Ask the Opposition

Ask the Opposition 51: Arsenal (with Tim Stillman)

We’re on the eve of Manchester City vs. Arsenal, always one of the most anticipated games of the season. To get the lowdown on Arsenal, their season so far, Wenger, and of course tomorrow’s game, we chatted to Arseblog columnist Tim Stillman.

Hi Tim, thanks for joining us. First of all, what have you made of Arsenal’s start to the Premier League season, and has it altered your targets for the year ahead?

My pleasure!

The start to the season has been quite positive. We’ve been trying to crack that centre forward position for years because, though Giroud is very good, he forces us into a different style of play that doesn’t really suit us. Stumbling across Alexis as a striker has really solved an issue and made us much more fluid, unpredictable for opposing teams and far more entertaining to watch. I still think there is an element of caution, the Chelsea home game was the only standout performance against a very good side. We drew with United, PSG twice, Spurs and lost to Liverpool and to Everton at Goodison. We still have to go to Stamford Bridge, Anfield, White Hart Lane and the Etihad yet. That said, our away form is decent.

The topic of Arsene Wenger is one which splits Arsenal fans down the middle. What are your thoughts on Wenger? Is he still the right man to take Arsenal forward?

I think so, yes. I think when you’ve been in a role for a long time people tend to exaggerate your flaws and forget your strengths because they’re bored of your face and your voice. I did begin to wonder at the end of his last contract whether it might just be easier and less exhausting for all concerned if he did go. There were a few more top managers on the market then too, whereas now they all seem to be settled at different clubs. I am happy for him to stay, I think once the hysteria dies down a little, history will judge Arsene Wenger impeccably.

Arsenal strengthened their squad in the summer transfer window with the additions of Lucas Perez, Granit Xhaka and Shkodran Mustafi. What did you make of the business conducted by the club?

I thought he did some good business really. I still think we lack a proper left sided playmaker, much as I like Iwobi, he is still learning the game. I do wonder if we would have bought Lucas Perez if Wenger had known that Alexis would turn into such an effective centre forward. We needed Xhaka because Santi can’t go on forever and has had an achilles problem for a while and Mustafi has been a revelation really.

Is there an area of the Arsenal squad that you believe to be particularly strong/weak?

We’re strong in central midfield, yet we almost have too many options! The manager hasn’t been able to quite work out what his best pairing is in there. Like I said, I think we could do with an elite left wing option.

On to Manchester City now. What are your perceptions of City as a club, both past and present?

I was speaking to a friend about this the other day, there’s never been any needle really between Arsenal and City fans. I remember going to Maine Road and you guys applauding us off the pitch because you wanted us to beat United to the title! I’ve been to the new stadium every time we’ve played there and I think the two sets of fans have always been ok with one another. I still don’t think City have quite embedded themselves in the British psyche as an elite club yet. But with Guardiola that will all change and it is changing already because of the increased scrutiny he brings. The press really want him to fail to prove some kind of point about the Premier League.

I always felt City fans had a great sense of humour about their club and an amusing fatalism and I don’t think that’s gone away yet. Maybe it will a couple more years down the line as the club evolves more and becomes more successful. For what it’s worth, I think the City owners have been very impressive with their planning for the club. I follow women’s football very closely and what they have done with the women’s team is superb and I have great respect for it. It’s not just about throwing money at them, they involve the girls in every aspect of the club promotionally speaking too. They have shown amazing commitment to the infrastructure, I have visited the Etihad campus and it’s an incredible piece of work.

Since the 2008 takeover of the club by Sheikh Mansour, City have purchased a number of Arsenal players such as Samir Nasri and Emmanuel Adebayor. More recently, City have been linked to Hector Bellerin, who has now decided to stay with the Gunners. The latest name to be thrown into the mix is Alexis Sanchez – do you think the Blues have any chance of luring Arsenal’s star player to the Etihad?

If City put up the money he’s after, he would be tempted I am sure. At first I wasn’t worried about the potential of him going to City because of his history with Guardiola. Now he is a centre forward, that might be different. I’m not so sure Arsenal would do that business though. Besides, I also follow and write about the Brasileirão and the Brazilian national team too and I can tell you you have a bona fide star in Gabriel Jesús, so you don’t have any need for Alexis! 😊

If you could have one player join Arsenal from the current City squad, who would it be and why?

I would love to have taken Gabriel Jesús, but it would probably be Kevin de Bruyne. I like Sterling a lot but we have players like him (even if I don’t think they’re quite as good), I would have said Aguero prior to Alexis’ transformation. I really like David Silva, but we have Santi. de Bruyne would complete our squad I think, that would be the “elite” left wing option I was talking about earlier.

Finally, please can we have your predicted Arsenal team, and your prediction for the final score on Sunday?

Team I think will be; Cech; Bellerin, Gabriel, Koscileny, Monreal, Walcott, Coquelin, Xhaka, Iwobi, Özil, Alexis in a kind of 4-4-1-1 we’ve been playing of late. I’m going to say it’ll be 2-2, like last season.

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