Former Gunner grilled
Former Arsenal midfielder and current TalkSport pundit Stewart Robson spoke exclusively to ManUtd.com this week ahead of the Gunners’ visit to Old Trafford…
Arsenal may have won 7-5 on Tuesday but they’ve not been in great form in recent weeks. That said, we’re not going to see a repeat of the 8-2 scoreline from last season, are we?
Having watched Arsenal for a number of years I can say with some confidence that they’re a very hard team to predict. They shouldn’t be, mind you, because every year they start well and then falter. But you don’t know from one week to the next what Arsenal you’re going to get. You don’t know if you’re going to get the brilliant, free-passing, high-energy football or the poor defending and pedestrian passing. Against Manchester City, which, on paper, was their toughest game of the season up until now, they were great and played them off the park in many respects. In the big games they’ve done quite well. I’m not sure which Arsenal will turn up at Old Trafford.
What we do know is that Arsenal never sit back at Old Trafford…
No, they never do that. They sometimes get pushed back by the opposition but they approach each game trying to play their football and win the game. Their full-backs will push on down the line, their midfielders will run forward, they’ll want to dominate the game. But while Arsenal can dominate the game with their passing, the very best sides also dominate the game defensively by pressing and closing down the opposition. Sometimes Arsenal are bypassed too easily.
What have you made of United this season?
I’ve been to Old Trafford a couple of times this season and seen some scintillating forward play. Certainly, Robin van Persie has settled in really well and I like the diagonal runs Danny Welbeck makes. Antonio Valencia has also been outstanding. But I question whether some of the midfielders’ defensive qualities are good enough and the full-backs sometimes get caught high up the pitch. United look more vulnerable at the back this season but that’s not necessarily the defenders’ fault. Defending has to come from all over the pitch.
Just how good a player have United signed in Robin van Persie?
Robin van Persie has gone from being an injury-prone player who only delivers in fits and starts to a mature, world-class forward. He’s not only scoring goals but his general all-round play is also good. Arsenal obviously know about his qualities – they know he likes to drag the ball back onto his left foot when he comes infield, they know he can make darting runs in front of defenders – but it’s one thing knowing about a player and another stopping him.
What’s been missing from Arsenal teams in recent years? They’re always competitive and yet ultimately fall just short.
In my view I don’t think they’ve been strong enough mentally and I think that comes from the manager. The way Arsene Wenger gets frustrated and makes excuses for his sides offers the players a get-out. They’ve also not been good enough defensively for quite some time – and I’m not talking about the back four in isolation, I’m talking about a lack of a defensive strategy all over the pitch.
Arsenal’s commitment to youth is admirable, but has it also cost the club in some respects?
I think it’s a bit of a myth when people talk about Arsenal developing all these young players. Jack Wilshere is an exception to the rule but not too many other Arsenal youngsters have come through the system in recent years. Instead, Arsenal buy young. They buy young players from abroad and, fair play, they were one of the first clubs to do that and give them an opportunity. But they don’t produce an awful lot of players.
How much does Jack Wilshere’s return boost Arsenal?
In my mind, Wilshere can be the best English midfielder of his generation. Technically he’s the best player England have produced since Paul Gascoigne. He can go past people, he can pick a pass, he can run games and he has an arrogance about him that Gascoigne also had. Jack Wilshere, at his best, can be an important player for both Arsenal and England in the years to come. He’s an exceptional player.
What have you made of the two big signings of the summer – Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski?
Cazorla has started very well and plays in a role that gives him a lot of freedom. He sees a lot of the ball, can change pace well and shoot with both feet. He’s very good at picking out other players’ runs; in short, he’s an excellent footballer. Podolski isn’t the sort of player who will dribble past players but he times his runs inside full-backs very well and joins the strikers at opportune moments. He has a good left foot for shooting and crossing as well. He’s been a little less effective in recent weeks but I like him. He has a better understanding of his defensive duties than some of the other Arsenal wingers.
Finally, how do you see both teams’ fortunes panning out this season? Will they both challenge for the title?
Having seen Manchester City in recent weeks I have to say I’ve not been overly impressed with their performances. And I don’t think Chelsea will be able to maintain their start. For that reason I think United are favourites to win the title and I expect them to go on and do that now. As for Arsenal, I expect them to end up in the top four.