The latest review of the week is given over mostly to the thoughts of Anthony Oliveri*. He’s the staunch Gooner who came here after being asked at short notice to cover for the man who had promised to field our questions ahead of today’s game but then went absent with leave (retrospectively granted because he’d suffered a trapped nerve in the shoulder). “Ant” believes Arsenal or Sunderland will win the FA Cup and says SuperKev would have done well as a Gunner …
“His influence on English football has been immense and if he left tomorrow morning he would be considered Arsenal’s greatest-ever manager.” That was a view expressed yesterday by Martin O’Neill on the Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger, under fire for failing to make each game a formality.
And while Anthony has not added here to his views on Wenger since the 4-0 drubbing in Milan, those he expressed beforehand were closer to O’Neill’s than to many we’ve seen from whingeing Gooners who want Wenger out.
As a treat for Arsenal’s away support heading north today for the FA Cup 5th round tie, and having access to the internet, and for Sunderland fans who appreciate a good read with a supporter of the opposing side, here are the highlights of Anthony’s interview:
Salut! Sunderland: so Arsenal are one up on the SAFC v AFC games. What did you make of the first and in what way will the cup tie differ? Question posed before AC Milan 4 Arsenal 0!
FA Cup ties are always exciting. I think both clubs will be desperate to get through to the next round and after last weekend’s very tight game the Sunderland players will be looking for a bit of instant revenge. From an Arsenal point of view, we need to totally forget Saturday’s win. Martin O’Neill’s gameplan was working well and he will stick with that tactic, letting us have possession without too much penetration. We were fortunate to win 2-1 and both sets of players will know that so it will be interesting to see if that affects either side in any way. A determining factor for me could be our away trip to Milan in the Champions League on Wednesday night (ah, Ant, but now we know, in what way determining – ed?). Will the players be up for their 3rd big game in a week? Will they be fit? You’d hope to think so but with a rested Sunderland side eager for some quick retribution it will certainly be a tight affair.
Does hammering Blackburn 7-1 and then beating us mean you’ve finally turned the corner or is there still a lot of work to be done?
Arsène Wenger was right when he said that the injured players returning to the side would make us a much more complete outfit. The team showed a lot of character at The SOL at the weekend and there seems to be a much needed team spirit flowing through the club once again. I would like to think we have turned the corner but we have a tough few weeks ahead of us.
Clemency Burton-Hill, who answered our questions as an Arsenal supporter before the Premier game, adores Arsène Wenger but feels the time has finally come for him to go. Where do you stand on this?
I agree with Clemency in her adoration for Arsène Wenger but I’m afraid I have to disagree when it comes to him leaving the club. Arsène has not only changed Arsenal Football Club but football in this country in general. I recently met Perry Groves and he told me the drinking culture at the club was much worse than was actually reported but Arsène came in and completely turned things around. His philosophy is that as soon as one game is finished, the players must start to prepare for the next one and his preparation does not include sitting in the pub for the rest of the evening. Football players are no longer just football players, they are athletes. I wrote a letter to Arsène Wenger at the beginning of the season when he seemed to be under constant criticism from outside the club http://bit.ly/y7qkQc . There is no doubt he can be a stubborn man at times but that is all part of the character that makes him such a great manager. He has showed us tremendous loyalty over the years, rejecting approaches from Real Madrid and England, to name but a few, and I think it is time we repaid that loyalty by getting right behind him and the players.
What were your minimum and maximum expectations as the season began?
For me, the minimum was always fourth spot. I am a firm believer that the consecutive years we have had in the Champions League under Arsène Wenger are an achievement in themselves. I know many Arsenal fans who would criticise me for that but sometimes fans forget that there are only 3-4 trophies up for grabs each year. The Premier League has at least six serious challengers now, the FA Cup and Carling Cup have become increasingly competitive over the last couple of seasons and The Champions League gets stronger with each passing year. It would be nice to catch Spurs in third but I am not greedy and it would just be nice to secure fourth.
Was it a mistake, or a hugely symbolic coup, to bring back Thierry Henry with his best years clearly behind him? This question was posed before he broke our hearts on Saturday.
It could never be a mistake. The man is a Legend at Arsenal and the passion felt for him by the fans in my opinion is unrivalled. The Emirates Stadium is practically held up by Thierry Henry memorabilia and I have had a little chuckle about the fact that quite a large amount of money will have to be spent updating all the stats engraved and embossed all round the stadium. There was a moment during the recent Blackburn game when The King looked down at his legs and almost screamed at them because they could not quite keep up with his brain. Unfortunately, age will eventually catch up with all of us. I’ve loved having him back and most importantly, so have the players. He is an inspiration to many and he can only ever be a good thing for Arsenal.
What are your thoughts on the North East, and on SAFC (and NUFC if you must)?
The North East has always been stereotyped for its great nights out and its passion for the game of football. Unfortunately I can’t vouch for the nights out as I have never had the chance but I am more than aware of the areas passion for football. For me, Twitter has been the key to understanding this passion. Sunderland fans in particular are very vocal on Twitter and I always find them interesting and knowledgeable about their team. It is always nice to converse with fans that just love the game of football and are passionate about their team without feeling the need to abuse or disrespect their rivals.
Who are the greatest players you have seen in Arsenal colours, or would have liked to see, and who should never have been allowed to wear them?
It has to be Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp. Both of them have done things during games that you had to see again to believe they happened. The goal Dennis scored against Newcastle when he successfully completed the most outrageous flick around the defender Nikos Dabizas and then finished past Shay Given, is a goal I have never seen before and firmly believe we will never see again. I also loved having Gilberto Silva at our club. He was so under-rated and I think we sold him at least a season too early. I must say I would have loved us to have got Luka Modric. We were linked with him before he went to Spurs and he has been a massive player for Spurs since his arrival. Rumour has it we didn’t want him because he was too short for the middle of the park… Never mind!
I can’t really pick any former Arsenal player that I despised enough to say I wished he’d never worn an Arsenal shirt. Igor Stepanovs was terrible and Francis Jeffers was pretty bad too. Jeffers thought he had made it just signing for Arsenal when in reality he never really had the right attitude to succeed at the club. I certainly do not despise him but Nicklas Bendtner is a player that does not realise how lucky he is to be a professional footballer. He promises so much but delivers very little and the Sunderland fans will be aware of that by now. If he gets a chance to pull on an Arsenal shirt again, I’d hope to see much more from him. There is talent in there somewhere but perhaps not as much as Mr Bendtner would like to think.
Whimsical question: Kevin Phillips was a boyhood Arsenal supporter. Would he have succeeded at your club?
Totally! Kevin Phillips is still proving now what a natural finisher he is. Let’s be honest, Kevin, alongside higher profile players such as David Beckham and Ryan Giggs, have made so much money in the game that they could easily retire and live out the rest of their days very comfortably. They play on purely for the love of the game. I also believe Kevin could still do a job in the Premier League.
And what has been your personal high, and your low, of supporting the club?
I have been lucky to not have experienced many lows in the 20ish years that I have supported the club but one that is still very fresh in my mind is the Carling Cup final defeat to Birmingham last season. No game is ever an easy one but I don’t think I was alone in expecting an Arsenal win. Some people will say it was only the Carling Cup but I believe winning that trophy would have inspired us on to greater things last season.
Another low is also one of my highs as an Arsenal fan. The Champions League Final 2006. People may think it strange but I was immensely proud to be an Arsenal fan that night. Sure, it hurt like no other but after having our goalkeeper Jens Lehmann sent off less than 20 minutes in we still managed to take the lead through Sol Campbell and were 14 minutes away from the greatest prize in club football. We had also overcome Real Madrid, Juventus and Villarreal on the way so it is something I will always be proud of. Of course, it was also fantastic being the The Invincibles!
Do you accept that your great rivals, Spurs are the more likely North London club to challenge for the title or at least top three?
Unfortunately, I would have to say yes. I think it will be tough to catch them for ourselves or the other teams around us so 3rd place is theirs. Some of the football they have played this season has been outstanding and dare I say it, reminiscent of Arsenal a few years ago. However, I do not think they will challenge for the title and they will eventually slip away from the two Manchester clubs in the final quarter of the season. As you can imagine, the Spuds, as they are not so affectionately known by The Arsenal, have been very vocal about being above us but I won’t be taking them seriously until they can do it on a regular basis. I also think that they are still very much a selling club and we will see the departure of Modric and possibly Bale at the end of the season.
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What will be the top four, in order, this season and who will go down? And who do you tip for the major trophies?
Man Utd, Man City, Tottenham, Arsenal.
FA Cup – I genuinely believe that the winner of our game on Saturday will go on to win it.
Carling Cup – I can’t see Cardiff having enough to stop Liverpool.
For relegation, after just hearing the news of Mick McCarthy’s sacking, I think Wolves will be one of the three teams to go down as I can’t help thinking that it is a bad decision from the Wolves board. I also have a feeling that Bolton and QPR may be the other teams. I like QPR and I admire Tony Fernandes’ honesty about the club but I can’t help thinking that Mark Hughes is the wrong man for the job. His attitude towards Fulham when he left and his constant murmurings about managing a so called top 4 club will hinder not help QPR as they get dragged towards the relegation zone. Blackburn will have enough with Yakubu’s goals and Roberto Martinez always waves his magic wand to help Wigan escape so unfortunately, for me, its Bolton, QPR and Wolves.
What single step should the football authorities, or Arsenal FC, take to improve the lot of the ordinary supporter?
It’s hard to know. Football has become big business over the last decade and it has become increasingly difficult to follow our clubs. My season ticket at Arsenal is just under £1000 although that is one of the cheaper options and my Season Ticket at Southend is £350 for an adult and child ticket. Even after the cost of your ticket, football is still expensive, with the cost of travel, refreshments, a programme etc all adding up. I’m not sure there is anything the football authorities could do but the clubs have a responsibility to ensure the fans are getting the best value for money they can, on and off the pitch. Despite the criticism we get at Arsenal, the cost of my Season Ticket, with 19 league games and 8 cup games included in the price, the actual cost for each game is £37. In my opinion, that is great value for money.
I guess the most annoying expense is the constant change of kit design. A lot of teams have 3 kits now and they change fairly regularly too. An adult top costs £40-45 and a child’s one is around £30-35 so they are not particularly cheap. Perhaps the clubs could help to bring the cost of the shirts down or just stop changing them so frequently.
How will you follow the cup game and what will be the score?
I do have a ticket for the cup game but I did not realise my little girl has her first ballet show this Saturday evening so although I should be able to watch the 1st half of the game on TV, I will have to follow the rest “secretly” on my phone. I think it will be another tight game and I’m predicting a 1-1 draw. Hopefully I will be able to stifle any cheers or groans as I’m sure they will not go down too well during the ballet performance.
* Anthony Oliveri on Anthony Oliveri
“An Arsenal fan for just under 20 years and run a general football website with a close friend; it’s called www.WeAreTrueFans.com