NIGEL WINTERBURN INTERVIEW
Ex-Arsenal and West Ham legend Nigel Winterburn shares his thoughts on Arsenal's Champions League qualification chances this season, how they look under Emery and much more.
Do you think Arsenal’s signings have improved the first team?
Emery has improved the squad in areas that Arsenal were lacking in. Emery was quick to strengthen the team with a new goalkeeper and central defender, but we’re still waiting to see if they can adapt to the managers style and perform for the club.
Arsenal can’t hide away from the fact that they’ve had a disappointing start. Defensively they’re still not looking as strong as they should be and there’s obviously still areas that they’ve got to work on. It’s still very early to be making a judgement on Arsenal or any of the new signings. We’ll have a better idea what the future holds after 10 games.
Do you think Arsenal are looking better under Emery?
Emery has changed the shape, but there’s got to be big improvements and the team and manager will know that. There’s encouraging signs from individuals at Arsenal, but there’s clearly still some worrying signs that the defence isn’t strong enough. If Arsenal are going to challenge for the top 4 and next season’s Champions League, they can’t hide from those facts and need to improve quickly.
Arsenal have to look at the transfers that have come in already, along with the business they do over the next two transfer windows. Some supporters won’t want to hear that it’ll be at least two more transfer windows until we see an improvement, they’ll think it’s too slow, but I think it’s realistic and it’s going to be interesting to see where Arsenal will be in two years.
Who have you been most impressed with from the new signings so far?
I think that Torreria will go on to be Arsenal’s best summer signing. We all thought that Torreria would come straight into the team, but that hasn’t happened yet and fans will be wondering why he hasn’t been given that chance.
There’s nothing to suggest that Torreiria won’t be able to make that midfield position his own at Arsenal. He’s comfortable receiving the ball from the back and driving with it. I think he’ll also make a big difference from a defensive point of view as well. He’s the one player that I’m quite excited about watching and coming into the team.
What are your thoughts on Guendouzi?
Guendouzi has made an encouraging start for Arsenal, especially as it looked like he would just be coming in as a squad player. He is still very young and there’s a lot to come from his game, but he’s deservedly won the club’s Player of the Month already. Guendouzi will only get better as he matures and understands how ruthless the Premier League can be.
Is defence going to be an issue again this season?
Based on what we’ve seen so far this season, Arsenal’s defence is going to be the issue again. The club are simply not strong enough at the back. If Arsenal can’t work on their defensive issues they are going to have some serious problems. They’re not going to score their way out of trouble every week.
Emery will see that the mistakes are being made from defensive errors and he will see that the team aren’t implementing what he wants. Arsenal need to wait and see what progression the manager can make with the players that he’s got at his disposal before they consider making new signings.
Arsenal are often accused of lacking leadership. Do you agree Arsenal need a leader?
No, I don’t think Arsenal need a leader. If a game isn’t going right, everyone looks to the captain to pull the team together, but every player on the pitch should be big enough to address a problem if they see it unfolding. Arsenal’s experienced players should be putting their hands up to take control rather than hoping for someone else to do it.
Sokratis has a lot of experience and should be using that on the pitch to organise the defence, while Ramsey should be dictating the midfield. These players have got to take responsibility, give guidance and be an inspiration on the pitch.
Do you think Arsenal are good enough to make the top four this season?
I think Arsenal will fall short and will fail to break into the top four this season. As Arsenal rebuild and restructure the team, they have to stay around the top four and be in a position to challenge the teams above them, but I think this season has come too soon for the club.
I don’t see Arsenal being anywhere near Manchester City or Liverpool this season. Tottenham and Chelsea are also very strong and have started brightly. However, I do think Arsenal and Emery should be looking at the problems at Manchester United and be thinking they can capitalise on Mourinho's struggles.
Do you think the Europa League is Arsenals best chance of qualifying for Champions League?
I think Arsenal would be crazy to be thinking about focussing on the Europa League at this stage of the season. Despite losing a couple of games, it’s far too early for Emery to be thinking about anything besides finishing in the top four. However, it’s key that Arsenal stay in the Europa League as it can act as a safety net and another option if they were to fall behind in the Premier League.
Wenger used the early stages of the Europa League as an opportunity to field younger players as he believed they were good enough to get them through the group stages. It will be interesting to see if Emery still adopts this approach when the competition starts. He has a great track record in the Europa League so I think he will take it very seriously.
On Arsenal's reputation for giving youth a chance…
I think Arsenal will showcase more of their youth talent this year in both the Premier League and Europa League. There are some great players like Maitland-Niles who will be looking to make the next step up to first team football and I think they will definitely get time on the pitch this year.
On whether Ramsey will sign a new contract at Arsenal…
I think Ramsey isn’t committing to a new Arsenal contract because he wants to see where they finish this season. With a new manager coming in, there's a lot of uncertainty around the club and I would probably do the same. I think Ramsey loves the club, but he is looking around the dressing room and he isn't convinced this group of players can qualify for major honours in the near future. Ramsey will want to find out Emery's plans for him and the signings he is looking to make before he decides if Arsenal can match his ambitions.
The conundrum for Arsenal is that Ramsey will be looking at the money on the table and thinking it is short of what he should be earning and could be earning elsewhere. Ramsey will be looking at what the players around him are being paid and he will want to be on a level playing field with the top performers at the club. Ramsey is perfectly entitled to ask for a wage he feels reflects his ability. If he is playing well regularly then he deserves to demand a salary on par with Ozil.
What kind of teams will try and snap up Ramsey?
With less than a year remaining on his contract, Ramsey is in a very strong negotiating position and is also a very attractive proposition for a lot of big clubs around Europe. I’m sure lots of top clubs are monitoring the situation and are ready to poach him. I think Manchester United and Chelsea will both battle it out to sign him if they feel he is seriously considering leaving Arsenal. I don't think he could get into the Manchester City and Liverpool teams, but it would hurt Arsenal fans to see another of their superstars leave to a Premier League rival. I hope Ramsey signs a new contract at Arsenal.
On Aubameyang's quiet start to the season…
I'm disappointed in the way Aubameyang has started the season for Arsenal. I thought he was going to start very strongly having started so well after signing in January last year. However, he's a striker who is always looking to create chances and he could have had a few goals already this season if it weren't for missed chances.
On whether Lacazette or Aubameyang can be a lethal partnership…
I don’t see Lacazette or Aubaeyang getting much more than 15 goals each in the Premier League this season. I don't see either of them competing with the likes of Aguero or Kane, no matter how much was spent on them. I think they can achieve 25 goals in all competitions because they're very good strikers, but not in the Premier League alone.
I think Lacazette and Aubameyang have to start together, even if that means Lacazette as striker and Aubameyang out on the left. That gives him more freedom to use his pace and get on the end of passes, rather than perform as a target man with his back to goal.
On whether Ozil can recapture his form…
I hope Ozil can recapture his form this season. He has obviously had a disappointing start, but some players take longer to adapt to a new manager than others and I hope there's nothing more to it than that with Ozil. The higher intensity training could be impacting his performances and he has been told to play in various positions already this season, but he has got real quality on the ball and he needs to be in a position where he an dictate the game. I'm confident he will return to form once Emery has realised how to get the best out of him.
On Leno yet to make his debut for the club…
I’m not surprised that Cech is still Arsenal’s first choice keeper. Cech is a huge character and it’s hard to believe that anyone may have thought he would just lay down and let Leno take his place without a fuss. Everyone assumed that Leno would just walk straight into the team after being bought this summer, but that hasn't been the case and it's great credit to Cech.
It’s going to be an ongoing battle between Cech and Leno. Cech is being asked to do more than just shot-stopping and he is having mixed results that has led to some mistakes. I think it will be interesting to see how that rivalry unfolds this season, but it's only a matter of time until Leno gets his chance.
ON WEST HAM
On Wilshere's quiet start to life at West Ham…
Wilshere won’t regret his move to West Ham because he wouldn’t have been guaranteed first team football at Arsenal. No matter how much you may love the club, there comes a time when you need to think about reinventing your career and moving on rather than risk sitting on the sidelines with a manager who doesn't rate you.
I think Wilshere made the right choice in going to West Ham and he will be a success there, despite the club's very disappointing start to the season. He needs to carry on setting an example and show the crowd that he enjoys playing for the club by giving everything week in week out.
On West Ham’s start to the season…
West Ham have had a terrible start to the season, but it was always going to be tough due to the huge changes at the club this summer. It’s very hard to integrate four or five new players into a new team, as well as a new manager, while maintaining a good run of results. There was always going to be a settling in period which means they just need to hang in there at the moment, then confidence will come as and when they start to pick up points.
Is there pressure on Pellegrini already?
Pellegrini will be given the time to turn this around. At the moment, it's crazy to even think about making a change of manager. However, having spent the money they have, West Ham can't afford to be anywhere near the relegation zone by Christmas. Pellegrini will need to start picking up points soon otherwise it could become a hard battle and he might have some pressure questions to answer. Fan pressure and frustration will have a huge say on Pellegrini's future at West Ham.
On whether Moyes would have been given the same time and money as Pellegrini…
It's hard to believe that Moyes would be afforded the same patience if he had started this poorly, however it has never looked likely he would be trusted to spend such huge sums of money. Keeping Moyes and giving him money to spend was never going to be an option. He might have had West Ham higher in the Premier League, but fans expect entertainment. Having said that, fans need to stop living in a fantasy world, because there's no point playing luxury football if it leaves you battling relegation. It's a fine line.
On the decision to make Arnautovic captain…
Arnautovic is a very unusual choice of captain for West Ham because he has a reputation for having an attitude problem and can become sheepish when the going gets tough. There's no doubting Arnautovic's ability, but he does have a body language similar to Ozil in the sense he doesn't always appear to put in the hard yards. However, Pellegrini might be giving Arnautovic the armband to enforce that change and improve his attitude now he has the pressure to lead by example. The armband can inspire you and give you an extra lift.
On the new players signed by Pellegrini…
Pellegrini will have arrived at West Ham with a list of players he wanted to sign, but that doesn't mean he was able to get them through the door. Most of the top clubs would have been looking to bring in the same targets that Pellegrini had in mind, so it's a possibility that these are his third or fourth choices, despite how much the club spent this summer. Within the next few weeks, Pellegrini will find out if he has signed the right players and who the big characters are. However, if West Ham don’t finish in the top 10 this season, the players aren’t performing as well as they should be.
On whether the fans will start to show frustration to the owners again…
The fans won’t show their frustration to the board this season because they have put their money where their mouth is and spent huge sums in the summer transfer window. I think that price has bought them some patience and potentially lifted a target off their backs. It will be Pellegrini or the players who are blamed for poor results this season, not the owners. Last season, the fans were annoyed that the team hadn’t been strengthened enough, but that’s no longer the case.
The owners are now entitled to expect a return on the investment they have made. With fans on side, you might see them grow in confidence and become more vocal. When the team isn’t performing well, individual players will be selected out to blame, but those players have to be big enough to get back in favour with the supporters. Mental strength and character can often be more important than ability in these cases. It will be interesting to see if Pellegrini's signings can handle the pressure.
ON PREMIER LEAGUE
On Tottenham moving back to White Hart Lane…
The Tottenham board need to stop releasing proposed dates and just stick to a confirmed date of the ground completion. It causes unrest and frustration among both the players and the fans if they think they're moving back to their home ground when that isn’t the case. It’s obviously been a challenging situation for the club as well and I’m sure they’re having to splash out extra cash, but they need to resolve it quickly.
No matter when the ground is finished, Tottenham should look to move back to White Hart Lane at the first opportunity. There’s nothing better than playing in your home stadium, as you always get a much better atmosphere and it can give the players a huge lift in matches. The finest margins in sport can be difference between winning and losing.
On Mourinho’s future at Manchester United…
Manchester United shouldn’t be struggling with the manager and players they have. It’s easy for Jose Mourinho to complain the club didn’t sign the players he wanted this summer, but he already has a lot of quality players who he is failing to get the best out of and throwing money around isn't necessarily the answer to his problems.
Mourinho has always had a certain way of playing so fans were naïve if they expected to see him implement anything different to this team. They might have hoped he would adapt to the same way Ferguson managed, but that’s not the Mourinho way and that's not what they were signing when they got him. It's particularly difficult for the fans because they have to watch their rivals Manchester City and Liverpool perform so well at a time they have fallen off their perch.
On Sarri having an immediate impact at Chelsea while Emery struggles…
Sarri has had a very impressive start to life managing Chelsea. He has changed their play, reverting back to a four-man defence and they look set to score goals at will. If he can stop them from conceding goals as they adapt to his style, Chelsea have the potential to be sensational. It is still early days of a work in progress though.
I think some neutrals will be wondering why Sarri has had such an instant impact while Emery is still finding his feet, but Arsenal supporters are realistic on where the club is at the moment, especially after such a modest transfer window. Arsenal’s priority is to challenge for the top four. Chelsea are in a different scenario where they can spend the money to fire them back into contention practically overnight.
Who will win the Premier League?
The two teams to watch this year are Man City and Liverpool. I think Man City will win the Premier League this season, with Liverpool just behind. However, if Man City slip even a little, I think Liverpool will punish them.