Nigel Winterburn on Arsenal’s summer and what to expect this season [888sport Exclusive Interview]

888sport recently spoke to former Arsenal defender Nigel Winterburn ahead of the new Premier League season to preview the upcoming season and discuss his thoughts on their new signings. The former Arsenal legend talks about how Pepe can link up with Lacazette and Aubameyang to create an even more deadly front line, as well as discussing how Ozil has ten games to prove to Emery why he should start. 

Gunners Town would like to thank 888sport for allowing us to share his views.


Nigel Winterburn, speaking exclusively to 888sport

Koscielny’s Arsenal career ending on a sour note

It’s such a shame that it looks like ending on a sour note for Koscielny and it really shouldn’t be like that. I had a couple of run-ins with George Graham during his time there but I never, ever refused to play a game of football or refused to travel. I think there is slightly more going on than we realise and I’ve got so much respect for Koscielny for what he’s done while at the club. But he should have travelled. He should have then sought out a chat with the manager while they were away on tour and got that message back to the board as to why he was so unhappy with the situation.

I think we’re all guessing why he was so upset. He may have thought there was a deal on the table and with the injuries he’s had maybe he feels like he’s put his body on the line for the club. Was there a free transfer in the offering?

At the end of it all though you make yourself available to travel. You make yourself available to play. Then, with social media being as it is now, you can say ‘you know what, I’m not happy with the way I’ve been treated. I’m going to have to speak to the manager and board and let’s get this resolved’.

I would prefer it all to be in private but if you do put something out there and then go and travel and – if fit – play for your team you get so much more respect from the supporters. Because we all appreciate there is often differences between players and clubs. It’s how you deal with it that inevitably is the real issue.

Ozil’s fate lies in the first ten games of the season

I love watching Ozil play when he’s at his very best but last season he wasn’t influential in the team and I’m not sure what was really going on. Was his mind not right? Was it the demands being put on him? Was it the new training regime? Did he not fit in to Unai Emery’s style?

This season we will find out very quickly because Ceballos has come in who is a similar kind of player. So we will find out everything we need to know about Emery’s thinking within the first ten games. Whether Ozil can elevate this team to the next level or if Emery is not happy with his contribution.

He’s a terrific player to watch but when we get caught out defensively his enthusiasm to get back is questioned. That’s why perhaps we need to get him on the ball more in attacking areas but we’re not Manchester City or Liverpool who can dominate the ball a lot.

Did enough to start?

Holding can follow in Tony Adams footsteps as captain

Unai Emery doesn’t want one captain, he wants four or five but as I’ve always said: you become a captain when you walk onto the pitch anyway. You have the same responsibilities as a captain because if something is happening in a game that you’re not happy with you should have the confidence and the authority to organise those players in front of you differently, particularly if you’re coming under pressure down your side. You can’t look across at the captain and say ‘we need to do this’. It could be too late. So you have to take the role of captain when you’re playing anyway.

So there is not more pressure on giving the captaincy to someone like Holding who is young. I remember from my time when Tony Adams did it. There were also times when I was captain myself and I didn’t do anything differently: I wasn’t more or less vocal. I played my same game and tried to lead by example and if you’re a young player that’s one of the things you need to do to gain the respect of the senior players. You do that by what you do out on the pitch.

Pepe can unleash Lacazette and Aubameyang

I’ve only seen little bits of Pepe but as soon as you get linked to any player I’m like every supporter, going straight on YouTube and watching all the best bits. What I’ve liked from what I’ve seen is that he’s very direct, got good skill and seems difficult to knock off the ball. He seems willing to work back as well.

I thought Arsenal’s approach work was too slow last season, particularly without Ramsey in the team, and he’s somebody who can move distances with the ball and be an exciting link-up with Lacazette and Aubameyang. I think that will be quite exciting for supporters.


Pepe and Ceballos will boost the team but Arsenal must sign a defender in the next week

I’m quite excited about the Pepe signing and I hope it goes through. It would be a disaster for the club if it didn’t. At the end of last season I was adamant that we needed a new centre-half; potentially a new midfield player and also a wide player as well with plenty of pace and ability to attack in the wide areas. We had a problem there and clearly Unai Emery believes that as well.

I know it looks like we’re doing things the wrong way around and it could be asked why Arsenal aren’t spending £70m on a defender but maybe that defender at this time is not available. You can’t always do things in your preferred order.

I’m excited about the players who have come in so far and I certainly think they will enhance the squad. I’m just now hoping that we can address the defence in the next few days as well.

Koscielny must be sold quickly if he cannot overcome differences with Emery  

There is not a lot that Arsenal can do. The player will probably be fined for not travelling then the manager has to sit down with the board and assess the situation. He has to speak to the player. If he wants Koscielny can they overcome their differences? Is it detrimental to the rest of the squad and can he be integrated back? If that’s not the case the player simply has to be moved on.

I wouldn’t think there was a huge transfer fee involved so I think the club can deal with this very quickly if they want to.

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Arsenal urgently need a centre-back to stop their defensive rot

My worry is that if you look over the last couple of seasons the away form has been poor and the goals conceded has been 51 against both times in the league alone. That tells you that something isn’t working. Unfortunately Arsene Wenger’s last season defensively wasn’t great and last season Unai Emery didn’t have what I’d class as his own team.

The brunt of the problem comes from your back four or back five but also the work-rate and positioning of the players in front of them and we saw that again last season where towards the end the top four was wide open but they couldn’t cope with the away games.

The problem they have now is that Holding, Chambers, Papastathopoulos, Koscielny, Mustafi and Konstantinos are all centre-halves and that is making it difficult to bring in another one because the squad is top heavy with them. This makes it especially frustrating that we can’t find a partnership consistent enough to least propel us towards a top four position. My gut feeling is that we need to bring in another centre-half or these problems will only continue, those problems being an inability to keep clean sheets and seeing games out.


Alves to Arsenal is a non-starter and not because of his age

The way that Arsenal have been trying to conduct their transfers this summer is by being realistic – because we’re fighting to get back in the top four, not for titles – and it looks as if they’re targeting younger players. Players with the ability to go on and progress and are very hungry for success.

With Alves, a player with such experience, would he be happy when Bellerin came back from injury and became first choice again? With the wages that would be involved I’m not seeing that coming off. Arsenal would better use those wages in other areas.

In terms of ability and fitness he is still very enthusiastic about the game so I don’t think that would be a problem. I just think that even at his age Alves will want to be first choice and I’m not sure that would happen when Bellerin came back.

This season we will see the real Unai Emery

It’s difficult for Emery because a lot of people wanted that change and they got it last season but the problem is that we still don’t exactly know how he wants to play. That’s because he inherited a large group of players and as you go along its fine to have a process in mind and put that in action but if you then realise you don’t have the right players to play that way you have to adapt.

That’s why this season will be very, very interesting – and particularly if we can sign a couple more players – because then we’ll get to see how Unai Emery wants to play and then make a proper judgement.

He was restricted last season by not bringing in many players so in essence it was still Arsene Wenger’s team out there. Now it will be a huge season for Emery and Arsenal in terms of people assessing how the club is moving forward.

Emery can improve his attacking options all he likes: it’s the defence that needs fixing

We’ve got now a front four, with a front three and an attacking midfield player behind and they are very exciting players. But they’re going to have to play at a high level because our record at keeping clean sheets has not been the best.

If you’re in advanced areas and have possession of the ball that takes pressure off the rest of the team defensively. It’s a balance though that Unai Emery will have to get right. We saw again at the weekend (when the Gunners lost to Lyon 2-1 in a friendly) the frailties when trying to hold a high line. To me that was simple, as George Graham used to say: put pressure on the ball and keep straight lines. If there’s no pressure drop off and mark the attacker’s run. It looks like Emery will go with a back four this season and he has to get that right very quickly.


Tierney is a great fit for Emery’s revamped plans

I think most full-backs now are strong on the ball and good athletes and are used to get forward. They’re used differently to when I played. Now they’re high and wide and in attacking areas earlier. Tierney fits that bill.

Celtic have enjoyed some Champions League football but in the league they’ve been dominant and so how much has he been challenged? Also, can he take that step up into the Premier League? There is always a doubt of course no matter who the player is but from what I’m hearing they’re suggesting he’ll be a good acquisition.

It will be interesting to see if by the end of the transfer window Tierney has come in because they’ve still got two players who could play in that position. Interest in him makes me think though that Emery wants a back four and to have someone who is more athletic in that area.

Bringing through the kids will ease pressure on Emery and the board

At the moment we’re concentrating on the board because the influential supporter’s groups are coming together to post about their unhappiness about how the club is being run. But then if you spend £70m on a player that suggests that maybe the purse strings will be opened a little bit more.

If those players don’t come in and Arsenal struggle the focus will come back to the board but also the manager inevitably get some criticism too along the way.

Hopefully we’re going to see some different players this season and hopefully some of the younger players will come through too and those younger players will help to integrate the supporters into a line of thinking that offers hope. By merging home-grown players with bought players that will take a couple of seasons to get right but the supporters will put up with that.

Zabaleta can go out on a high at a ripe age at the Hammers like I did

The full-back role has changed immensely from my playing days but for me once I hit thirty I trained as hard as anybody in the team whereas before that I wasn’t a great trainer. You also need your recovery and your manager’s help in order to go again. I had that with Arsene Wenger and then Harry Redknapp to start with at West Ham – even though he put me in as a wing-back when he told me he wouldn’t!

In the modern game as a full-back it’s harder the older you become because of the way the game is played these days and the positions they have to take. When I played it was either 4-4-1-1 or 4-4-2 and you always had somebody in front of you to help you. With the new systems such as 4-3-3 these wide players drift off the line and so if play breaks down early full-backs can get savagely exposed.

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Only West Ham or Everton can disturb the top six clique

If you’re West Ham you’re wondering if you can infiltrate the top six. That’s going to be difficult because of the top six’s consistency plus then you have Wolves and Everton.

West Ham have got some money and have spent that money and the question now is can that propel them into the top six and maybe even be talked about for the top four eventually.

For me it’s between West Ham and Everton to make any considerable movement on where they’ve finished in seasons gone by and disturb that top six.

Nigel Winterburn’s quick-fire questions

Score prediction for Newcastle v Arsenal?

1-2 to Arsenal

First goalscorer?


Who will win the Premier League?

Manchester City

Who will win the Champions League?

Manchester City though it slightly worries me how much they’ll miss Vincent Kompany

Read the full 888sport interview with Nigel Winterburn

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