I imagined this summer would be easier to get through because of the World Cup and the first week or so kept me fairly entertained. But thanks to my obsession with United, football that isn’t United can only hold my attention for so long. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a football fan, but I’m a United fan first, and that’s the way it’s been since I was a lad.
After a gruelling summer, we’re just 12 days away from the new season, and RoM is very excited. So, as a way to count down until kick-off, we have got a View from the Enemy special ahead, where I’ve interviewed a blogger from (almost) every Premiership team.
We’ll be starting with Yogi’s Warrior of popular Arsenal blog, A Cultured Left Foot. He talked to me about Arsenal’s hopes for next season, the issue of debt in football and what the hell is going on with Cesc Fabregas.
Scott the Red: Were you happy with your team’s performance last season?
Yogi’s Warrior: Overall, yes. The squad competed for the title until March despite the injuries suffered. In the end, it was disappointing the way the season petered out. The injuries hit hard and some of the squad players, such as Silvestre, were patently not up to playing for the first XI on a regular basis.
STR: Oh Silvestre. Plenty of your mob were on my blog telling me Wenger was inspired for signing him. Poor ol’ Silly. Anyway, Arsenal stood an outside chance before the last few weeks but seemed to fade away. Will that be different next season? What are your aspirations?
YW: The same as they always are: Arsenal to win every trophy for which they compete. Reality turns out different every season but surely you have to go into the campaign with hope.
STR: So, which player do you think will be the most important in helping you compete?
YW: Not one but two. Keeping Robin van Persie fit will be essential to a sustained challenge. I believe the Dutchman is in the top three forwards in the Premier League at the moment but needs a full season to prove it. He is much more than an out and out target man, his movement is outstanding for Arsenal, creating space for others. The second is Thomas Vermaelen. Unquestionably the best buy of last summer’s transfer window, he was brilliant defensively and added a threat we had been missing going forward. He needs to show that last season was not a case of catching everyone by surprise and I am sure he will. Some will say Fabregas is crucial, questions asked about his mental state, whether he will sulk or whatever. It is forgetting one key thing. The man is a winner, hates to lose and has worked too hard to besmirch his reputation through lack of effort. Whilst there is no doubting his desire to return home, he also has a strong love of Arsenal and will want to go out on a high, if this is to be his last season at the club.
STR: The Fabregas issue is an interesting one and something we’ll look at later. Wenger has been very firm on this issue and has been successful so far. How do you rate his ability to take Arsenal forward?
YW: No doubt about it. Wenger has proven himself to all.
STR: He hasn’t won a thing since 2005 though. He’s certainly proven himself in the past and he obviously is a skilled manager. I just wonder if his dedication to a vision, which might be totally unrealistic, is preventing him from taking Arsenal any further. Anyway, what is your favourite chant you’ve heard sung at your ground?
YW: We’ve only got one Song.
STR: Good point. Where do you think United will finish this season?
YW: Much depends on any new signings. Like Arsenal and Chelsea, they can win it but just as easily finish 2nd or 3rd. Realistically, I cannot see any lower than that no matter how much money is thrown around by Manchester City.
STR: I doubt we’ll see any new players joining to be honest. But looking at our current squad, if you could have any two players from us, who would they be?
YW: A tough one as I don’t think there are many in United’s squad who would vastly improve us. That is not meant as a sneer, just an observation that comparing player for player, I do not believe United has many who are superior to Arsenal. The difference has been defensive organisation, where United are far better.
STR: I think that’s a fairly odd comment. We didn’t have much of a defence to speak of last season. I think Arsenal have big problems if our second choice keeper sitting behind our two central midfielders is better organised than your defence! We can all complain about injuries, but I have never known for a team to be hit in one position so long term. We spent weeks, months, with Van der Sar, Ferdinand, Vidic, Neville, Rafael, Fabio, O’Shea, Brown and Evans all injured! Read all about it.
YW: We dropped 13 points in the final 7 games which accounts for the title. Coincidentally, the first choice back four did not appear at all in that time, instead it relied on Mikael Silvestre as centre back in every game. Which rather depressingly proves my point.
STR: Well, Clichy played in 5 of those games and Sagna in all of them, so I suppose it was your first choice back two you were without. Regardless, what I’d give to be without a defence for just 7 games! We were 30 games in to the season before we even saw our first choice defence play. Now that is depressing! Anyway, I assume you’d go for a couple of defenders then?
YW: Well, Van der Sar would be an obvious choice given our problems in that area. Likewise, I believe we need an experienced centre back. Ferdinand has the ‘comfort’ on the ball that Wenger likes in a player and is probably an ideal Arsenal player with his injury record in recent seasons but of the two, I think Vidic would add a bit more steel, so I guess I would choose him.
STR: I think the goalkeeping problem was something we shared five years ago or so. We were swapping back and forth between Carroll and Howard, you between Lehmann and Almunia, with us knowing all along that neither team were going to rival Chelsea with keepers like that. It’s hard to believe you’re still playing Almunia to be honest. But an issue we don’t really share is debt, with yours getting smaller every year, and ours getting bigger. What do you make of our debt?
YW: Fundamentally, I would like to see all clubs use debt only for investment in facilities – stadia, training grounds, etc – and pay for transfers out of revenues. That is too idealistic to ever happen. That United’s board at the time sold out to an unsuitable investor is of no surprise. There is form in the past three decades – Knighton, Maxwell and Murdoch all flirted publicly over the years and none of them for various reasons, would have been good for the club. Saying that, I don’t think it will be the downfall of the club as the media are hoping. It is making things difficult for Ferguson; nobody buys his line that the money is there waiting to be spent, it has been swallowed up in interest and other charges. It is hard to see why he is supporting the Glazers publicly. With his record, there is no way that they will sack him. If they did, the backlash in the stadium and media would cripple them. Once more though, supporters suffer. Prices for everything rise, making football less attractive for families. My concern is not just limited to United in that respect; the price of taking two children to a Premier League match is huge and there is a danger that a generation that loves football, is getting out of the habit of going to matches. If a supporter based consortium were to take over, it might prove to be a godsend for English football as a successful takeover and then solid stewardship of the club moving forward would encourage others.
STR: I completely agree with you. You just have to think it’s an issue that’s never going to be addressed though. Unless the likes of United and Liverpool are swallowed up by the debt and the Premier League have to think about where they’ve gone wrong. United are successful in spite of their debt, whilst teams like Chelsea are a success because of it. At Arsenal, would you rather be a well managed club, with a sturdy future and no trophies than a club that dabbles with a bit of debt, not in United’s proportions, but normal Premier League proportions, that wins something?
YW: We already have a modest debt for building the stadium. Should we increase that to sign a couple of world-class players? I would not be unhappy if the board and Wenger went down that route but it then becomes almost an annual requirement to spend big and this is where the problems arise. One thing is for sure, Wenger is not going to spend vast sums, preferring to pick up players out of the media eye, unless he has to replace a key player.
STR: You can’t help but think that if Wenger had just broke the bank a little, every now and again, Arsenal would be a force to be reckoned with. Being honest, I don’t see them as a threat and won’t do until they invest in their squad properly. Anyway, moving on to happier things for you, what is your favourite game your club have played against United?
YW: Any victory is pleasing! The obvious one is winning the title at Old Trafford whilst the 1991 Guard of Honour formed to welcome the Arsenal players onto the pitch must have rankled with Ferguson. Overmars to effectively win the title in 1997/98 is a personal favourite because it was a run of 1- 0 wins where the scoreline did not reflect the team’s superiority and gnawed away at some United fans as an Arsenal title win became almost inevitable. I miss the needle between the two teams. McClair’s penalty in the mid-80s and the afters with Winterburn; 1988 when Limpar scored the only goal and the 21-man flare up later in the same game. Keown and van Nistelrooy. Vieira and Keane / Neville. They gave the fixture extra bite.
STR: Tell me about it. I get pretty nostalgic about the good ol’ days whenever we play each other. Although with 6 wins and 2 draws in 9 games against your lot, I suppose I just prefer beating you than I do having these fierce games where it’s 50-50 whether we win or lose! So on to something more to my taste, what has been your worst game against us?
YW: Christ, how much space have we got? 1 – 6 at the turn of the century. 1 – 4 when the Walrus, Knighton, juggled the ball before the Stretford End in 1990. 2 – 6 at home in the League Cup twenty years or so ago. 1 – 3 at home in the Champions League semi-final. The one that rankles more though is the 0 – 4 in the FA Cup, simply because of the lack of effort, the disrespect shown for travelling supporters and the fact that a strong Arsenal side could well have progressed at that time.
STR: Yeh I remember Fabregas getting subbed off at 3-0 and it just being a case of time to give up. Speaking of whom, what the hell is going on with him? Barcelona players talk about him on a daily basis, but then he obviously hasn’t asked them to stop and repeatedly talks to the media about his strong feelings for Barca. Is that the behaviour of a captain? Wenger seems to think so, but then, Wenger isn’t the best judge of who to name captain.
YW: A definite camp-splitter. There are those who say that he should be stripped of the armband unless he comes to his senses whilst others, including myself, think that is only a course of action to take if his behaviour is detrimental to the team’s performance. Most of the media attention has been driven by Barcelona officials and players with Fabregas saying very little. It is apparent that he doesn’t want to burn bridges with either club and has been relatively careful to make sure his love of the club is noted. Should your captain be caught up in this mess? There is not much he can do to stop media speculation other than to say a definitive ‘No’ but that will only start the rumours ahead of next summer. We’ve been used to it in the past and conceivably, there is a case to be made for Arsenal not selling next year either, dragging the whole thing out like Vieira and Henry. The club have played it absolutely correctly, even we were demanding a statement from them. Everything has been definitive from their point of view and assertive that the player is not for sale. That Uefa or Fifa has not acted shows the toothlessness of the tapping up regulations.
STR: Well we’ve been there and done it with Ronaldo, with Ramon Calderon taking the piss royally. I can’t help but think that if Cesc got on to his mates at Barcelona and told them to pack it in, and came out in the press saying he would definitely be an Arsenal player next season, it would settle down. But he has chosen not to do that. It seems he would prefer his future team mates tap him up than look like the bad guy by handing in a transfer request. Anyway, further in to unpopular talking points for Arsenal. How do you feel about Spurs finishing 4th?
YW: Not as bad as I would have felt had Manchester City finished in a Champions League place. Their behaviour has been similar to that of Chelsea when Abramovich first took over and I remain hopeful that they will fail to emulate Chelsea’s ability to win trophies. Spectacularly so.
STR: Very sensible. Chances are Spurs’ entrance to Europe’s elite competition will have detrimental effects rather than positive, with the extra pressures and standard of opponents they’ll have to face midweek. But with City, it would just be an excuse for even more mercenaries, mercenaries of a higher quality, to sign up. Still, they’re 34 years and counting as far as a trophy goes. But do you wish Wenger would show a little more desperation when it comes to winning trophies? Say the League Cup, would you prefer him take it seriously so you had a better chance of silverware or are you happy with his policy when it comes to bringing through youth?
YW: It is a tough balance. I strongly believe that winning the Carling Cup would be a good stepping stone, proving to the squad that they can win trophies. Yet using the Carling Cup as a breeding ground for younger players brings them on for the Premier League sooner. I am not overly happy that the FA Cup is going down the same route but can see, to some extent, why Wenger does it. The scheduling for an injury-riven squad is tough, the 3rd Round comes immediately after a busy Christmas period whilst the fourth round and beyond are played when the Champions League knockout stages start. If the FA want to keep the competition alive, they need to do away with replays, ending the ties on the day they are played and have the games played midweek. Personally, I would allow teams who are not involved in Europe the choice of whether they participate in the Carling Cup or stop the Premier League competing in the tournament full stop. Reducing the fixture burden would allow the Premier League to remain with 20 teams, a situation which will not continue unless another competition gives.
STR: Well I think our League Cup win in 2006 was certainly a springboard to the success we’ve enjoyed since. Obviously all players want to win but when they’ve got a taste of what winning feels like, it must give them that extra drive. We used to call it the Worthless Cup, but after winning it 3 times in 5 years, obviously the manager feels differently! Anyway, best of luck fighting off Barcelona. Cheers.