EXCLSUIVE: Ex-Arsenal defender Justin Hoyte talks Mikel Arteta, 2007 League Cup Final and THAT game against Cristiano Ronaldo. (Part Two)

Former Arsenal defender, Justin Hoyte

Former Arsenal defender, Justin Hoyte

Onto the second part of this exclusive interview with former Arsenal defender, Justin Hoyte. If you missed the excellent part 1 it’s here.

As mentioned in Part One of this exclusive interview, at the very beginning of his career Justin Hoyte trained with the Arsenal first team of 2003. Training with the Invincibles at such a young age was of course a huge challenge and Hoyte admitted, “it was hard to bring out my own personality.”

One of the main things that Hoyte was blown away by during this period was the mentality of the team, a ruthless, winning mentality that then-manager, Arsene Wenger had instilled into his record-breaking team. When asked if there has been a mentality shift from that side to the modern-day Arsenal sides, he said:

“Yes. Teams now don’t fear Arsenal. When teams are going to the Emirates or Arsenal are going to them, they don’t fear them. They’re going into the game thinking we can win this one. Whereas previously games I’ve been involved in even on the bench or watching at home people had been fearful of Arsenal thinking, Oh God Arsenal are coming. We’re going to get battered. Nowadays it doesn’t feel like that.”

Hoyte was of course one of the talented young Arsenal team that lost to Chelsea in the 2007 League Cup Final. The Gunners of course lost 2-1 in that game conceding two goals to a name that will still frighten Arsenal fans to this day, Didier Drogba.

Justin Hoyte playing in the 2007 League Cup Final against Chelsea.

Justin Hoyte playing in the 2007 League Cup Final against Chelsea.

In a team that featured, Armand Traore, Theo Walcott, Cesc Fabregas, Denilson and Abou Diaby among other notable young players, you would have thought that the nerves would have been high coming up against a stacked Chelsea team featuring the likes of Drogba, Frank Lampard, Claude Makelele, John Terry and Michael Ballack at the peak of their powers. However, Hoyte dismissed this notion when he said:

“We thought that if we could show that we were good in the League Cup, then we could show that we were good enough to get into the first team and a lot of us actually did get into the first team through it.”

Additionally, he also revealed how he suffered a serious hamstring injury right before kick-off ad played majority of the final with a severely injured hamstring.

“Not many people know that, in the warmup to the game a few weeks before I’d pulled my hamstring in the build up to the game and I was just recovering from it, but I obviously never wanted to miss the cup final. Going into the game I felt fine. Everything was good but during the warmup we did a few quick feet and a sprint, and I actually felt my hamstring, so I knew I wasn’t 100% but at the same time I wasn’t going to tell the physio or anyone that id pulled my hamstring because I wanted to play in the game. I was playing with a pulled hamstring throughout the whole game, and it was not until the 80th minute that I actually told Garry Lewin the physio at the time that my hamstring had completely gone, and it was hanging off and I was just walking or jogging in that game. I managed to get through the game and then after full-time, I finally realised that I had two tears in my hamstring.”

Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith-Rowe.

As Justin was part of a previous batch of fearless Arsenal youngsters, and as a graduate from the Arsenal academy himself, it was only right to find out what he thought about the current crop of exciting Arsenal youngsters that are lighting up the Emirates this season.

“I think it’s great, it’s great to see over the years Arsenal have had one or two or a few players from the academy get into the first team, stamp their authority and get into the starting XI. The young players have done really well especially Saka and Smith Rowe. They’ve done really well when they’ve played and unfortunately some of the others from the academy haven’t done as well at Arsenal but have gone on to do well for themselves. Hopefully they can continue to do well, carry the team forward and have that fight about them.”

Speaking to Justin back in September, when Arsenal had just completed an unfortunate trio of losses at the start of the season to Brentford, Chelsea and Manchester City, optimism was not as it highest. We all knew what the atmosphere was like around the club during that time and the pain that Arsenal fans worldwide were in did not evade the former Arsenal defender.

When asked if he still follows the Gunners he amusingly replied, “I say to people it hurts me to say that I am a diehard Arsenal fan, the way things are going but yes, I still watch them and I still support them.”

Arsenal have since then significantly turned their season around and at the time of writing find themselves in the top four for the first time in what seems like forever. They have an exciting array of youthful talent, a solid defensive backline and are doing all this without their talisman and ex-captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Hoyte’s opinion on manager, Mikel Arteta, is an opinion shared by a large portion of the Arsenal fan base.

“He’s trying to bring in a certain style of player that Arsenal fans are used to. He’s got the right ideas. Is it working right now, probably not? Will it? Hopefully, yes. Arteta is still a fairly new manager and given time he can hopefully turn things around for Arsenal but at the same time he is not going to have long. I know it’s a project, but at the same time Arsenal fans want to be winning stuff and not fighting for mid-table. We want to be a big team again, fighting to be in the top four.”

Early on in Hoyte’s career, he had to make the decision between representing England and Trinidad and Tobago. He ultimately chose to wait for an England call-up that unfortunately never came and rejected a call-up to Trinidad and Tobago in the process. When asked about his decision to reject this international call-up, Hoyte said:

“The reason I rejected the call up was because I was on the fringes of playing for England which I mean was way out of my depth but at the time I was hearing you might get called up for England, playing for Arsenal, had played for England from U17’s to U21’s maybe the next step is the England senior side. So, when you’re hearing talks like that and you’re playing that’s all you’re thinking about. 

Trinidad then came and asked me to go to the World Cup which I wish I did. I said no because I technically didn’t help the team get them there, so it was unfair for me to then say, right I’m ditching England to go play for Trinidad in a World Cup just because they’ve made it there through someone else. I felt like I’m taking their spot. That’s what my thought process was and looking back at that I wish I didn’t. I wish I’d just gone but that’s a learning curve. Eventually I got to play international football with Trinidad, I wish I had gone earlier because it was a great experience.”

Justin Hoyte defending against Cristiano Ronaldo in 2008.

Justin Hoyte defending against Cristiano Ronaldo in 2008.

Finally, onto the game against Manchester United. Sunday 13th April 2008. An unfortunate 2-1 loss to the Red Devils that included the infamous clip of Cristiano Ronaldo’s quick footwork resulting in a young Justin Hoyte absolutely clattering the Portuguese winger and leaving him in a heap on the floor. Hoyte comically commented on his battle against CR7 and said:

“I get sent the video every day and since he has returned to the Premiership, I’ve been sent that video more times than not. It’s a situation where he got the ball 1v1 and for me as a defender, I’ve always been told don’t dive in. So, I’m not diving in. He can do his little skills but at the end of the day, you’re only going to go in the corner. You’re not going to go past me and I’m not going to slide on the floor and you’re not going to make me look stupid. That would definitely be on the highlight reel.”

“I just ushered him into the corner jockeyed him like I know how to defend, and he turned his back and I thought you know what, I’ve had enough here. You’ve done what you needed to do. I’m not having it no more. I tried to get the ball, but I wish I’d have two footed him at the time.”

“If I’d known it would have been sent to me so many times, I would have two footed him.”

Former Arsenal defender Justin Hoyte sat down with Dan George and Nnamdi Onyeagwara in an episode of the “Talk Your Talk Podcast” to get an insight to the former Gunner’s career and his period in the Arsenal first team.

Nnamdi Onyeagwara

Twitter: @NnamdiOnye

A reminder that Dan’s part 1 can be read here.

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