guy who could never win his place back and was eventually shipped off to Sao Paulo on loan and eventually on a free transfer to Sao Paulo. No tears were really shed as everyone understood his time was over at the club with 2 seasons spent on loan in his native Brazil. Denilson personified the Emirates era thus far; new, young, full of promise and ready to take the world by storm instead it started promisingly well for him before imploding and falling apart.

No one could forget him against that ill-fated game against Manchester United in 2010 where he allowed Park and Rooney to run at him, do nothing whilst ambling back slower than the time it takes Chamakh to get his hairstyle done and putting no effort in at all. This was his main fault, he wasn’t able to cope at all with people running at him with pace, was physically weak where it would be easy to shrug him off the ball and most infuriatingly just casually jogging after runners with no effort nor application.

Denilson had his faults like any other player but between 2007-2011 where we had 3 good opportunities to win the league and were in the mix by the beginning of February each time, Wenger didn’t help his young troops by totally disregarding the importance of experience in older players. Denilson and to a lesser extent Song and Diaby would have benefited immensely from partnering a player like Gilberto Silva who had a wealth of experience and an illustrious career to back it up.

All in all in his later years at the club, Denilson conveniently was the scapegoat for all of Arsenal’s problem on the pitch (kind of like the #blameramsey campaign don’t forget). Arsenal fans had their pitchforks out ready to blame Denilson for every 5 yard backward pass he would do no matter the circumstances conveniently forgetting what his job on the pitch was, with this lack of trust and love from all quarters he was looking rather lost in his last season at the club.

I remember in his last few games where his substitutions would be greeted with cheers, it completely drained whatever confidence he had in himself and in those circumstances a player cannot play to his ability in such a negative environment especially when being in and out of the side. At the end it was good for everybody involved for him to move on to his future endeavors and at the age of 26, there is still time for him to make a return back to Europe and perhaps become the player everyone at Arsenal thought he would become.

What do you guys think? Could Denilson have been the player Arteta has been? With Arteta’s age looking to have caught up with him would you want someone like Denilson back at the club? Leave a comment and let us know what you think.

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About "" - 509 Posts

I am a South London born Gooner now living in Leigh-On-Sea, Essex. I'm a husband, daddy, podcaster, trainer enthusiast and aspiring author. My work is my passion and for that I will always be grateful. Here is where I write my thoughts and views on Arsenal Football Club, the greatest team the world has ever seen.

7 Responses to “Denilson – The One That Got Away?”

  1. Kyk says:

    Denison can’t run. It is like playing with 10 men whenever we have won a corner or freekick near opposition goal. He will make a hole for opposition to counter attack us.

  2. PositiveGunner says:

    I agree with most of this post though I wouldn’t say he’s the one that got away…his development sort of stalled after injuries and once fans got on his back, confidence dropped rapidly and he was never the same brilliant player he was in 08/09…if it weren’t for that back injury and subsequent scapegoating, he’d definitely have turned into the ideal Arteta successor that we’re in need of now…good piece overall

  3. davi says:

    He had the ability but I always saw it as a lack of motivation in his case. In his latter days at Arsenal he could still play really well against sides like Barca and Utd but when we were getting pressed by the smaller sides, he didn’t seem to have the fight and appeared complacent to me. Good DMs like Flamini or Gilberto would never jog back the way he would when the defence was/is under threat. From my perspective that was all that was really missing from Denilson, but you bring up the back injury and that could explain it. I remember playing as a kid and I got to be fairly good but I suffered a back injury and from then on I never really wanted to sprint for fear of injurying myself again. It’s a shame because Denilson really did have the talent.
    I’m glad you point out that Song wasn’t the holding midfielder in the side – the guy was criticised so heavily during his time with us for being caught too far forward when he’s rarely been played as the holding midfielder, he almost always played as the box-to-box midfielder in our system with a holding midfielder behind him. Ramsey’s taken that role now and does a better job, but Song was one of our most consistent and best players during his time at the club and didn’t deserve the criticism he received at all.

  4. davi says:

    Btw, why the note on Flamini being limited technically compared to Petit, Vieira and Gilberto? First of all he was/is no less technically gifted than Gilberto in any sense, and I swear in his one big season at the club he had one of the highest pass accuracy stats (along with Cesc)? It sounds like blasphemy but I don’t think I’ve ever seen better from a destructive midfielder than Flamini during the 07/08 season. Vieira was amazing but over the course of a single season I don’t think he could match what Flamini did during a time when sides were starting to play 3 CMs. We dominated these sides largely because Flamini was still able to win the midfield battle. He did the job of 2 men to give Cesc the ability to pull the strings in midfield. Gilberto hadn’t lost it, was still a top player, but he simply couldn’t handle playing alongside Cesc in a 2-man CM and was rightly outed by the more energetic Flamini. It was an unbelievable performance from Flam which made his decision to leave all the more upsetting. He’s not half the player now.

  5. brianito says:

    i dont believe in going back where you ame from no matter how good. this way i avoid making mistakes and thus slower when making decision. i wouldnt want arsenal to bring back neves. rather to look for a player like him. we have nothing wrong with our midfield we create as many chances as barcelona, madrid, man city but the difference is where the have a negredo, CR7, benz, messi. aguero, suarez

    we have ……

  6. Obidue says:

    One thin i like about Denilson is that he likes to take his chance on shot at goal whenever he gets the chance. I still remeber some of the goals he scored from outside of the box and his samba dance celebrations. It wasnt his fault he didnt make much of a career at arsenal because wenger wanted to mold him to a particular kind of defensive player in arsenal which he lacked the qualities in many respect unlike viera and song

  7. rahaizad says:

    I’m just glad he went away. Physically, he is not up to it. Always chasing shadows.

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