Football Insights - Jermaine Pennant

Former Premier League star Jermaine Pennant gives his exclusive insights to Genting Casino about two of his former clubs battling it out for top spot in the Premier League.


On Arsenal vs Brighton

After Arsenal beat Brighton on Sunday night, Roberto De Zerbi labelled the Gunners the best team he’s played in the Premier League this season. What have you made of Arsenal’s performances? 

If you compare Arsenal’s performance against Brighton to last season’s, where they lost 0-3 and surrendered their title challenge, they were impressive against a very good Brighton team. 

For Arsenal to receive those plaudits from De Zerbi (The Italian manager labelled Arsenal as the best team he has played in the Premier League this season), then you must be doing something right. 

Arsenal look strong. They were confident and in control throughout the game against Brighton. It only looked like a matter of time before they broke the deadlock in the game. 

I think Arsenal’s home record is phenomenal. They are also good on the road, but lost out last time to Aston Villa, which there is no shame in when you consider what Villa are doing this season. 

It looks like Arsenal will be challenging Manchester City again this season.  

Do you think that Arsenal look better equipped to challenge for the title this season than last season? 

Arsenal look better equipped to mount a title challenge this season. They would have learned a lot after what happened to them last season and I think that experience will help them this time around. 

They know from their own experience last season that they can’t slip-up. They know that Manchester City are capable of winning the last ten games of a season on the bounce. That knowledge and experience would have paid dividends to everyone connected to the club. If Arsenal find themselves in that situation again, leading the table on the home stretch, they will be able to handle the pressure much better. 

The signing of Declan Rice has made a big difference. We’ve already seen what he gives Arsenal – every game he is a 7 or an 8 out of 10 minimum – he offers Arsenal so much protection in front of that back four and he has also chipped in with some late winners. The win against Luton (where Rice scored the winner with the last kick of the game) could be absolutely massive at the end of the season. 

On the Declan Rice impact

You have to give Declan Rice a lot of credit for the way that he has adapted to life at Arsenal. At West Ham, he was the big star, the captain. Everything revolved around him. Sometimes when you join a big club like Arsenal, you can get lost. You can see the players around you – big stars – and start to change your natural game. 

Declan Rice has gone into the Arsenal squad, forgot about the price tag, and he’s said to himself: “I was the main man at West Ham and I’m going to be the main man at Arsenal.”

He is a complete leader. It wouldn’t surprise me if we see him wear the Arsenal arm band in the future. He is a really important part of Mikel Arteta’s team. 

Rice is Arsenal’s second captain on the pitch. He patrols his zone in front of the defence and offers this team so much protection. He always picks the right pass. 

Doubts about Arsenal’s attacking options

I’ve previously said that the one thing this Arsenal team lacks is a 15-20 goals-a-season striker. Who are we to question Arsenal’s ability to score goals when the team is sat at the top of the Premier League table? Everyone is chasing Arsenal right now, so they’re doing something right. 

I understand the clamour for the club to sign another striker. I understand the concerns about Jesus and if he were to get injured. It would be amazing if Arsenal had a guy in the squad who guaranteed 15-20 goals every season. 

Arsenal are sharing the goals among the forward players and that seems to work well for them. We’ve seen Man City win the title without a striker in the past, so we know it can be done. 

In January will we see Arsenal move for a striker? I think they will. I think they will look at Ivan Toney. 

Eddie Nketiah ability

I like Nketiah. I think he is a good player. He’s made his England debut this season and is getting regular minutes for Arsenal, so he must be doing something right. 

I can understand that some fans might be concerned about his ability to score goals against the very best teams in the Premier League. Can Arsenal rely on him in the biggest games to get them the goals they need? It’s all very well and good scoring a hattrick against Sheffield United at home, but can he stand up and be counted for against the best? We’ve seen some occasions where that has happened; when he’s got his opportunities in the big games, the goals haven’t come. 

Is Nketiah a world-class striker? I wouldn’t say that he is. I wouldn’t put him in that bracket yet.  

Saka ability and importance to Arsenal

Saka’s development at Arsenal over the last few years has been really impressive. He is one of the first names on Arsenal’s team sheet and that’s been proven by him breaking the Arsenal record for consecutive games played. He seems to play 90 minutes most weeks. 

At such a young age to be such an important player at Arsenal is a massive credit to him. We’ve spoken about how important Declan Rice has been to Arsenal this season, and you can put Saka in the same category. He makes decisive contributions and has been involved in most of the goals that Arsenal have scored (this season). That’s a priceless quality for any attacking player. 

He makes things happen. He does it in every single game. He is one player that you can always rely on to keep going from the first minute to the ninetieth. 

He’s been thrown into the Arsenal team from a very young age. People say that he plays a lot of games for Arsenal and could do with a rest, but I don’t think that Saka will be complaining about the minutes he’s getting. The more minutes you play, the more confident you get and that pays dividends in the future. 

He's such an important player for Arsenal. I’m sure that when Arsenal are in control of games and there is an opportunity to give Saka a bit of a rest, Arteta will do it. 

Aaron Ramsdale vs David Raya

As a player, you would look at Mikel Arteta’s decision to replace Aaron Ramsdale and frown upon it; you would think that he has treated Ramsdale harshly. You would also think to yourself, ‘If he can do that to our number one goal keeper, then is my place safe?’

At the end of the season, if Arsenal are champions, then everyone will be praising Arteta and saying that this is a decision he got right. 

I do think Ramsdale will feel frustrated. He has performed brilliantly for Arsenal and was a big part of their recent success. It’s not as if Arsenal went out and signed a player who is miles better than Ramsdale – it’s not like they signed a player of Alison’s ability. 

When you compare the two players, you may lean towards Raya being the better fit because of the football that Arsenal want to play. Raya is probably better with his feet than Ramsdale, but that’s small details. I don’t think there is much between the pair of them. 

It was a baffling decision by Arteta at the time. It felt like he was upsetting the morale in the team for marginal gains. We heard that there wasn’t a conversation between Ramsdale and Arteta on his role this season – he signed a three-year contract extension that summer. It was a bit of a head-scratcher, and we will have to see if it was the right decision at the end of the season. 

Ramsdale’s future

I can’t see Arsenal happily sanctioning Ramsdale’s sale in January. Would they stop it if he started banging on the managers door demanding a move? That’s a different question because the reason Arteta signed Raya was because he wanted to have two number one keepers. If Ramsdale were to leave, that defeats the object of what Arteta said he wanted at the football club. 

I don’t think Arteta would stop him from leaving if he really, really wanted to go. Arteta won’t want a player in his squad that doesn’t want to be there. What happens with Ramsdale in January is down to him. Does he want to play week-in, week-out until the end of the season to guarantee a place in Gareth Southgate’s squad? If he does, then I’m sure there’s going to be a conversation happening between Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsdale very soon. 

Reiss Nelson role at Arsenal

I can’t see Nelson forcing his way into the Arsenal team at the expense of Saka – that isn’t going to happen anytime soon. He signed a new contract in the summer when he could have left on a free transfer, so he must be happy with his role as a squad player at the club. 

I had a similar issue when I was at Arsenal. In front of me I had either Robert Pires on one side, Ljungberg on the other. Then there was Ray Parlour who could play on the right…there’s not much you can do (laughs). 

You have to play your best when you get that chance, but even if you do well, you know that the main man will be coming back into the team. When you’re at a massive club with so many stars, there are always going to be players that don’t get the minutes they will feel they deserve. He’s been at the club since he was a little kid; Arsenal is his home. Is he happy to feature so infrequently? He must be because he signed a new contract. 

The issue is that when you leave a club like Arsenal, are you going to be successful? Are you going to win trophies? If Arsenal win the league, he’ll be a Premier League champion with his boyhood club. Arteta must like him. We’ve seen glimpses of his talent; we know he’s a good player. I think at the moment, he is happy to be a squad player. 

Kai Havertz form

I’ll hold my hands up and admit that I was one of the first people to say: “What a weird signing!” I thought it was a waste of £60m and I wasn’t the only one, especially after the way that he started his Arsenal career. 

Arteta has obviously seen something in the player that others didn’t. Sometimes when you go to a big team, it can take some time for things to happen for you. Havertz is starting to find his feet and his purpose in this team. 

He’s scoring important goals. If he can continue to keep popping up with late winners, then he would have already repaid the money the club spent on him in the summer. That winner against Brentford. Those three points could be absolutely massive for Arsenal at the end of the season. He scored against Brighton. He’s off and running now and the challenge for him will be to score more goals than he did playing for Chelsea. 

I expect things will only get better for Kai Havertz at Arsenal. It looks like he’s turned a corner and I think the fans are starting to see why the club spent all that money on him in the summer; they are starting to believe in the transfer. 

One thing that Arsenal struggled with last season was their ability to turn to the bench for firepower when games were tight. Havertz gives them something different and so does Trossard. 

Mikel Arteta’s touchline antics

I’m not sure I would want to be on the receiving end of Arteta’s instructions for a full forty-five minutes if he was closest to my side. I’d be like: “Just let me play my game, Gaffer (laughs).”

Rafa Benitez was a little bit like that when I was at Liverpool. I’d happily take the instructions or tactical directions, but when I’m hearing the Gaffer tell me where to pass the ball, I wouldn’t be impressed (laughs). I can see the pitch in front of me, let me do it. 

Football players aren’t robots. Sometimes Rafa would give his players instructions like he was playing on the XBOX. It would drive me mad if a manager was in my ear every time I was near him on the pitch. 

On Liverpool vs Manchester United

Do you think Liverpool will have plenty of regrets that they couldn’t find a way through a limited Manchester United last night? 

I think Liverpool will have a few regrets that they couldn’t beat Manchester United on Sunday night. In all my years of watching football and Manchester United, I’ve never seen a United team go to Anfield and play the way they did. 

They had no interest in winning the game, they just didn’t want to lose. United didn’t really lay a glove on Liverpool. They had the odd counterattack, but that was it. They were so concerned about what happened to them at Anfield last season and came with a game plan to keep as many players behind the ball as possible. 

They stodged out their own box and hoped that Liverpool wouldn’t be able to break them down and score. It was a really poor display from Manchester United but, at the end of the day, they will be absolutely thrilled with the point. That isn’t the Manchester United that we’re used to seeing over the last few years, but if you look at United’s record at Anfield, in their last five games they haven’t scored. 

Liverpool will be used to teams coming to Anfield, sitting deep, and making it difficult for them. They should have been ready for that approach from Manchester United and they should have had the firepower to unlock the Manchester United defence. 

Below par performances from Liverpool’s main men

I don’t think the Liverpool players were on it. Alison, he was great, as he always is, but I expected more from some of Liverpool’s big players. Trent was off the boil. Salah didn’t really offer much. Luis Diaz was quiet. In the end, if you can’t break a team down and do what you’re good at, you won’t get the results. Liverpool probably deserved more, but Man United came with a game plan and executed it. 

Coy Carragher doesn’t really believe that Liverpool can’t win the title this season

I think Jamie Carragher is being a bit coy when he said after the Manchester United draw that he didn’t think Liverpool would win the league this season. There are always going to be games in a thirty-eight-game season where you’re not at your best and you need a moment of magic from the bench or a last-minute winner. It’s all about getting three points.

Teams are not always going to be firing on all cylinders. You can’t win every single game, especially in the Premier League. Manchester City have only won one match in their last six games, but you would still have them as favourites to win the league. 

You’re not going to be on fire in every game. I understand Carragher’s point when he says that you can’t keep winning games in the last minute every week or rely on your stars to drag you over the line when performances have been poor, but it’s a long season. Liverpool are a point behind Arsenal with a massive game on the horizon this weekend. That will be a totally different game. 

I do think that Liverpool need to be more ruthless. If Man City came up against that Man United team, they would have found a way (to win). I understand Jamie’s points to a certain degree, but I do think he is being a little bit coy. 

Reaction to disappointment of not beating United

There’s no doubt that the Liverpool players will be frustrated. They will have known that this was a massive chance to really kick Manchester United into the gutter and get one over on their arch rivals. 

I think that Jurgen Klopp’s and Virgil van Dijk’s comments about United’s tactics were because they know that Liverpool didn’t play well in this game. They may well have had 35 shots on goal, but the stats don’t measure up with the overall performance. 

They’ll be looking at what they could have done better against Manchester United this week. I think the biggest problem they had against United was the final ball; they lacked that cutting edge. Some of the passing was sloppy. They weren’t making the right decisions. 

It will be a different test against Arsenal. There will be more gaps for Liverpool to try and exploit and they will know that they will have more opportunities to break Arsenal down than there was against Manchester United. 

On Liverpool

Jurgen Klopp’s remodelled midfield has breathed new life into his team

I really do think the difference that we’re seeing this season compared to last is the midfield. It’s as simple as that. 
It’s the same defence and the same front five players. Nothing has really changed in those areas of the team. 

Klopp identified his midfield as the weakest part of his team and has addressed it. This new-look midfield looks fresher, younger, and more energetic. They have players in there now that can get up and down the pitch. They have players in there that can create and score goals. This midfield doesn’t get overrun anymore. 

The defence can have more of a breather in games. Last season, Liverpool’s legs went in midfield and that had a knock-on effect across the entire team. Now there is less pressure on the defence. Klopp’s injected a lot of energy into his team by the business he conducted this summer. It has made a massive difference for them. I still think that Liverpool’s midfield is lacking a proper number six, but at the moment they are doing well. 

Szoboszlai impact

I think he can be really happy with the start he’s had to his Liverpool career. He’s been putting in some good performances; he’s got great feet, vision and the ability to score goals. I was surprised by how quick he is. He doesn’t stop running and does the other parts of a midfielders game really well in terms of closing down, making tackles. 

He looks like he has similar attributes to Steven Gerrard. He’s wearing his old shirt number and has a similar role. I wouldn’t put him in the Gerrard category just yet, but it looks like he has the ability to become a Liverpool legend in the future. 

To come in and make such an impression and to deliver those types of performances in your debut season for a club like Liverpool, you have to give him credit.

Mac Allister’s role reversal 

I know that Alexis Mac Allister isn’t playing at the moment because he’s injured, but when he does, he’s been playing in a deeper role as a six. I think his best position is as a number ten, but he has become a very important component of Liverpool’s new midfield. 

Liverpool are developing at a faster pace than most people anticipated

When I saw the players that Liverpool signed in the summer, it was only going to make them stronger. Last season was a poor season for the club, so I knew that we would improve (this season). 

There were doubts that this brand-new midfield would be able to gel so quickly. It normally takes a bit of time for players to develop that understanding with each other; Chelsea are the proof of that. 

The new additions look like they’ve been playing together for years. That’s a testament to Jurgen Klopp and how he has remodelled Liverpool’s midfield, and we should also give credit to the players. 

At this moment in time, Liverpool are definitely ahead of where I thought they would be this season. I was expecting a top four challenge not a title challenge. 

Liverpool have put themselves in a fantastic position. If you’d had offered this to Jurgen Klopp at the start of the season; seventeen games in and a point of the summit, he would have bitten your hand off. 

Mo Salah’s future

When a player gets into his thirties, they always start to think about the time they have left, and you start to visualise the next chapter in your career. Mo 
Salah has been a great servant for the club since he joined. I wouldn’t say he’s been at the peak of his powers this season. He’s scoring a lot of goals, and his stats look great, but you may not see him for eighty minutes and then he’ll pop up with a goal. 

If a big money offer of £100-150m comes in from Saudi Arabia next season, then I think there will have to be a conversation between the club and Mo Salah. 

Replacing a player like Salah will be really difficult, but there are players out there who you could bring in with the money and Liverpool would probably be able to invest in other areas of their team if the fee was large enough. 

Leroy Sane is a player that I think Liverpool could target if Salah were to leave. We saw him at Manchester City and how good he was there, he’s gone on to Bayern Munich and taken his game up a notch, so there are players out there. 

I’m sure Liverpool will be thinking about life after Mo because he isn’t getting any younger. I’m sure they will have players in mind to replace him if and when he moves on. 

Liverpool have had Salah during his best years. He’s probably hit his peak, so a move in the summer could suit all parties. 

Salah’s legendary status

Mo Salah will be regarded as a Liverpool legend and rightly so. When he decides to move on or retires, I think the Liverpool fans will put him up there alongside Stevie G. 

The only thing that gives Gerrard a higher legend status are his Liverpool roots. Gerrard is a scouser, a local boy. Apart from that, Mo’s up there and he’s done and won it while playing for Liverpool. 

Pennant names Dominik Szoboszlai and Jarell Quansah as two players that have stood out at Liverpool this season

I’d heard of Szoboszlai and seen bits and pieces of him in the Champions League over the last few seasons, but I was blown away when I saw him play for Liverpool. At the beginning of the season, I thought he was unbelievable. 

I’ve also really liked what I’ve seen from Jarell Quansah. When he has played, he’s looked neat, tidy, and composed on the ball. He looks like a great player for the future. He’s a good athlete. Every time I’ve seen him, he’s been impressive. 

Harvey Elliot

I think Harvey Elliot is a great little player. He’s one of those players that you want to watch, and you want him in the team. The one question mark you have over him is his consistency. That is what he needs to work on to take his game to the next level and to start making more appearances in this Liverpool team. 

He's a good option for Liverpool to have and a good option for Jurgen Klopp to turn to from the bench if he needs a little bit more craft; he’s popped up and made a difference from the bench already this season. 

If Elliot was given a run of games as a starter, would we see consistent performances from him? He’s looked good off the bench, but he’s coming up against players that are tired and it’s easier for him to have an impact. Would he be able to make the same impact if he started more games? He’s still a very young man and his time will come. When he gets the opportunity to start games on a regular basis, I’m confident that he will take it. 

Trent Alexander Arnold 

I think Trent’s best position is at right back. That’s his bread and butter. He’s such a brilliant football player. It’s so rare to find a right back that can have such a massive influence on the game and that is why I would keep him there.

He gives Klopp the opportunity to rejig his team and move players around because of his ability on the ball. Klopp can bring him into midfield and put Joe Gomez at right back in certain games, but he is a player that gives you a lot of tactical flexibility.

People question his ability as a defender. I think he’s good defensively; he hasn’t been at fault for individual goals that Liverpool have conceded or made errors that have led to Liverpool dropping points. 

I think his defending has improved, but what he gives you going forward, you’ll take that all day long. 

Darwin Nunez 

Darwin Nunez can be a very frustrating player to watch because he has so much ability. You always need to give players coming from a new country or a different league a season to find their feet, so he’s had his grace period. 

I love him as a player. He is raw. You often don’t know what you’re going to get from him, and he is unpredictable on the pitch. He can produce moments of sublime quality and then miss an absolute sitter. 

My patience is wearing a little thin now. I gave him his grace period and now I’m expecting him to do more because he will be used to the speed and physicality of the Premier League. He’s got used to his team mates and he should be settled in the country now. 

All players miss chances, but he misses a lot of them and big ones. The problem that he has at the moment is that people will forgive you for missing big chances in games as long as you’re taking one of them, and he isn’t doing that at the moment. He’s at a stage where the fans and coaches will be getting a little bit worried about the goals he isn’t scoring. 

He's got everything you would want in a Premier League striker. At the moment, his performances are frustrating to say the least. 

Liverpool vs Arsenal 

I think this is a bigger game for Arsenal than it is for Liverpool. Everyone expected Arsenal to challenge Manchester City for the title again this season, whereas I don’t think anyone thought that Liverpool would be in a position to challenge for the Premier League. I think most people expected Liverpool to fight for a place in the top four this season. 

From an Arsenal perspective, as the main contenders for Manchester City’s title, this is a game that they will want to win. A win would give them a huge confidence boost in terms of their title challenge. 
Can Arsenal go there and win? Can they handle the atmosphere of playing at Anfield? We saw what happened last season when Arsenal silenced the crowd and then Granit Xhaka brought them to life again by getting involved in some silly antics, which resulted in Liverpool coming back from behind. 

I think it will finish as a draw. It is going to be more of an open game, which plays into Liverpool’s hands. 

On Nottingham Forest

Steve Cooper’s Forest future

I think Steve Cooper can steer Nottingham Forest out of the trouble that they’ve found themselves in this season. Last season, he proved he was the right man to keep the club in the Premier League and they won some massive games towards the end of the season to get them over the line. 

I think he can keep Forest up. I would also urge the owners to look at the clubs below Forest. I don’t think any of those three promoted clubs will remain in the Premier League this season, so I don’t think that Forest should be panicking just yet. 

It looks like that if you can pick up thirty-eight points, then your status as a Premier League club will be preserved for another year. I can’t see any of Sheffield United, Burnley or Luton getting close to that number of points. 

We’re almost at the halfway point of the season and none of those clubs have reached double figures yet. 

I think this year, any team that survives will probably do so with the lowest ever points tally. I don’t think the ownership needs to worry too much about relegation this season. I can understand why they are considering bringing in someone else because the results haven’t been great, but I would be extremely confident that Steve Cooper can keep them up because of who is below them. 

Premier League Observations

Name the three players that have stood out for you in the Premier League this season.

Cole Palmer. I think he’s been excellent since he joined Chelsea. When you consider that he didn’t really play that much for Manchester City but had the belief in his own abilit to play in the Premier League for another big club like Chelsea, then you have to give him credit. 

Without many senior games under his belt, he made that move and has quickly established himself as a really important player for Mauricio Pochettino. He’s been a star since he joined them. 

I think Anthony Gordon at Newcastle has been fantastic too. He’s gone up there and took the opportunity. He’s established himself as one of the first names on the team sheet and his form for Newcastle has him banging on the England squad door now. 

My third choice would be Alison. I know that is an easy pick, but if you look at the saves that he has made for Liverpool already this season, you have to say that he is a massive part of the reason why Liverpool have been so successful this season. If it wasn’t for Alison, Liverpool, wouldn’t be challenging for the Premier League title. The times that he has saved Liverpool has been unreal. I think he is the best in goalie in the Premier League by miles. 

Name the one player that has disappointed you or you’ve expected more from this season.

I’ve been disappointed by Darwin Nunez. You can see he has the ability; we saw glimpses of what he could do last season and I wanted to see him kick on from there because most players need a year to adjust to the demands of the Premier League. 

We’ve seen more of the same from him again this season. It’s just not working for him at the moment. He should have scored at Luton, and he didn’t. 

Way back in August after he scored two goals off the bench against Newcastle, I was thinking that this was going to be his lift-off moment. I expected him to follow-up on that performance with more goals, but he’s only managed a further two goals in fifteen Premier League games. 

Arsenal are the club that need Toney the most

Arsenal need Ivan Toney’s goals more than any other team that is rumoured to be interested in signing him. I think he would be a perfect fit for Arsenal. He is a real worker off the ball, he likes to run in behind and he can hold up the ball well. 

We all know his ability in front of the goal. Everyone has suggested that Ivan Toney could be the missing piece of the Arsenal puzzle and I do really believe that he is the guy that could win them win the title.

I think he could come into the club and become Arsenal’s modern version of Ian Wright. He’s a brilliant player and I think he’s been performing well for the last three seasons. 

On goals alone, then only Harry Kane ranks higher than him in terms of English players over the last few seasons. That’s not bad company for Toney to keep. 

He’s a proven goal scorer in the Premier League with Brentford. Imagine the number of chances he would get playing for a team like Arsenal. I think Ivan Toney to Arsenal is a recipe for great success. 

I think Arsenal will move for him in January. I think they will table a bid for him in the region of £90m.

Arsenal and Manchester City should be worried about Real in Champions League

Listen, you always want to avoid playing Real Madrid in the Champions League. It doesn’t matter what shape they’re in or who is playing up front for them, they are always dangerous in Europe. 

They are Champions League monsters. They have so much pedigree. They have been there and done it. You’ve always got to be wary of what they can bring. Jude Bellingham is on fire for them at the moment. 

Bayern Munich are another team that Arsenal and City will want to avoid. They are a very difficult team to beat when they are at their best and the addition of Harry Kane has only made them stronger. We saw what they did against Manchester United and they didn’t even get out of second gear. 

Those are the two teams that I would be worried about facing if I was Arsenal or Manchester City. I think Arsenal and Manchester City would fancy their chances against every other team in the competition. 




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