In the first of our TalkingTikiTaka talks to… fan surveys, we interview @SamuelJayC on both his beloved Arsenal and European Football in general and get his take on all the ongoings in the 2014/15 season.
Please Note: If you would like to be involved with our fan surveys: Please click here for more information
As we near the end of the 2014/15 season, we’d like to start by asking you about how you think the season has gone for Arsenal. Have they failed to live up to your previous expectations or have they exceeded what you would have hoped for at the start of the season?
Quite simply, it has been a season of two halves. The first half of the campaign saw many months of inconsistency; Arsenal won only 2 of the first 8 Premier League games. It’s a complete contrast to 2015, in which Arsène Wenger has managed to mastermind 16 wins in 19 games, including 8 successive League wins for the first time since the famed Invincibles side.
As it stands, Arsenal are third in the League and in the FA Cup final, which I think would have represented success at the beginning of the season. Failing to reach the Champions League quarter-finals again was a major disappointment, however, and The Gunners must improve in Europe next season.
Looking back over the last nine months, which games in your opinion, stand out in particular for defining the way the season has developed for Arsenal?
The stand-out result has to be the 2-0 win at Manchester City in mid-January. That was a Man City team which had won 8 of their previous 10 League games, too – not the demoralised City side we are seeing at the moment. Three points at the Etihad showed that Wenger could defeat a big side away from home in a controlled and disciplined manner. It laid the foundations for the form in which Arsenal are in now.
If you think back throughout the course of the season, which players have been vital to Arsenal’s progress in both the league and cup competitions, and who has been Arsenal’s unsung hero?
It’s difficult to look past Alexis Sanchez – the first player to score 20 goals in his debut season since Thierry Henry – but a few other players have also thoroughly impressed. Since returning from injury, Laurent Koscielny, Olivier Giroud and Mesut Ozil have been outstanding, whilst Francis Coquelin and Hector Bellerin have made their break-through into the first-eleven; Arsenal haven’t really missed injured duo Mathieu Debuchy and Mikel Arteta, which is the biggest compliment you could pay Coquelin and Bellerin.
Elsewhere, Nacho Monreal has moved ahead of Kieran Gibbs in the left-back berth following a series of solid displays and Santi Cazorla has been fantastic all season long.
And on the flip-side who has been your sides biggest flop this season and why?
I suppose most fans would say Wojiech Szczesny has not developed as many hoped, hence David Ospina replacing him in the side.Injuries to Jack Wilshere have halted his progress after a promising start to the campaign. Though, I don’t think any particular player has been disastrous.
If there is one thing you could change that has gone on this season and consequently effected Arsenal, what would it be and why?
Losing to AS Monaco at home in the Champions League 3-1 was unacceptable, but winning just 2 of the first 8 League games is the major disappointment. Draws with the likes of Leicester and Hull and failing to hang on to the lead against Man City cost Wenger’s men 6 points – those points would’ve had The Gunners a point behind Chelsea in the title race now ahead of the meeting at the Emirates later this month. Players returning back injured and tired from the World Cup cost Arsenal in the first few months of the campaign.
As an Arsenal fan, were you happy with the business conducted during both the summer and winter transfer windows?
Overall, when I look back at the summer and winter transfer windows, I think Arsenal have done some fantastic business. Of course, Alexis has been a sensational signing, but all of the other signings have made good impressions this season, too. Ospina was signed as a back-up keeper and is now the number one, Calum Chambers has shown promising potential and both Debuchy and Gabriel Paulista have caught the eye whenever they’ve played. Danny Welbeck’s goal tally isn’t remarkable but his work-rate and versatility has become a very useful asset to Wenger.
Do you still think Arsenal need to do any urgent business during the 2015 summer transfer window?
There’s no doubt that this is the strongest Arsenal squad for quite a few years, however, additions are certainly needed this summer. You can’t help but feel Petr Cech and Morgan Schneiderlin – both heavily linked with the club recently – would be top signings. Both would provide further defensive stability. Should Theo Walcott leave this summer, another attacking player will be required – unless Wenger decides to stick with fit-again Serge Gnabry.
If you could choose from any player in World Football, which player would you would WANT to see playing for The Gooners and why?
Lionel Messi is my favourite ever player, so this one is bit easy…
And differently, which player do you think Arsenal desperately NEED, donning the red & white Arsenal jersey?
As mentioned earlier, Cech and Schneiderlin would be very good pieces of business.
Francis Coquelin came into the side mid-way through the season and has increasingly looked both settled and suited to his regular role in the Arsenal Starting XI. Do you believe he has a long-term future at Arsenal or is he simply a short-term fix?
Coquelin has been absolutely outstanding since coming into the first eleven, however I think Wenger will bring in another defensive midfield player in the summer. Arteta and Abou Diaby are both out of contract, whilst the club will reported listen to offers for Mathieu Flamini. This leaves Arsenal short in central-midfield, even with Wilshere returning from injury. It will be interesting to see if Coquelin can continue his form next season.
Other than the likes of Francis Coquelin & Hector Bellerin to name only two who have enjoyed first-team action this season, are there any rising stars which we should look out for in the future and could realistically make it big?
Krystian Bielik, signed for £2.4m from Legia Warsaw in January, is a highly-rated 6ft 3 central midfielder who has been likened to Patrick Vieira. He is only 17 but has recently broken into the under-21 side, where he has been playing at centre-back of late. Gedion Zelalem is a really impressive talent who perhaps hasn’t developed as quickly as many thought, whilst injuries have halted Gnabry’s progress. All three, though, have huge potential.
All in all, what would be your ideal end to the season as an Arsenal fan?
I think Wenger knows the title is out of reach so I would be happy with a second place and retaining the FA Cup, both would make for a very good season for Arsenal.
Finally, what are your expectations for the 2015/16 season? What would you deem as a progression from the 2014/15 season?
Although Wenger’s position as manager remains unquestionable, there is increasing pressure on the Frenchman with regards to performances in the Premier League and the Champions League. A sustained title challenge and reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the first time since 2010 is a must.
ON EUROPEAN FOOTBALL:
Which players have really impressed you as a football fan this season and why, not just in England but throughout European Football?
Outside of the ‘big two’ (Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo), I have to say the likes of Paul Pogba, Neymar and Alexandre Lacazette have all caught my eye. In England, Harry Kane has impressed along with Eden Hazard, who has been the best player in the League.
Are there any players/teams which have exceeded your expectations during the 2014/15 season?
Well, Harry Kane I certainly didn’t expect to score almost 30 goals, that’s for sure. Coquelin, as mentioned previously, has performed way beyond what was expected. Kevin De Bruyne and Bas Dost have been incredible for Wolfsburg, whilst Andre-Pierre Gignac has exceeded expectations at Marseille.
Would the Premier League benefit from following the models in both Spain and Germany with a Winter Break or is it better for the continuous schedule of festive football?
I have always said I’d love to see a winter break come in in England. Whilst the winter schedule has to be respected and is a big part of the English culture, you have to consider the health of the players. Having said that, when you see the Bayern Munich injury crisis at the moment, and you think they had a winter break, some might question its true benefit.
The EPL signing of the season has to be: Alexis Sanchez
The EPL flop of the season must definitely be: Mario Balotelli
The Premier League manager of the season is: Ronald Koeman
My Premier League team of the season is as follows:
Clyne Fonte Terry Bertrand
Alexis Fabregas Schneiderlin Hazard
My goal of the season has to be: Charlie Adam v Chelsea
The best of transfer business must be: West Ham’s purchase of Aaron Creswell for £4M
The best stand-out performance of the season has to be: Although this difficult to think of one, I’ll go Vardy v Man Utd (5-3)
The Premier League top four will stand as: Chelsea – Man Utd – Arsenal – Man City
The three teams relegated from the Premier League will be: Burnley Hull QPR
Champions League Winner: Barcelona