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Nigel Winterburn: "An instant fix isn't going to happen at Manchester United."

Updated on 1:38pm GMT 13 May 2022
Nigel Winterburn: "An instant fix isn't going to happen at Manchester United."

A lifelong Birmingham City fan, Tom relocated to Germany for five years after graduating from university, where his interest in the Bundesliga developed. He began writing about and betting on German football for FST in 2016. He's also an avid fantasy football player and closely follows the Premier League and European competitions.

FST caught up with former Arsenal defender Nigel Winterburn this week to get his thoughts on Arsenal’s top four chances, his North London Derby memories, and how Arsenal will progress even further in the 2022/23 season.

We also asked him how he thinks Chelsea and Manchester United will fare following imminent changes at both clubs, as well as what he thinks is in store for Declan Rice, Kalvin Phillips and Raheem Sterling in the future.

Huge game on Thursday night for Arsenal – if they avoid defeat will that be enough to secure that top four place?

We all know that if Arsenal win, they are in the Top 4. But I’m very hopeful Arsenal can go there and pick up a result that keeps them in a strong position going in to the final couple of games.

Even if it was a draw, we’d know that one win from the last two games would be enough, so it’s a really good position to be in.

I think for the last few weeks it’s been a case of dealing with your own games and then looking at the other results later on.

It’s flipped around a little bit, Arsenal were in pole position at one stage, then they had that run of three games where Tottenham took advantage, but they slipped up and Arsenal took over again.

Arsenal are in the driving seat right now, everything relies upon them and for Arsenal it’s just about putting in the big performances until the end of the season for fourth.

Potentially now, dare I say it, third place is getting that close, but if you’re giving me fourth now then I would certainly take it because I was nervous at the start of the season.

Spurs are a lot more resolute under Antonio Conte in these big fixtures and Arsenal have put in some great performances against the top teams – how do you see the game going on Thursday?

It’s so difficult to really predict, obviously we all know what’s at stake and I’m not sure how the players are going to react to the situation.

It’s going to be an amazing atmosphere and it’ll come down to who deals with the game best.

It depends how you look at it, we could say that Tottenham have to win and for Arsenal it’ll be alright if they come away with a draw.

But I wouldn’t want Arsenal to go in with that attitude because I think it’s slightly negative, so I’d love for Mikel Arteta to set us up to win.

That’s the attitude I’d like to see because one incident can change a game in these sorts of atmospheres.

Hopefully a sending off doesn’t jeopardise what looks like a fantastic game.

Both teams could win, but Arsenal for me are in pole position, they know what they need to do, so let’s hope there aren’t any more twists along the way.

With Arsenal’s young squad improving and Conte in at Spurs who is a serial winner – do you expect both clubs to pick up silverware in the upcoming years?

Mikel Arteta has already done that with the FA Cup win.

Both teams in terms of the league are well away from challenging the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool.

Let’s not hide from that fact, Arsenal need to keep improving but there’s a clear structure there.

I’ve said before that Mikel Arteta had a huge job to do, he needed to bring back the right mentality to the club, get rid of a lot of players and bring fresh faces in.

That’s been the focus for Arsenal; to bring in young players at the right age who have the right temperament and who can keep developing going forward.

Along the way there are going to be some blips, but overall, I like what I’ve seen so far this season whatever happens in these last three games.

I’m looking forward to seeing what Arsenal can do, transfer wise, going into next season.

People keep asking me if it’ll make a difference whether it’s Champions League or Europa League and the spending.

I can’t answer that from a club’s point of view, but I would think that the Champions League would give you more opportunities to bring in the players you’re looking at.

From Arsenal’s point of view, it’s a huge three games.

Arsenal can win trophies again, more so the cups, but it depends on the run you get and what’s happening in the league.

I’m only interested in what Arsenal are doing and they’re going in the right direction.

Arsenal need to get back into the top four and make it become the norm, then you can start looking at closing the gap on the top teams.

If you’re in and around the top four you would think that there’s always a chance in the cup competitions if you take it seriously enough.

What are your own personal memories from the NLD? Was it always an intense fixture? 

They were a lot more physical in my time then they are now, but the game has changed dramatically.

This game will have the intensity around because of the significance of where the teams are trying to be.

The build up to these games are sensational, it’s all anybody really wants to take about.

I’ve always said that as a player this fixture is one where you put a note next to it in your diary and that note is ‘must not lose’.

That’s quite simple, when you play in a North London Derby then you must not lose, and I think you’ll see plenty of rivalry out there in the game.

Especially with what’s at stake, I can pretty much guarantee there will be some sort of incident.

You were very open and honest at the start of the season at Arsenal’s chances of top four – how impressed have you been with this team over the course of the season so far?

I’ve been really impressed with the team, what I said at the start of the season was in one way it was perfect for Arsenal being out of Europe.

It gave Mikel Arteta a chance to work with the players day in day out.

Working with the younger players on the training pitch, getting his ideas across, drills and different methods.

It’s still a fairly small squad which has suited Arsenal and I thought we wouldn’t be in contention for top four when you look at how established some of the other teams were.

If we had that perfect run, then there was always a chance of getting into the top four because anything can happen.

But then we had the start that we had, credit to the players for coming back strong with a few dips along the way.

It’s been a little bit of a roller-coaster, but I’m pleased for the team to be in this position and fighting for the Champions League.

You want to experience that as a club, especially the young players who will want to keep progressing and pushing the club back up to where it needs to be.

The most impressive thing is that these players were written off very early, and it was way too early.

There was a lot of issues at the start of the season and since that point the team have shown a lot of consistency.

As I’ve said there have been dips, but as of late there have been some fantastic performances against some very good teams.

I just hoping now that they can finish it off and I would be delighted if they finished in that Champions League position.

I think it shows it’s a strong season for this young squad and I have no doubts it’ll be improved again in the summer.

If Arsenal do get top four, how do they make sure they progress further in 2022/23? 

Keep working hard and improve the depth of the squad.

I’m sure Mikel Arteta is not going to sit back, he’s a young manager who’s going to want to keep progressing and getting closer to finding consistency of finishing in the top four.

He wants to try and close the gap on the top two which is going to be difficult, we’ve already seen that deal for Haaland at Manchester City.

That looks a sensational deal, so it shows you how hard it is catching up to them, but for Arsenal it’s all about keeping on improving.

There have been some great performances and consistency shown, but there have been some down periods which I’m sure he’ll want less of.

The squad will improve over the summer, so as far as I’m concerned, it’s looking good.

It’s not perfect, but it’s improvement and that’s what we need to see.

Aaron Hickey has been linked with a move to the Emirates this summer – would that be a good signing considering he can play either fullback?

It’s a signing that fits the bill at Arsenal which I’ve spoken about plenty of times, bringing in young players to develop them.

Right and left back is certainly a position that needs strengthening in depth, and you want players challenging the first-choice players.

If form drops or there’s injuries, then you step in and keep your place until your own form drops.

You want that competition for places in your squad.

I haven’t seen masses of him only a few snippets, but some of the reports I’ve been reading.

One of his old managers suggest he’s a bit like Phillip Lahm, so if he is then it would be a great addition to the squad.

He’s only 19 so it’s a young age, but he’s had a lot of experience already which is incredible.

That fits exactly with the model Arsenal have taken through this season and it looks as if they’ll continue that model throughout next season as well.

There’s a lot of uncertainties surrounding Chelsea’s future, do you think clubs will be monitoring the situation in mind to potentially swoop in for their players – are there any you would take at Arsenal?

I don’t think there would be any sort of fire sale of their players, but the issue Chelsea have got is that they need to get that sale of the club through really quickly.

You don’t want that dragging out into the start of next season with a potential transfer embargo.

The way I understand it is the players coming to the end of their contracts have no way of renegotiating those contracts.

They’re free to walk away, which is the case with any player in that position, but my understanding is those players contracts can’t be renegotiated.

I could be wrong, but in terms of the players there I don’t think the players contracted will be going anywhere.

The first thing Chelsea need to do is to simply get the new owners in and the manager can then look at where they can improve.

Like every club, he’ll want to look at bringing players in and moving others on.

Where Chelsea are at the moment I don’t think I’ve ever seen in my lifetime, it’s a very unusual situation and we’re just going to have to wait and see how it plays out.

Sales of clubs are never easy, if someone is trying to push them through then it seems to take a while.

I think that is the only thing Chelsea will be looking at, they do not want any restrictions in place come the start of the next season.

West Ham fell short in the Europa League – if they qualify for Europe again would that be seen as another successful season for Moyes and the club?

I think so because consistency is what West Ham are looking for.

They’re looking to be considered one of the teams that have the potential to pop into the top four but always be in and around those European positions.

I think down to 7th would be a success for West Ham, people would say that the club has been too erratic in the past whereas now David Moyes has come in and steadied things.

They’ve got some good players and they’re playing well, they got to a semi-final which they’ll have a taste for, and they’ll want that again going forward.

For me, from when I was at West Ham and where they’ve been to where they are now, it’s a super progression and they just need to continue to do that.

The rumours aren’t going away surrounding Declan Rice’s future – how hard will the talk be for him to concentrate on his football?

It doesn’t seem to be affecting his performance on the pitch right now that’s for sure.

I’m not sure what his contract situation, but it’s so difficult when you talk about the transfer fees involved.

How they’re set, potentially who risks paying that amount of money and is that player worth that amount of money, those are the questions that need answering.

If a big club comes in, then there’s a good chance he’ll go but the sticking point is the fee.

Last season we were led to believe Manchester City wanted Harry Kane for £150 million which I said wouldn’t happen for that amount of money in the climate we’re in.

All of a sudden, they’re getting a striker for £50 million from what we’re led to believe which is incredible.

So where does that put the value for the likes of Kane and Declan Rice, those clubs will still tell you that it’s the same price.

Manchester City would argue they’ve got a player worth £200 million for a quarter of the price, but the question is does Haaland set the value of players going forward for next season?

I’m intrigued to see what happens going forward and if those valuations aren’t met, then those players will simply be at the same club’s next season.

Could you see Kalvin Phillips remaining a Leeds United player if they go down? Would it hamper his England career?

You want to be playing against the best and playing in the top league all of the time.

I think I read somewhere that he hasn’t signed a new deal yet, but where he is and if Leeds go down it becomes a different scenario.

Leeds will have to readjust and see what they want to do.

I would think from an ambition point of view, Phillips will want to be playing Premier League football to try and cement his position within the England squad.

If he’s still playing well at Championship level, then I would think he’d still be in the England squad.

There will be a few clubs looking and analysing the situation if Leeds go down, but what will his valuation be.

It’ll be interesting to see what Leeds value him at and if anyone would be willing to meet that valuation.

If Leeds go down, I do think there will be clubs coming in for him, but at what price I do not know.

It’s an intriguing summer in terms of transfers, to see how the valuations of these players linked with moves away, especially in the climate we’ve been in.

Erling Haaland is on his way to the Premier League it seems – do you see him hitting the ground running?

I don’t see why not.

He’s a sensational player and the fact Manchester City have gone for him over Harry Kane says a lot.

He’s got a fantastic record in the Champions League, everything about him says he is going to be a success.

There’s always a slight question mark over new signings, but I don’t think when that deal is done that there will be too many unhappy Manchester City supporters.

He’s a terrific player, everything fits, and you would expect him to quickly adapt.

Let’s hope he does come to the Premier League and there’s nothing stopping the deal because it’ll be great to see him close up and see what he can produce in this league.

Raheem Sterling’s future is up for debate with the arrival of Haaland, could you see the club letting him go and who would match his ambition if so?

I don’t think he’s going to leave if I’m honest.

He’s a player with so much ability that has a huge influence on their games and I don’t think the arrival of Haaland makes a difference to him.

They’ve played with false centre forwards throughout the season, and they play so many games that even if you aren’t playing regularly, you still get a lot of game time.

Unless the player thinks it’s time to move, but then again, I think you’re at this present time you’re at one of the top clubs, if not arguably the best right now.

If Manchester City and Liverpool players leave then it’s not necessarily a backwards step, but you do go down slightly.

You’d be leaving for a team who are playing catch up.

I personally think with all the competitions they’ll be in that there’s plenty of game time so I would expect Sterling to be at Manchester City next season.

Do you think Manchester United need to take note of how Arsenal have rebuilt their squad when it comes to the summer?

The only thing I can say is I don’t understand why Manchester United brought in an interim manager.

If everything goes according to plan, then fair enough, but interim managers do not convince me.

At such a big club as well, I wasn’t convinced it was going to work and that’s the way it’s gone.

They need to get the brush out and sweep it clean, start again and they’re going to need to have a good look at their strategy.

I don’t know whether they’ll follow the Arsenal model or not, but you cannot simply keep chucking millions of pounds and hoping you will rectify problems.

You need someone in there who has a clear structure to the club going forward and then you need the support to say this will take a while.

We’d all love things to be an instant fix but that isn’t going to happen at Manchester United.

They have some quality players, but they are not a team, they’ve shown that this season.

They’re capable of beating anybody, but anybody is capable of beating them.

They don’t look together completely to me, and the manager needs to come in and sort things out.

Players need to leave; players need to come in and there has to be some sort of structure.

I don’t know if it’ll be similar to Arsenal’s rebuild, but there has to be their own clear plan going forward.

They might turn around and say they’ve had a clear plan that hasn’t work, it doesn’t look that way but with ten Hag coming in, he’s got to be a strong character at a huge club that needs sorting out.

How tough is that job for Erik ten Hag?

I think he will be hoping or realises that he needs a strong start to next season or there could be doubts thrown on him straight away.

Manchester United have fallen so far from where they want to be.

We’ve seen it with Arsenal, but in terms of United they are dropping very quickly, and they just need to find a way of getting back.

Ten Hag has got to come in, get the right structure and hopefully he’ll have some players in place that he wants.

The squad needs remodelling, and it will be, there’s no chance it’ll be the same as this season.

He’s got a huge job on his hands, and it’ll be interesting to watch how it develops.

Rio Ferdinand has been critical of Ralf Rangnick’s honesty in the press conferences – has Rangnick been over the top or has that type of observation been needed?

You usually say that you keep it all in house and keep it closed.

Occasionally managers come out because they want to try and get a reaction from players when it’s out in the public domain.

It could be down to frustration from Rangnick, he’s not saying anything that we all probably didn’t know.

The difficulty for him is being an interim manager at a huge club with players who have big egos.

It’s not going to affect them because quite simply he will not be the manager next season.

It might be slightly different if you’re the manager and you give a dressing down to the players publicly on occasions.

But I think a lot of managers would tell you it’s not the way forward anymore, you need to be more disciplined in the way you treat players.

You’ve got to be careful with these things because not everyone responds to a dressing down, they need an arm around them and be loved.

Some people need the hard line but that’s up the managers to know that and the temperament of the players, that’s what management is about.

Not only getting the team out and creating a structure, but it’s also about understanding each player individually and what their needs are to produce the best performances out on the pitch.

I think it’s probably changed since I played, managers wouldn’t get away with a few of the things that went on and how players were treated.

It’s a different era of football, Rio has his views which he is entitled to, not everyone will agree with him.

It seems like a desperation call to say, ‘this is the mess we’re in’.

It’s going to take time for the manager to rectify this and he’s going to need time to change things, but it’s been a brutal way of getting the message across.

From the outside looking in, it’s great to find out what things are going on and you have someone saying it how it is.

Sometimes players don’t like that, but it’s been fascinating to hear some of these stories or lines come out from Rangnick.

It’s an old school way, but usually these stories come out when a team aren’t performing as they should be.

You very rarely hear of incidents if a team is winning and playing really well, it’s when the dip comes that all of a sudden there was an incident.

Very rarely do those incidents come to light if a team is winning consistently because people forget about it since it’s not important.

If you’re not winning it comes out as bigger news, but the biggest news around Manchester United is that they’ve fallen so far that it’s a huge job for the next manager.

As far as the club as concerned, they need to get back on the right track.

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