Former full-back Nigel Winterburn won the Premier League with Arsenal so is well placed to discuss what the Gunners need to do to challenge for the title and which players could leave the club this summer. In our exclusive interview, he also assesses the prospects for West Ham and AFC Wimbledon.
Do you know much about Sead Kolasinac, Arsenal’s new left-back? Is it what Arsenal need in that position?
I’ve been doing a little bit of research and saw he was in the Bundlesliga team of the season, which is obviously an exciting prospect for Arsenal. Also, the way that Arsenal may play this coming season, they could go back to a back four or they could even switch to a back five and Sead gives them a few more options. Monreal could go as third centre-half; he could also play in the wing-back so I think there will be some competition there for Monreal too.
I’m not sure really what the situation would be with Kieran Gibbs and whether he would be third choice. I don’t think he would be happy with that so it looks like there is potential for him to move. I think when a player comes into a football club to me, I always tend to look at the quality they will bring to the club.
I think the first 3-6 months will be very important and that’s the period where everyone gets excited about looking at what players have done at previous clubs, but really it’s irrelevant because it’s what they are going to produce when they are at your club. There’s a few options open now for Arsene Wenger and he’s obviously a very powerful player and very strong as well. I think the Bundesliga is very similar to the Premier League in terms of style of play as well and potentially looks like a very good match for Arsenal.
Kieran Gibbs has been linked with Newcastle. Do you see him still being at Arsenal at the start of the new season? Do you think he’s ever reached his full potential and would somewhere like Newcastle be a good move for him to kick-start his career again?
I think there comes a point in every player’s career where you have to make a decision on the amount of game time you believe you are going to realistically play. I would suggest that maybe Monreal would be first choice for the left-back position and Kieran has always been a little bit of a back-up. Then you bring in another new left-back you start to ask questions of yourself and ‘where does that put me?’
My gut feeling is that Kieran will move on at some stage, whether it will be before the season starts or whether it will be in the January transfer window. Maybe he just wants to see what happens and how much game time he gets. It’s very rare really, that you have three left-backs at a football club so if you look at it from that point of view, I think that Kieran will move on. When that becomes public, he will have to look at the teams and the quality of who are coming in and where he wants to go. He doesn’t have to move straight away, if he doesn’t feel it is right for him at the moment. He can sit on his contract and wait to see how things are developing for Arsenal and then for different clubs coming in and if not this transfer than maybe January.
Ozil and Sanchez – if one had to go in terms of helping Arsenal work out their pay structure what with talk of them both getting new contracts, who do you prioritise of the two to keep?
I don’t think you should prioritise anything because I think Arsenal will want to keep them both. If you believe what you are reading in the papers at the moment, it’s looking more likely that Ozil will stay at the football club and Sanchez may move on. I’ve heard that Arsenal don’t want to sell to Premier League teams so if they have to sell, they’d rather sell abroad which starts to complicate things even more. I think ideally they’d like to keep them both at the football club and really strengthen from there, which would put Arsenal in a good position. The speculation over players’ contracts makes it very difficult for Arsene Wenger but also for the supporters as well because they want to have a good understanding of how preparation for the new Premier League season is going.
There has been talk over the past couple of days of a potential swap between Sanchez going to Manchester City and Aguero going in the opposite direction. If this was to happen, who’s getting the best side of that deal? Is that a good deal for Arsenal or a better deal for Man City in your view?
Arsenal are in the market for another world-class centre-forward so that would make complete sense. I don’t know with two high value players how easy it’ll be. I can’t remember when this sort of deal has actually happened in the past. Contract lengths are different and club’s valuations of players can change. I just wonder whether Arsenal have taken the view ‘if you keep pestering Sanchez, we’ll start talking about your players’. Would Sergio Aguero even want to come to Arsenal? Then you’re talking about involving agents with a swap deal and seeing how that all works.
It’s a minefield but I can see where that link would come because they want a high-quality centre-forward and Aguero is certainly that. I think there’s a little bit of mind games going on.
Your teammate Martin Keown said that he thinks that Jack Wilshere will be offered a new deal at the club and there have been rumours linking him to West Ham and Huddersfield. Can you see either of those moves happening? Do you think he’s on borrowed time at Arsenal or do you think the club value him enough to put another contract in front of him?
Well I do believe the club value him highly, I think Jack understands his game time will be limited and is frustrated. He’s a good player but he has picked up a huge amount of injuries and sometimes you have a player, no matter how hard they work, whose body cannot take the rigours of training and the intensities of the Premier League and unfortunately it looks a bit like that for Jack.
Obviously I was very lucky when I played and I never sustained a period when I was out for very long, especially not year after year. I could imagine there are huge amounts of frustration there for Jack Wilshere. If you’re only playing a quarter of the games each season and spending most of the time on the operating table, it’s very difficult for your game to progress as much as people expect it to progress. He’s a very good player. If you told me you’d get three years out of Jack Wilshere and he’d have relatively small number of injuries and he’d play a part for Arsenal then I think Wenger would want to keep him at the club.
West Ham have been linked to a couple of Arsenal players, Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott. Firstly on Giroud, do you see that happening? Do you think the club value him as someone who is going to be a long-term player, as he seems to get a hard time from some sections of the fan base?
I think Arsenal have stated that they would like to keep Giroud, but they might need to review the situation depending what happens in the summer. He’s probably looking at his age and thinking ‘I need to be playing and I want to make sure that I’m part of the French squad’.
I think he’s done a very good job and I just wonder whether Arsenal want a little bit more mobility going forward. He found himself on the bench at the end of the season and he obviously wouldn’t want that to happen. It’s again whether the player feels that he is going to play enough games or is it time to make the break? I think there would be a lot more offers from abroad if he did move from Arsenal.
He might also be settled in London and if that is the case, West Ham have a good link with Arsenal and if he wanted to stay in London that could be a good opportunity for West Ham to get a very good striker. I could see it happening but you have to think whether the player believes he is capable of playing for a top-six club and West Ham are not a top-six club. It’ll be a case of whether West Ham can convince the player to join them.
Theo Walcott is also linked to West Ham. Do you think a move like this could revive his England career?
The problem for Theo is that Arsenal switched the system at the end of last season and that system doesn’t suit him, not at Arsenal anyway. Theo will think that if Arsenal are trying to limit his game time, he’ll feel like ‘where do I fit in? Is it time for a new challenge?’ I think when players of that quality become available, it’s natural to say that they would say they are interested. West Ham playing with two up front including Carroll with Theo, I can see that working very well. Then you also have the option of playing him off the striker or playing right left, so you’re getting a fair bit for your money. The problem for Theo at Arsenal is where do they see him playing if they stick to a back three or back five?
You recently said that Arsene Wenger needs to have a proper tilt at the title to justify his new contract. Realistically, what does he need from the Arsenal board? What do you think he needs to do to the squad to ensure a sustained title challenge?
I don’t think they are as far as away as people think they are. The problem is if you’re not challenging for the title consistently, how do you ever know how far away you are? Arsene Wenger said they need to challenge for the title and he said he thought this team was capable of doing it. Over the last seasons, it’s proven that it needs some more quality brought in and if they could do that I think they could be challenging for the title. Obviously you want to be up there for the whole season but I think if you are up there come April, then you get the sense that you’re really in the title race and that’s where Arsenal need to be.
The problem that Arsenal are going to have, even if they start doing well, is that everyone is going to expect things to go wrong in February. The only way to stop this is to have a season where you challenge for the title, you are there all season and you go really close. The issue at the moment is there is so much uncertainty surrounding so many of Arsenal’s players. Going into a season, you have to believe your squad has been strengthened if you are really going to better your achievements of the previous season.
Emmanuel Petit recently said he’s frustrated seeing the lack of fight and lack of battle from the Arsenal team and that Laurent Koscielny is the only warrior in the Arsenal squad who reminds him of the intensity of the Arsenal team he played in. Would you agree with that?
My honest opinion is that the game has changed. I do understand what Manu says in that sometimes it feels like, when it starts to go wrong for Arsenal in the game, they can struggle with the situation. You need players around you, not just the captain, to be able to galvanise the team and hold it together. Usually in today’s team, they’ll put their heads down, they won’t look at each other.
I hope if the performance is below par, the players don’t accept it. I’ve been in the dressing room on many occasions where the players are pushing and shoving each other. That was 15 years ago and I’m not sure the players are educated the same way today, but it shows the passion they have for the football club that they’re not willing to accept defeat. You want to see that when your team are losing, they are going to do everything they can to make sure they can pull the game around and sometimes when you look at the players, you don’t get that real belief.
Neal Ardley has made a few signings this summer at your first club AFC Wimbledon. They clearly want to push on in League One, what’s your assessment of where the club is heading?
They’re doing tremendously well. Over the years, I’ve been so frustrated with what’s happened with Wimbledon. This might be controversial, but for a long time I felt like the club I played for doesn’t exist after the MK Dons was formed. I was so disappointed when they moved out of the area and up to Milton Keynes.
The new club have done amazingly well to regroup and establish themselves back in the league. Whether they can repeat the achievements of the team of the 1980s and get to the top flight and latter stages of the FA Cup, I’m not sure. But they have a great group of players at the club currently and I’m sure they’ll have another good tilt at the league this season.
The Government have recently said they won’t make Wimbledon Stadium a listed building, so that’s another hurdle cleared for Wimbledon to return to Plough Lane. How big a deal do you think that could be for the club?
I’ve said all along that they have to get back into that borough as that is their spiritual home. That is where everything started for the club and if they could get back there, with a new stadium and a full house, it would be massive for the club and area. The new stadium could be a real platform for them to go on to the next level beyond League One.
You finished your career at West Ham, playing under Harry Redknapp for one season. Were you surprised he went back into full management at the age of 70?
I think it’s like a drug to Harry, he just can’t stay away. I wasn’t surprised to see him go back – having worked with Harry I know what a big part of his life football is. He has a massive passion. When you have been out of it for a while, you sometimes wonder, particularly at his age, if he can get back in. I always thought someone would take a chance on Harry and Birmingham City have. He’s kept them up, he’ll want money to spend and that’s what Birmingham have clearly promised Harry. Am I surprised he’s back in? Not at all.
Aaron Cresswell, a full-back at West Ham, what do you think of his chances of joining the England World Cup squad and going to Russia?
The fact that he’s been in the squad previously will give him a real lift. He’ll now know that he needs to make sure that his performances at West Ham are consistently high and if he ensures that, he will start to believe that he has a fantastic chance of getting in to the squad. He might be thinking he is currently third choice behind Danny Rose and Ryan Bertrand, but with injuries and the form of others, third choice can turn into first or second. It’s about getting the opportunity to show yourself at international level. I regret that in my own career, I never really forced my way into the England set-up on a consistent basis. It’s a challenge for Aaron as left-back is a pretty strong position for England.
West Ham are making their traditional pre season trip to Austria and Arsenal will go to China and Australia. What do you make of these far away and long pre-season tours compared to what you did as a player?
It’s all very commercial nowadays. The Premier League is now worldwide, people all over the world want the opportunity to see Premier League teams live and there is a huge amount of money to be made. With the sponsorship opportunities that are available out there, it is no surprise to me to see clubs travelling these distances.
The biggest change I have seen from my era in today’s game is pre-season. We used to play a non-league team, work our way up the leagues and then build towards a Charity Shield as our toughest pre-season game. Now you have Arsenal playing Chelsea and Bayern Munich before the start of the regular season. It has changed beyond all recognition.
Reece Oxford has been sent out on loan to Borussia Monchengladbach and people are saying West Ham are giving up their reputation as ‘The Academy’. Do you think it is a good move for him?
I think you need a competitive edge, that brings out the best in players, it shows the manager that you can deal with certain situations. I think ideally people would like Reece to be in the West Ham squad but if that’s not going to happen, you would go out on loan and educate yourself in terms of form, in terms of different styles of play.
As I said before, I see a lot of similarities between the Bundesliga and the Premiership. If Reece is going to get game time, experience a new culture and way of training etc, then I think it’s a good thing and I don’t see anything wrong with it.
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