In 2009, Arsenal won the FA Youth Cup with an aggregate 6-2 victory over holders Liverpool, who were looking to lift the trophy for the third year running.
After that crushing victory, surely many of those young Gunners were destined for stardom?
It would appear that was not the case. Following Francis Coquelin’s transfer to Valencia last month, Jack Wilshere is now the only player from that Cup-winning side who remains an Arsenal player.
The captain of that successful side, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, scored in every round of their cup run that season, and eventually went on to make appearances for the first team in both the Premier League and Champions League.
However, after loans spells at Blackpool, Doncaster and Cardiff he left Arsenal permanently to sign for Ipswich Town in 2011.
A spell at Bristol City followed before he joined QPR in 2015, but after further loan periods at MK Dons and Gillingham, he is currently out of favour and playing the majority of his football for the under-23s.
So, with his experience of the ups and downs of football, what does the 27-year-old striker think about the English youth academy system?
Too much, too young?
“Some players do get too much too young, but it’s not their fault,” he told Elephant Sport.
“As a young kid if you get offered a big contract, you’re going to take it, it’s part and parcel of life. No-one will say that’s too much money, you will take it and there’s then a huge expectation on the player.
“It’s hard for some players depending on where they go. At the end of the day, it’s often down to not being able to turn down such a big contract, especially from the big teams.
“It’s not anyone’s fault, but the bigger the club, the more money they have to spend on players’ wages. Sometimes there is too much weight on players’ shoulders.”
Despite the recent success of England’s various age group teams, including winning the U-20 World Cup, Emmanuel-Thomas believes young players at big clubs stand less of a chance of succeeding at the highest level.
“The boys at smaller clubs will probably have a better chance of breaking into their first team, due to finances, smaller squads and so on.
“It’s all well and good someone saying a player has potential, but it’s in training where it counts, what the player is doing off the pitch, so that they have the right to play on the pitch.
‘I just want to be back playing every week, it doesn’t matter where or who for’
“It’s all a matter of timing, waiting and patience. Some people are more patient than others, some want to just go out and play. When the chance comes, you have to take it,” he said.
Having played with Wilshere at both youth and first team level, the East Londoner is full of praise for the midfielder.
“Jack was always talented from a young age. You could see the ability he had was more advanced than the teams we were playing against.
“If Jack is at his best and fully fit he is potentially England’s best midfielder by a long stretch. It’s all down to him physically and mentally if he can get into that mindset.”
Wenger: a great mentor
Despite Wilshere being the only remaining player from the Youth Cup-winning side of 2009, the striker praised Arsenal’s youth system, and the effect of manager Arsene Wenger on his development.
“It was a great time for me as a player to be captain of a good team. We had some great players in our squad, and out of that entire team there’s only one player who’s not currently playing in the football industry at some level,” he says.
‘If Jack Wilshere is at his best and fully fit he is potentially England’s best midfielder by a long stretch’
“The youth system we had at the time was excellent. You can see from the players Arsenal have produced, and continue to produce now, the standard is incredible.
“I think Arsene Wenger evolved Arsenal as a club. He changed a lot, brought in certain styles of play, brought in players that nobody had heard of and made them into superstars.
“He’s been given these new contracts for a specific reason. As far as I’m concerned, he was a great manager to work with and to play for, and he should still be in charge.”
Despite making his way into the first team at Arsenal, Emmanuel-Thomas believes he had to leave the club to further his career, and has no regrets in doing so.
“From our age group we had several players potentially getting a game for the first team.
“Just before I left, I was getting minutes in the first team, as were Craig Eastmond and Jack Wilshere. Coquelin was in and out. Kyle Bartley and Henri Lansbury played a few cup games.
“But it was a decision that I had to make. I could’ve stuck around at Arsenal, potentially never knowing what was going to happen. For me, I still feel like I made the right decision leaving Arsenal.”
For the man nicknamed ‘JET’, the youth team he captained at Arsenal was also triumphant in terms of players making their way into professional football.
“It was a successful team, I know players from the year above us and the year below us that are no longer playing football at all,” he says.
But what does the future now hold for JET?
“I just want to be back playing every week, it doesn’t matter where or who for. I have a family to provide for, it’s all about playing the game and providing for my family, that’s the main goal.”
Aware that they could not afford to slip further behind their local rivals in the race for the title, Manchester United tore up the script and tore into Arsenal at the Emirates.
They were two goals up in 11 minutes against the shell-shocked Gunners, who pulled a goal back just after the break before a third for United made it 3-1.
Jose Mourinho is renowned for his spoiling tactics away from home against other teams towards the top of the table, but that approach was ditched in favour of one more in keeping with United’s rich attacking traditions.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger will be fuming that his side were caught napping by those two early goals, but in truth this was a deserved victory for his old rival.
The Frenchman and the Portuguese have been the best of enemies since the latter’s first stint at Chelsea, and they exchanged fiery words and a shove or two on the touchline a few seasons ago.
Arsenal went in to the game in good form and full of confidence but were ambushed by Mourinho’s ambition to hit them hard straight from the off.
Within the first four minutes, Antonio Valencia took advantage of some slack Arsenal defending to put the visitors ahead.
With the Gunners still regrouping after that setback, Jesse Lingard made the most of Anthony Martial’s pass and chipped the ball over goalkeeper Petr Cech on 11 minutes to put United 2-0 up. Mourinho’s side were buzzing and bossed the first half of the game.
Whatever Wenger said to his troops at half-time clearly had an impact, and Alexandre Lacazette found the net in the 49th minute to give the disgruntled home fans hope of a comeback.
Nullifying the threat of Lacazette had probably not figured in United’s game plan. A few days earlier, Wenger had ruled him out of contention because of a groin injury, but the French striker was in the starting XI. Mourinho wasn’t alone in catching a whiff of something fishy…
Arsenal now had their tails up as that pre-match confidence flooded back, and United had David De Gea to thank for some outstanding saves in the second half. The Spanish stopper was rightly lauded as man of the match after keeping the Gunners at bay.
Sure enough, as the hosts pushed for the equaliser, they left the door open for United, and Lingard duly stepped through it to score his second.
On 64 minutes, a simple, rapid counter-attack instigated by Paul Pogba ended with Lingard side-footing home to give Arsenal a mountain to climb.
The score remained 3-1 at the end of a breathtaking encounter, giving Mourinho a first win in his past 12 away fixtures against the Premier League’s ‘big six’.
However, it wasn’t all good news for United as they headed back north, with Pogba suspended for the vital Manchester derby clash on December 10th.
The midfielder was given a straight red in the 74th minute for a reckless lunge that saw his studs planted firmly into Hector Bellerin’s calf.
Mourinho, who is known for causing a scene when he disagrees with the referee’s judgement, perhaps surprisingly stayed in his seat rather than berate the fourth official.
Neither did Pogba’s team-mates seem to take issue with the sending off, and the general consensus among the travelling support was Pogba only had himself to blame.
But United will go into the derby at Old Trafford buoyed this result and their performance at the Emirates.
Can they still catch City? Pep Guardiola’s team are widely viewed as champions elect this season, but it would be unwise to rule United out of the running just yet.
City also began last season at a blistering pace before slowing down after the hectic Christmas period.
Plus, United now seem better equipped to mount a serious title challenge. Apart from the occasion blip, their struggles of the previous campaign, as characterised by too many draws and uninspiring, narrow wins, seem to be behind them.
United are clearly getting more out of Pobga, now that the £85m midfielder has been given more freedom to roam forward, thanks to the summer signing of Nemanja Matic.
Lingard is now staking a strong claim to be a regular starter, with young talents such as Martial and Marcus Rashford improving all the time, and the likes of Phil Jones and Ashley Young realising their potential.
United can definitely challenge City this season if their current form continues, but the result of this weekend’s derby could go a long way to deciding the destination of the title.
There is a distinct feeling not only that any new deal will be a contract too far for Arsene Wenger, but also – sadly – that he is beginning to resemble a dying relative.
Wenger has become a shell of his former self. He is undoubtedly Arsenal’s most impactful and most celebrated manager. But his legitimacy has been irrevocably damaged by years of failing to identify and address weaknesses and being unable to adapt to the changes in contemporary football.
You begin to feel his weight on the club as he sits in the dugout with his head in his hands. He has become a financial and footballing burden on Arsenal, with fans realising that there is now no other way to for him to leave than for him to be forced out.
Pity has become the overriding emotion at The Emirates, with fans in increasing numbers now desperate for the Arsenal boss to go so as he is able to salvage what is left of his legacy.
Like the fans at matches, Wenger appears miserable and unable to inspire or be inspired by his team. We all know he is hurting; his expressions on the touchline and post-match interviews tell us this.
But what is perhaps even more worrying is the mockery being made of the demands placed upon modern football managers by the Arsenal board.
Yes, the ‘hire em and fire em’ culture that has enveloped the game in recent years is quite extraordinary. Most football fans believe that their clubs do not show enough loyalty to managers, opting for short bursts of success over long-term project building.
“Sometimes swift, decisive change can instigate an upturn in form and the change of climate at a club that is desperately needed”
But from Wenger’s case, we can learn a lot about the pitfalls of pursuing the exact opposite policy: of idolising a manager, ceasing to apply pressure on him, and allowing him to decide when and how he leaves.
Just a few weeks ago, we were given a particularly cruel demonstration of football’s impatience at Leicester. Claudio Ranieri, a history-maker and record-breaker, was forced out by the players he had lost and by an unforgiving chairman.
But, callous though it was, the sacking proved beneficial to results on the pitch. The transformation of Leicester’s players has been really quite remarkable, especially given the significance that their former manager had in building the players and turning them into household names. Many were previously average and unknown.
What we are beginning to deduce is that, sometimes swift, decisive change can instigate an upturn in form and the change of climate at a club that is desperately needed.
Wenger, quite unlike Leicester’s chairman, is markedly more conservative, opting to keep around him favoured, loyal coaching staff and making subtle adjustments to the squad, both in terms of tactical organisation and transfers.
“The impatient, fast-paced, money-driven culture that has wrapped itself around modern football could actually be the new ‘stability’”
For years, pundits praised the determination with which Arsenal stuck to its principles. They maintained that the club was an example to others who perhaps were a little too trigger-happy when it came to firing managers.
This adoration has wavered somewhat, especially this season. Now they talk about Wenger in a much more resigned way, after finally subscribing to my long-held view that stability can no longer be expressed in the way that Arsenal think it can be, and that Wenger ought to step aside in order for the club to adapt and move forward.
It is poignant, for instance, that Wenger’s greatest years came when he himself was the source of change in the Premier League, and not in the years that he remained rigidly focused on his values, allowing himself to be bypassed and out-competed.
The impatient, fast-paced, money-driven culture that has wrapped itself around modern football could actually be the new ‘stability’.
Of course, not every club that ditches its manager after a few years of service or halfway through a season will reap the rewards of their decision.
But signs are showing (the sackings of Mourinho at Chelsea and Klopp at Dortmund) that a policy of severing ties with even big-name managers and sending a message that short term under-achievement is not good enough could well prove fruitful.
Wenger’s free rein and effective self-employment at Arsenal is not defying the system as well as his club thinks it might be. Yes, Wenger has doubled share prices at The Emirates, but ultimately the football is what does the talking.
Actually, the message Arsenal’s embarrassingly desperate loyalty towards him shows is one of mockery. I believe that Wenger’s coasting along makes a mockery of the intense demands placed upon football manages in the modern environment.
Football management has changed, and with that, so too has the pressure on managers, who must live up to the fact that their use-by dates are now shorter and the patience of boards similarly so.
The lack of pressure being applied to Wenger is telling on the players, who appear starkly unmotivated and lacking in heart and leadership. The alleged stability that Wenger has provided, during a period that has seen Arsenal leave Highbury, angry protests from fans and a noticeable dilution of expectation and ambition, has been primarily characterised by a fundamental decline, both in terms of trophies and league positioning.
But, as Wenger reminded us in an interview with beIN sports this week, “It isn’t all about trophies.” Well, clearly. But at least Arsenal has its stability…
Arsene Wenger should be afforded the chance to decide for himself when he steps down as Arsenal manager, according to his predecessor, Bruce Rioch.
The under pressure Frenchman has faced increased hostility from Arsenal supporters unhappy at the club’s lack of domestic silverware or progress in Europe.
The well-documented ‘ArsenalFanTV’ has featured heavily on social media by calling for Wenger to walk away, and the campaign reached new heights when a minority of disgruntled supporters arranged for a plane to fly a banner overhead during Arsenal’s recent defeat at West Brom.
The banner read: “NO CONTRACT #WENGEROUT”. And although a second plane was flown over The Hawthorns with the message, “IN ARSENE WE TRUST #RESPECTAW”, the away end was awash with hand-held banners protesting for the ex-Monaco manager to call it a day.
Wenger himself has indicated that he will be mindful of the fans’ wishes when he makes a decision on his future at the end of the season, with a two-year contract offer on the table should he wish to continue his tenure in North London.
But former Gunners boss Rioch believes that Wenger’s contribution to his club and English football in general, should be remembered during these uncertain times.
“I think he’s earned the right, with the board of directors, to make the decision himself as to when he decides to step down”, said Rioch.
“I think he’s been outstanding as a manager in this country. 20 years, plus, at Arsenal, second only to Sir Alex Ferguson in longevity in recent years. He’s won three titles, the same as Mourinho and it’s not easy now to win the Premier League.
“His standing in the game is immense. He’s brought a style of play that, when they’re playing well, you sit and admire the way they’re playing.”
A heavy criticism thrown at Wenger and Arsenal is that they rely too heavily on Champions League qualification as a marker for success. For the fans and world-class players such as Alexis Sanchez, a place in the top four is secondary to the quest for titles – something that Rioch sympathises with.
The ex-Championship-winning midfielder with Derby County continued: “If you’re in the top four every year for 20 years, that in itself is success because it’s Champions League football.
“But it’s not seen as total success necessarily by supporters, and going back to my days as a player, to get into the European Cup you had to finish first. Top four is about money and boosting the Champions League, which again, I think has spoilt it in many ways.”
With Sanchez reportedly unhappy with the club’s perceived lack of ambition, Wenger faces a battle to not only stave off the pressure from supporters but also to maintain a harmonious dressing room.
Having not won the title for 13 seasons, Arsenal have struggled to keep hold of their big players, with the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Robin Van Persie, Samir Nasri and Ashley Cole having all moved on to the Gunners’ rivals and won the Premier League.
According to Rioch, the uncertainty surrounding the manager’s position may continue to have a detrimental effect among the squad.
“When Sir Alex made the announcement that he was going to leave Manchester United, the results of the team went down hill.
“He changed his mind and reversed it, and when he ended up winning the league, then he called it a day.
“I think what’s happening at the moment, unfortunately, and I’ve thought about it a lot, must have an impact in some way in the dressing room.
“And then you’ve got to work with those players to get the best out of them, they’ve got to be 100% clear every day when they go out onto that pitch and I think it can have an unsettling effect.”
The Arsenal board should be commended for standing firm in their beliefs that Wenger is the right man for their club. In modern day football where the average managerial shelf life is a little over 13 months, the 21 years that the 67 year-old has been in charge is unlikely to ever be repeated.
And whilst we may be witnessing the last few weeks of Wenger’s reign, Rioch believes that football fans should be careful in their demands for change.
“I’ve had this saying,” said the ex-Scotland international. “It’s about footballers as well as managers.
“If we keep campaigning that they should be out of the team or out of the club as a manager, once they’re gone, you’ve lost them. You can never get them back so cherish them while you’ve got them.
“It’s a little bit like Wayne Rooney. You keep Rooney in there as long as you can because he’s been such a great servant to club and country. Don’t throw him out; don’t want him out too soon.
“Let the board of directors and Arsene Wenger decide when he’s going to go, he’s earned that right. He’ll go when he’s ready, he’s sensible enough, but once he’s gone he’s gone.”
Should Wenger make the announcement at the end of the season that he is to step down, the list of potential replacements will stretch around the globe.
Rioch was not only the last manager of Arsenal before Wenger, but also the last British boss at the North London club, replacing George Graham after Stewart Houston’s caretaker spell in charger.
Having won promotion to the Premier League with Bolton Wanderers by winning the 1994/95 Division One play-off final, the man who called upon the experiences and advice of Bill Shankly in his early managerial days swapped Lancashire to be closer to his Hertfordshire home in the summer of 1995.
It is understood that Rioch beat another British manager in Bobby Robson to the job, yet in 2017 there are no British managers at the world’s elite clubs.
Despite having won promotion to the Premier League and then earned plaudits for their teams’ style of play, it seems nigh on impossible that Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe or Burnley’s Sean Dyche would ever be given the opportunity to take the reins at Arsenal.
Brendan Rodgers might be the only British option to step into Wenger’s shoes, given his transformation of Liverpool during the 2013/14 season which came so close to ending with a league winner’s medal.
Appearing to be comfortable and at ease in the hot seat of one of Europe’s most demanding clubs in Celtic, can surely only serve to further increase his credibility.
Having made the jump from a mid-sized club to a ‘big’ one himself, Rioch is well placed to give his opinion on why we are unlikely to see a young, British manager in the Arsenal dugout.
“You’ve got to know that you can move from a club like Bolton, Middlesbrough, Southampton or Everton, and go to Manchester United or Arsenal, and the difference is immense. It’s huge.
“You have got to win. At some clubs you can be mid-table, even sixth or seven is fine, but at those clubs [United/Arsenal] you’ve got to win.
“So the pressure is there to win, and the players who play for those clubs know they’ve got to win and that’s why they’re there. There is a different mentality and you have to be of that mentality to go into that club.
“I can understand why Ancelotti, Pellegrini, Conte, are coming to England to come to the top clubs, because they’ve been winners in other countries in Europe and they’ve been brought up as players in big clubs.
“They’ve played for Juventus or AC Milan, they’ve had that aura around them all the time, it’s there every day when they’re playing. And then they become managers and the pressure is on all the time to get results, it’s an ongoing process.
“Then when you come into a big club [in England] you know it’s no different to where you’ve come from and you’re expected to win.
“Whereas if you’ve come from a club down the bottom end where mid-table’s been ok and you move to a big club, it’s a totally different ball game.
“The expectancy is enormous, that’s the difference.”
When David Moyes made the switch from Everton to Manchester United to replace Ferguson in 2013, the similarities were not lost on Rioch as he thought back to his experiences of moving from Burnden Park to Highbury.
“I nearly rang him up to say ‘I did this, I should really tell you what the difference is. You might think you know the difference, but the difference is this…’,” said Rioch.
“I didn’t make the phone call because I thought well, he’s got enough experience he’ll know how to deal with it. But he didn’t deal with it and he wasn’t there long.
“That was my experience, you see, and I’m sad I didn’t make the call.
“He might have thought cheeky so-and-so and I didn’t think it would be right for me to do it, but looking back I wish I had.”
In modern football, we are quick to forget the good that someone has brought to a club. Fans and pundits will tear into a player or manager at the earliest opportunity for jumping ship, claiming the moral high ground over loyalty. Yet praising the hard work of a player or manager becomes much less attractive.
Are we really to assume that Wenger did not have opportunities to leave Arsenal when they were in a far worse state off the pitch than they are presently?
The stadium move from Highbury to the Emirates in 2006 decimated the playing budget, meaning that Arsenal went from Champions League finalists to a selling club, just to be able to scrape into the competition. This didn’t happen to Ferguson, Mourinho or Guardiola.
Wenger’s shrewd recruitment meant that he was well prepared for the sale of his best players, but there is no question that he would have preferred the budgets of Chelsea or the Manchester clubs. What manager wouldn’t?
Wheels in motion
We will never know the vast amounts of money he may have been offered to move elsewhere, only to turn it down in defiant loyalty to continue to help build the club into the global brand we see today. The easy option would have been to walk away.
The Gunners have always been a big club across Europe, “they were a major name, they had a presence. It was ‘The Arsenal’, of course,” confirms Rioch. But let us not forget another of their nicknames under George Graham’s tutelage was ‘boring, boring Arsenal’.
Rioch himself was not given the time needed to transform the style of play, but some may argue he put the wheels in motion with the signings of Dennis Bergkamp and David Platt.
But it was Wenger who brought with him not only attractive, attacking football that lead the way across Europe until Guardiola rolled into Barcelona in 2008, but also the professionalism to ensure that players looked after their bodies.
Tony Adams and Ray Parlour extended their careers for an extra year or two due to Wenger’s strict policies surrounding alcohol and diet.
For Rioch, having seen first hand during his time at Highbury that drinking vast amounts of alcohol was the norm amongst the players, Wenger’s intervention was essential.
“There was a drinking culture in the club and it was a big one”, said Rioch.
“A glass of wine every now and again I don’t have a problem with, but these guys will openly admit they were going way beyond that.
“I’ve listened to Tony Adams on Sky, and he admitted he was in one hell of a state on a regular basis.
“I met him down at Plymouth Argyle a few years ago at a game and he came across and actually apologized to me for his behavior when I was at Arsenal.
“He’s an incredible guy, a fantastic man. It was a cultural thing in this country, and I think it’s changed quite a bit over the years.
“But that’s sometimes the difficulty you have in a club. Longevity gives you the chance to change it, but when you’re short-term it doesn’t happen.”
With longevity comes the opportunity to bring about change, whilst a short-term approach may not. That should be remembered when discussing the future of one of British football’s most influential figures of all time.
When Arsenal lost 3-1 to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge recently, the Sky Sports cameras picked out a Gunners fan in the crowd with a ‘Time to go’ banner aimed at Arsene Wenger.
Former Manchester United and England defender turned pundit Gary Neville called the fan an ‘idiot’. This sparked plenty reaction, and the fan – Kane Hopps – suddenly found fame via social media.
Elephant Sport down with him to to get his side of the story, and his views on Neville, Wenger and Arsenal.
How the past few weeks been for you?
It has been pretty crazy. People have been calling me, texting me, tweeting me – even [Times football correspondent] Henry Winter, The Sun and TalkSport. It’s definitely not something I expected from just putting the banner up.
How have you dealt with being at the centre of a media frenzy?
It’s certainly been a bit of a rollercoaster ride. I’ve had to get on with my day job while it’s all been happening so it has been a bit difficult, especially getting calls left right and centre from various new outlets. But overall I think I have dealt with it pretty well!
You have received a lot of support from fellow fans. What does that say about Wenger’s current situation at Arsenal?
It shows the tide has most certainly turned and has become more vocal than it has ever been before. People who have previously been on Wenger’s side have even had enough now and it shows that more and more fans are not just going to sit there and accept it now.
Everybody knows about that banner now; will that recognition persuade you to bring it to even more games?
Definitely – that was the plan anyway. The Watford and Chelsea defeats have shown me nothing has changed. He goes on about how this squad is better and different this year, but it’s not. I don’t care what we do from now until the end of the season, we are not going to win the Premier League (which we were promised) so something has to change or the banner will keep on coming.
During games, has anybody come up to you in support of the banner?
Yes, quite often. At Chelsea I had people coming up to me and patting me on the back saying well done, who were in favour of the banner. We even managed to get a ‘Wenger out’ chant going for about 10 seconds or so. There are far more in favour of it than not, put it that way.
Has anybody come up to you who have not been in favour of the banner?
A few people approach me and ask me why I do it and tell me to ‘support the team instead’. But they miss the point – I am supporting my team. I am supporting the club by doing what I believe is best for it! I respect their views whether I agree with them or not, so they should do the same with mine.
If you’d won at Stamford Bridge, would we have still seen the banner?
Yes. I know a lot of people will not believe me but win, lose or draw, that banner was coming out. The home game to Watford was the tipping point, and I cannot continue to sit here, pay all this money for the same mistakes to keep happening year in year out.
Can Wenger do anything now to prevent you from protesting/bringing the banner?
For me, no. That ship has sailed unfortunately. The FA Cups were nice but for a club like Arsenal to not win the league for over 12 years isn’t good enough and the manner in which we go about it. The way we capitulate year after year after year, nothing changes.
He goes into the transfer market and doesn’t buy the right players. We are short, again. Injuries hit us, again. We crumble in the big games, again. That will never change under him – otherwise, it would have changed already.
So when can we expect to see the banner next?
The next game!
Moving on to Gary Neville’s comment, what was your immediate reaction to being called ‘an idiot’ live on air?
First of all ‘wow’. I could not believe so much had been made of it. But I was quite shocked that he called me an idiot because he has been quite vocal over Wenger, his failures, and how we are not title challengers.
So I ask for all that to change and all of a sudden he goes on the defensive and calls me an idiot! I thought it was very contradictory of him, especially from a top pundit to call a paying fan an ‘idiot’ for his own opinion, I was surprised.
Bearing in mind you didn’t take it personally, can you almost be thankful to Neville for the free publicity, even if it was unintentional?
Yes, that would be fair. He has blown it up so much that it has ended up on the news, radio and national papers – the exposure it has had has been crazy. So I guess a small part of me does have to thank him for that!
Do his views towards fans like you change your views towards him as a pundit?
Not really. I still respect him as a pundit and think he talks a lot of sense when he is analysing the game. He is not biased and does not let personal views dictate that either. But this particular view makes me think he is less in touch with fans than I thought, that’s for sure.
If you were in a room with him in a ‘gloves off’ scenario, and he maintained his view that you or any Arsenal fan who brings a banner to a match to express their views is an idiot, how would you respond?
There are a load of things I’d love to debate with him – the main one being why he feels he can call me an idiot for having an opinion, and really press him to see if he actually feels that towards any paying fan, not just Arsenal fans.
I’d also like to ask him how he can continue to criticise Wenger (even throughout the Chelsea game) and then question me when I ask for the same things to be changed in a positive way! I also think managing Valencia has made him go soft on other managers – has he has seen first had how hard it can be?
He seems to sympathise with managers more nowadays after his experience at Valencia, so I would love to question him on that too.
Every season, many young footballers go through the dreaded experience of getting released by a professional club.
The realisation that they will not fulfill the dreams they have chased for years can be a hard blow to take and for many of them, the opportunity will have passed forever.
To rub salt into the wound, in some cases the judgment comes from the player’s favourite club, the one they will watch for the rest of their lives thinking ‘what if’.
Former Arsenal trainee and lifelong Gunners fan Matty Willock knows this scenario all too well.
After spending his formative years dreaming of emulating his hero Thierry Henry, at the age of 15 he was given the bombshell news that he would not be kept on as a scholar in the under 18s.
But it was not the end of the story, as amazingly he was offered a second chance – at Manchester United.
Despite the turn in events that got his career back on track again in Manchester, the pain of rejection by his first love was hard to take at first.
“I’m an Arsenal fan so I was dreaming of playing for them one day,” Willock said.
“But when I was 15 I got released. They told me they weren’t giving me a scholarship, so obviously I was without a club.
“Fortunately the head scout at Arsenal was in contact with United and he organised a trial for me to come up and play a couple of games. Luckily enough they said they wanted me, so I signed for United when I was 15.”
For many Premier League academy cast-offs, this type of career rescue act is unheard of. Some might drop down a division or two and have a mediocre career in the lower leagues; most will slip out of the professional game altogether.
Of course, grassroots football is where every player begins their journey to the top and the man from the capital’s East End was no different.
Recalling his pathway to Old Trafford, Willock said, “I started off in Sunday League when I was six or seven.
“I was at Ridgeway Rovers. David Beckham played for them and there are a few other players who have come through there. It was probably the best club around my area, Chingford, and they’ve got good connections with a few clubs like West Ham, Tottenham and Arsenal.
“Then I got a trial with Arsenal when I was about 10 or 11 and I just went up through the age groups.
Now 20, andan important figure within United’s under 23’s, Willock’s career is on the up.
Having trained intermittently with the first team squad, he further proved his worth to the Red Devils’ hierarchy with a 93rd – minute winning goal in the Premier League 2 fixture away at rivals Liverpool.
The Londoner’s header deep into injury time secured a 1-0 victory at Anfield, and three vital points for his team.
The next challenge for United’s match winner on Merseyside, is to force his way into Jose Mourinho’s reckoning and make his first senior appearance; something another member of the Willock family has already achieved this season.
“I’ve got two brothers who still play for Arsenal; Chris and Joe,” said Willock, proudly.
“We used to play together as kids in the park, my dad used to take us every day. It was just something to do. It’s good going home and being able to watch my brothers and they’re both doing well, so that’s a good thing.
“Joe (17) is playing for the under 18’s at the minute and Chris (19) made his [first team] debut in the EFL cup [against Nottingham Forest] which was obviously a big moment for him because he’s a proper die-hard Arsenal fan, it was a dream come true.
“I wasn’t there and it wasn’t on TV so I didn’t get to watch it, but he told me he did well.”
Whilst his younger siblings continue their development in North London the older Willock brother knows he must bide his time for the opportunity to feature in Mourinho’s plans.
Furthermore, to be considered for a loan move away from Old Trafford in order to pick up valuable minutes in a first team environment, Willock concedes that he must listen to the instructions and wishes of his club.
“I’ve been with the first team a bit in training, hopefully I can push my way forward. Patience is key, really. Sometimes as a player you really want something but you have to remember the club always knows best.”
Mourinho is famously a manager who tends to utilise experience, rather than youth, within his squad and therefore the path to the first team will not be straightforward for any young player at United.
Yet Willock, in pursuing his dreams, has proven that he is not adverse to overcoming barriers placed in his way.
Having bounced back from his early experience of rejection and the harsh realities of competitive football at the highest level, what message would Willock pass on to youngsters who, like him, have been left high and dry by their academy experience?
As you’d expect, old-fashioned hard work is high on the list. But so too is keeping a level head and realising there is still time for things to change.
“It’s not the end of the world,” he signs off.
“It’s easy to give up and start thinking you’re not good enough when people say it by releasing you, but you have to keep believing in yourself and keep working hard. If you’ve got the talent you’ll come through.”
In September 1996 a Frenchman, so little known in English football that fans asked ‘Arsene Who?’, walked into Arsenal.
In his subsequent 20 years as manager, he transformed the club from ‘Boring Arsenal’ to a worldwide phenomenon.
A total renovation of the training, stadium, style, economics, diet and the attraction of a global audience has taken place under Wenger’s stewardship.
This fascinating era is chronicled in ‘The Wenger Revolution’ with distinctive photographs taken from inside the inner sanctum of the club by official Arsenal photographer Stuart MacFarlane while award-winning journalist and long-time supporter Amy Lawrence introduces each section to set the scene.
When Wenger arrived from Nagoya Grampus Eight in Japan, the vast majority of the football public, Arsenal supporters and many of the players were sceptical. Could a foreign manager succeed in England?
Although he was new to almost everyone in the English game, Wenger, 46 at the time, didn’t see himself as a novice. His intellectual rigour, workaholic determination and human touch gave him the value of using his own ideas with an open mind.
“I could understand my acceptance would depend upon that mix,” he says in the book. “I didn’t want to compromise what I thought was important in order to push through the elements needed for the success. I wanted to adapt to the local culture.”
That manifested itself in the way the team evolved. By using English players with a never-say-die attitude like Tony Adams and Steve Bould, as well as the technical refinement that arrived with the likes of Patrick Vieira and Marc Overmars, Wenger’s mix came to fruition.
The most surprising thing for many people when they look back at Wenger’s first full campaign in England, was how quickly the team’s style came together.
Wenger’s ability to identify and recruit outstanding talent was paramount in them winning the double in the 1997-98 season. That general air of scepticism about the manager soon evaporated.
“You work in a job where you never really know how good you are, but I didn’t think you can do more than go a whole season undefeated. To realise that life dream is a bit frightening, but it didn’t kill my hunger.”
To complete an unbeaten season at the highest level was an ambition Wenger had harboured for many years.
During the 2002-03 season, Arsenal were the dominant force in the early stages. However, with his team going strong in autumn, Wenger told journalists in a pre-match press conference that his team could go a season unbeaten. “It is not impossible,” he said.
However, Arsenal lurched suddenly into a first defeat of the campaign, and the critics who thought Wenger was arrogant and disrespectful relished that loss.
After missing out on the Premier League title that season, Arsenal rallied the following year and dominated the league. Their 2-2 draw at arch-rivals Tottenham ensured they won the league and with four games to go, Wenger’s dream was near reality.
Here was the chance to make history. “Make yourself immortal,” Wenger told his players. The players didn’t miss their chance.
Trailing at half-time to already relegated Leicester City in the last game of the season, the pressure was on. The team’s outstanding will-to-win, and the class of some of its most talented components – Thierry Henry who scored the equaliser and Vieira and Bergkamp who combined for the winner – made the difference.
Wenger does not think anyone will be able to emulate the class of 03-04 as the competition is much harder, but Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ seized their moment. His controversial prediction that it was possible, mocked at the time, became a beautiful truth.
Wenger is one of a handful of managers who can be said to have made a truly lasting impression on the Premier League.
Throughout his time at Arsenal, Wenger has revolutionised the club. With the Frenchman at the helm, they have moved from Highbury to the Emirates, built a new training ground at London Colney whilst also winning numerous of trophies, including three Premier League titles and six FA Cups.
But despite the many highs Wenger has experienced, he has also suffered much heartbreak. According to the Frenchman, the Champions League final defeat in Paris against Barcelona in 2006 will forever hurt him.
“It is my biggest regret,” he says. “I feel there was not much in it. The regret on the night is that we could not get the second goal.
“Thierry Henry, who has been magic for our club, had the opportunity to do that. We were 13 minutes away from winning the biggest trophy. Maybe I will have to die with that but it will still hurt.”
Wenger typifies longevity and loyalty. Despite getting offers from the biggest clubs in the world such as Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, he has stayed put.
When trophies were hard to come by after the stadium move and competition was harder due to the influx of money put into the Premier League, Wenger remained loyal and consistently got Arsenal into the Champions League each year.
Yet he was not delivering the trophies that Arsenal fans craved, and as the voices of dissent grew louder, the FA Cup win against Hull City at Wembley in 2014, was a huge moment in the club’s history.
“Winning this FA Cup was an important moment in the life of this team. When it comes after a long time it sometimes comes with suffering. We had such a feeling of relief and happiness,” Wenger said.
After back-to-back FA Cup wins in 2014 and 2015, Wenger’s hunger for winning trophies hasn’t diminished.
He now has a team capable of challenging the big guns and he insists his commitment to the club is still the same as when he first started.
“The club has grown a lot. I am still completely committed to it every day. I am today more nervous, more keen, to win the league than when I arrived here.”
The book achieves what it sets out to do. With the words of Lawrence and the images of MacFarlane, ‘The Wenger Revolution’ is a must-buy for Arsenal fans – but even non-Gooners will find it fascinating.
The book’s 11 chapters each focus on a different theme or period at Arsenal under Wenger. From his arrival to the stadium move to his opinions of current and former players, the book recounts every minor detail of Wenger’s reign.
His vision for Arsenal was in place when he first arrived, and since then the club has gone on a remarkable journey and achieved great feats. Much of this would not have been possible without the determination and ambition of one man: Arsene Wenger.
The Wenger Revolution (Twenty Years Of Arsenal) is available via Amazon for £20.00. Featured image by Stuart MacFarlane
Ranked amongst the top 10 stand-ups in Britain by The Independent, comedian Ian Stone has flourished to become one of the most talented topical acts in the country.
Currently presenting ‘The Football’s On’ for BT Sport, the north Londoner is a regular on shows like Mock the Week but his lifelong passion is Arsenal. Elephant Sport spoke to him about the highs and lows of being a Gooner, Arsene Wenger and much more.
How did you feel about the last weekend’s north London derby?
It was a fair result. They have some decent attacking players, they hit the post and I thought they played alright particularly in the first half an hour so 1-1 is probably fair.
We were kind of flat but we haven’t been brilliant in most games this season to be honest. We are muddling through.
It’s not the best but we are in it so I’ll take that.
Where do you think Arsenal will finish come the end of the season?
Genuinely – I’ve no idea. We could win it or we could finish third. The race will be between Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Spurs and us.
It will be tight. I would like us to be running away with the league but that’s not going to happen so I enjoy the big games.
Anyone can win it, even Spurs – I hate them but they’re a decent team. They have a good squad but ours is better.
Not having European football will benefit Liverpool and Chelsea but none of the teams are defensively good, apart from Spurs, so that’s why I think they are a threat.
Growing up what was the best thing you witnessed as an Arsenal fan?
That’s not an easy question. But if you’re talking about the school years, then seeing Liam Brady for the first time and going ‘wow the way he plays is just beautiful’. I loved him and I still do.
How did you first become interested in Arsenal?
My dad. He just took me to Highbury and I thought ‘yeah this is it, I love this place’. That’s what happens to most of us, isn’t it?
Favourite all-time Arsenal player and why?
Hard to pick one. Brady first, I loved him, and Pat Jennings too. When it was a one on one with the keeper and Jennings was in goal, you thought they were never going to beat him. Tony Adams, because he loved the club as much as I do and Ian Wright for the same reason.
Dennis Bergkamp because he’s probably the best footballer I have ever seen, Thierry Henry because he’s a close second. There’s many, but those players are great players and they loved the club, and as a fan that’s what you want really.
Dennis Bergkamp was a great but comparisons have been made between Mesut Ozil and him – what is your opinion of the German?
Ozil. That goal against Ludogorets. I could watch that goal a million times and I wouldn’t get bored. That second dummy… the bloke is a genius and unlike any footballer I have ever seen. He has a lovely style about him.
When he first arrived, I was a bit disappointed. There were some moments but he didn’t really impose himself in games and you thought ‘you really could win this game on your own if you could be bothered’ but now he’s bulked up a bit and he’s scoring goals.
He’s an outstanding footballer and I’m glad we’ve got him. I love watching him.
Away at Villa last season, he brought the ball down right in front of me and you just thought ‘how did he even do that’? That’s what I love about Ozil. He makes the incredibly difficult look incredibly easy.
Favourite current Arsenal player and why?
Alexis Sanchez. He just loves the game and he loves to play. Alexis is a great footballer. I’m so glad we have got him as it’s a pleasure to watch players like that.
Arsene Wenger is into his 20th season at Arsenal but what is your take on the boss?
Last season I was fed up, we had a great opportunity to win the title, and for all the romance of Leicester winning, we blew it and I blamed Wenger.
Sometimes when he’s signed players like Igor Stepanovs and Marouane Chamakh, I’ve sat there thinking ‘what on earth are you doing?’, but what can you say about the boss?
He creates beautiful football teams and will be remembered long after we’ve all gone as someone who created a style of football. He’s made some mistakes but we all have. He’ll go when he wants to go. I’m certainly not going to call for him to go.
What I would love more than anything is for him to win the Champions League and sign off with that. He deserves it but you know his legacy.
We all sit in the most beautiful of stadiums and that’s all down to him so I have the most positive of feelings towards him.
I’ve not had a 20-year relationship with anyone who hasn’t pissed me off though!
Who would you get as his replacement when he decides to leave?
I wanted Jurgen Klopp but he’s at the right club at Liverpool, they suit him. Anytime we ever talk about a possible replacement, it all goes wrong for them.
Ronald Koeman is a very good manager and we will see what happens despite losing 5-0 to Chelsea on the weekend!
There’s been talk of Diego Simeone but I don’t think he’s right for Arsenal. He needs the fans onside and I think our fans are a little bit different.
We can be aroused but I don’t think we are right for Simeone. We’ll see what happens but I don’t think Arsene is going away for a while yet.
Best goal you have ever witnessed as an Arsenal fan?
Against Bayer Leverkusen in a Champions League game at Highbury. Robert Pires was penned in in the corner by three defenders but somehow managed to play a 40-yard pass to Dennis Bergkamp in the centre of the pitch.
He killed it, exchanged passes with Patrick Vieira and he’s away. Bergkamp plays the ball inside the full back to Sylvain Wiltord, who lays it across to Thierry Henry, who’s sprinted 80-yards to side-foot it in.
From one end of the pitch to the other in six seconds – it was the most exhilarating thing I’ve seen Arsenal ever do.
Worst moment as an Arsenal fan?
Losing the Champions League final to Barcelona was bad – I enjoyed the trip to Paris but not the game. Losing the 2000 UEFA Cup final to Galatasaray on penalties was awful.
In the 1980 season, I went to 60 games out of 68, and we lost to West Ham in the FA Cup final, then Valencia in the Cup Winners Cup final and somehow managed to get hammered by Middlesbrough 5-0. That was pretty grim.
Best moment as an Arsenal fan?
Beating Barcelona at the Emirates a few years ago was pretty awesome, and Thierry Henry scoring on his comeback against Leeds United in the FA Cup was special too. I interviewed him for a radio thing and he loved talking about that moment.
How impressed have you been with Alexis Sanchez up front this season?
It’s working. I like the fact that there’s movement when Sanchez is up front. Olivier Giroud is a great sub and you can bring him on and play him in a two but I like the mobility of the team when Sanchez plays.
What have you made of the summer signings of Shkodran Mustafi and Granit Xhaka?
Excellent. Two very good signings. We needed spine – we’ve got it now.
How do you feel about the progress that Laurent Koscielny has made over the years to become one of the world’s best defenders?
I think most people realise how good Koscielny is. He’s got better as quite often defenders do so I’m pleased for him and he enjoys being at the club so let him stay as long as he wants!
Which player that left the club hurt you the most?
It killed me losing Patrick Vieira but he wanted to go. I remember him coming on as an 18 year old against Sheffield Wednesday – we were losing and he turned the game. He was a stunning footballer and a fighter and I loved him and Emmanuel Petit together.
How do you see Arsenal fairing throughout the season and could this be Wenger’s final season?
I think if he wins the Premier League or Champions League, I think he will stay. We can win the league but will we? If we get lucky with injuries, we will be there come May, but it’s very tight. Our position in the league is good at the moment – let’s see.
Lastly, how do you feel Arsenal will fair against Manchester United after the international break?
I want to beat them so badly. I’ve not seen Arsenal win many games at Old Trafford but I went to the FA Cup game there when we won 2-1 with Danny Welbeck scoring, and it was absolutely wicked – 9,000 of us there on a Monday night.
What I loved was weeks later, reading that the players had been so happy with the support and the difference it had made. That means a lot to the fans. I love winning at Old Trafford, so hopefully we will.
I’d love us to have a run in the Champions League too. I want us to finish first in the group and give ourselves a chance because if we do that, the second leg of the next round will be at home and that’s huge.
It’s a long time since we went far in Europe and if we got to the semis and do well in the League, Ozil and Sanchez will stay and we can continue to improve. We’re doing all right at the moment, I’m enjoying it so let’s continue!
One win in eight visits to the Britannia Stadium for Arsenal under Arsene Wenger.
It’s the stat that explains why Gunners fans dread the long journey to Stoke more than most away trips.
The Britannia is often portrayed as one of the most hostile locations for other teams to play at, a feared assault course for Premier League players to negotiate.
“When Tony Pulis was their manager, Stoke seemed to enjoy bullying opponents at the Britannia”
This year’s expedition to the Potteries from north London was accompanied by snow and ice, adding to the dread felt by the travelling hordes.
I have family in Manchester which I go to see occasionally and I’ve had the opportunity to make several trips to Stoke to support Arsenal over the years, usually heading back south after yet another disappointment.
Would it be different this season? With Arsenal tipped by many for their first title since 2004, getting something at Stoke City would surely be a good omen for their ambitions.
Would the Gunners be helped by Stoke’s more attractive style of play under Mark Hughes? When Tony Pulis was their manager, they seemed to enjoy bullying opponents at the Britannia.
One thing that didn’t help them was the absence of the in-form Mesut Ozil. The German midfielder missed out because of a foot injury, allowing Mohamed Elneny to make his debut. The 23-year-old Egyptian recently completed his transfer from FC Basel.
After a 3-3 draw at Liverpool in their previous match, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain started in the number 1o role, with Mathieu Flamini and Aaron Ramsey in the starting line up – the latter making this his 250th appearance for Arsenal – at the hub of midfield.
The hosts were unchanged from the line-up that defeated Norwich City. Stoke’s combination of pace and strength has left many teams with an uphill battle this season especially at home, with victories over both Manchester clubs and Chelsea. Would Arsenal be their next victim?
The match got off to a slow start, and it took 20 minutes for the first serious threat from Stoke as Jonathan Walters found Marko Arnautovic outside the Arsenal box. The Austrian’s inventive flick made space for Afellay 20 yards out but his dangerous-looking strike went a yard or so wide.
“Butland was called upon again shortly afterwards when he was forced to tip over a fizzing effort from Oxlade-Chamberlain”
That seemed to spur Arsenal to switch on, and they pushed up the other end and created the best chance of the half.
Joel Campbell was the innovator, finding space 25 yards out before slipping the ball into the path of Olivier Giroud.
The Frenchman got clear of the hosts’ back four but saw his well-placed effort gathered up by Butland, who had charged out to narrow the angle.
The young England goalie was called upon again shortly afterwards when he was forced to tip over a fizzing effort from Oxlade-Chamberlain. At the other end, Petr Cech saved Joselu’s header as an evenly-matched first period ended.
Arsenal could have taken the lead only 70 seconds after the restart. Again, it was Giroud who went close, with a strong header from Ramsey’s corner which forced Butland to make a outstanding reflex save at the near post.
“Arsenal weren’t losing, and their solid performance was a big improvement on what their fans were so used to seeing at Stoke”
The visitors were making progress, as Giroud and then Theo Walcott both had penalty claims waved away before Stoke rallied.
With Nacho Monreal pushing up, the home side counter-attacked, working the ball around well to make a good opportunity for Joselu who cleverly turned away from Laurent Koscienly before seeing his well-hit strike tipped away by Cech at full stretch.
Bojan looked set to take advantage of the rebound but the ever-alert Cech shuffled back to divert his shot wide.
Joselu then forced Cech into another fantastic save midway through the second half, although the visitors were by now pushing up into the final third without making it count.
But Arsenal weren’t losing, and their solid performance was a big improvement on what their fans were so used to seeing at Stoke.
Cech has, of course, made a big difference, keeping his team in games and earning valuable points for the Gunners which might have slipped from their grasp.
“For once, the journey home from Stoke was not a completely deflating one for Arsenal fans”
With the match becoming more stretched, Wenger brought on Alex Iwobi. The 19-year-old striker helped make a late opportunity for the Gunners, providing Oxlade-Chamberlain with a decent through ball to play into the lively Campbell who agonisingly curled it over the bar.
There was time for one more opportunity for Stoke but, fortunately for Arsenal, Ramsey was correctly positioned to clear Walters’ direct header off the line before Cech booted Joselu’s rebound shot clear to guarantee the point.
So an even contest ended at 0-0, thanks mainly to some world-class goalkeeping towards the end of the match. Arsenal kept their title challenge on track and, for once, the journey home from Stoke was not a completely deflating one for their fans.