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Nigel Winterburn exclusive: Arsenal look better without Aubameyang
Aaron Rogan
Aaron Rogan
March 23, 2022
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Before becoming a Sports Journalist for Free Super Tips, Aaron spent three years studying Sports Journalism at the University of Sunderland while taking in the Black Cats' 'glory years' under Martin O'Neill. Now back in Northern Ireland he turns niche stats into predictions for FST, while he's one of the few people on this island who is equally comfortable at Windsor Park and the Aviva.

With a tense Premier League run-in ahead, Arsenal are currently leading the chase for the final Champions League spot. We caught up with ex-Gunner Nigel Winterburn, who chatted about the top four race, Arsenal’s recent celebration controversy and Kieran Tierney’s links to La Liga.


Do you think the top four race is looking like it will come down to both Arsenal and Spurs? Who’s in a stronger position right now with the fixtures left for both sides?

Arsenal are in a stronger position, simply because we’ve got the points advantage and there’s the game in hand as well.

I think if you were to look on paper, you would probably say Arsenal have the hardest run in compared to Manchester United and Tottenham.

But I think we’ve already seen from this season that’s it’s so hard to predict what’s going to happen in any individual game.

It’s quite clear in my head at this stage of the season, with that battle for top four, I’d much prefer to be where Arsenal are compared to any of the other teams.

I’ve said it now for the last three weeks, if Arsenal beat Watford, then we would finish in fourth position, and I stand by that.

I don’t see anything to change my mind, I thought we were competitive against Liverpool for periods of the game, and we dominated the majority of the game against Aston Villa.

If Arsenal continue in that form, then they will finish fourth, but you can never tell what’s going to happen.

How important will those Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur fixtures be to Arsenal?

Those games could be pivotal in what’s going to happen. These two games will be huge because if Arsenal are still sitting ahead of those teams when the fixtures come around, then the emphasis is on them to beat Arsenal.

I think you’ve got certain tactics to look at when those games come around and you’ve also got to add in that we don’t know when that Tottenham versus Arsenal game will be yet.

My gut feeling is that it’s being set up nicely for midweek in the last week of the season, so we’ll wait and see whether I’m correct on that one.

But in terms of top four, it’s going to be an intriguing finish to the season, but I’m not going back on my word, I backed Arsenal before they played Watford and I’m sticking by it.

I could be wrong, but I don’t see any reason why Arsenal’s form would dip drastically when it’s been so consistent over the past couple of months.

Arsenal have been criticised for celebrating after victories against Wolves and Aston Villa this season, where do you stand on this and are you surprised that people have a problem with celebrating three points?

I don’t have a problem with, but it looks like certain players within certain teams seem to have a problem with it.

If I’m a supporter of Arsenal, which I am, but at that game and I see the players celebrating, a togetherness and a belief then I’m going to enjoy that moment.

The players have an understanding that Arsenal have fallen from where they want to be, the club has been used to being up there and challenging for titles.

It became top four and now we’re out of that top four, so the first aim is to get back into it.

This is a young squad, and this season is a big season for them in terms of their development.

Of course, these players want to test themselves against the best teams in the world and to do that you’ve got to be playing Champions League football.

They’re aspiring to do that, so I don’t see the problem with celebrating a win.

I suppose if I’m on the opposition and we’re watching them celebrate, then yeah it might hack me off a little bit.

But then I’d say to those teams that you need to aspire to try and get back up where your team wants to be.

That’s all Arsenal are trying to do, they’ve got a young team that’s on a good run, there’s a great togetherness and they’re enjoying winning games, so why not celebrate.

If some people are hacked off by it, then so be it, I’m sure they’ll get over it pretty quickly.

Aaron Ramsdale has been backed to be England’s number one come the 2022 World Cup, do you think he should be based on this season’s form?

I think what Gareth Southgate has done is that those players that have been in form get brought into the squad.

I think he likes to watch them; see how they perform and how they integrate into the squad.

I’m quite clear that if Aaron Ramsdale continues to perform at the same level up until the World Cup, then I’d be surprised if he doesn’t take over the number one spot for England.

In saying that, Gareth Southgate has always stuck by players who have had a slight dip for their club but haven’t let England down and always performed for England.

That makes it difficult for someone to be left out, but we’ll have to see what happens, that’s just my evaluation of the situation.

You never know until it happens how someone reacts to playing for the national team, but Ramsdale at the moment is doing everything right.

He’s exerting a lot of pressure on the goalkeepers ahead of him and if it comes back playing the way he has, then they’ll be a big chance that he will be England’s number one.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has found the net 9 times since moving to Barcelona, is it frustrating to see considering his poor form at Arsenal this season?

I don’t worry about it at all.

There’s been a lot of talk from certain people saying Mikel Arteta should have managed the situation differently.

We do not know the full story and there has to have been certain issues going on because you don’t go from being captain to being completely out of the squad.

There’s got to have been some questions asked and maybe the answers weren’t acceptable to Arsenal or Mikel Arteta.

They decided for the good of the club and the team that they had to part ways.

I can’t criticise Mikel Arteta for that because Arsenal’s form hasn’t been affected by Aubameyang leaving.

In fact, I actually think some of our forward players have improved.

The have a lot of freedom and the movement looks as if it’s becoming a lot more natural when Arsenal go forward.

I don’t have a problem with the decision unlike others, but I’m happy for Aubameyang because he clearly lost his way at Arsenal for whatever reason.

Whether it was his own fault or a club situation, I don’t know but I don’t hold grudges or speculate what he could be doing for Arsenal right now.

When he was there, he wasn’t doing it over the past year, and he seems to be enjoying himself again at Barcelona.

Sometimes a player just loses his way, he moves on and rediscovers something about himself for his new club.

I’m please he’s enjoying himself and scoring, but I don’t think it has any effect on Arsenal because they continue to improve.

I think he was classy in what he said though, sometimes you have to part ways to both get what you want.

It looks at this moment in time like that is happening, but of course if Arsenal don’t get fourth, then those questions will come back again.

But at the moment, it’s irrelevant for me.

Serge Gnabry has been linked with a return to Arsenal, would he be a good addition if he were to leave Bayern and how has he advanced as a player since leaving the Emirates?

He’s improved dramatically and his confidence is soaring.

In terms of how he’s developed as a player, if I’m honest there were times at Arsenal where he wasn’t getting a lot of game time and his fitness wasn’t as good as it should have been.

The improvement he’s shown and what he’s achieved since leaving Arsenal is incredible.

He’d be a good addition to the squad, I don’t think anyone would deny that, but where would he come in and who’s position would he potentially take.

There’s Saka, Smith-Rowe and Martinelli, so he’ll most likely play in one of those roles.

I think he would improve the squad, but I think Arsenal need to strengthen their squad in other areas rather than the wide areas.

But if Arsenal decide to take him and that move materialises, then yes of course he improves the squad.

What have you made of Tierney this season?

I think he’s been strong again, but I expected that from him and he’s a player I like immensely.

When he first came to the club, he had one or two injury issues, but you could see in his performances how good he was.

He’s a player I really admire with the way he plays and conducts himself; he’ll keep on developing and getting stronger.

There’s not much more to say on him, he’s been a good addition to this team, and he will continue to be the first choice left-back as long as he keeps performing the way he is.

I don’t see any reason why those levels of performances would ever drop.

There’s lots of debate on whether he can be Arsenal’s next captain. Could he step up?

I’ve always said that I thought he could be a future captain and I’m not going to change my mind on that.

We don’t know what’s happening with Lacazette, but regardless Arsenal will be trying to bring in a new striker, so it may switch to Tierney being captain anyway.

It doesn’t worry me because he’s got the qualities to be a captain, you don’t have to change the way you are.

Some people are more vocal than others, some just lead by example with their performances.

You just play your game and hope that rubs off on people around you, I don’t think as captain you need to do anything different in games.

That role might become more important off the field and ensuring there’s a togetherness off the pitch with the squad, which looks strong right now.

I don’t think there’s any doubt in my mind that he will be a future captain at Arsenal.

Is he the best left-back in the Premier League?

I think he’s up there with the best because his consistency allows him to be up there.

There’s obviously Robertson to compete with, but I think it can depend on how your club play and how your manager wants you to play.

It’s a completely different role now for fullbacks from when I played.

I think we’ve seen that with the Liverpool fullbacks, both Robertson and Alexander-Arnold, they’ve changed the way we look at fullbacks.

Those players suit Liverpool because they give them so much going forward and the way that they play.

I think it just depends on how managers ask you to set up and the positions you take up on the pitch.

Fullbacks are hard to judge because there’s so many scenarios now in a game that they need to be good at.

Whereas when I played, you needed to be able to defend because that was the biggest priority, anything else you gave to the team would be a bonus.

But Tierney possesses a lot of qualities needed for a modern-day fullback.

Rumours have also linked him to Barcelona and Real Madrid. Can you see him leaving and he is good enough for that level?

That suggests that he’s playing well enough to be linked to those clubs.

I don’t really worry about those links because he’s at Arsenal, he’s under contract and there’s been no suggestion to me that he would want to move.

I think everybody feels it’s great when you’re linked to big clubs, but he’s already at a big club who are striving to get back to where they want to be.

If they get back to that stage domestically then the only thing would be being competitive in Europe which is what Arsenal have always strived to do, even from when I was there.

That’s still a way off, but personally I don’t worry about these sorts of links, I don’t think he wants to push for a move away.

If anything, it’s a positive thing because it shows that he is performing to a high enough level for there to be those links.

Are players like Tierney ones to build around for Mikel Arteta?

I think he is right now.

There’s a clear direction this season, Arsenal have brought in young players to fit directly into a system that Mikel Arteta can coach and bring forward.

Going into next season I think that will continue to happen, so you want to build around all your young exciting players such as Saka and Smith-Rowe.

Odegaard’s had a fantastic season, Martinelli is coming into his own and in terms of Tierney, we know his levels of performances week in week out.

You’ve got to build the team around these players, make sure they’re secured to your club for a long period of time.

If Arsenal does that, then it looks very exciting but it’s easy to say that, these players have to go and achieve it.

Has Tierney surprised you since moving to England from Celtic and did he know of him before his move south?

I’d seen him play a few times, but I hadn’t watched him overly if I’m being honest.

The reports coming back about him were always really positive with his attitude and his style of play.

Nothing has disappointed me from what I’ve seen from him, yes, he’s had his injury problems and little dips, but overall, he’s performing to a high level consistently.

That’s all you want from your players, especially in those defensive areas.

His role is different to what mine was, he gets forward really well on both the inside and outside.

He’s such a good crosser of the ball as well in wide areas, so I don’t think anything has changed from when I found out he was joining.

He was someone I was looking forward to watching and he certainly hasn’t disappointed me from that point of view.

Paul Pogba’s contract is up in the summer, should other Premier League clubs be trying to tempt him into a move to their club?

Some clubs might be trying to do that, but it would depend on the club.

Let’s not beat around the bush, Manchester United are still a huge club but they’ve probably lost their way more than Arsenal.

They’ve lost that identity, so I think if he feels he wants to move then it would be back abroad.

I think he’s only played around 16 games in the Premier League this season which isn’t a huge amount for a player of his talent.

Yes, he’s had injuries, but I think he’s a player that divides opinion in his style of play.

If he moves, then there will be a host of clubs looking to sign him and potentially there are Premier League clubs trying to tempt him in.

But my gut feeling would tell me that he’ll move abroad again.

Tammy Abraham has been in fine form since moving to Roma this season, Chelsea’s strikers in contrast have struggled and with a number of clubs seemingly needing a new striker, would he be a good option this summer?

Back in the summer when he was moving, there was a link with Arsenal, I don’t know how strong, but he fits into the bill of what Arsenal were trying to do.

A young player with huge potential, so my opinion doesn’t change that he would have been a great option for Arsenal.

I would suggest that if he’s enjoying himself, then he wouldn’t want to move.

He’s playing regular football, so I don’t feel like he would move back to England next season.

I don’t see why he would move back, sometimes when you move and get that freedom, that game time you wanted and scoring goals it does wonders for you.

I always remember Arsene Wenger saying that Nicolas Anelka felt he moved two years too early.

I’m not expecting Tammy Abraham to move, someone’s taken a chance on him and he’s repaying that faith.

But let’s wait and see, I imagine he’ll be looked at because he’s young and someone who will be on a upwards trajectory, so there’s always going to be interest.

I would be surprised if Roma wanted to sell him on, I think he’ll want that security and continue to enjoy himself next season.

Who are you looking forward to seeing in these next two international fixtures for England?

I never look massively individually into the squad for friendlies, there’s one of two new players coming into the squad because of injuries so it’ll be interesting to see whether they get game time.

I just like to look at the development of England, sometimes we’re a little bit rigid so can we be open in possession of the ball and move it forward quicker.

I think at times we look a bit regimented in the way we play, but I’ve said before that Gareth Southgate has done a brilliant job in bringing back the unity in this team.

There’s a togetherness within the squad and there’s a connection between the players and the supporters which was missing for a long time.

We’ve just got to keep developing and see where it takes us eventually.

That’s when Southgate will be judged, but as England manager you’re always going to get criticism.

People always want to see certain players in the squad and if they are then those fans want to see them playing.

It’s such a difficult job, but at times I think I want to see England be more expansive and go forward with the ball quicker.

That’s just my opinion, hopefully with the players we’ve got I tend to think England should be able to do that.

 Are you surprised that Jadon Sancho isn’t in this squad given his recent form?

That’s one of the problems with being England manager, what can you do when you can only pick a certain number of players.

It seems like Sancho struggled for long periods, but he’s now come back in and looks a lot more settled.

He’s found some form, but all of a sudden, he doesn’t get into the squad.

England have so many positions that can play in those forward areas when you look at Mount, Foden, Saka, Sterling, Sancho and Rashford, they can all play in those positions.

Obviously, some of the names there aren’t in the squad, but the point is that there’s so many players who can play in those areas that Gareth Southgate can’t take them all.

I think whoever he leaves out will be met with criticism, but just because you’re out of this squad doesn’t mean you’ll be out of the next squad.

Rather than judge it that way, you want to see how the players do who come in and how the team performs.

This is the squad he’s picked, let’s see what they produce in the next couple of games before starting the debate up once again.

Aaron Cresswell has also been overlooked despite being in good form for West Ham, does he deserve an opportunity if Ben Chillwell and Luke Shaw are injured?

I think there’s been a lot of players in front of him and I think Gareth Southgate likes a lot of players compared to him.

I think he does deserve a chance, at least bring him into the squad and have a look.

Maybe Southgate has information that we don’t know about certain players, so you do tend to think does he know something we don’t.

But it just looks as if it’s just not going to happen for Cresswell for England, it didn’t happen for me in my playing days.

You just get over it and get on with it, I got into some squads, but it became irrelevant because I knew I wasn’t going to play.

Obviously, I didn’t suit the managers at the time and unfortunately for Aaron Cresswell it looks the same.

He’s got some good fullbacks around him, but after a while you tend to think I can only do what I can do for my club.

I’ll keep playing at the highest level I possibly can and if that doesn’t get me into the national team, then you just have to accept it.

It’s a proud honour to be called up to your national team, but in the end, you become disillusioned because you know you’re not going to get it.

I didn’t even used to look at the England squads because I knew I wouldn’t be in there, unfortunately that’s football and you have to get on with it.

Your club form will get you into the national team, but if the manager thinks he has better players than you in that team already, then there’s not much you can do about it.


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