I’m pleased to say that here at ‘That Sums It All Up’ we’re continuing the international break theme of having a Q&A session. On this occasion I had the pleasure of interviewing Tim Stillman (@LittleDutchVA), who many of you will know as he’s a constant attendant at Arsenal games (home, away, ladies and youth) and of course from his fine work writing for Vital Arsenal and as a columnist for Arseblog. Here’s what Tim had to say…
1. Tim, I’ll start as I always do by asking when and why was it The Arsenal for you?
It would have been about late 1990 that I made the choice to support Arsenal. My family is a pretty even split between Arsenal and Spurs so it was always going to be one of the two. I have a real football family (my grandfather was chairman of Wycombe Wanderers back in the dim and distant past, when they were a middling non-league side), but my interest really developed by playing. I played on the wing and what swung it for me was that Arsenal had Rocastle, Merson and Limpar at that stage.
It will sound slightly absurd to some to hear somebody say that the flair of George Graham’s Arsenal was enough to captivate a small child’s imagination, but it’s the truth. Paul Gascoigne was at Spurs at the time and his presence in that Spurs team made the choice a difficult one, I’ve no trouble admitting that. But rumours had already started that he was going to move to Italy and I figured that, though Spurs had one flair player, Arsenal had 3 that I really identified with. Obviously I am pleased with my choice.
2. We’ve been fortunate to witness many great moments and players supporting The Arsenal. If you had to pick one magic moment and one magic player what and who would they be and why?
My one game would be at Old Trafford in 2002, which was so special. But if you’re after a moment, it would have to be Jens Lehmann’s penalty save against Villarreal. We’d had a pretty awful trip to Spain, our flight was dreadful, everything was closed by the time we hit Valencia and we only just got into the ground in time for kick-off.
The game was so tense and Arsenal played so badly and it looked like we’d fluke our way through when the referee gives an incredibly soft penalty and you think that you probably should have taken the hint when the flight was delayed due to an overheated engine. It simply didn’t occur to me that Riquelme would miss, it all felt like such a formality. When Lehmann made that save I was a little unprepared for the jostle that followed in the crowd, but it was delirium. A real explosion of joy and relief all in one.
As for a magic player, it just has to be Limpar. He was really the only regular foreign player we had at the time, so he was a bit exotic. Like all creative geniuses, he was a bit languid, a bit lazy, a bit scruffy but capable of magic with a flick of his boot. You can see why Graham fell out with him! He had everything an 8 or 9-year-old boy wants to see in a footballer and he’ll always be my favourite. But I have to mention Fabregas too. I think he was superhuman. I’m not into the bitterness over his departure, he was a fabulous player who gave everything in every single game, I could never feel anything but warmth towards him.
3. Bringing things back to this season. We’re top of the league by two points and top of our Champions League group, so overall not too many causes for complaint?
I think we’d have all taken this prior to the Aston Villa game, let alone after it. Things have been going nicely and there seems to be a nice chemistry in this squad, there’s a few leaders in it. We’ve had some questionable personalities in recent years, but this seems like a strong group. Özil has been a little sprinkle of star-dust, but I’m just delighted to see the progression in the likes of Gibbs, Ramsey and Szczesny.
I would like to see us compete this year and be a force, even if we don’t win anything. I want us to have back-to-back fixtures in three different competitions in March and afterwards again. If we can do that then I think we’ve got a really solid basis to be a regular fixture in the title race for the next few years too.
4. A lot of people said our recent back-to-back fixtures against Liverpool, Dortmund, and United would provide a truer picture of our credentials. Do you think we’ve learnt anything new from the performances or results?
Yes I think we’ve learned that nobody will get anything from Arsenal for free anymore. We’ve faced some of the best attacking players in Europe in that period and conceded one goal to a set piece (our only set piece concession this season). We haven’t allowed any of those sides to create many chances. There was a time not long ago when teams could play Arsenal, have around 30-35% of the ball, manage 2 shots and still get a draw or a win off of us. This is why we’re so consistent against lower sides in 2013, we don’t give anything away now. The midfielders defend properly and the back 5 is a unit.
We have also learned we probably need just one more spark in attack. Of course we’ve missed Walcott, Chamberlain and Podolski and Gnabry’s fitness has fluctuated. But I think we all already knew we need another centre forward. What we know is that Arsenal have a very solid basis to go on and challenge for the big trophies this year.
5. Arsene said an international break is never ideal after defeat as he’s eager to play again and win as quickly as possible. But following a tough run of games and given our current injury list and virus stricken squad is this one perhaps timed a little better than others?
Yes I think this one is well-timed as it goes. It’s only really the French players that have games of any sort of intensity and if it gives us a chance to work on the fitness of Walcott and Podolski, who aren’t far from their comebacks, all the better. We looked quite tired in the United game and I don’t think the bug that swept through the camp helped. I think this is as good a time as any to regroup. Southampton is a tricky game once we come back, but they’ve lost a few players to the international break too.
6. Most fans, me included, have little time or interest for international football, but I know your views are somewhat different following a recent visit to Brazil?
Yes it’s been quite an interesting experience. I don’t really care much for the England team. I don’t really feel like I have ‘room’ for them I guess and I have to be honest, it’s largely the press furore that follows England games that just gives me a headache I could do without. It’s by no means utopian in Brazil, but the national side is held in more regard there. Brazil have always produced great players and are amongst the favourites for every tournament they enter, so it’s probably easier for Brazilian people to have an affinity with them for those reasons as well.
It’s also political because the CBF is very powerful in Brazil so they can assert dominance in a way the F.A. here just cannot over the Premier League. I watch Brazil more than I watch England largely because my girlfriend is Brazilian and is passionate about Seleção. They have quite a good togetherness in the team since Scolari took over and I fancy them to win the World Cup next summer.
It’s an interesting time for Brazil, who are making the leap really from a second world to a first world nation and that’s reflected in football. You had the protests during the Confederations Cup which will certainly continue next summer. The players in the domestic league are taking affirmative protest action about the football calendar, which will have them playing for 11 months next year on the back of a 4 week hiatus. This week players in the league games refused to contest the first 30 seconds of the match and stood with their arms crossed as a sign of protest. There’s something stirring over there.
7. And for those who crave some Arsenal action during international breaks there are the options of our Academy sides and Arsenal Ladies. I know you regularly attend both and actively encourage others to show their support too?
Yes certainly. I was taught from a very young age that Arsenal is not just a team, it is a club, a community. That means you embrace everything that comes with it. The youths, the Ladies, the supporters as a unit, the staff. The club is part of my family and intrinsic in my upbringing so I view it as a family, however glib that sounds. That means I love it and sometimes it annoys me because you see all of its good and bad parts in technicolour.
The Ladies side is something I’m particularly passionate about. People complain about football’s loss of soul (myself included) and here you have an Arsenal team that wins trophies year after year, that works incredibly hard and does so with only amateur status. Those girls have jobs on top of playing for Arsenal and what they achieve every year is incredible. A lot of people think I’m just trying to be PC but that’s not really it, I really enjoy women’s football because I’ve watched it for a long time and I appreciate the differences from the men’s game. I don’t wish to sound preachy because it’s not up to me what people like, but I think more people would enjoy it if they gave it a chance.
8. Returning to first team matters, action will resume with the visit of Southampton who are flying high and conceding very few goals. Is it an exaggeration to describe it as must win, to respond to the United defeat?
If you’re serious about being in the title race, every game is a must win. Southampton have been excellent this season and we know we won’t roll them over. They, like us, have a good solid spine with a sprinkling of good character and flair in the side. For a team like Southampton to have only conceded four goals this season is exceptional. We certainly won’t win 6-1 like we did last season.
But yes the response factor is a big one too. We also play Chelsea, Everton and Manchester City in December and it’s important we build up a bank of points because it’s unlikely we’ll take nine points from those three. We gave ourselves room for the defeat at Old Trafford by winning winnable games and we have to continue on that basis.
9. Finally Tim, I try my best to focus on ‘one game at a time’, but I can’t help noticing the busy festive period includes fixtures against Everton, Napoli, Man City, and Chelsea (as you’ve just touched upon). So do you think results and performances between now and December 31st will determine our January transfer activities? Or do you think we’ll be active in the market regardless, to help strengthen our title challenge?
I would like to think we will be active regardless because we absolutely need a striker. I know they are hard to find in January but that’s the price you pay for not pulling the trigger in the summer. I wonder if we’ll look for a loan deal because I still think Wenger has some cash earmarked for a box office centre forward and they don’t tend to trade clubs in January.
I think Demba Ba on loan would have been ideal but that ship has probably sailed. I heard rumours about Llorente on loan but I’m not sure how likely that is. It’s tricky because if the manager wants to buy a £30m+ quality of striker in the long-term, he’s probably not going to get that in January and he won’t want to spend £10-15m on the next level down. I do wonder if he just considers Podolski our second choice centre forward.
We haven’t had many injuries at centre half over the last 18 months but we’re light there. I hope we don’t get influenced too heavily by results, we need to be proactive. We could win every single game in December and January, but if we lose Giroud and two centre halves to long-term injuries then we’re in trouble regardless of how well we are playing.
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I’d like to say a big thank you to Tim for taking the time and effort to participate in our latest international break Q&A session. I’m a big fan of Tim’s work over at Vital Arsenal and Arseblog so it’s an honour to have him contribute here at ‘That Sums It All Up’. I’m sure you all follow Tim on twitter (@LittleDutchVA) and his work on the aforementioned sites, but in case you don’t be sure to add them to your favourites; they’re always an excellent read!
The final games of this international window take place over the coming days and then all eyes return to The Arsenal with Saturday’s visit of Southampton. Until then, take care and up The Arsenal.