The latest international break has come to an end, with the final games having taken place yesterday evening. To help re-focus on the football that really matters, The Arsenal, I caught up with my North Bank neighbour of 20 years and regular blogger / contributor for The Gooner, That Simon Rose…
1. Simon, before we start to discuss this season’s events, I’ll start as I always do by asking when and why it was The Arsenal for you.
I come from a long line of Arsenal supporters. My Dad was from Hoxton and my Mum from Dalston. I knew from a young age that we were Arsenal supporters, that it was a basic part of our identity, well before I knew what Arsenal was or meant. I was taught Arsenal by my family. We are so lucky, Arsenal is a magnificent club. Like I often say to my boys, “Not everyone supports The Arsenal, but secretly they all wish they did”.
2. They certainly do! You’ve been fortunate enough to witness many great moments and players in your time supporting The Arsenal; if you had to pick one magic moment and one magic player, what and who would they be and why?
The moment has to be Anfield ‘89. I re-live it every day, how can you not? I was confident we’d win 2-0, even saying to my disbelieving Dad, while Richardson was down with cramp, “I wonder who’s going to score the second goal?”. Former Liverpool captain Emlyn Hughes wrote in ‘Match’ magazine, in August ‘88, that Arsenal didn’t have what it took to win games in the 90th minute, like champions do. Oh well. As for a player, I always find it hard to pick one sole Arsenal player. Thierry Henry was a majestic goal scoring beast, but you’d take one man first every time; Tony Adams.
3. Some great memories. Bringing it back to the current day, how do you think this current squad of players compares to those of years gone by, both Wenger and non-Wenger teams?
This team cannot compare to past successful Arsenal teams unless it wins something, but for the first time in years it has that ‘look’ to it. Now we have to harness it, for the whole season. It’s a tough ask, but that’s what it takes. What helps is that we’re showing the basic core value that you know I always ask for: hit teams early. Early crosses, early shots, hit teams with pace from the off. When you have pace of mind and pace of action there is little answer to it and little substitute for it.
4. Now we have exited the latest mind numbingly dull international break, and are ready to re-focus, let’s take a moment to assess the season so far; what are your thoughts on how things are going?
You can sign players at any time in the summer and I tried hard to stay patient through basic deadlines, like pre-season training starting and the first day of the season, but it was inexcusable not to be ready for the season to begin, leaving us ransacked by Aston Villa. Bizarrely, Arsenal seem to need humiliating whacks up the buttocks to click; and boy have we clicked since. But as George Graham used to say, “It’s a marathon not a sprint”. Are we a title challenger, or just the pacemaker?
5. You mentioned signings; there’s of course been a lot of the talk has been about the impact of Mesut Özil, both on and off the pitch, but other members of the squad have played just as important roles, with Ramsey being the stand out player?
Özil is clearly a huge catalyst, for what he does directly himself and for how he has indirectly given his teammates validation of their own talents, giving them licence to blossom. Özil, as one uber-talent, has transformed Arsenal from introverts to extroverts. Özil and Cazorla together for a sustained run could literally beat most teams. Ramsey’s current hyper-emergence is an astounding consequence of ‘the Özil effect’. It annoyed me last season how some home Arsenal fans barracked Ramsey, despite his clear need to re-settle, post-injury. For me, Ramsey needed to be afforded a restful summer and an injury-free pre-season, then we’d see what a fit Ramsey could do this season and judge him next summer. The outcome, partly enhanced by Özil, is breathtaking and at an unexpected height.
6. We return this weekend with Norwich at home, and then on the horizon are a few really tough challenges coming up, with the run of games against Liverpool at home, Dortmund away, and United away in early November really standing out. How do you think we’ll fare?
When you can’t handle matches, big or otherwise, you don’t want to play anybody. Like when we had no choice but to play Villa or United for the 8-2. We weren’t ready. But when you have form and quality, you don’t care who you play, or where. If we are still a form and quality team heading into that tough run we will relish those games and show what we’ve got. There is something special about playing big matches with no fear, when you know you expect to win them.
7. Do you therefore think our performances between now and January will shape Arsene’s January transfer plans, or do you think he’ll be in the market regardless?
Before we signed Özil many thought we needed several key signings; now many feel that a significant striker might be all we need. I would still like a strong keeper as I’m not sure we have one to handle late-season pressure, but if nothing else a strong striker remains vital, for cover, for variation, for goals. Wenger must surely know this better than anyone else. Goals win matches; there is no substitute for that.
8. Finally Simon, with that in mind, do you think the squad (as it currently stands) can challenge for the title this season, and perhaps win our first trophy of the Emirates era, or do you think it’s dependant on some winter signings?
This squad clearly has something; we just don’t know what it is yet. I don’t know why, but shortly after Özil’s first game I felt we’d win the League Cup this season, that we’d slowly filter in the better players and Özil would help us over that 9-year line. Perhaps as Arsenal tend to need the catalyst of winning a small trophy before landing a big one. Can we just go from here and win the title? Yes, or do we need to validate ourselves first by winning the League Cup? Possibly, and it certainly wouldn’t hurt. For the title, we are currently the best contenders. City are a bit random, Mourinho could make or ruin Chelsea, and United have lost their glue (Ferguson). Damn, we might actually do this!
I’d like to thank Simon for his time. As mentioned in opening, Simon and I have been North Bank neighbours for 20 years. He is a voice of reason, with his mantra of #38GameSeason becoming widely known on twitter (you can follow Simon at @ThatSimonRose). Simon is a regular blogger / contributor for The Gooner fanzine, so be sure to also read his wise words, and always insightful thoughts, either at Online Gooner or in the printed / tablet versions.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the two Q&A sessions during these internationals? I know I have, so thanks again to both Goonerholic and Simon. But it’s time to re-focus now. The Arsenal are back this weekend, at home to Norwich. Here’s hoping we remain top of the league. Up The Arsenal.