Arsenal asked former Arsenal midfielder and now journalist Adrian Clarke some questions exclusively for fresharsenal.com
Q: First of all, after another long season at Arsenal, what was your highlight?
AC: It’s hard to look past the FA Cup Final as the moment I loved most. OK, it wasn’t against a great Aston Villa side, but the team performance was just about complete. In terms of putting everything together beautifully – with and without the ball – the Gunners saved their best display until last. As for the Premier League, the 2-0 victory at Manchester City stands out. It was a disciplined effort that gave the players (and fans) belief that this team can mix it with the big boys. It was a pivotal day.
Q: What was the lowest point, in your opinion of the season?
AC: Defeat at home to Monaco was a dark night for the team. Their decision making that evening was terrible and they were punished for it. The domestic match that disappointed me the most was Southampton away, on New Year’s Day. It was such a flat, nondescript effort that thankfully kicked off 2015 in a totally misleading way. Those mistakes weren’t repeated again.
Q: Looking ahead to the summer, where do you think Arsenal need to strengthen?
AC: I’d like a world-class goalkeeper to join. While I don’t think David Ospina has done a lot wrong, it’s the second most important position on the pitch (aside from striker) and I believe a club of Arsenal’s stature can attract a number one with more pedigree. It would save the team 6-10 points a season if someone special is recruited. Aside from that, a physical midfield player and a mobile, predatory front man would also be ideal acquisitions.
Q: Was there a point this season when you questioned Arsene Wenger?
AC: I always think Mesut Ozil is wasted when he’s not used in a floating number 10 role, so when he was deployed out wide early on in the season it did frustrate me. Aside from that, I think the manager had a very good season. Tactically the team has a better shape now than it did a few seasons ago, and even if they didn’t accrue as many points I still felt the side made progress. The balance between defence and attack is so much better now.
Q: Excluding Alexis, who was your player of the season?
AC: Francis Coquelin. He’s been a revelation since coming into the starting XI, and his willingness to do the dirty work – and to do it effectively – gave the likes of Cazorla and Ozil the freedom to produce the brilliance they did in the second half of the campaign. I love the way Coquelin keeps it simple. He wins the ball and gives it to someone more gifted. That’s what you want from a DM. His athleticism and reading of the game transformed the team.
Q: Do you think Wenger will extend his current contract?
AC: I’ve genuinely got no idea. A year ago I’d have said ‘no’ but the fire is still burning isn’t it? If he feels Arsenal have a realistic shot at the Premier League or Champions League I can’t see him walking away from that opportunity in the near future. I sense he will only leave when he feels he cannot help take the team to that level, and right now, there’s no way he sees that as impossible. I believe he still has plenty to offer.
Q: Do you think Arsenal will return to 442 in the near future?
AC: I can’t see it. Not other than occasionally. I don’t think 442 is something at the forefront of the managers’ mind. If he feels he has two wide men that can do a bit of everything, and a central midfield partnership that’s defensively stable (like Vieira and Petit) it may come under consideration but when you have one of the world’s best ‘No.10’s’ in the squad (Ozil) you build your shape around that guy. I am pretty sure 4-1-4-1, 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 are the preferred systems.
Q: Is there any particular player that you think would be a perfect addition this summer?
AC: Petr Cech is my number one, but I’d also love to see Karim Benzema at the Emirates. He’s a winner, he’s got good movement, is a team player, and he knows how to finish. If Benzema swelled the ranks alongside what Arsenal have already, I could see him profiting from the creativity of Ozil, Alexis and co, amazingly well. He’d bag a hatful.
Q: Do you think we should sell Szczesny, or is he good enough to be our no.1?
AC: I don’t dislike Wojciech, or think he’s a bad keeper, but I wonder if it might be in his best interests to move on. Leaving Arsenal has done wonders for Lukasz Fabianski and it would for him too. I just don’t see him as the type of character that will settle for being a sub, and as it stands I’d like to see a new keeper signed, so that’s where he’d be. He’s certainly good enough to be number one, but can Arsenal do better? That’s the question I’d pose, and my answer is yes.
Q: Do you think Arsenal need to sign another striker to win the Premier League next season?
AC: It would help. Scoring goals isn’t a problem for this team but if you have two or three guys who score heavily it has to aid your chances of winning the title. Knowing how unlucky we’ve been with injuries too, having another marksman in the building is probably a wise idea. Competition brought the best out of Welbeck, Giroud and Walcott last season at various intervals, and if one more striker came in, they’d all up their standards again.
Q: Where do you see the future of Jack Wilshere? At Arsenal? And in what position?
AC: I see Jack’s future at Arsenal. I rate him very highly as a box-to-box midfielder, and if he can stay fit for a whole season we will undoubtedly see him take his game to the next level. He’s a special talent, and one that every other Premier League team would like to have in their squad. There’s no way Arsenal should sell him! He’s got character, drive and a gifted footballing brain. His problem is that there’s so much stiff competition. Ozil, Cazorla, Ramsey and the Ox are the guys he’s up against – so to get in ahead of them he’ll have to produce his best form consistently.
Q: Do you think Gabriel will take Per Mertesacker’s place next season?
AC: Not initially. The big man had a pretty good season (after a slow start) and his partnership with Koscielny still looks the best at the manager’s disposal. Next season I expect him to get more game time, and his pace would be a huge asset too, but unless the BFG has a dip, he’ll have to be patient. You can’t put a price on chemistry and the first choice pair have it in spades.