The allegiance of our second Arsenal ‘Who are You?’ interviewee of the season is the product of boyhood rebellion. With a name like Sixsmith, you’d naturally expect him to grow up Sunderland through and through. But Andy Sixsmith*, sports presenter for Made in Tyne and Wear TV, is not made of the same stuff as Uncle Pete, Uncle Phil or his old dad, Michael (not to mention a maternal Mag). Peering into a crystal ball as a lad, he clearly saw it coming and wanted nowt to do with our chronic misery. Uncle Pete nominated him for this slot so let’s see what he makes of the questions …
Salut! Sunderland: The more you look at the top of the Premier, the more anyone but a Leicester fan or out-and-out romantic sees it as a two-horse race between Arsenal and Man City. Your thoughts?
Andy Sixmsith: I hate to say it, as I love what’s been happening at Leicester this season, but the title is a two-horse race. A lot of people you may speak to hate the unpredictability of the Premier League as it stands, but I think it’s tremendous. Who wants to see the same old teams battling it out every year anyway?
Claudio Ranieri has done a magnificent job at the King Power, especially in his first season. Vardy & Mahrez have of course been sensational but N’Golo Kante has been the signing of the season for me. Sadly, they will drop off as the months wear on, but I still see a top six finish for the Foxes, which would be incredible.
As for the title, my heart says Arsenal. My head says City. Pellegrini’s men still have the likes of Kompany, Aguero and Silva to return to full fitness and in my eyes are more likely to string a few results together than a sometimes fragile Arsenal side. The regret for me is, that Arsenal will never have a better chance to win the Premier league and send Arsène Wenger out on a high, but I just can’t realistically see it.
But this is a cup game. You’re the holders but it sometimes seems Arsenal fans – those who feel it is and has been for a while time for a managerial change – disregard the FA Cup as meaningless. Has it lost its value for you?
For me, a trophy is a trophy. I’m the type of person who strongly believes that if you’re in it, you’re in it to win it, especially for a club of Arsenal’s history and pedigree. We have a rich history in the FA Cup, especially under Arsène and it’s a competition I’d love to see us win for a third consecutive time.
Having said that, there are many Arsenal fans that don’t see it the same way and I can partly understand that from the point of view that the FA Cup should be one of four trophies we should be in the mix for, with the squad that’s been assembled. I don’t think they devalue the Cup as such, but see it as the very least we should be winning when Arsène can field the eleven he can most weeks. That, I can understand and agree with, but for me, the FA Cup retains its importance and here’s to another win this season!
“One-nil, two-one, three-one and you still don’t sing”. I still have the Sunderland fans’ mocking chants ringing in my ears. What does it take to make the Emirates feel and sound like a football stadium and not a library?
We’re a strange bunch, Arsenal fans. Our home support is patchy. Our away support is arguably among the best in the league. I think the crowd noise at the Emirates is largely reflective of what we see on the pitch; you rarely see an Arsenal side at home dominate from start to finish, plenty of chances, plenty of goals. Once every now and again, but rarely. The team tend to dip in and out of matches and that feeds into the stands and the subsequent atmosphere.
So team performance is necessary, but as for the other reasons, I’m left scratching my head. I’ve always been brought up to loudly support any side I support, whether it be Arsenal or the Leeds Rhinos in rugby league (I had to get that in somewhere…) whether they win or lose. So to hear the Emirates as quiet as it is sometimes, is pretty disheartening!!
Ozil, Giroud, Sanchez .. thee list of current Arsenal quality is long and impressive but how do they compare with the Invincibles and other great Gunners of the past?
Individually, they’re right up there. The three you mention, particularly Ozil and Sanchez are among the greatest players we’ve seen at Arsenal – Ozil’s footballing brain is up there with some of the best I’ve seen and you can’t help but love Alexis’ work rate and tenacity to mix in with his undoubted talent.
What they lack where the Invincibles didn’t is that backbone, that team ethic that made us such a feared side at the turn of the Millennium. There are signs that it’s starting to manifest itself in this current generation, but whereas once upon a time, you knew that if Henry, Bergkamp, Pires or Vieira didn’t perform, Kanu, Wiltord, Ljungberg or Petit would, the same can’t be said of this group. Having said that, there have been signs over the last 12 months that that same mentality is starting to develop and it can only make for a positive future at the club.
Who, for you, has been particularly important to the side this season and where do weaknesses remain?
Two names stand out for me this season. Petr Cech was lauded as a potential title winning signing and we’re starting to see that now. He’s added stability and reassurance to a back four lacking just that in recent seasons and his performances between the posts never need any questioning. For me, still one of the best in the league and a major reason why we’re at the top of the tree heading into 2016.
Undoubtedly the other is Mesut Ozil; the lad’s taken a fair bit of flak at times for his lackadaisical style and apparent lack of work rate. But i think people are starting to see this season just what an impressive footballer he is. Arsène’s not a man to splash out £42 million on just anyone and Ozil is quickly repaying that. His eye for a pass is outstanding, his unselfishness unrivalled and we’ve seen a more determined player this season now too. All ingredients to make him a strong contender for player of the season.
Weaknesses? I still think we lack a world class forward. Olivier Giroud does a superb job, but he misses more than he scores. When you have a player in the side like Ozil who creates on average five chances a game, a world class striker unlike Theo or Olivier would be netting 30 a season.
There also remains a question mark over mentality. We look stronger, but recent results against the likes of Southampton and Olympiacos in the Champions League show we’re not there yet and are still as likely to throw in a terrible display as we are a good one. Infuriatingly inconsistent and it may still cost us this campaign.
Guess the Score in Arsenal v Sunderland and maybe win a prize: https://safc.blog/2016/01/arsenal-v-sunderland-guess-the-score-a-quick-return-to-the-library/
And give us your honest assessment of Monsieur Wenger (much admired by some of the Salut! Sunderland team, M Salut included, but often derided by Gooners?
What can you say about the man that hasn’t already been said? He’s transformed Arsenal and transformed the way many of us look at English football since arriving in 95. Yes, he has his flaws; his stubbornness has at times earned him the ire and frustration of fans, both in team selection and signings or lack of, but the positives vastly outweigh the negatives.
His longevity, his one-way views of playing football the right way and his ability to spot talent in a player that many have missed are all admirable qualities, but it’s the way he’s steered the club both on and off the pitch through such an important time in moving stadiums makes him the greatest manager this club has seen and one of the finest English football has ever witnessed. To consistently produce top 4 finishes with a limited budget and pressure on him from the stands is an incredible and often ignored feat.
A wonderfully genial man, an Arsenal icon. He’s still the main man for me.
What have been your own highs and lows as an Arsenal supporter?
Easy one this. High – the Invincible season. I’ve never seen a side like that and probably never will again. To go through 38 games unbeaten in a league as competitive as ours is a feat that won’t be repeated.
Lows – there’s a couple! Losing to Chelsea in the Champions League quarter final in 2004 to a late Wayne Bridge strike still sticks out. That for me, was our best chance of finally winning that competition with the strongest side I’ve seen at Arsenal. Losing to Barcelona in the 2006 final was pretty awful too, especially in the manner we did. Every time we lost to a Mourinho led Chelsea was like a knife in the stomach too.
And the best players – and worst – you’ve seen in Arsenal colours?
Best? When I was young, Tony Adams was just starting to get over his off-field problems; one of the finest leaders I’ve seen on a sports field. Robert Pires was always a firm favourite of mine; a wonderfully gifted player, often overshadowed by one of the greatest players ever to play for the club in Thierry Henry. He was a joy to watch, goals, assists, power, pace, threat; he had absolutely everything and more importantly, adored the club. Of the current crop, I’m a big fan of Laurent Koscielny and Alexis Sanchez – both integral to the side and as committed as they are talented.
Worst? Again, a few… Pascal Cygan was so bad he became a cult hero. Igor Stepanovs looked like he’d been signed straight out of the Sunday Leagues. And that’s probably being disrespectful to the Sunday Leagues. Silvestre was one of the most odd signings I’ve seen Wenger make. I could go on with this one, so I’ll stop there.
With all your North-eastern connections, you must have thoughts on the region’s football, past and present. Share them
How long have you got?! I think the two are interconnected. The fact that we’ve established ourselves as one of the most passionate footballing regions means we’ve created a rod for our own back somewhat!
We’ve never really had huge success; Sunderland 1973 and the odd promotion season and Cup final aside, but what we lack in silverware, we more than make up for in commitment and support.
These days, sadly, I don’t see that in the Premier League. I see players giving up, looking disinterested, unsure of what a privilege it is to play for such a well supported club in the modern day game. It’s pretty sickening to watch in truth when all the fans want is commitment, is desire, is heart. The lack of that on the pitch right now, is why both Sunderland and Newcastle are struggling in the way they are.
Now, concentrating on SAFC, what do you make of the club, the fans, the city, Big Sam?
I’ve grown up around the club with both my dad and uncle fans. One thing I’ll say straightaway is that they shouldn’t be where they are. The stadium, the fans, the base that they’ve got makes it a shock that every single season, it’s the same old story.
I don’t think they’ve got the right man in the past decade for the job. Big Sam is the right one for the short-term present. He’s the only one available who has the slightest chance of saving the club from relegation and as such, I’m interested to see what business he can get done in January; that will be pivotal to the club’s chances of survival.
The supporters (and I’m not just saying this) are superb. Like I said before, we’re renowned up here for our passionate support of sport and Sunderland fans are the very epitome of that, through thick and mostly thin. They’re a credit to the region. Just a shame the club can’t reward that on the pitch, but we live in hope, don’t we?!
Diving and other forms of cheating: is it now so prevalent that we ought to give up bothering about it and just train the players to do it better? If not, how do we eradicate it?
Eradicate it. Without a shadow of a doubt. Problem is, the diving debate opens up about three others. My personal thoughts are that we should go as strict as possible on it. No more yellow cards. If a referee is sure, send the player off. If he’s not sure, I’m a big advocate of video technology. Yes, it would introduce a more stop start nature to the game, but if it meant we could stamp cheating and diving out of the sport, that’s a small price to pay in my book.
Name the best Premier ref and the worst
Best: Mark Clattenburg – of course, he’s a North Easterner.
Worst: Mike Dean – the man’s a Spurs fan.
And what single step could the football authorities take to make the matchday experience better?
Aside from vuvuzelas, more accessibility to players for the fans, as there is in rugby league.
The big one: what will this season’s top four be?
And, sparing no Sunderland feelings if necessary, the bottom three?
The FA Cup and CL winners?
FA Cup – Arsenal (We have to win something…!)
Champions League – Barcelona – there’s no finer side in Europe right now. So of course we had to draw them.
Will you be at this game and what will be the score?
I’m not down in London for this one, but I can only see it going one way. I think Sunderland may be strangely tight at the start, but get worn down across the 90. 3-0 Arsenal, with Alexis being the scourge of Sunderland again (he wasn’t there at the league game. Amndy and guess who the Man of the Match was/Cech – Ed!)
* Andy Sixsmith on himself: I’m the sports presenter for Made in Tyne and Wear TV. I currently host Football Matters every Wednesday night 8-9pm, so please, if you don’t already, do give us a watch. We attempt to cover everything from Premier League, to Northern League, to Women’s Super league, with varying degrees of success. And if that doesn’t float your boat, there’s always Julio Arca’s silky Argentinian tones to listen to every week.
Let’s get one thing out of the way immediately. I’m a North Easterner born and bred, yet an Arsenal fan… Why, I hear you cry?! Well, dad’s a Sunderland fan, mum’s a Newcastle fan – growing up, I always wanted to be different, so plumped for Arsenal. There’s been highs. There’s been lows. Then I think we could be staring relegation in the face each season and thank my lucky stars. Even if it is like watching the footballing equivalent of Tim Henman; there’s never really a dull moment and your heart will general skip 20-30 beats per match.
Interview: Colin Randall