A Gooners point of view
Tim Stillman - from Vital Arsenal answers some questions ahead of the Pompey v Arsenal game this Wednesday.
Are you happy with how your season is going so far?
I'm quietly happy with how the season's going, we're still in the title picture despite looking dead and buried after the Chelsea game. Our Champions League group was an absolute syntch. It's disappointing we've lost to teams like United, City and Chelsea, but those teams are losing some dodgy fixtures too. The Premiership is looking increasingly like a tallest dwarf competition this year. We tend to finish seasons strongly and after a nightmarish January fixture list, we have a pretty good run of winnable games from February onwards.
You are always a joy to watch, so apart from Pompey and England - who clearly play a similar style of football! - you are the only other side that I think I would willingly part with my money to watch. How has Arsene Wenger managed to keep churning out sides that can entertain so much?
A phrase you will always hear from Arsene when we're not playing well is that he wants us to get back to "playing the game we love." Wenger is an idealist and realises that football exists primarily to entertain and bring together the people that watch it. Football was founded as the working man's game and I think Arsene realises that most working men go to football to escape the humdrum of every day existence and want to see something special, like a ballet for the working man. The reason he can keep churning out such entertaining sides is because a) he has one hell of an eye for a player and knows who will fit into and relish our style of play. Arsene might be a pragmatist, but he knows if the players enjoy the game, it'll get results. Kolo Toure came on at Stamford Bridge for his debut in 2002. He won Man of the Match and scored the equaliser when we were down to ten men. When Sky asked him what Arsene said to him to inspire him to make such an eye catching debut, Kolo said, "He just told me to enjoy myself." The second reason is that the manager is a perfectionist and drills his team relentlessly on the training ground. It gets to the stage where Arsenal sign a player and us Gooners look at each other and say, "Yeah, he's a real Arsenal style player."
Would you take guaranteed success over entertainment value for money though? Either way you will make the top 4 again, at least, right?
People always ask Arsenal fans that like it's a choice that must be made, it's endemic in the English way of thinking. It's too simplistic to say we haven't won a trophy for four years because we don't play kick and rush. I don't see that there's a choice to be made, Arsenal play great football and have been very successful doing it under Wenger and will be successful again doing it under Wenger. I'm confident we'll be in the top 4 again this year.
Are the club treating the fans well, or are they fleecing you?
Arsenal aren't unique in treating their supporters as consumers, the game has changed now. There isn't a fan in the world that wouldn't like to see lower ticket prices, free coach travel to all away games etc, etc. But nobody forces us to pay the prices. I think at the moment the club has struck a good balance between running a good business and treating its fans well. Certainly since Gazidis has come in, he has been a much more visible presence than Keith Edelman ever was. For instance, he listened to the fans concerns that the Emirates, whilst a great stadium, was too impersonal. So he's ploughed a lot of his time and effort into the 'Arsenalisation' project. You will be aware that Pompey have a wall outside the stadium with drawings and murals of great players. Arsenal have done something similar inside the stadium, erecting pictures of seminal moments in the club's history and projecting pictures of legendary players on the walls outside the stadium and the effect is awe inspiring. As far as any Premiership club can be friendly in the "greed is good" league, I'm happy with Arsenal's conduct just now. I'd hope a likely change of ownership in the near future wouldn't tarnish that.
Who do you think was your best summer signing and why? Although you did not make many did you?
Well we only made the one major summer signing, so slim pickings here! But what a signing it's been. Vermaelen has been a revelation in our defence, the sort of defender we've missed since Senderos' early years of promise. A guy who just loves defending and putting his body on the line, he's technically astute too and has a bit of leadership about him that we've also been missing for a few years. He's good for a goal or two as well! Gallas is playing his best stuff in an Arsenal shirt alongside him, the two compliment one another incredibly well with Billy's experience and positional sense and Vermaelen's graft. Gooners wake up in a cold sweat considering our prospects were that partnership to be broken up for a sustained period. As it stands, they've started every Premiership match together.
Could you have done with more arrivals - if so in which areas and maybe even who? Will those you want come in January?
At Arsenal, you come to accept a plethora of injuries as a way of life. A bit like income tax, you accept it but you don't quite understand it! With van Persie crocked it looks as though a striker may arrive in January. I still think we're a little light in the defensive midfield position, Song will be off to the African Nations soon and Denilson is literally the only other defensive midfielder we have. If both of those were to get injured, the next choice is Craig Eastmond, who played at right back in the U-18s last season!
What were your expectations, or hopes before the season kicked-off? Have they changed since?
I felt we would finish 3rd and I still think that now. We're still in the title race, though I still feel we're a little short to win it just yet. Personally, a good stab at the title, staying in the mix until the end and a Cup would represent an excellent season for me and signs of real progress. If you offered me the Champions League now, I think I wouldn't so much bite your hand off as maul your entire arm clean off your body.
What about Pompey, what do you think we should expect or hope for? I would imagine most will say 'survival' now!
Yep, I'm sure you'd all take 17th place now. I thought you were dead and buried at the start due to the farcical goings on behind the scenes at the club. I couldn't believe the board had the nerve to tie Paul Hart's hands clean behind his back and then sack him due to the constraints they placed on him through their own incompetence. That said, you appear to have picked up form, Piquionne has caught my eye and I think he's beginning to adapt. In Grant, you have a very good coach who was a penalty kick away from being a Champions League winner. I wouldn't be surprised to see you pull it out of the bag. Perhaps you should get Pedro Mendes back in on loan in January? In any case, I genuinely hope you don't go down as I think you offer the league more than the likes of Blackburn and Bolton.
Who is the real danger man that Pompey need to watch?
We still don't know if Fabregas will be fit, van Persie won't be. So it would have to be the third musketeer. Arsenal has three genuinely world class attacking players that would walk into most sides in the world. RvP and Fabregas might not make it, but if he's still fit for the 30th (not exactly a given at Arsenal) then it has to be Arshavin. The boy's a genuine match winner. He has a bit of Bergkamp about him in that he can frustrate the hell out of you, ambling along doing precisely sod all and just as you mouth the words, "sub him" he'll beat three players and smash one in the top corner from thirty yards. He wins matches with single handed moments of brilliance and his movement is something else, a real thinking man's footballer. The only player in the Premiership who can stop Arshavin playing is Arshavin.
If you could take any Pompey player and put him in your squad who would it be and why? Although I doubt you would want any of our 'superstars!'
If you'd have asked five or six years ago then Niemi and Bouba Diop might have made it onto my list. As I've mentioned, I like the look of the boy Piquionne. I think he's got quick, clever movement and he appears to have worked on his finishing a fair bit since he came over here. When you guys played us at the Emirates, he was finding space between the centre halves and the full backs. Unfortunately, Pompey didn't have enough creative presence on that day to pick him out.
Is there anyone that you would like to send Pompey's way?
At the moment, there is nobody in our squad that I would be desperate to get rid of. Diaby frustrates the hell out of me, but that's only because I know there's real talent in there but he has yet to find any consistency. The phrase "from the sublime to the ridiculous" was coined with him in mind. You never get a 7 out of 10 with him, it's always 0 or 10. That said, the last two matches he has been our outstanding player and I am not ready to give up on him. Wenger clearly likes him and sees the potential for consistency there and that's good enough for me.
Go on, who's going to win the final match of the noughties between these sides?
We're playing you at a bad time, you appear to have picked up a bit of form and, bar one F.A. Cup game a few years back and last season's dead rubber, we've never had an easy time at Fratton Park. But I'm going with Arsenal to nick it by the odd goal. Christmas is a busy period and sides at the bottom tend to prioritise fixtures. I think it will depend on the Boxing Day results, if you guys beat West Ham you might not consider this as make or break. But as ever, I look forward to coming to Fratton Park on the 30th and hope it's a terrific game and a great atmosphere.
Best of luck for the rest of the season. LD.
Questions answered by Tim Stillman from Vital Arsenal.
Look out for mine over on Vital Arsenal anytime now!
PLAY UP POMPEY!