Perry Groves exclusive interview
Perry Groves Q&A: Arsenal legend Perry Groves gives his verdict on Arsene Wenger and who should replace the talisman this summer, as well Arsenal’s huge upcoming fixtures vs Atletico Madrid and Manchester United. The former winger also runs the rule over Tottenham’s FA Cup failures and it doesn’t make pretty reading for Mauricio Pochettino.
Was it the right decision for Arsene Wenger to leave the club this summer?
"This summer is right time for Arsene Wenger to leave Arsenal. It’s the right time for the club and it’s the right time for Arsene. He’s been receiving abuse from a section of the Arsenal fans that has been far too strong and it was affecting him. I think it also became apparent that Stan Kroenke’s support wasn’t as strong as it once was and Arsene felt the time was right for him to leave before he was potentially pushed this summer."
"I like that Arsenal allowed Arsene Wenger to make the announcement himself because he deserved that for what he has achieved at the club. He deserves all of the plaudits and the accolades he will get. He should be carried out in a sedan chair with fireworks going off because his achievements will never be replicated."
On how recent attendances at The Emirates impacted Arsene Wenger…
"Arsenal isn’t just a football club, it’s a business and I think the low attendances definitely had an impact on Arsene Wenger’s future. The capacity is 60,000 and it became very evident that fans were making their feelings felt by voting with their feet. This would have damaged the commercial side of the football club, with fans not renewing season tickets. I think this persuaded Stan Kroenke that it was time for a change."
On the fans performance vs. West Ham…
“I thought The Emirates would have been a full house at the West Ham game, but it wasn’t. There are still supporters that are angry and I feel a bit embarrassed as an Arsenal fan. The announcement should galvanise the vitriolic Arsenal fans and they should now get back behind the team. The animosity should be put to one side, they’ve got what they wanted and now they should celebrate the good times with Arsene Wenger. I think the Arsenal fans will be in full voice for the Atletico Madrid game and the Burnley game to give him the send-off he deserves.”
On Arsene Wenger’s comments about fans damaging the Arsenal brand…
“I think Arsene Wenger was telling the truth about the Arsenal brand being damaged by the lack of unity and he had every right to make his point. “Wenger Out” banners being flown over the stadium and the abuse he was receiving from the stands was far too personal. We’re in an entitlement society and fans want success yesterday rather than being prepared to wait for it. You can understand being upset and angry, but the abuse and the lengths they went to were too far.”
On Arsene Wenger the revolutionary…
“Arsene Wenger will be remembered as a revolutionary. Everyone is waxing lyrical about Guardiola because of how he has transformed Manchester City, but Arsene transformed the entirety of English football. He was 10 years ahead of his time in preparation when it comes to diet and psychology. When the Arsenal players would be on England duty, they would be so fit, strong and ahead technically that the Manchester United players would ask for Wenger’s secrets. Arsene Wenger set the standards but you can’t always be 10 years ahead because coaches copy you and better that.”
Arsene Wenger's replacement
On the task Arsene Wenger is leaving for his predecessor…
“This is a huge project for a new manager. Arsene is leaving the club in a far better state than when he arrived, however he has left his predecessor one of the weaker squads he has had in his 22 years at the club. Arsenal will be a very attractive proposition for a top-class manager because there will be money to spend, the infrastructure is there and expectations will not be too high. A Luis Enrique or Thomas Tuchel would jump through hoops to get this job."
“It is a much more difficult job than Antonio Conte picked up at Chelsea, for instance, who picked up a mentally strong and gifted group of players then wielded them to his thinking. I hope the Arsenal fans who’ve been moaning realise that the new manager will need two-three seasons to gradually get rid of the players that aren’t up to scratch and implement his own ideas on the new players.”
On the importance of Champions League football next season…
"I don’t think a lack of Champions League football would be a problem at all for the quality of manager they would hope to appoint. It will help attract players in the short term, but Arsenal is a massive club and it won’t impact a manager’s decision at all.”
Who would be your first choice to replace Arsene Wenger?
“Luis Enrique is my first choice to replace Arsene Wenger. Massimiliano Allegri is second and Diego Simeone is third. Arsenal need a manager who has that winning mentality, who has managed a big club, has proven he can manage big players with big egos and can instil a similar philosophy similar to what Arsene has instilled over the last 22 years. Arsenal need to appoint a big-name manager who can attract world class signings, particularly if the club doesn’t have Champions League football next year. Luis Enrique fits the bill perfectly, he has a massive pedigree and he speaks perfect English."
Given his defensive reputation, why is Diego Simeone tipped for Arsenal?
“Diego Simeone reminds of George Graham in how he sets his team up as it’s about being solid in defence rather than free flowing football. Up against Barcelona and Real Madrid, he faces a similar financial disadvantage in Spain as he would at Arsenal and yet he uses his man management to get absolutely everything from his players to be competitive. If you don’t work for the team, you don’t survive under Simeone and he would change the culture at Arsenal for sure. Simeone has a winning mentality and pedigree, alongside a trophy cabinet, to suggest he would be a good choice for Arsenal and I would be happy with that appointment.”
On reports Thomas Tuchel could replace Arsene Wenger…
“Thomas Tuchel wouldn’t be a disastrous appointment, but I don’t think it would bring the wow factor that Arsenal needs. Tuchel is a good manager, he’s young, vibrant and has good ideas. He’s already had a working relationship with Sven Mislintat, the new head of recruitment, from their time together at Dortmund but that club is a level below Arsenal when it comes to expectations. Tuchel could come in and change a culture which needs to be changed because it has become too comfortable at Arsenal.”
Thoughts on Patrick Vieria or Thierry Henry could be Arsenal’s next manager…
“There’s no room for sentimentality in football. Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieria are two of the greatest players to ever play for the club but they shouldn’t be anywhere near becoming the new Arsenal manager. Neither Vieria or Henry have the skillset or experience to handle a club like Arsenal at the moment. Vieria is managing in the MLS but that’s a million miles away from even managing in the Championship. If either Vieria or Henry are serious about becoming Arsenal manager, they need to manage at a club in England first and they’ll soon learn the lessons you can’t get from reading a coaching manual.”
On whether Arsene Wenger will have a say on his replacement…
“I don’t think Arsene will have a say on his replacement. I think Arsenal and Arsene Wenger will have learned from the mistakes made by Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson. Wenger was a genius appointment from David Dein but football has moved on since then and there shouldn’t be any surprises now. Arsenal can’t take a gamble on this decision.”
On Arsene Wenger’s future…
“Arsenal Football Club was Arsene Wenger’s life for seven days a week so I can’t see him joining another club in England. I think the ideal scenario would be international management which almost represents as semi-retirement in modern football. I think he could become Japan’s manager at the World Cup.”
“Wenger will have lots of options if he wants to go back into club management. There have been rumours about PSG for years but their success is measured purely on winning the Champions League, a trophy that Arsene Wenger has famously never won. PSG might feel they need someone who has a better track record of reaching the latter stages of the Champions League.”
On the importance of winning the Europa League…
"I would be delighted for Arsenal if they win the Europa League because it means Champions League next season and I would be delighted for Arsene Wenger because it gives him the chance to lift another trophy. The Europa League would be a fourth major trophy in five years and that’s a great sign off for any manager.”
"I think Arsenal would have definitely won the Europa League had they not drawn Atletico Madrid in the semi-finals. They could beat Atletico in a one-off game but it’s more difficult over two legs. They’ll have no problem with Marseille or Red Bull Salzberg so this has practically become Arsenal’s final. Red Bull Salzburg would be an easier final because they don’t have the pedigree of big European nights."
On Atletico Madrid at The Emirates…
“I think this is a real 50-50 semi-final between two very evenly matched teams. It’s crucial that Arsenal take an advantage into the second leg of the Europa League and they’re more than capable of beating Atletico Madrid. Arsenal need to get a result at The Emirates and ideally not concede a goal. Atletico Madrid are built on a very strong defence that will be very difficult to break down at home if they have something to defend.”
"Atletico Madrid’s entire game will be built on hitting Arsenal on the counter attack, using players like Diego Costa and Griezzmann who’re able to score a goal from half a chance. I think Arsenal can look to target Atletico’s full backs one-on-one if they can get them isolated."
"I think Arsenal will win 2-1 on Thursday and go through on penalties over the course of the semi-final."
Ticket prices for Arsenal fans at Atletico Madrid…
“Ticket prices are getting out of hand and European teams are taking advantage of the away fan culture we have here in England. Atletico Madrid have shown a lack of class by charging such high fees for Arsenal fans to attend the game and Arsenal have shown all of their class by subsidising them. It’s up to UEFA to put a cap on ticket prices otherwise supply and demand will see it continuing to be very expensive for English clubs and their fans in Europe.”
Would winning the Europa League be a successful season for Arsenal?
“It would be an unbelievably successful season for Arsenal if they were to win the Europa League. There’s only four trophies to win and every top club should be looking to lift a trophy come the end of the season. That’s a lesson that Tottenham need to learn. ”
Tottenham and Pochettino in the FA Cup
Do you think Pochettino made a mistake by downplaying the FA Cup?
“I think Pochettino showed an unwarranted arrogance by downplaying the importance of winning the FA Cup and he did something similar for the League Cup. He gave the players an excuse to lose to Manchester United and now they still aren’t over that psychological hurdle of winning a trophy. They didn’t have that winning experience to fall back on during the semi-final and it cost them. They paid a similar price against Juventus in the Champions League and they won’t get over it until they lift a trophy. No player remembers the years they finished 3rd or 4th and put the pressure on, but they would have remembered this season for the rest of their lives if they had won the FA Cup.”
Do you think the Pochettino will eventually come under pressure to win a trophy?
“Tottenham are a better team, a better club and their future looks brighter thanks to Pochettino and the way he improves his players. However, to become a top manager, Pochettino has to win a trophy and get his own winning mentality. He has said he only cares about winning the Premier League or the Champions League, but Tottenham aren’t in the privileged position of picking and choosing which trophies they can win.”
"Pochettino is delusional if he thinks he can win the Premier League or Champions League without winning a domestic cup competition first. There are very few clubs who go on to achieve that. Ironically, Jose Mourinho is the perfect example of winning a domestic cup and using it as a launch pad to bigger and better things during his spell at Chelsea. Mourinho is now in the FA Cup final while Tottenham and Pochettino are out."
Do you think there’s any danger of Tottenham losing some of their players?
“Tottenham’s players need to win trophies otherwise they will leave the club. They’ll get at least another season from Harry Kane because he’s a local lad, but Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen have no allegiance to Tottenham and it’s only a matter of time until they follow the trophies and the money that the club’s rivals can offer. Tottenham’s players will look at Kyle Walker and know they can have a bigger trophy cabinet and a bigger bank balance if they moved on.”
Arsenal at Old Trafford this weekend
Will Arsenal be desperate to beat Manchester United at Old Trafford this weekend?
“Arsenal will be very motivated to put in a big performance against Manchester United. The rivalry is still there and the niggle is still there from heated battles over the years, but the fixture is sandwiched between Arsenal’s two biggest games of the season against Atletico Madrid. It doesn’t have the importance of what it had when Arsenal had a chance of top 4 and I expect Wenger to rest some players now that all of our eggs are in one basket.”
On Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger…
“It’s fate that Mourinho and Wenger will collide so soon after the announcement. Mourinho could even give Wenger a bear hug on Sunday! However, I think the Manchester United fans will show appreciation to Wenger ahead of kick off and give him a good send off.”
On the Sanchez and Mkhitaryan swap deal…
“I think the Sanchez and Mkhitaryan swap deal suited both parties in the end, though Sanchez should never have been allowed to run his contract down. He’s too valuable an asset to risk losing for free. Sanchez is a world-class player but I’m glad Arsenal got Mkhitaryan rather than the money. I think Sanchez has proven to be the better goalscorer, particularly in the big games, so Manchester United still got the better end of the deal.”
On rumours of Anthony Martial moving to Arsenal…
“Anthony Martial is a quality player but I don’t want Arsenal to sign him this summer. Martial isn’t a priority for us because we have enough players going forward in those areas. He isn’t deemed good enough for Manchester United so I don’t want him at Arsenal.”
"Arsenal’s priority needs to be a new goalkeeper, a new central defender and a very strong defensive midfielder, but that’s been the case for five or six years now."