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Nigel Winterburn On Arsenal
What do you make of Arsenal’s chances for this season?
It’s difficult for me to judge when it comes to Arsenal’s chances for next season. I’ve been saying for the last couple of seasons, that I felt that the squad needed a real shake-up. With Mikel Arteta now coming in, it looks like he’s starting to analyse what he’s got, what he needs to improve on, but I still think Arsenal need a lot more.
It looks as if we’re trying to bring in younger players that have had some experience with the teams that they are playing with but Mikel Arteta wants a chance to mould these players into the way that he eventually wants Arsenal to play on a more consistent level. So, I like what I’m seeing, but like every Arsenal supporter, I want a lot more.
Do you think Arteta’s job is safe for this season or will he be under pressure if Arsenal don’t get off to a good start?
I don’t know whether any manager’s job is safe and Mikel Arteta is certainly no exception. He came under some pressure last season. Some of the supporters were unhappy with who he was playing or the style of play. But last season was very, very strange.
I found it very hard to watch a lot of the Premier League games. There was no atmosphere, no crowd. That’s not what I have been brought up on to watch and to have the privilege of playing in. Arteta will be under pressure, but let’s see the style of play, let’s see who he’s bringing in. But there will be some grumblings if Arsenal make a poor start. And when I talk about a poor start, I always look at the first ten games – that’s going to be the first trigger point to see what Arsenal are doing.
Will no European Football this season be a blessing in disguise for the club?
I think the lack of European Football this season will be a blessing in disguise although for the club on the whole they will suffer as they want the revenue stream. The only one worry is that as a player, usually you want to be playing games, and if you’re coming off the back of a bad result, you don’t want to be waiting around for a week or even nine days given the TV schedules nowadays until your next game.
But I think what it will do this season – and this is why I am more positive on Arsenal in this coming season – it will give Mikel Arteta the chance to work with his players. It won’t all be recovery days, so they’ll be able to have a lot of structure within their training sessions.
It’s a big season for Arsenal Football Club, but it’s also a big season for the manager as well. Because I feel this will be his first real – what I call – ‘proper season’. Supporters are going to be coming back. But he’s also getting time to work with the players. To me, there can be no excuses from the start of this season.
Do you think the lack of European Football next season has meant that Arsenal have found it more difficult to conduct their transfer business this summer?
The lack of European football will make it more difficult for Arsenal to conduct their transfer business. If you’re trying to make one real big signing and you’ve got a club that’s in Champions League and you’re not in Champions League, you’re going to have to deliver a special package or tell them about the club in a significant way that’s really going to make them fall in love with Arsenal.
But I think you can see what Arsenal are trying to do this summer. They’re trying to bring in younger players and develop them within the club. But certainly, it will be harder to attract players without the lure of European football, particularly Champions League football.
Where do Arsenal rank compared to rivals? How far off are they from the other top teams in the league?
There’s a big gap between Arsenal and their rivals, particularly Man City and Liverpool – I would put those two ahead of all the others – although Arsenal are still a way off from the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea as well. Tuchel looks an outstanding manager who is going to make Chelsea progress even more again this season which is quite frightening really.
Of course, Arsenal were well off being in the top four last season so they are going to have to make an unbelievable improvement to get anywhere near there. That’s not to say that they can’t get up there and challenge for it, but I think Arsenal have just realised how far they’ve fallen and it’s a big, big rebuilding process for them. And they need to get on that ladder and start climbing it very quickly.
How good is it that Arsenal have got Emile Smith Rowe signed up to a long-term contract? Was it too early to give him the Number 10 shirt?
I don’t think it is too early to give Emile Smith Rowe the Number 10 shirt. To me, what shirt you wear is irrelevant. I know supporters look at who’s worn that shirt before, but to me, it doesn’t have that significance. I am pleased if he wanted that shirt, which he obviously did.
He’s been given it because he’s a young boy that’s got huge talent and he’s only going to get better and better. There was no doubt in my mind that he was going to sign a new contract. I was pretty clear that I didn’t see Smith Rowe leaving the football club. I think he has too much passion for the club.
So, if it’s significant that he gets the 10, then I’m really, really pleased for him, but please don’t judge him against the number 10s that we’ve had in the past. It’s completely wrong. He’s a young boy with huge potential, but it is too early for the Bergkamp comparisons.
I want to enjoy watching the player play through the years. I want to judge him for what he is. And hopefully, he’s going to become a famous number 10 in the future for Arsenal.
What do you make of Bukayo Saka and his performances at the Euros? How much will the penalty miss weight on his shoulders for the rest of his career?
Time will tell how much that penalty miss will affect the rest of Saka’s career. He seems a very level-headed boy, he seems to have a huge amount of support around him. But mentally, you have to deal with it yourself. I hope it makes him stronger.
The two things in my career that made me stronger was, one, getting released by my first club – Birmingham – because I had a point to prove, and a second, I had a point to prove at Arsenal when I missed a penalty in the League Cup Final.
Much less a degree compared to Saka, but I used that as real positives to drive myself forward to make sure that I was a success at the club I was at. Saka is already a success at Arsenal, he’s been absolutely amazing. For someone so young to stand out – and he has stood out as ‘the’ player to watch. He’s quite incredible.
There’s no doubt in my mind that he will go from strength to strength, but he’s got to deal with that himself. He knows he’s going to get some criticism from supporters when he plays away from home, but if he’S got anything about him – which I believe he has – he’ll just use that to show people how good he is.
I got asked, was I surprised he was in the England squad. The answer was no. I was surprised he wasn’t even starting. That’s how highly I rate him. And actually, it shows how good he is because of his performance when he got the opportunity for England, he became a starter. He’s just going to become better and better. That’s quite scary really.
Nicolas Pepe came in to good form at the end of last season. Do you expect him to finally deliver on his price tag next season?
I’m not worried about Pépé’s price tag because that wasn’t set by him, but of course, the higher the price tag, the more pressure seems to be put onto the player. There is something there with Pépé that at times it can be frustrating. At times, I want him to be more direct.
I think he’s got the pace, he’s got the touch, he’s got the ability. He needs to put himself in the games more and his level of consistency needs to be higher. But that was coming towards the end of last season, and now we want another step forward again. I do think there is more to come from him this season.
Aubameyang really struggled for form last season. What does he need to do to rediscover his spark? Is his position in the team in danger?
Aubameyang was in poor form last season. Some players thrive on the interaction with a crowd, some players wilt. I’m hoping he’s a player that thrives on the atmosphere. He needs to be back to what we saw two seasons ago. Do I think he will get left out of the team?
Not to start with. But it depends on what Mikel Arteta is thinking, going forward. He might be looking to eventually put Martinelli into that position, which I think is a position he could probably play.
I’m not a great fan of Arsenal playing without an out and out centre-forward. We tried it twice and it didn’t seem to work for me. You need to be an exceptional team to make that system work. I don’t like it. It doesn’t sit comfortable with me. But do I think Arsenal might try it once or twice next season? Yes, they probably will.
Granit Xhaka was one of the stand-out players at The Euros. If you were in charge, would you do everything that you could to keep him at the club?
Granit Xhaka is a player that divides such opinion, doesn’t he? Are there players out there that are better? The answer is yes. Has he been consistent for Arsenal? I think he has, actually. I think he gets a lot of stick.
Even sometimes I’ve given him a bit – not criticised him, but asked for more. My one big thing that I’ve always said is, when we had Xhaka and Ceballos in the centre of midfield, I always said we didn’t have enough energy. Didn’t have enough legs.
With Partey and Xhaka, I feel, Partey, with that season behind him, I think he’s going to improve dramatically. I think that just the physicality and the pace of the Premier League might have caught him out a little bit and he needs to stay fit. With Xhaka alongside, I could see that working.
Is there someone better that could come in for Xhaka? Yes, but have we got the money and will they come to Arsenal? If he’s that good, there’s probably going to be four or five teams around the world who are sitting in a better position than we are that want him. So, it’s not straightforward when we talk about the process of buying players.
It’s also important to understand if Xhaka is forcing a move away from the club? Does he want to move? If the player wants to move, I always think you’re best to let go. Get the most amount of money you can and let that player go. Because as soon as that player’s level of performance drops, everyone talks about being demotivated. And I’m not always sure that that is the case, but that’s the first thing that people look at.
How important is Kieran Tierney for Arsenal this season? Does Arsenal’s success depend on him staying fit throughout the season?
Arsenal’s success this season will be helped by Tierney staying injury free. He’s a super player. I love his passion, his determination. His quality of crossing is undoubted as well, so we’re a much better team with him in the team. We’ve brought a young player in Tavares who is going to be back-up as well.
We’ve only seen a little bit of him but we’re looking at somebody that could, potentially, fill the back-up role where we struggled last season to fill. But if Tierney stays fit, he’s at the top of his form, he’s somebody I see as potentially a future captain of Arsenal. So that’s how strongly that I rate Kieran Tierney. He’s a terrific player.
Is Joe Willock good enough to start for Arsenal this season or should he go back out on loan?
There is no way I would sell Joe Willock. I would say that he’s got to get more game time or he’s got to go out on loan again for what I would class as a ‘final assessment’ for Arsenal. There is something there with him. I have no doubt in my mind about that. He proved that by playing regularly for Newcastle where his consistency levels increased.
I think when we saw him at Arsenal, when I saw him in the Europa League, he looked a strong, strong player. But when he came and had the odd game in the Premier League, you’re talking about a different level. I don’t think we saw that same level of performance. But in saying that, to ask a young man to come in on one-off games and be at that level is very, very hard.
Of course, on the flipside, he might be thinking that, ‘I went to Newcastle, I played, I did very well, I’m getting some good reviews. Now might be the time to leave Arsenal if I can’t get a game’. So, you always get that when you talk about loaning players out.
It depends on where he might think his future is at Arsenal. He wants to be at Arsenal. But if he’s not getting the game time, he might have to move away.
But I don’t think Joe is somebody at the moment that Arsenal should be letting go, but opportunities will be more limited without European football so the club might think it is best to loan him to a Premier League club to gain experience, because Newcastle would take him back straightaway.
The club can then see how he develops again for another season and then it’s judgement day then, come the end of this season. He could then start getting starts at Arsenal or you might as well sell him while his stock is pretty high. But I, personally, would not be selling him just yet.
Hector Bellerin looks to be on the way out of the club. Would you like to see Ainsley Maitland Niles make the Right Back position his own?
The question remains on Ainsley Maitland Niles as to whether he is good enough to make that right back position his own. Of course, he’s got all the attributes to fill a couple of positions at Arsenal, but the worry is that he hasn’t done that yet in one specific position. So that is a big worry.
Again, he’s probably someone that people want to see have more game time, but he’s sort of been pushed out of it a little bit. At the moment, Calum Chambers is ahead of him in the right-back position.
At the end of the day, the same questions will be asked. Do you want to let the player go? Do you want to see him for another year? Or have you made your mind up, you go, “Well, we’re not quite sure, so we need to bring somebody else in so we’ve got to release some funds somewhere. So that’s the sacrifice that we have to make.”
But I’m always a little nervous of letting the younger players go when I still think there’s something there for them, but you can’t keep hold of everybody and history tells you that all those players you think are going to come through don’t all come through and be regulars in your first team.
It’s only one or two that usually make that progression and the rest usually sit around playing a few games or they eventually leave your club. So, there’s some big decisions, not only for the club to make – let me reiterate – but also for the players themselves, particularly the younger players.
What do you make of the William Saliba situation at Arsenal. Do you think his career is now finished at the club before it even started?
I’ve got no idea what is happening with Walliam Saliba. When they signed Saliba, people were talking about how athletic, strong he was and that he was going to be Arsenal’s next centre-half for years and years, and we’ve literally seen nothing of him. It looks as if the situation is at the crossroads and it’s tipping the wrong way at the moment, particularly as it looks like Arsenal are going to spend £50m on a centre-half in Ben White.
That might tell you what Mikel Arteta thinks. Unless he feels that one more season on loan, again, will be the deciding factor. Does the player want to stay? Does he feel that he’s been treated properly at the club? He might want to leave. I always bring these things in because it’s not just as straightforward about what the club wants. Sometimes it’s what the player wants as well.
Were you surprised to see Arsenal spend £50 million on Ben White? Do you see any similarities with a certain Tony Adams?
In terms of physicality, you could argue there are some similarities between Ben White and Tony Adams and if he gets anywhere near Tony Adams level, then £50m is going to be very, very cheap. Let me tell you. I don’t want to make any comparisons though.
I’ve only seen him play a couple of time but he looks very composed and organised on the ball. And at times, last season, watching Arsenal play out from the back, it looked anything like that. He’ll be a very good addition to the squad.
Last season, I don’t think our defensive record was actually that bad. But I was never quite sure what our best centre-half pairings were then. So, I’m hoping we’re going to get some consistency. That consistency is so important.
First of all, can you defend and then can you add to the team in other areas? And there’s no doubt in my mind that he’s going to add to what we’ve got, and time will tell us if £50m is cheap.
It’s always a wait and see, but I think there was a shock that it was that amount of money. I think that’s what’s surprised people, and of course, the Arsenal supporters are saying, “But we need to fill other positions. Why spend that amount of money?”
Well, because that player became available and that could be the difference. I know we have a lot of Arsenal supporters who think we need creative players, but you also need to be defensively stable. I think those stats were a little bit suspect last season.
Would you like to see Arsenal do everything they can to sign James Maddison? Would Arsenal be a step up for him in his career?
I’d like Arsenal to sign James Maddison as he already has that Premier League experience, so you’re not talking about a settling-in period. He’s a talented player, certainly very, very creative on the ball, and that’s the type of player Arsenal need. Of course, Arsenal have signed up Emile Smith Rowe on a long-term contract but could still need another creative player to help take them forward.
In terms of whether Arsenal would be a step up, Leicester have won the league. They’ve consistently done very, very well in the last couple of seasons, so, I think that would be very rude to say it would be a step up for him. In terms of club stature, Arsenal is massive. For me, I say it all the time – it was a privilege to be part of the club and stay for so long.
Jordan Henderson is said to be out of favour at Liverpool. Should Arsenal look to add his experience to their ranks? He might fancy the move to London…
Jordan Henderson was linked to Arsenal the other week, but I just don’t see it happening. However, stranger things have happened in football.
Can Arsenal secure the signature of Locotelli?
It seems that Locatelli has his heart set on joining Juventus now. He’s a terrific player that would excite me if he came to our football club, but it looks like that ship has sailed. If he does go to Juventus, there is a chance that some Arsenal supporters would be happy to swoop in for Ramsey to come back.
The only one thing I’ll say about Aaron Ramsey is, his fitness. His age has moved on a little and he struggled with fitness when he was at Arsenal already. It would be a romantic signing although a lot of people say you should never go back, and I think you should only take a player back if you feel 100% that it’s the right decision for your club.
However, we can’t be romantic about what we want because we all tend to look in the past, and we’re looking to the future.
Arsenal are after Aaron Ramsdale. Would he challenge Leno to start in goal?
If I’m completely honest, I don’t think that Aaron Ramsdale is a step up on Leno. People are criticising Leno saying that he’s not good enough. It is clear that we let the best goalkeeper go in Martinez, but I understand why Arsenal let him go, because he was a player for Arsenal that spent time at the club, never got a run in a team.
When he got a run in the team, he was absolutely sensational. And I just wonder if the coaching staff thought, ‘he can’t continue the way he’s going’. But he clearly has. But with regards to Ramsdale, he’s just not Arsenal’s solution for their number one goalkeeper.
I’ve watched him play several times last season. I just have my doubts and I don’t know why. And at £30m, it’s a huge amount of money. If they sign him, I’ll shake his hand and say, “I hope I’m completely wrong.” He’d probably knock me out, but that won’t be the first time.
Nigel Winterburn On West Ham
Do you expect West Ham to build on last season and challenge for the Top Four again this season?
Last season was an incredible season for West Ham. They had a huge opportunity to get in Champions League although they didn’t quite make it but you can’t criticise them for that. To finish above where they finished last season is going to be incredibly difficult. I don’t see it. And having been at West Ham and knowing what they’re like, they could quite easily finish much lower down the league.
But the one thing that I also will say is that, in David Moyes, they’ve got a manager in charge who is very, very shrewd and he’s doing a great job. So, I expect them, again, to be in the top half, but I just can’t see anyhow they can finish in the top four next season. But if they finish where they finished, to do it two seasons running, I think, would show huge improvement for West Ham.
Can West Ham keep hold of Declan Rice this summer?
West Ham need to keep hold of Declan Rice. They absolutely need to. Rice will be linked with a few clubs. It’s not who you’re linked with, it’s realistically the player’s ambitions. Is he happy at the club? Where does he see his future?
West Ham have to try and do everything they can to convince him that he’s got to stay for a bit longer. And let’s be realistic, that’s going to be difficult. So, they’ve got to convince him that everything around a club is allowing him to progress to where eventually he wants to be.
If the ambition is there for him to go on and win trophies, I think he is going to end up somewhere where his chances of winning trophies is bigger than West Ham. But at the moment, West Ham would have to convince him to stay. But I don’t know what his ambitions are and what he wants to do.
He might be happy at West Ham. And some people would say, “Well, that’s lack of ambition,” but he just might be comfortable where he is. Some people are.
How important is it for West Ham to keep hold of Jesse Lingard?
Jesse Lingard was sensational for West Ham and if he doesn’t come back then they are losing an extremely valuable player. Based on his performance levels last season, you could argue that he could fight for a position at Man United but is there a place for him?
Is he just going to sit on the bench? He’s not just going to want to do that again. If he enjoyed his time at West Ham – which I assume he did with the performances that he put in – then absolutely it could happen. But for the performances he put in for West Ham, if he doesn’t come back, then they are losing an extremely valuable player for them based on last season’s performances.
West Ham have been linked with Alex Oxlade Chamberlain on loan. Does he still have what it takes to make a difference?
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would be a great addition to West Ham but he needs to stay fit. I like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, I think he’s a powerful player. He can play wide, he can also play through the centre midfield if he wanted to. But again, he has had those fitness issues, but he’s a player that I liked watching at Arsenal. I thought he should have got more game time at the club.
It would certainly be an interesting signing for West Ham. There’s always some sort of risk if players have had injury and whether they can stay fit enough, but you just have to make that decision and you live with it.
Nigel Winterburn On The Premier League
Who do you think will win the Premier League this season?
I’m hoping the Premier League race is going to be very, very close this season. I still think it’s going to be Man City, but I think Chelsea are going to be a lot, lot closer. They could potentially be the main challengers.
Although I think Liverpool are in there as well after they’ve recovered from the terrible injuries they suffered from last season. Of course, Manchester United did better than I expected them to do last season, so I think there’s a bit more pressure on them again this season to be right up there.
It’s shaping up to be an exciting season, but you usually find, right at the end, one team sort of starts to run away with it. I still think Man City will be the team to beat, but I think there will be at least one team closer around them for a lot longer period this time.
What do you make of Harry Kane’s imminent transfer to Man City? Will that make them unstoppable?
Harry Kane joining Man City wouldn’t make them unstoppable. Nobody is ever unstoppable. It will make them stronger because they’re gaining a goal-scorer. The thing is that I don’t think Man City will pay £160m for Harry Kane. In the climate that we are in, I’m unsure whether they will.
But does that then mean that Tottenham are not going to let him go and then potentially you’ve got a slightly unhappy player? I don’t know. I mean, transfer fees are just going wild but £160m when we’ve been where we are with the economy, I think it has some knock-on effects for football. I could see him going to Man City – absolutely, but I don’t know for £160m.
Can Tottenham challenge without Kane or do you think they will come up short again next season?
Tottenham already took a step back last season, so losing Kane would make things even worse. He’s hard to replace, but everyone knows that eventually, you’re going to have to replace him. If it’s £160m, if that’s given to Nuno, then least they’ve got a huge rebuilding pot to work with.
Tottenham did peak a couple of seasons ago and now they’ve dropped away a little bit. And somehow, they’re going to have a couple of seasons of levelling off and then they’re going to try and come again. I think there’s going to be a few changes at the football club as well in terms of personnel.
Tottenham are a bit like Arsenal at the moment. Arsenal are in the unknown, we’re just not knowing what to expect. And if I’m honest with you, I think I’m exactly the same with Tottenham. I couldn’t give you an assessment of where they’re going to finish because I’m just not quite sure what they’re going to deliver. Which is good for me, because that makes me smile, because I’m not a Tottenham man.
Which new signing are you most looking forward to see in the league?
I’m really excited by the likes of Sancho and Varane coming to the league but there are others that I am just excited to see. Emiliano Buendía moving to Aston Villa from Norwich is a great example. I’m interested to see what he now produces.
I know he’s had a little go in the Premier League, but you could say this is a step up for him, because on Aston Villa’s performances from last season, and if Grealish stays, that’s quite an exciting front line. He’s very, very creative on the ball, he does score goals. His goal-scoring record is actually not that bad, so he’s somebody that I’m looking at.
I’m also excited to see how Billy Gilmour gets on at Norwich. Everyone will expect Norwich to struggle, but from what we’ve seen of Gilmour at Chelsea and then the game that he played in the Euros against England, I think there’s a young, exciting talent there. I think he’ll be one to watch and just see how he copes with what I think is a team that’s going to struggle again.
Finally, I’m excited to see Demarai Gray come back to the Premier League. He is someone who has never really fulfilled what I expected him to do, but he now has a good opportunity at Everton. He just needs to show the right attitude and level of consistency and Everton will have a great player on their hands.