Last Updated: 12 June 2023, Author: AceOdds.com
Join us for an exclusive chat with an accomplished fullback and a pivotal member of the legendary Arsenal side - a player whose skill and flair on the pitch was only matched by his iconic left foot. In this interview, he opens up about his career highlights, the evolution of the fullback role, and the best players he's had the chance to play with.
Well that's probably a correct statement. [laughs]
Absolutely, yeah I was so left-sided. It was incredible. People have often asked me about that but I think the way I tried to explain it that was, I didn't join a professional team till I was literally two months from about to leave school.
As I left school I joined Birmingham City, I literally got spotted playing for you Nuneaton schools. I had a trial with Birmingham and then went there. I've had no professional coaching up to the age of 17.
Although I did bits of work on my right foot, even at that time when I went into the professional team, it wasn't put on you that you needed to be to be two-footed.
I think now the kids at 6/7/8 they're they're taught left and right foot which i never had. So you are correct, I was totally left-footed but also you are correct in saying that the goal against Wimbledon, I put it down as my best ever strike.
Why did I do it? I have no idea. I mean that touch I took with the ball, it was about what 20 or 22 yards from goal. It just sat there perfectly and it was just a case of just take a swing with it and see what happens.
I just hit it so well, that the angle of where I was standing to where it was going past, I think it was Dave Beasant in goal, I just knew it was going in, it was just a pure strike.
As you can see from my teammates and myself, it was a pretty surprising result that it flew with that much accuracy, let's just say.
I think maybe a lot more is asked of them in terms of involvement in the game.
Whether it's hard or not, I think it's still a huge debate because when I played, if you couldn't defend, you didn't get into a top team.
Whereas I think sometimes, as you see now, there are players that are not great defenders but they're playing to a very high level because of their quality on the ball and what they deliver going forward. So the game is slightly different in terms of what's being asked of the fullbacks now.
We see that particularly a lot with Zinchenko, who almost plays a centre midfield role a lot of the time. It's very interesting, it's very fascinating.
If I was honest with you, I'd still like a combination of both. I'm not against that at all because that is the modern game. But I still would like to see my fullback being defensively very strong because the better the team that you're with, the competitions you're in, you're always going to come up against the top teams.
Particularly if you're going Champions League deep. You're going to know you're going to need to have to defend at some stage.
So I'd like the mix to be, I think, still a little bit more balanced. But I understand the question because the fullbacks become so much more involved in the games now. It's not just really out wide and crossing. I think it's all the build up play and everything around it and the support play that goes with it as well.
I don't hide from the fact that with Zinchenko, a couple of times recently he's been caught out defensively but I fully understand why he's in the Arsenal team because his link-up play is so good. Trent Alexander-Arnold is another one, but that doesn't mean these guys can't do it.
I think it would be better to say your perfect solution would be someone like Dennis Irwin and Zinchenko or Alexander-Arnold. You put the you put the two together...
If you went back to Ashley Cole - and I know a lot of Arsenal supporters tried to wipe away Ashley Cole because of the way he left the club - but he was the best left back in the world at one stage. But not only was he the best left back in the world because of his defensive qualities but he had real quality on the ball.
It's not a modern example, but it's an example of someone that absolutely could be a top defender, but could also do the role that's asked of the fullbacks today.
Well it still should be positive, that's for sure.
Listen, we're all thinking Man City now will just go on with the teams they've got to play in the league and win the league title.
What I've said from here is, Arsenal have they've surrendered the initiative but they're still right in the race.
What they need to do now is to keep the pressure on Manchester City and make Manchester City go and win the title.
I would have said to you Arsenal's goal at the start of the season was to be top four. So they've far exceeded that.
I think mentally, there may be some disappointment but they should take great pride in the way that they've played. They've left the rest this season, apart from Manchester City, way behind them.
What they need to do, is do that again next season and the season after to show us that it wasn't just a one season thing. That this is now going to become the new norm for Arsenal and we can get back to watching a team that can challenge for the title on a regular basis.
I only did one year with Henry, but when I went back to watch Henry he was sensational.
But technically Bergkamp had everything. His touch, his weight of pass, his positioning on the pitch. The guy just oozed class. You see from some of his finishes as well.
He was, for me, he was almost the perfect player to play with. Such a sensational player.
Well I hope so because we've upset a lot of people this season!
So I certainly hope we have. We will be stronger next season. We will have more experience. That is for sure.
But it's okay talking about it. It's up to the players to go and find that drive and desire which I'm sure they'll have with Mikel Arteta.
To show us that this is just not a one off season and it can become the norm. If you keep putting yourself in a position to win the title or be very close, eventually you get yourself over the line.
I'm excited about watching the end of this season, but I'm also excited about seeing who we're going to bring to the club and what the start of next season brings for us.
I think for the first time I feel the atmosphere inside the stadium has changed, it's electric. But I also feel now we've got a team that potentially can take us on a great journey, but that team has to deliver trophies along the way as well.
Well it'd be huge, whether they win it or not.
If we're talking about them being there again next season, season after, they can use both of those moments to realise the situation that they're in. The pressure that they would be put under, how did they cope, how didn't they cope with it? What do they need to do better? What drive can I take from it to make sure this time that we get over the line?
So if you win it, then you go "well we know we can win it so we just got to go and do it again" and if you come up a bit short you go "right well these are the areas where we were short for a small period of time, maybe 3/4/5 games we need to make sure that that doesn't happen again."
Hopefully next time will allow us to be good enough to go on and win the title. So your past experiences if you use them the right way can be can be vital to drive you forward
Yeah, I think it would be a good signing for us.
A lot of people talk about holding midfield players, but they do more than that. They win the ball back, they supply the pass, the first pass through the lines. Thomas Partey's done that so well this season for us.
Rice has got great energy. He's got the ability to do all that in the games that I've watched him play. If they could, I think it would be a terrific signing for Arsenal.
Boy, oh boy. Well, definitely Southampton...Leeds... and I think Everton are in trouble as well.
I'll mix it up a bit because everybody likes strikers. So let's start with up there.
Bergkamp is obviously the first one. Ability on the ball, the way that he conducts himself, weight of pass, goals that he scores. The guy is just all round quality, all round class. Got everything that you'd want for someone. Even today to play modern football, he would just fit straight into into these teams just because of his sheer quality and presence.
I'd put Henry in there as well because I only played with Henry for a year but when I went after I retired and went back to watch him play at Arsenal, obviously I was still watching when I was playing. But when you then go back and watch somebody, that guy's got pace, power, the ability to travel with a ball and come in.
Played centre forward, but didn't play centre forward if that makes sense, because he came in slightly off the left hand side, off the right centre half of the opposing teams. They didn't know whether to go tight and mark him, they didn't know whether to go off. If you gave that guy space and let him run at you, he would just drift past you and he was the scorer of some sensational goals.
Without a shadow of a doubt, Vieira. I remember Vieira coming to Arsenal, when I was already there, as a young man big, strong, athletic, but could command a game. Would go toe to toe with anybody, but his running ability and his power was second to none, so just from sheer midfield ability he was absolutely sensational.
Tony Adams, Arsenal captain, great leader. Top centre half. A lot more skilful than a lot of people gave him credit for. Good reader of the game. Was there, particularly under George Graham, to keep that team driving forward and disciplined. Had a few issues, but still came through the other side and showed what a great all-round player, if not defender, he was. And then somebody gets that amount of caps for England deserves the recognition that they got.
Then I'll also put in there Marc Overmars. I only had a short period with Mark but I remember him coming to the club and him playing left wing. I played behind him and I had such a great connection after we played the first game together.
We really didn't need to communicate with each other. We just needed to look. I just needed to know his body position and where he was on the pitch and I knew where he wanted the ball to be. He just made the game so easy for you to play and from his electric start from standstill over 3-5 yards nobody could really match that.
So that would be my list. I tried to mix it up a bit because obviously everybody likes the goal scorers. If I'm honest with you I could pick a lot more as well because I played with a lot of real quality players.
I don't know whether given credit for is the right phrase because a lot of the guys I played with were so successful in the teams that we played in and are always given credit by their own supporters.
I mean Lee Dixon was ultra consistent, one on ones, he was sensational. You knew you were in for a battle if you played against Lee.
Emmanuel Petit again in centre of midfield with Vieira was was left-footed, athletic, such a great long-range passer of the ball as well but very skillful. Had a lot more skill than I think people realised.
So there's just another there's another two, we could probably go on all day really but I think sometimes I don't know whether underrated is the right word but sometimes because a player is so consistent they sometimes don't get the accolades that maybe they deserve.
No, I don't really.
I understand why they use that word because it's a cheap and an easy word to use. Let's be fair, all the other supporters of the other teams will use it because it's just a little bait towards us.
Listen, we're in a great position. I think Arsenal will be slightly disappointed if they don't win the league. I think they've surrendered the initiative to Manchester City through that little four-game period.
But we're the only team this season that has managed to keep pace and stay ahead of Manchester City.
So there will be a lot of lessons learned and it will be a valuable lesson as we come through to the end of the season and then even into the next season. Some of Arsenal's play this season has just been on a different level to anything they produced last season.
So there will be disappointment, but they'll also take great credit and pride in that for a large majority of the season they performed to a very very high standard.
But I fully understand why you use that word because it's an easy word to use and supporters like to wind each other up, don't they? It's something that's always going to be it's always going to be mentioned.
But Arsenal are challenging the best team in the history of Premier League over the last five years. So let's not forget that shows you where Arsenal have come from over the last year. They've made some big, big strides.
They might drop points to Leeds at home... Nah, I'm only kidding with you.
Listen, we've already seen this season with the Premier League. We all do it, I agree with you. Even I do it. I look at the fixtures: "Can we win it? Yeah, we'll win that one. No, I'm not so sure about that one, but let's hope we can. No, no, that's going to be very difficult away from home." It's the worst thing you can do.
I remember looking a few weeks back and doing doing exactly that and then Man City went to Nottingham Forest, everyone's going that's going to be 3 or 4-nil and they go ahead but all of a sudden they draw.
If you are five or ten percent below your best and you're not focused on the opposition, every game has the potential to slip you up.
That's why I believe Arsenal still have a slight chance this season. At this moment in time City are wiping everybody away, but they've got a lot of games in a short period of time. That gives me the hope that maybe they might drop some points.
But in saying that, Arsenal still got potentially some difficult games. Newcastle away at the weekend, Brighton at home. Those teams have been going very, very well. So I could also flip it around and say, we've got hard games.
But the best thing to do, is not to try and predict, it's just to wait and see if it happens. And that's what I'll be doing tonight as well.
You could write down every single game and you could down three points, one point, oh not sure, maybe we'll lose that one. But along the way it just doesn't happen like that. Football is so bizarre.
You go from being the top of the form one minute and also all of a sudden you throw in a stinky performance and it just throws you off a little bit. Then you've got to regather and go again.
So I still think there might be a little twist to the end of the season but I'm not sure if it will be enough or not for for Arsenal to get to get back on top because they have a lot of difficult games themselves.
Oh boy, oh boy, they've had a lot.
I mean, Saka has been at such a high standard now for last two or three seasons for a young man that's come into the team, he's been sensational.
Odegaard has been incredible this season.
Up until the last couple of games, Partey, his influence on the game and the way that he wins the ball back and through the lines has been really good.
The centre half partnership between Gabriel and Saliba has been very very strong.
Ben White switched to right back and has had a good season.
So you could almost goes through the team. For me one of the biggest things that happened at Arsenal was they brought in two players in Zinchenko and Jesus who were used to a winning mentality and used to winning things.
I think that has shown some of the players in training, in game time, that you've got to strive for that success every single week. So I think that's helped lift the level of performance.
But listen, I could pretty much go through all the team and say, in one way or another, each player has played a huge part in this season else we wouldn't be where we are. It would be impossible.
But I love watching Saka play. I watched him make his debut for the under 23s then, and come through into the team very, very quickly.
As I said to you, Odegaard's been absolutely sensational for most of the season.
You could pick Martinelli who's had some really strong moments throughout the season as well.
You could you probably list them all and give them all a tick. I don't think there would be a cross by any of them. You simply wouldn't be able to do that when you sit in top of the league.
It needs a few. We'll have Champions League football.
We haven't got any options with Tomiyasu out injured so we couldn't switch any of the centre halfs. Brought Kiwior in last night, but he's a young player.
So we need a new right back, maybe another centre half, centre midfield player. Potentially another forward, we're not sure what's happening with a couple of the younger players.
So they'll need to re-strengthen considerably because, I'll state the obvious, the Champions League is so much stronger than Europa League. So Arsenal will need a much stronger squad than they've had this season.
No, I never tend to worry too much. You're either happy at a football club and you're enjoying your football and you can see the progression. Now I'm just talking about Arsenal now.
But listen, nobody wants any players, particularly their young players, to leave. But if they make that decision to move on, then the club simply has to fill that void. You get on with it.
You just asked the question, well, why do they want to leave? What's the reason? It depends what club you're at at the time and where you're going.
It's hard for supporters to accept. If you hear of one of your top players who wants to move to X or Y club. But that's that's always happened in history, hasn't it, of football and it will happen again.
Hopefully it's going to be the other way around this season and for the start of next season that we're going to be taking some of the top players from other clubs to make us a whole lot stronger because I do believe that we're now in a position where people are going to want to, because of how young our team is, people are going to want to come and join us.
Well, put it this way, it was already crazy before I joined! It was a squad of a lot of free transfers, but a lot of big, big characters. John Fashanu, Vinnie Jones, Dennis Wise, Dave Beasant were there. So mentally, you needed to be tough to be inside that dressing room. I was obviously one of the quieter ones, but when I got out onto the pitch, I let people know I was there.
I knew I would back them up and they would back me up. But boy, I just don't know how to describe Wimbledon really. It was like a pub team. I mean no disrespect, it was great. We scared everybody. Nobody wanted to play us!
The ground was awful- the showers didn't work half the time. The away team used to think that we only gave them cold water, but it wasn't the case- we had cold water too as the hot didn't work! The nightclub was where the players went after the game to meet their family.
I mean, you couldn't make this stuff up, it's absolutely ridiculous. We used to stop off on the way back at the nearest fish and chip shop to get our food. Sometimes we'd even stop off at the pub to have a pint. I mean, it was fun. It was a great period to be part of Wimbledon, into what was then the top division, it was an incredible journey.
Every single season we were relegation favourites, but we had great desire. We knew exactly how we needed to play. We got walloped a few times along the way but that never gave us any doubt, because we knew that with the characters we had in the team that a lot of teams wouldn't want to play us.
They hated coming to Plough Lane and that gave us a massive advantage- it was a crazy place to be that's for sure.
Well, yes- that proves what I've just been talking about, that people didn't want to come and play. I think there's a couple of managers who have said football isn't played just one way. There's no point trying to play nice attractive football if you don't think you've got the players to do that.
If you've got a system that works- which we had, we tried to play long balls into the front man or down the channels- then play that way. When we got the ball in the final third we were allowed to express ourselves a lot more but it was all about crosses and shots. It was about eliminating errors inside your own half and that was as simple as it was.
Lineker may be right in thinking it was better to watch it on Ceefax, but he also knew that we won a lot of games. That probably shows that he didn't want to be coming up against any of us guys on a regular basis, because he knew it was going to be a difficult afternoon.
Absolutely, you're talking about the history of Arsenal versus the rise of Wimbledon.
Everything was completely different. Stuff that we did at Wimbledon, things we used to do in training, would never be accepted at Arsenal. It was a big cultural change for me, but you're never going to turn down Arsenal because it was a great opportunity for me.
It was one that I relished, although I have to say, the first six months for me was very, very difficult because I wasn't in the team and it was very different fromWimbledon with their 6,000 supporters.
I just missed that atmosphere on a Saturday, knowing that for that period of time I wasn't going to be playing- I found that quite hard to deal with at times.
Not really because I knew the club I was going to. Listen, I was delighted when they won the FA Cup, but I had no regrets. That was an amazing achievement for them and you would never take that away.
But I knew for my career, going from Wimbledon to Arsenal would be a huge step. Did I know that I was going to be part of a team that would be as successful as this? Obviously no you don't. Did I know that I was going to stay as long as I did at Arsenal? No you don't.
If you ask me to swap my time at Arsenal for the FA Cup with Wimbledon, the answer would be no, absolutely. When you see the players that you're working with, the managers' ideas, and then you start getting into the team, you realise you could be part of something that could be very, very good. Luckily for myself and the teams that I played in, it was a special period to be there.
I think for me, and I've talked about this a lot, some of the things Arsene Wenger did in training were great. He put the players in groups and he used to adjust the running times for each group. He knew that me being older, I'd be working a lot harder than a 21 year old to cover the same distance, so it was mathematical stuff, it was all plotted out.
His sessions were short, sharp and intense everyday, even with the technical work as well.
He changed our diets. With regards Tony's situation, he took all the alcohol out of the meeting rooms after the games. When we went to meet our family, he closed the bars down.
So it was a change, you know, a lot of plain boiled food, but I have to say the reason why I decided to make sure that I was still going to be part of Arsenal with Arsene Wenger was his training sessions.
They were just so different. They were so fresh. His ideas and the way that he wanted his team to play, I just thought, how can you not enjoy this and the effect it will have when you come into the team?
It was much more the playing side than the dietary side that interested me. I think most players will tell you that they'll just go along with anything that they're told to do if you're successful on the pitch.
On the flip side of that, whilst there were all kinds of different tablets to take for recovery, if you didn't want to take them they were never pushed onto you and you never felt that you were an outcast if you didn't take them.
There were a lot of things that I didn't do and didn't take. And not once did anyone come to say to me you're not towing the line, you're not doing what the manager wants you to do.
The manager was clever enough to know that if your level of performance was high, then he'd give you the option.
The option was there for you to take it or not. So some of the stuff I took, some of the things I didn't. Most of the guys just took it on board because they believed it was a new way, it was a different way, and it worked.
That is a great question because I really don't know. Listen, they've had a great couple of seasons. They've made signings and gained renewed hope, maybe looking to be around the top of the league. I don't know, fifth, sixth, seventh- but it just hasn't worked for them in the league. I can't give you that answer. Maybe it's just a complete drop in performance in a lot of players, sometimes it's hard to get that back.
You've got to get momentum and rhythm into your game as a team and if you can't do that over a period of time it becomes very, very difficult. I would say it's been a very poor season for them, the one thing they want to do now is make sure that they stay away from relegation. Maybe another week will do that for them. They've still got the Europa Conference League, which I think is a big, big competition and you shouldn't mock it because the winners, you know, will get great credit from that.
Well he's done a fantastic job but when the fans become unhappy that puts pressure on the board and it puts pressure on the manager. I would think he was under more pressure a few weeks ago than he is now.
It has been- and still is- a crazy season with what's happening. Managers being sacked and assistant managers being sacked. Don't ask me if I know whether he's going to be there or not because this season has just been so, so strange. I think he's done a great job, but this season they're going to come up short in league form. The Europa Conference League may save their season.
Well you'd think it's absolutely bonkers- how could a manager change things around in such a short period of time? Listen, we talk about manager bounces don't we, but let's be fair, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. The way they were going, they were relegated because they were conceding so many goals, so I can understand why they've done it.
The Premier League- lets just make a rough estimation- is worth £100 million to a team. So if they give Sam Allardyce £10 million to try and keep them up and it works, it's not a lot of money in terms of what they're going to get for staying in the Premier League.
I was a bit surprised, but then when I started to look at the results and the way that they were playing, it's not a big surprise. They have some difficult games to stay up and if he keeps them up with those four games, it would be a huge achievement.
There's been a few. I've loved watching Brentford play, they've done great. Brighton have been so ultra consistent in terms of their style of play they move the ball so well. Somehow, they seem to sell a player and then bring somebody in who's just as good, it's absolutely ludicrous! I've never seen anything like it, their recruitment has been sensational.
Those two teams have done exceptionally well and since Unai Emery came to Aston Villa, that's been an incredible journey in a short period of time for them. Those would be the three teams that, I'm not saying they've surprised everyone because that's wrong, that's a little bit rude and ignorant, but I think the way those three teams have performed, I think they'll be very happy with themselves come the end of the season.
Oh boy, oh boy, you've chucked that one straight on me! I'd like to wait and see who goes down first to analyse those squads. There's always going to be one or two, but you would flip that around and say, actually, they were part of a team that got relegated as well.
Obviously if Leicester or Everton are relegated I'm sure there's people going to be in for Calvert-Lewin, I'm sure there's people going to be in for Pickford, James Maddison.
I'm sure there'd be one or two that would be nice fits in our squad, but I'm not quite sure who that is. Apart from Southampton I'm not sure who will go down, but there, most people will automatically pick out Ward Prowse.
Does anybody ever get a chance in England for the Ballon d'Or? Well, he's got to be, hasn't he? If they win the Champions League and he breaks all the goalscoring records, which I think he's pretty much done already, then I would be surprised if he's not in the nominees. I mean that guy is a beast. He has an eye for goal but scores so many different goals, it's incredible.
I would be very surprised if Man City won the Champions League and he's not one of the nominations. I think if that did happen, you would have to question how they come to these decisions. I think we could already do that anyway, but that's a different subject.
After last night's game against Arsenal, no! Listen, there's a lot going on at Chelsea, there's a lot wrong. I think they need a strong manager in there that somehow can trim that squad. We all know if those players are on long contracts and great wages, if they don't want to move, they don't have to. There's no law to say you've got to move just because the club doesn't want you. The amount of players they have- trying to fit them into sessions in training each day is almost impossible.
It looks a mess at the moment, but in saying that, they have a lot of quality players. There doesn't seem to be any togetherness, there seems to be no cohesion at Chelsea. The first thing the manager will do is come in and sort out a squad of 20 that he wants to work with. I think there's going to be some big egos that are going to be very bruised when that manager makes a decision.
Yes, I don't need to say any more. I think the top four is almost, for me, sealed. If I'm completely honest with you, I still think there's a bit of frailty around Liverpool. I don't believe they'll win all their games, which they probably need to do to get top four. I mean, they were so dominant against Tottenham, and then, collapse is not the right word, but they just lost their way.
OK, they recovered right at the end. But that's not the Liverpool of last season. That game would have gone on to being four, five, six, seven, and they wouldn't have conceded a goal. So I personally think it's too late and they're a little bit frail still to stay undefeated to the end of the season. I could be completely wrong, but my belief is they won't make the top four.
OK, right. When you talk about toughest, I always talk about best for individual ability. In a one-off game, I would say it was Luis Figo when he was at Barcelona. That guy was not ultra quick- not slow by any means. But he loved a little trick and a step over. The way he shielded the ball, the positions that he took up on a pitch.
Obviously, as a left back, if he steps into the midfield a little bit, I can't go in and mark him because I wouldn't want to vacate the left-back area and leave it wide open.He was very clever in the positions he took up on the pitch, but just his control of the ball his movement of the ball.
He was a sensational player to play against- it was actually a privilege to play against him. That goes for most of the players you're playing against in the Premier League because you know you're playing against people of a very high quality.