Football Insights – Lauren
After a disastrous start to the 2020/21 Premier League season, Arsenal have turned a corner and starting to showcase what they are capable of under Mikel Arteta. The Gunners are unbeaten in their last six games in all competitions, and with the Mesut Ozil transfer saga no longer a distraction, Arsenal can focus on finishing the second half of the season in stronger fashion to how they began. Former Arsenal defender Lauren spoke exclusively to GentingBet about the state of play at his former club and what the future holds for the Gunners both on the domestic front and in Europe.
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Lauren On Arsenal
Is Mikel Arteta the right man to get Arsenal back to where they want to be?
Mikel Arteta is the right man to get Arsenal to where they want to be. He is the same manager who won the FA Cup and the Community Shield against Liverpool and still has the quality to lead the team.
How impressed were you with Arsenal’s second half performance against Newcastle last night?
I was very impressed with Arsenal’s performance against Newcastle, especially with the way they were pressing high up on the pitch. When you implement a positional game like Arteta likes to play, it means you need to win the ball high up the pitch.
The goals that Arsenal conceded against the likes of Tottenham, Wolves, Aston Villa were because we were in an attacking position and the team lost the ball and got beaten on the counter attack. So, the fact that the team won many balls high up the pitch against Newcastle shows big improvement and it is the way that Arsenal need to play for the rest of the season.
It was also great to see some impressive performances across the pitch. Partey was impressive in front of the Back Four. Smith Rowe and Saka were brilliant and Aubameyang was excellent the whole game. Against Crystal Palace, the last pass to the striker was missing – so there was a big improvement against Newcastle especially in the second half. Hopefully this will be the way for Arsenal for the rest of the season.
Do you think Arsenal are out of the woods from the terrible run in form at the end of last year? Do you think there is enough quality in the squad to reach the Champions League this season?
There has been a big change at Arsenal since the New Year. The team have been getting results, beating Chelsea, playing very good attacking football – I think that Arsenal have shown enough that they can finish in the Champions League positions.
Arsenal have just come through a relatively mild round of fixtures. Have they built up enough momentum to get through their next gruelling fixtures against the likes of Southampton, Man United, Man City?
Arsenal have built momentum to get through the tough fixtures coming up. They also have a chance as Aubameyang is back scoring goals. As we saw against Newcastle, it is very important for him to be scoring.
Arsenal now have creativity in the middle of the park, with Partey back in the team and Emile Smith Rowe playing unbelievable football and linking well with Lacazette and Saka. Saka has great talent who understands the Arsenal way, gets into the positions where he can score goals.
Arsenal are in a good position coming into those tough fixtures but this will be the real test to see if Arsenal can get into the Champions League this season.
What would represent a successful season for Arsenal this year?
A successful season for Arsenal this year is getting into the Champions League positions. And then next year, they’ll need to sit down and look to make a step forward so they can fight for the league and be as high as possible – something that needs to be the target for a club like Arsenal.
This season, Arsenal didn’t start as expected and have lost many games that they should have won. Because I like to think with great ideas, I believe that a club like Arsenal have to focus on achieving the greatest targets. Therefore, I am looking at the Champions League places as a target for this season.
How important would another FA Cup win be for Arsenal or should they sacrifice the Cup to finish higher in the league?
At a club like Arsenal, you can’t sacrifice any trophy – you need to go out to win them all and fight for everything. You have to go out to win every competition that you enter. By setting those standards, that’s the only way that you can win things.
You can’t go into a season only focusing on one competition because no one knows how that might end – you might get nothing as you put into players mind that other competitions aren’t as important!
Do Arsenal have the quality to win the Europa League this year?
Arsenal have the quality to win the Europa League this year. There are still some good teams left in the competition but if Arsenal keep all their players fit, Partey, Saka, Xhaka, Aubameyang, Lacazette, Emile Smith Rowe – and the fact that Arsenal have been keeping clean sheets, winning the ball high up the pitch and more efficient in attack – all of this points to the fact that Arsenal can go on to win the Europa League. Why not!
Arsenal are being led by Arteta and Edu, both people at the start of their career. Is the task at Arsenal too big for them to handle?
Arteta and Edu are the same people that won Arsenal the FA Cup last season. The fact that Arsenal didn’t start well in the Premier League this season, doesn’t mean that Arteta and Edu aren’t good enough overnight. We have to trust in both of them.
Arteta is intelligent, he has many great ideas. Arsenal need to help him express himself so that he can work on all the little details required for Arsenal to win the Premier League or be a top team.
Who in the squad has impressed you most this season?
The young lads in the squad have impressed me most this season. It is great to see players from the academy making a difference – they know the club as they’ve been at the club since they were kids so it is great to see them rise up and play in the first team.
Saka has been excellent. I’ve been really impressed with Emile Smith Rowe. Against Newcastle, he was so intelligent with the way that he was receiving the ball. Some youngsters want to receive the ball near the centre backs, others want to come to pick it up from their defensive midfielders and go into areas where they aren’t needed.
But he was clever to identify when to receive the ball, how to shape his body, sometimes play from the left, sometimes play from the right or from the middle – he knew where to find the space so he could damage the opponent with a final pass.
That shows the intelligence of the player. He needs to keep developing and not think he has finished developing. He needs to show those level of performances consistently.
What do you make of Emile Smith Rowe? Does his introduction mean Arsenal don’t need to sign a creative midfielder?
That is a question for Edu and Arteta! Arsenal need to give him time to develop. When youngsters pop up in the first team, they need people around them to help them improve. Arsenal can’t put all the responsibility on Emile Rowe Smith or Saka because their level might drop over the season – they have just started and they are too young to have all the responsibility.
They need top players around them to reach their potential.
How highly do you rate Kieran Tierney? Do you think he offers more as a modern full back than his fellow countryman Andy Robertson?
Tierney is a very useful player. He can play in a Back Three as we saw at Celtic and last season for Arsenal but he can also play as a left back as well, overlapping, shooting with both feet and getting crosses into the box. I don’t like to compare him with Andy Robertson, he just needs to keep playing the way he is and that will be good news for Arsenal!
Aubameyang has been struggling form since he signed his contract. Do his two goals against Newcastle show he is on course to return to form?
Before Aubameyang even scored the goals against Newcastle, I wasn’t concerned about him. You need to worry when you see a striker who isn’t asking for the ball, not getting into positions where they can score goals or create because that’s when you need to be worried as they can’t have an effect on the game.
That’s never been the case with Aubameyang. He is a player that is always asking for the ball, never hides on the pitch – so sooner or later the goals will start flying. The two goals against Newcastle will help him find his confidence in front of goal and give him that kind of run that he’ll need to get to 15, 20, 25 goals this year. You can never question his commitment.
Does Bukayo Saka have the quality to establish himself as a world-class player?
Saka has the potential to be a world-class player. He is a player who understands the game which is so important. How many times does he lose the ball during a game? Not many at all. He plays simple. He can play in a variety of different positions and do a great job in all of them.
I still think he hasn’t achieved his full potential. Sometimes for a young player to reach their potential then they need to be surrounded by top players who will make them better. But Saka has all the qualities to be a top, top player.
How important is it for Gabriel Martinelli to stay fit for Arsenal? Do you think that he is one of the best talents in the Premier League?
Martinelli is one of the best talents in the Premier League. He was unlucky to get injured last season as he was showing excellent promise. He is quick, he can attack the spaces in the last third. He can play in the Number Nine or wide positions. He is quick in transitions and has lots of pace, as you can see from his goal against Chelsea last year.
Hopefully, he can come back strong from his injury and pick back up where he left off. Arsenal need all their players fit – the season is very long. And Martinelli is so useful to have in Arsenal’s attack as he can play in all of the positions across the Front Three.
Thomas Partey has struggled with injuries since he joined Arsenal – this is a problem that Arsenal face season upon season – do you think it has something to do with other conditions or just a string of bad luck?
It isn’t a surprise that Arsenal and other teams in the Premier League suffer from big injuries every season. Nowadays, there is no pre-season. This is one of the biggest problems – the fact that clubs don’t do a proper pre-season where they train in one place for a month.
Clubs travel to different countries to bring in income to help pay for the big wages. When you travel like that, you can’t do a proper pre-season.
This is why we see so many muscle injuries in the Premier League and La Liga, season after season. Fifteen years ago, you would see players with less muscle injuries because they used to play in the street when they were younger and their muscles and bones would get strong playing in that environment.
Nowadays, youngsters go to training, they come home and then stare at a computer sitting down for hours so their muscles aren’t used to it. Thirty years ago, you wouldn’t see a player who was aged between 12 and 16 years old getting muscle injuries, nowadays it is quite common to see that happening.
What do you think is happening with Willian Saliba, did you think he has a future at the club?
Once a player gets the point where they’re no longer playing, they need to look forward and decide whether staying at the club is right for his future. It would be good for the team, because there are many games to come and they will need a full squad but we will see what happens.
Do you think Pepe can still prove his transfer fee or should Arsenal look to offload him and try recuperate some of the transfer fee?
Arsenal need a full squad and with Pepe, I believe that there are some games where he will be better suited to implement his style of play. When you need quick transitions, you will need a player like Pepe. His style of play is quicker, more attacking and taking on players so when Arsenal need to transition, Pepe is an option.
When you play in that kind of way, you need quick players and I believe that from now on to the end of the season, there will be some games that they cannot implement the same game plan by suffocating the opponent in their half, they will need to adapt to transition from the back and for that, they will need Pepe.
There is still a reason to keep Pepe at the club. The stronger squad Arsenal have the less problems you get until the end of the season because they need to balance the team and prepare for injuries.
How do you think Mikel Arteta has handled the situation with Mesut Ozil? How much has his absence contributed to Arsenal’s questionable form this season? Are you happy to see him leave the club?
Ozil leaving the club is the best news possible for both Arsenal and for Ozil. He’s now at another club so will be able to play the games he was looking for. It’s also good for Arsenal so they don’t need to pay his high wages anymore, so it is the best solution for both sides.
Arsenal have handed Rob Holding a new long-term contract. How impressed have you been with him?
Rob Holding has been doing really well and in the last few games he has been reading the game situation very well, playing with composure on the ball. It's very important to have two centre backs, but also for the back four, to not concede goals.
When the midfield is doing their job it means the ball is higher up in the pitch. The more they do that, as a team, it will be easier for the centre backs.
Arsenal are already looking at sending Runnarson on loan. How was such a signing allowed to take place in the first place? How much trouble are Arsenal in if Leno was to get injured?
Runarsson was very unlucky in the games he has played but it’s very important to have a first choice to remain fit, and Leno is very important. This is why you can’t let someone like Pepe go, because you never know from now until the end of the season who you might need – you need a full squad to compete.
What do you make of Willian’s form at Arsenal? Is it just down to a lack of confidence or does he no longer have the quality to perform at the top level?
Willian could have done much better at Arsenal. He’d been at Chelsea and was brilliant so I was a little bit disappointed in the way that he hasn't been consistent. He started well against Fulham and played a very good game, and then he dropped off.
With Mesut Ozil’s departure, Hector Bellerin is now Arsenal’s longest serving player. Does he have the quality to remain Arsenal’s right back for years to come or can Cedric push him all the way?
It’s good to have two players like Cedric and Bellerin in that position. You need the competition in the squad if you want to achieve things. I believe that it’s a good challenge for both players. There are many games to come and Arsenal will need both of them.
Cedric is defensively brilliant, against Newcastle he played close to Holding when they needed to defend, and when the team was attacking he overlapped well a few times and provided an assist to Aubameyang so he did well and that’s what we saw when he was at Southampton – he just has to keep up with the persistence and consistency.
For Arsenal, it is all about consistency and playing every single game the same way, not always perfect but it’s about being more consistent and the team will be more successful at end of the season.
You converted from a midfielder into a full back. Does Ainsley Maitland Niles have the quality it takes to make the right back position his own? He also takes a neat penalty like yourself…
Maitland Niles is a very versatile player. Modern fullbacks have to understand when to overlap for different reasons. They have to do many things, for example, coming out with a ball from the back.
This happens in modern games, and Maitland Niles has that kind of quality with good speed, he’s good with the ball, he can pass well. He needs to improve in the defensive duties, but he’s a very good player.
Do you think Mattéo Guendouzi still has a future at the club or has that ship now sailed?
Guendouzi’s future at Arsenal is a question for Arteta and Edu, they are the only ones who know what they want to do. Arteta knows what he wants to implement at Arsenal, so only they can answer that question.
How important is it for Arsenal to make signings in January? Who do they need to sign to get them back on track?
I believe that Arsenal need the best players in order to win the Premier League and Europa League. Edu and Arteta will have a clear vision of what they want and will have a plan in place to bring those players in.
Do Arsenal need to throw all the money they can in signing a creative midfielder? Is Houssem Aouar the answer to their problems?
Arteta knows the method and the idea of play they are looking to implement to lead Arsenal success so he is the one that has the right to answer that question.
Should Arsenal splash the cash on Jack Grealish to solve their creative issues? He’s proven in the Premier League and might relish the new challenge…
I would love is to see the best players in the world at Arsenal, the team needs the best players in order to win things and keep fighting at the top of the Premier League. Edu and Arteta know this and they have the power to understand what they need, in order to the push forward, as a club.
Do you think that Arsenal definitely need improvements in January? Or do you think the way the squad is going is enough at the moment to get them through to the end of the season?
Arsenal is a club I love, they need to be fighting to win the Premier League and win the Europa League competition, getting to the Champions League and to do that you need the best players in the world otherwise it is difficult to win things.
Lauren On The Premier League
Who do you think is going to go on and win the Premier League this season?
This season is going to be tight. Liverpool will be there and I’m surprised at how well Manchester United have recovered but I believe that Manchester City will win the league. They are slowly climbing positions in the league. The quality is there and at the end of the day when you have a squad with top players in your team, the easier it is to win things.
I believe that the end of the year, they will be there and I think they will win because Liverpool have dropped now. They have dropped and are not comfortable and in the last games they lost heavily when you didn’t expect them to lose. They have dropped a little bit and they are not the same Liverpool as last year.
Do you think Tottenham have a chance at winning the Premier League?
Tottenham have no chance of winning the league. They will be there in the European places and maybe even Champions League positions but I cannot see them winning the Premier League.
Do you think that Tottenham could win the League Cup with Mourinho?
They’re looking good and they’ve got very good players. Harry Kane is playing well, as a playmaker, not only as a number 9, and Son has been brilliant. They will be up there, not to win the Premier League but maybe to win the FA Cup.
They will be challenging because they’ve got an intelligent manager who knows the Premier League very well so they will be up there.
Do you think at Chelsea, Lampard has done enough with the amount of money he's invested in the squad? Do you think he should be doing more?
Chelsea’s squad is a very young squad and we will see the real Chelsea in two years’ time. They are building up their squad and system with young talent and they’ve got many youngsters who, in two years’ time, will reach their potential.