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A Chat With The Opposition: Arsenal

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In light of Manchester United’s trip to the Emirates to face Arsenal this Sunday, I thought it’d be good to chat to Arsenal fan Emmet McEvoy @emmetmcevoy, getting his take on Arsenal’s season so far ahead of the match at the weekend.

First question, Arsenal’s start to the season was nothing more than shambolic. Losing Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, being tonked at Old Trafford, but you’ve certainly recovered well now haven’t you?

Yes, it took a while for the new players to gel but certainly the response was as good as we could have hoped for, up until the last two games in any case.

Obviously the timing of Fabregas and Nasri’s departures was far from ideal. Do you think that in retrospect the club should have sold both players months before they did giving Wenger more time to bring quality replacements in?

I think the manager was hopeful that he could persuade at least one, if not both, of them to stay but there was always a feeling of inevitability about it.

I do think he should have sold them earlier because we could have made a proper attempt to sign someone like Eden Hazard or Mario Gotze, a player who would have given everyone a boost and have the quality to match. 

Saying that though, Mikel Arteta has been fantastic for us this season. People will always compare him to Cesc but he’s a completely different player. He links the play between Alex Song and Aaron Ramsey and does more than his fair share of defending. He’s now an integral part of our team and you could see against Swansea how much we missed him.

Briefly touching on both players departures, the Fabregas one was inevitably going to happen but Nasri’s one crept up to many neutrals as a surprise. Do you think both players were right to move and how do Arsenal really feel about both players now?

As much as it pains me to say it, it seems like Cesc made the right choice. He’s slotted flawlessly into Barca’s midfield (which many people didn’t expect) and you can tell he’s genuinely happy to be there.

I definitely think Nasri made a mistake though. With Cesc gone he would have been the creative hub of our team. The fans adored him last season and now he’s just another face at City struggling to make an impact. We see him for what he really is – a mercenary.

I personally don’t begrudge Cesc, he gave us everything for eight years (although that opinion isn’t shared by everyone). Nasri is now as disliked as Ashley Cole or Emmanuel Adebayor and won’t be welcomed back to the Emirates again.

The turning point arguably of your season came after losing to Spurs at White Hart Lane. Looking back at that game, what do you think it was that motivated your players to go on the run that they have to date?

It was probably the pain of losing that one!  Nobody expected much from us that day but I think we deserved at least a point. I also think the players knew they really had to respond. The atmosphere around the club wasn’t good and I think they knew it was up to them to change it.

We’ve got to speak about Robin van Persie who throughout 2011 was unplayable. Do you think now that Europe is finally seeing just how good of a player the Dutchman is when injury-free?

Yes. I think Arsenal fans always knew there was a quality player who would be world-class if he could go for an extended period of time without injury. 2011 showed just that and when you beat a record set by Thierry Henry you know you’re doing something right.

I’m sure fans of other clubs will disagree but for me he’s the best striker in the Premier League and one of the top three in Europe. I wouldn’t like to think where we’d be without him.

The year started off with a bang for Arsenal fans with the return of your club’s greatest ever player in Thierry Henry. That must have seemed like a late Christmas present for your fans, where were you when news broke of his resigning?

Well there’d been rumours of his return for a while and when Sky first broke the news that it looked like it would happen I was actually on Twitter and my timeline went a bit mad. Then it took about a week for it to actually be confirmed. I think there were doubts prior to him signing but when it happened people were just happy to welcome a legend back.

Looking back at his second debut for the club, it was some return wasn’t it? What was it like watching that game as a fan and would it be fair to say his goal against Leeds was arguably the finest moment the Emirates has ever seen?

The game itself was seriously frustrating for 75 minutes, we just couldn’t break through. I guess it was in the script for him to score the winner and it was just a brilliant moment. You could see what it meant to him and to the fans as well.

I wouldn’t say it’s the greatest moment (that has to be Andrei Arshavin’s winner against Barcelona) but it’s definitely in the top three – the other of which is Henry’s 94th minute winner against United in our first season there. That’s just my opinion though!

One of the key strengths of your side unsurprisingly is the quality of the younger players coming through. Wojciech Sczczeny has been outstanding in goal. Do you think he can be as good a keeper for you as David Seaman was?

Szczesny is just an example of Arsene knowing what he’s doing. Everyone, myself included, was desperate for a new goalkeeper but we can now see why the manager didn’t spend big money buying one.

If he stays loyal, and I think he will because he’s one of the more passionate players at the club, I think he could be Arsenal’s greatest keeper (and that’s saying something with the likes of Seaman, Bob Wilson, Pat Jennings, etc. before him).

With the likes of Szczesny, Jack Wilshere, Ramsey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Francis Coquelin (who’s been incredible this season), I think the future is bright for Arsenal.

Losing to Swansea must have been a big blow however playing United is probably the best match for you to play next. Where did it go wrong in Wales and how confident are you heading into Sunday’s match? Do you have a score prediction?

I said on Twitter before the game that I had a bad feeling about it because Swansea are good at home but it was a massive blow regardless. I know it’s the same excuse every time but injuries are killing us just now, and particularly last Sunday.

We were missing our first choice centre-back [Thomas Vermaelen], both first choice full-backs [Bacary Sagna & Andre Santos], both reserve full-backs [Carl Jenkinson & Kieran Gibbs], our two first choice midfielders [Arteta & Wilshere] and one of our first choice wingers [Gervinho]. Any team with so many important players out will struggle.

As for a score prediction for Sunday, my heart says Arsenal 2-1 but my head says 1-1 draw. I’m fairly confident but it all depends on which players we can get back in time.

Lastly which teams do you think will finish in the Top 4? And who do you think will get relegated?

I’m still confident with regards to Arsenal because we have top players coming back soon and have all our big games at home, so I think the Top 4, in order, will be Manchester City, United, Spurs, Arsenal. I can also see Bolton getting out of relegation trouble so think Blackburn, Wigan and QPR will go down.

Thanks for that Emmet!

It’s hard to argue with that, though I can’t for the life of me see Bolton right now staying up, they just look a side doomed for the drop. I have a feeling we could be in for a classic on Sunday, which hopefully United can win!

By Adam Dennehey @ADennehey87