NIGEL WINTERBURN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW
Former Arsenal and West Ham legend Nigel Winterburn shares his thoughts on Arsenal's transfer window, Premier League season 2019/2020 and the chances for Arsenal and West Ham.
ON ARSENAL TRANSFER WINDOW
How big of a signing is Kieran Tierney for Arsenal. Does he have what it takes to make it at Arsenal?
The Premier League is the most brutal league in the world, especially for defenders, but Kieran Tierney is a sensational signing and will have no problem settling in. He is a young player who has gained huge experience at Celtic, he has also played Champions League football so will be used to the quality of football.
At the end of the day, I’m less worried about what a player has done before; I’m more interested in what happens when they come to your football club. Tierney fits the bill and is someone that will give Arsenal plenty of width and defensive skills down the left-hand side. He has been a player that Arsenal have courted for most of the transfer window, so I’m delighted that Arsenal have got the transfer over the line.
Arsenal secured the signing of Nicolas Pépé smashing their transfer record. What will he bring to the club?
Nicolas Pépé is the perfect signing for Arsenal, they have been desperate for a genuine wide man with pace to burn for a couple of seasons now and Pépé provides that threat. He is lighting quick, carries the ball well, he is terrific with the ball at his feet and is willing to put a good shift in for the team.
I’m surprised that no other Premier League team challenged Arsenal for his signature, but Arsenal acted swiftly to make the signing happen which might have limited other clubs’ ability to get involved in the transfer speculation.
He will need to be given the chance to settle in to the way that Arsenal play, but he is going to be vital to the team. He will allow Arsenal to counter-attack a lot more quickly than they did last season and it will free Lacazette and Aubameyang to focus on what they do best – get in behind defenders and score goals.
How important is the loan signing of Dani Ceballos from Real Madrid, will he help fill the void left by Ramsay?
Dani Ceballos is a great signing for Arsenal and will help fill the void left by Ramsey. The fact that a club like Real Madrid didn’t want to lose him on a permanent transfer is evidence of the player that Arsenal have on their hands. Arsenal need to keep the ball better in midfield and Ceballos is just the player to do that. He is so comfortable with the ball, he will spring passes forward just a little bit quicker instead of pushing the ball from side to side, and he’ll add another dimension to Arsenal’s game.
Arsenal now have some strong options for the number 10 position, when everyone is fit, Emery is going to have a real selection headache. Young Joe Willock was Arsenal’s stand-out performer in pre-season and together with Reiss Nelson, they will be challenging the likes Ozil, Ceballos and Mkhitaryan for a starting position. It’s a good problem for Emery to have.
Were you surprised that Chelsea allowed David Luiz leave to join a direct rival and how much does he improve Arsenal’s defensive options?
I’m really surprised that Chelsea allowed Luiz to leave to join a direct rival who are fighting for same fourth position in the league, especially considering their transfer ban. Only Frank Lampard and David Luiz will know the ins and outs but Chelsea’s loss is Arsenal’s gain. It will come as no shock to anyone that Arsenal were desperate for a defender and they have signed a top, experienced centre-half in David Luiz.
He has been erratic at times but on the flip side, he’s very, very good on the ball, he can make forward passes, he’s athletic and is a very strong defender on his day. He will slot into the team straight away and I think he will develop a really strong partnership with Sokratis.
Arsenal need the centre-backs to be very stable if they are to have a realistic chance of finishing in the Top Four, because that is what has let the team down over the last two years. His experience at the top level of the game will be so valuable for the likes of Rob Holding and Callum Chambers to learn from.
Both Luiz and Sokratis will need to be at the top of their game as both Chambers and Holding will be challenging for their positions. Chambers put in a perfect performance against Newcastle on the opening game of the season, his loan spell at Fulham seems to have done him the world of good. Likewise, Rob Holding was Arsenal’s most consistent player before his injury last season so when he is match-fit, he’ll be knocking on the managers door expecting to play. Arsenal now have a number of good defensive option, which again, is a good problem to have.
Arsenal signed William Saliba this transfer window, would you have liked to have seen him come straight to the club, as opposed to being loaned back out?
Arsenal’s defence needs bolstering but it was the right move for Saliba to go back on loan for this season. From the reports I’ve had from those at the club, Arsenal have a signed a very, very strong centre-half but I understand that he’s not quite yet ready for Premier League football. He needs the experience of playing regularly – he’ll join the squad for pre-season next season ready to hit the ground running.
Do you think Arsenal were right in selling Alex Iwobi or did they sell him too early?
The money that Arsenal received for Iwobi was too good to turn down, player like Reiss Nelson are good enough to replace him. The final fee is a huge amount of money for a player who has shown glimpses of potential but is yet to prove he is the finished article.
It’s also a case of rebalancing the books. Pépé has come into the club and would have been ahead of Iwobi in the pecking order, if Arsenal were able to recover £30-odd million from the fee they paid for Pépé, that is good business. Arsenal have other options on the wings, Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang are capable of covering for Pépé and the club has a lot of belief in Reiss Nelson who looks like he will have a lot of game time this season.
Arsenal were over-dependent on Aubameyang and Lacazette last season for goals, would you have liked to have seen Eddie Nketiah stay at the club this season to provide support, as opposed to going out on loan to Leeds?
Arsenal made the right decision by allowing Nketiah to leave on loan to Leeds, he would have been a useful squad player for the Europa League but he is going to a fantastic club in Leeds.
They’re a prominent Championship club and he will gain vital experience for his development. The experience at Leeds will be much more valuable than the seven or eight games that he would have got for Arsenal during the campaign. This season will tell us a lot more whether that potential can turn into someone that could be a regular starter for Arsenal’s first team.
What do you think of Kościelny’s departure from the club?
Koscielney’s departure from the club was disrespectful, as club captain and after being at the club for 9 years, he should have known better. If he was revealing a Real Madrid or Barcelona shirt then I can understand but it’s Bordeaux!
As club captain you have a huge responsibility to your football club to lead by example in everything you do day to day, but particularly what you do out on the pitch, and with social media, and the way things are now; everything is picked up on.
He’s obviously had a falling out with the club, it appears that he was told that he could leave but the club might have not wanted him to go in the end. I think the situation has agitated the fans, after refusing to travel to the USA on pre-season tour and with the shirt unveiling, it shows a lot of disrespect to them.
What do you think of Raul Sanllehi and Edu Gasper’s recruitment this transfer window?
Raul Sanllehi and Edu Gasper have brought in a new sense of optimism into the club – both individuals deserve a tremendous amount of praise. They’ve brought in some exciting prospects, shipped out some fringe players and together with Emery have showed that they are willing to give the youth players like Willock and Nelson a chance this season.
I’m more excited at this seasons prospects than I have been for a number of years. The last two years, particularly the away performances, have been nowhere near good enough for Arsenal for a Premier League side who consider themselves to be a top four team. The signings Arsenal have made have reinvigorated the club, now we need the new players to deliver on the pitch!
Arsenal were linked with a late loan move for Philippe Coutinho. How big of a blow was it to have missed out on his signature in the end?
I don’t consider Arsenal missing out on Coutinho as a blow because I don’t think that it was ever realistic. Some of the figures that were bandied about, I’ve read that the deal could be worth up to £40 million, would have been an incredible investment from Arsenal for a loan deal and something that just cannot happen. He’s a terrific player, I think he would enhance most squads, but I don’t see it as a missed opportunity, because I was never convinced it was an option.
Would Zaha have been a better signing for Arsenal than Pépé?
Zaha would have been a safer signing than Pépé, as he is proven in the Premier League but I can only tell you who would have been the better signing come the end of the season. Pépé is not as well-known on these shores as Zaha, so it’s hard to know if he can produce similar results to what we have come to expect from Zaha at Crystal Palace. However, from the bits that we have seen of him, we know that Arsenal have a very exciting player on their hands. As a supporter, I would have liked Arsenal to have signed both players!
ON ARSENAL 2019/20 SEASON:
Do you think Arsenal have improved under Unai Emery?
Emery needs to start delivering this season, a team like Arsenal should be looking at automatic Champions League qualification and winning the Europa League – it shouldn’t be one or the other. That’s the expectation that comes with playing for a team like Arsenal. I don’t like the idea of resting players for certain competitions, you’ve got to go full steam ahead for every competition that you enter. Last season, Emery prioritised the Europa League at the end of the season and that back-fired.
Last season was a ‘free season’ for Emery in my eyes. He had last season to adapt to the Premier League and get to know his squad and surroundings, but now he needs to kick on and deliver Champions League qualification.
The team that Emery inherited was very much Arsene Wenger’s team and he did well to reach the Europa League final, but ultimately, Arsenal came up short again in the final and blew their Champions League qualification chances by capitulating in the league. Emery has experimented with tactics last season and has now added in a number of players that he would have wanted in his squad this transfer window. The board have backed him by giving him money to spend, he’s made the right signings and has added a couple of pieces to the jigsaw, so this year will be more of a realistic judgement on where Unai Emery can take Arsenal.
Arsenal have a tough start to the season with Manchester United, Tottenham and Liverpool all to come in the opening six games of the season, for Arsenal to be successful, they need to take six points from those games. If I was playing, I would demand all nine points but I think we need to be realistic.
Do you think Ӧzil will start for Arsenal this season?
With the quality that Arsenal’s attacking options, Ӧzil isn’t guaranteed to start week in week out for the club. We didn’t see the real Ӧzil last season, perhaps he couldn’t adapt to the intensity of Unai Emery’s training sessions but we were limited to cameo performances scattered across the season.
To get the best out of Ӧzil, he needs to start in the Number 10 position, he is wasted out wide. He needs to be given the freedom where he can make those killer passes in the areas that he can make a difference. There is no doubt that when Ӧzil is on top form he is a brilliant player – he just doesn’t show this consistently.
This season, Ӧzil now has other players in the squad that can challenge him. The likes of Cabellos and Willock will be pushing for that starting position and Emery is going to have a real headache squeezing in all that talent – it’ll be fascinating to see what Emery does. What’s certain is that Emery is a big personality and isn’t afraid to make big decisions even if that means dropping Ӧzil from the starting 11.
Tottenham have had a really productive transfer window. Are they a better team now than Arsenal?
Tottenham have finished consistently above Arsenal over the past few seasons and they are a better team but at the end of the day, they still have no silverware to show for it.
Tottenham have a very strong team, they actually remind me of Arsenal teams in the past, they look very well organised, they’ve got players with individual flair. They now have the new stadium and are in a position where they are starting to spend some money. They have one of the best managers in the world in Pochettino and at the moment, Arsenal have work to do to if they are to leapfrog back over them. The saving grace for Arsenal fans is that they still haven’t won that elusive trophy, and I think at the moment, that’s what we’re hanging onto.
With the departures of Koscielny, Ramsey and Cech, who should be Arsenal’s captain next season?
Emery should make David Luiz his captain for this season. He has the ability to be that Tony Adams figure in Arsenal’s backline. I know he’s new, but that doesn’t worry me at all. A captain needs to be someone that’s vocal, someone that’s not scared to make people aware of their responsibilities within a game just because they might upset them for five minutes.
Like a lot of supporters, I’m not a fan of this rotational five-man captain. Of course, every player should have the ability to be a captain on the pitch and let other players know if there is a problem but you need a figurehead – someone who can lead by example. I’m not around the training ground a lot, and that’s where Emery will see who are the big, strong, vocal characters, who are not afraid to upset people if they need to be upset.
If you haven’t got a vocal captain in the squad, then Emery should choose someone like Aubameyang, a player that will lead by example on the pitch and will play the majority of games. Most importantly, Emery needs to choose one captain and a vice captain so they can shoulder the responsibility.
Who will be Arsenal’s most important player this season?
Without a shadow of a doubt, Aubameyang will be Arsenal’s most important player this season. You saw from the Newcastle game, he had very few opportunities to score but the one real opportunity that he got, his composure and finishing was perfect. If he stays fit, he’s going to have a huge season again for Arsenal, and will certainly be challenging for the Golden Boot again.
It gives the team a huge lift when you know you’ve got a goal-scorer in your team. He is similar to Ian Wright in that sense. As a team, we knew that if you can keep a clean sheet, then Wrighty will usually pop up with a goal. Aubameyang is looking like that at the moment for this current side, which is great for the club.
Lucas Torreira was a revelation at Arsenal last season, but faded as kind of the season came to an end. Is his place in the starting 11 guaranteed?
Emery is going to have a selection headache as to who he should be starting in centre-midfield. Lucas Torreira started off last season incredibly well, I think the pace of the league caught up with him but I expect him to rediscover his best form this year. He is a player who covers a huge amount of ground. His positioning, his break-up play, is terrific. Emery won’t need to rush him back into the team, so once he’s gained some match sharpness, he’ll be ready to go again.
.Torreira will need to perform though as he will have the impressive Matteo Guendouzi on his toes. Guendouzi was a huge hit last season and his performance against Newcastle suggests that he will pick up where he left off. He has energy to burn, and if he is anything like I was when I was a player, he’ll be expecting to play every game.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan has really struggled for form of late. Should Arsenal look to offload him to Europe before their transfer window closes?
Arsenal should look to sell Mkhitaryan to a European team this transfer window. When everyone is back fit for Arsenal, Mkhitaryan is going to struggle to get any game time at all during the season. Mkhitaryan looks a frustrated figure, nothing seems to be working out for him on the pitch – his passes are misplaced, his shooting is off and he can’t beat his man. His performance against Newcastle on the opening game of the season wasn’t good enough, especially when you’re playing at the highest level. No doubt, Mkhitaryan is a talented player but he’s going to struggle to hold down a regular position when everybody’s fit.
Mesut Ӧzil and Kolasinac were left out the squad due to security fears. How distracting will this be for players and for everyone at the club?
What Ӧzil and Kolasinac are going through is the worst thing that could happen to a professional footballer, it petrifies your whole family. When I used to travel to European games, my wife was petrified when I had to leave her, she hated it. I can’t imagine being attacked in your car, it’s just disgusting.
There seems to be some bigger implications going on with regards to security, and I think the club are right to put their security first. Footballers are privileged to play football but when your family are under threat, you can’t think about it.
ON WEST HAM 2019/20 SEASON:
What do you think of West Ham’s prospects this season?
When you look at quality of players West Ham have, as well as their manager, you would expect West Ham to have a strong season. The problem is West Ham are their own biggest enemy and you never quite know what to expect. I was part of the West Ham that was relegated and that team was way too strong to have gone down. With West Ham, you just never know.
In reality, West Ham are a team that should be pushing for a Europa League space this season, certainly, they should be a team that’s consistently finishing above half-way. However, Man City ripped them to shreds last weekend and I’m surprised that Pellegrini didn’t set up his team more defensively. He showed naivety by playing with just two in midfield, effectively allowing City the bulk of the ball. I’m not going to be over-critical as West Ham came up against the best team in England but if they don’t sort out those defensive issues, they could be in trouble this season.
Is Manuel Pellegrini’s job safe this season?
Pellegrini needs to be given time to build his team and deliver results, but such is the demands of the Premier League, he could be out of a job by Christmas. The club have shown that they are willing to back him with transfer funds but the owners will be expecting results. Let’s see where West Ham are at Christmas time but if things aren’t going well, I don’t think he’ll last to the end of the season.
Do you think West Ham were right to let Arnautovic leave?
Arnautovic is lying by saying that he is going to China to win trophies, he is going for the money and I wish players would just be honest about it. No ambitious player would leave the Premier League to play football in China. Of course, players are entitled to leave for the money but I don’t like it when players, especially young players, sugar coat it. People will respect you more if you are honest about your decision.
I don’t know Arnautovic personally but you can see from how his time ended at both Stoke and West Ham that he can be a difficult character to work with. The Premier League’s the most competitive league in the world. If he’d have gone to Spain or Italy, I don’t think too many people would have worried. But going to China, you’re going for financial reasons and no other reason whatsoever, in my eyes, so West Ham were right to let him leave with that attitude.
Do you think Declan Rice has done enough to force his way into the England starting 11?
Declan Rice should be pushing for a starting position for England, he’s done more than enough to show that he is good enough and up to the challenge. At the end of the day, he needs to keep his form up and keep churning out performances but no doubt in my mind, he is going to be in and around the England squad for a long time to come.
Can Jack Wilshire work his way up to the form that he showed for Arsenal during his breakthrough season?
Jack Wilshire’s only goal this season is to keep fit, the rest will come after that. He receives a lot of criticism for not progressing over the past few years but at the end of the day, it’s difficult for him to develop as he has spent the majority of his time on the treatment table. Players progress by playing games against quality opposition, or even training against your other team mates, but Jack has missed out on these opportunities, season after season. Wilshire is a terrific talent, I just hope he can stay fit this season and then people will see the obvious quality that he’s got.
ON PREMIER LEAGUE
Who do you think will finish in the Top 4 this season?
Manchester City will win the league again this season, they are far superior with the ball than any other team in the league and they’ll be too strong again. The big worry for Man City is how they will cope without Vincent Kompany, he was the player that Pep relied upon in all the big games, that will be their weakness this season.
It will be interesting to see whether Liverpool can push them as hard this season but I still expect Liverpool to be their main challengers. Tottenham, on the back of the Champions League final and the signings that they have made will push Man City and Liverpool but I don’t think they are strong enough to push them all the way.
Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea will be fighting it out for that final Champions League spot. Man United started the season off brilliantly against Chelsea but I think the score line flattered them. They’ve signed an amazing defender in Harry Maguire and a player with huge potential in Wan-Bissaka but they’re far from guaranteed fourth place. Man United don’t frighten teams anymore, there will be teams that will hand them a beating similar to what they did to Chelsea.
Despite their transfer embargo, Chelsea have been riding a wave of positivity under Lampard but that would have started to crack after the Man United result. Lampard is a Chelsea legend so he will have time to get things right but if the results aren’t positive, he will face intense scrutiny, it doesn’t matter about his status at the club. The fans will demand success from him.
VAR is already front and centre of attention after the Man City vs West Ham match. What are your thoughts on it being used in the league?
VAR has been brought in to make the right decisions but it clearly still needs a lot of work. There have been decisions made in last year’s Champions League and in the opening game of the league this season that just made no sense.
If we’re going to accept VAR, we need to really understand why it’s being used, and what it’s being used for. We’re already talking about splitting hairs for an offside goal, we need to get in the mindset that even a fingernail offside will be given. VAR was bought in to give clarity on decisions but there is still going to be plenty of talking points, I still don’t understand how Watford weren’t awarded a penalty last week after the VAR decision.