As the busy Christmas schedule gets underway with the visit of Arsenal, TEB had a chat with James Dodd from Fox Sports News to find out about the season so far for the Gunners.
Q. What did you make of last season for Arsenal?
Last season seemed like it had been on the cards for a while, culminating in Arsenal missing out on the Champions League places for the first time in over twenty years. Now don’t get me wrong, winning the FA Cup was fantastic and as a fan of a big club I can imagine that fans of smaller teams get fed up when they see fans like some of Arsenal’s whinging about winning a trophy because it’s not the Premier League, and I understand that.
It just felt as though Arsenal had been in a Groundhog Day scenario for years and last year was the year that it finally caught up with us and resulted in missing out on the one that thing that the club had prioritised since they stopped challenging for the title. It was frustrating but I tried to look at the positives and for me that was the Europa League and aiming to win a trophy of which I’ve not seen my club win so there are definitely plusses to take! As a football fan you have always got to be optimistic, right?!
Q. What were your hopes for the new season before a ball had been kicked?
My main hope for the season was that we would change. Arsene Wenger had signed a new two-year contract and most fans believed it would be his last (despite the majority of them not wanting him to extend at all) so we were all just wanting something different. We were hoping that he would change his ways and show us that he has still got some gas left in the tank and he is capable of keeping up with the new boys in town. As you can see, Arsenal are over twenty points off the league leaders and we are only in December. We’ve only really turned up against one big team – albeit against Spurs and it’s always nice to put them back in their place with a convincing win – but still, it’s just not been the change we all prayed for.
Q. The pressure still seems to be mounting for Arsene Wenger but do you think it is time for a change?
I have the utmost respect for Arsene Wenger as both a human being and a man. I’ve interviewed him on numerous occasions and he’s intelligent, engaging and eloquent but these things don’t change the fact that he is past his sell-by date at Arsenal. There was a time when he was ahead of the curve in the Premier League and managers were cueing up to replicate his style and approach to football. The problem is, managers have seen what he did, changed it, tweaked it and then updated it and unfortunately for Arsene, he hasn’t been able to come up with a way to stay with the pack.
The new generation of super-coaches have left him behind and find it easy to play against Arsenal now because they know Arsenal will only ever play one way and that is to try and win with style and beauty. Whilst I love that style of football, there are more ways than one to win a game and all the other teams in our category are better at it than us, hence why we are only challenging for top four spot at best.
Q. Is the dynamic at Arsenal about to change with rumours of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil exiting the club in the near future or is it time for an overhaul of the current squad?
This time last year I was gutted about the prospect of Alexis Sanchez leaving but was okay with the idea that Ozil might leave. Now, fast forward twelve months and it’s the other way round. Sanchez was the lifeblood of the team, he was energetic, infectious with his pressing and was our match winner. But now, he jut simply doesn’t want to be there, he’s stopped trying and it’s becoming detrimental to the team. Ozil, was the opposite. He’d turn up in the games at the Emirates against lesser teams, look brilliant, but when it came to the crunch games against big opposition, he’d go missing. Now, he’s the player that is stepping up to the plate and making it count when it matters most and I think Arsenal will miss him if he departs more than Sanchez.
As for the rest of the squad, like all teams, there is probably too much deadwood. Players like Theo Walcott, Mathieu Debuchy, Mohamed Elneny, David Ospina etc etc are all just not good enough to play for Arsenal now. They haven’t improved since they joined the club and with their big wages it makes it difficult to offload them.
Q. How was the summer transfer window for the club and were all needs addressed in the squad?
Well, the early signings of Sead Kolasinac and Alexandre Lacazette had most Arsenal fans really excited. They had seen the club break it’s transfer record on a proven ‘Number 9’ for the first time in years and he’s been a big hit with the fans. Kolasinac was an instant hit because of his rampaging style and ability to score but also defend. However, it’s always the same with Arsenal and Arsene Wenger – they never sign the requisite number of players or players for necessary positions.
We have been crying out for a proper ball-winning midfielder for years – since Gilberto Silva left! – and we still haven’t signed one. Granit Xhaka isn’t good enough for the money spent and when you add to the mix the fact that Alexis Sanchez will be leaving on a free (probably to Manchester City) and there’s a chance that Ozil and Jack Wilshere could well be off as well, it seems like it’s another case of ‘One step forward, one step back’ again.
Q. Do you expect much business by the club in the January transfer window?
Honestly, no. Being Arsenal we are always used by agents and other clubs to tout their players for business but in reality, we’ll end up signing a relatively unknown younger player for the future. We’ve been linked with Sevilla midfileder Steven N’Zonzi and that’d be brilliant as he’s the combative, powerful midfielder we need. I could potentially see a situation where Arsenal sell Alexis Sanchez for a cut price deal as he doesn’t appear to have a good relationship with his team mates anymore and the rumours of a rift with Arsene Wenger are still there. He’s only got six months left on his contract and if he isn’t playing to his full potential and doesn’t want to be there then it’s probably best to sell him. If this happens then I could see Arsenal signing a replacement for him and also giving Ozil the big contract he wants.
Q. Explain in no more than 140 characters how the last ten years have been for the football the club.
Without doubt, they’ve been irritating. So many potential highs that always ended in failure because of our own shortcomings. 3 FA Cups but could have been so much more.
Q. What do you make of Palace’s current predicament?
I feel for Palace. I’ve worked at Selhurst countless times in my role in the media and I find that everyone who works there genuinely cares about the history and the future of the club, it’s in their blood. Steve Parish loves the media and I guess himself to a certain extent but he’s a proper fan, he wants the best for the club.
They’ve made some bad signings with Christian Benteke at the heart of that. He’s on close to £100k a week and he just isn’t the lionheart that Palace need if they are in a relegation fight. I’m also dubious about Yohan Cabaye sometimes as I know that he’s a talented player but he also strikes me as someone that plays when he wants to play and when it suits him. When you’re in a scrap with teams at the bottom of the table and you have a player that IS on £100k a week then you expect him to be having more of an impact than he does.
The appointment of Frank de Boer was a bad one but fair play to Parish for recognising his mistake and making the call and making a change. Roy Hodgson has been a brilliant acquisition for Palace. He had something to prove after the way he failed with England and his passion for revenge if you like has been Palace’s gain. I think Palace will stay up for sure.
Q. Name one player from EACH side that you think the opposition should consider a real threat.
Okay, I know most Palace fans will expect me to say Wilfried Zaha as the threat for Arsenal to watch out for but I’m going to go different and say Scott Dann. Arsenal have such an achilles heel at set pieces and are really suspect at defending them and when you have someone as dangerous as Dann at corners and freekicks, he’s guarenteed to get a chance or two. As for Arsenal, it has to be Alexandre Lacazette. He’s mobile, has excellent movement and predatory instincts and I think he could cause the Palace defence more than a few problems.
Q. Your prediction?
My head actually says a 1-1 draw but I have to go with my heart and that says 2-1 to Arsenal!
Q. And finally, perhaps you could give us an insight into working in sports media, how it came about for you and what impact (if any) do fan sites like TEB have on the industry.
I actually trained as a written journalist but fell into radio with talkSPORT purely by chance and never looked back. I started off on work experience and worked my way up through the ranks to become talkSPORT’s Live Football Producer which saw me travel around the country producing live commentaries every week on Premier League, Championship, FA Cup, Champions League and international games and it truly was a great job. I worked with some of the biggest names in the industry and met some huge stars past and present as well as my honing my skills to be able to interview some of the biggest managers and players in the world.
I have always enjoyed reading fanzines and fan websites because I’m a fan. I used to write for The Gooners – the most popular Arsenal fanzine – and would always buy it instead of the match day program. In my new role now as TV Producer with Fox Sports News in Australia actually sees me read more fanzines and listen to more football podcasts than before purely because I have to watch the games at different times and it really does make you appreciate how dedicated some fans are around the world.