JF: First, tell the readers of Just Football a bit about yourself.
I’m a 53 year old known by the name of ‘holic. Born in Islington but now living in the west country.
How did your love affair with Arsenal begin?
I had absolutely no option. From a very young age my Dad enabled Mum to get a break from me every Saturday. He went to Arsenal, therefore I went to Arsenal! Kids who went to Highbury just once in those days were hooked. It was an iconic venue. I was so lucky for it to be my second home. As soon as I was old enough I followed the club home and away, and across Europe.
And what inspired you to create your own blog about Arsenal?
It was a combination of things really. I wrote some articles for Arsenal-Land around the time broadband and a new Mac came into my life. It seemed natural to have a little play around with Blogger and have a go myself. If memory serves correctly my first day I got around twenty readers, I suspect from mates at Arsenal-Land.
Seven months later I bought my first web-hosting package and the domain name. Arseblogger was also a major help and inspiration at this time. Last month I topped 150k visits for the first time. To say I am flattered is an understatement.
How would you rate the team’s performance so far this season?
The standard answer is that we have out-performed the expectations of the pundits who predicted the loss of a top-four berth for us back in August. I don’t conform to the standard though. I thought back then that this season would turn into a straight fight between Chelsea and ourselves for the Premiership. I suppose I was as guilty of writing off Manchester United as others were of dismissing our chances.
The similarities between Arsenal this season, and Manchester United last term, are many. Although we have lost to our main rivals we have by and large consistently picked up the points off those below us. Given the size of our injury list at any point of the season we have done very well to still be in the hunt.
In your opinion who have been the team’s 3 standout performers and why?
Obviously Cesc Fabregas has been massively influential. He has captained by example and not allowed that responsibility to prevent him from adding consistent goalscoring to his already considerable armoury.
The name Thomas Vermaelen has to be accompanied by the words ‘signing of the season’ in whatever context it is mentioned. A goalscoring central defender who is apparently made of titanium, he has quickly become an essential part of the side.
Alexandre Song has excelled in the defensive midfield role, and it is no coincidence that Arsenal struggled while he was away at the African Cup of Nations. He wasn’t always appreciated by the Arsenal faithful, but has won them round with a consistently high level of performances over the last 18 months.
Most football fans and bloggers think deeply about their club. What are the key issues facing Arsenal right now, both on and off the field?
On the field it looks like we may have a busy summer ahead. Most fans would like to see additions to the squad, but Arsene Wenger’s hand may be forced by summer departures. Most expect Campbell and Silvestre to move on, and there has to be some doubt as to whether or not Gallas will stay. Even with Djourou recovering we will need a couple of central defenders. A couple of other positions also need strengthening.
Whether or not the money, suitable players, and time can be found is another matter. Off the field it now looks as though Arsenal are offloading the property development that remains behind the south end of the stadium which should free up some cash to the football side of the business. Will it be enough for more than 2 or 3 new signings? We shall see.
In addition it looks as though there could possibly be a distraction in the form of a battle for control of the club. This summer may well be one of the most significant in the history of Arsenal Football Club.
What did you make of Arsenal’s European campaign this season and the Champions League exit to Barcelona?
I have to confess we did not face the toughest passage to the quarter-final, and that perhaps came back to bite us when we did face true quality. For an hour of the first-leg I thought Barca were the best visiting side I had seen at the Grove. The spirit and quality we showed in coming back from two down gave us some hope for the second-leg.
Although we took the lead in the Nou Camp there is no doubt we did not perform at our best. That is understandable to a degree, given that the spine of the side was missing, but it is not an excuse. I thought Barca worked harder than us to both keep and regain the football, and Messi was something else on the night. A month ago I think we would have beaten them. In April we couldn’t.
Arsene Wenger has hinted that the squad needs strengthening. What areas need reinforcements in your opinion, which 3 players would you bring in and which 3 would you ship to White Hart Lane?
I’m a bit too old to belong to the ‘Football Manager 2010’ generation. There is a lot of talk about bringing in a top class goalkeeper, but the sort of money that Lloris and Akinfeev would command is probably outside what we would be prepared to pay.
As I have said previously we will probably be forced to spend any spare cash on a couple of central defenders, and if Chamakh arrives on a free, albeit on high wages, he will bring something to the squad, I’m sure.
None of our players have plumbed the depths that would see them need to take a huge drop in standard to the Lane!
Despite 4/4 defeats against your closest rivals Arsenal are well and truly in the title hunt. How do you see it panning out?
Whoever gets the most points over 38 games will be deserving champions. Manchester United proved last season that you don’t need to beat your rivals to lift the title, just all the others. Having said that I did fancy us strongly before the dropped points at Birmingham and the loss of Fabregas. Of all the injuries we have suffered his could be the most decisive.
If I were a professional gambler my money would be on Chelsea in all honesty, because we cannot afford to drop any more points, but funnier things have happened than us winning our last five. Everything is crossed here!
Behind the scenes Stan Kroenke and Alisher Usmanov battle for control of the club. What do you believe is the ideal ownership model for Arsenal and of the two men who would you rather?
The multiple ownership model has stood Arsenal in very good stead down the years and enabled us to be in a position to have a talented young side, playing fantastic football, in a state-of-the-art stadium, with a comfortably manageable debt. As a traditionalist I would prefer that to remain the case, but it now seems inevitable that one individual will at least acquire over fifty percent of the shares.
Kroenke has become the preferred option for the existing board and most supporters, although it feels a bit like being asked whether you would prefer to be shot or stabbed. The doubts about Usmanov and his past won’t go away, and at least the American has a proven track record in his sports interests.
All we can pray is that the club is not mortgaged to the hilt to finance any such takeover in the way those other American franchises in the north-west have suffered.
Arsenal fans are staunchly loyal to Arsene Wenger. After nearly 5 years without a trophy though how much credit does he have left in the bank?
That’s a question that comes to the fore with every defeat. I cannot deny there is at least a vocal minority who now question his persistence with the reliance on youth, and who cite his perceived intransigence as reasons for parting with him.
I think if one considers the restrictions he has undoubtedly faced since we moved to the Grove, I would say he has worked miracles to keep us consistently in the top four. For my money he doesn’t have carte blanche to continue regardless of results, but as long as we are competitive he has earned the right to continue for as long as he wants the job.
There is no doubt in my mind that history will regard his period of tenure as being of at very least equal importance to that of Herbert Chapman.
Cesc Fabregas will be at Arsenal at the start of the 2010/2011 season. True or False?
I don’t know who gets more tired of having to regularly refute claims that he is leaving, the fans or Cesc himself. One day those rumours will be right, but that day is a way off yet. He sells papers in Spain and England, so the stories won’t stop.
Funnily enough, I’m not sure we have one. Most of the squad attracts their fair share of praise from both within and outside the Arsenal community. The closest we have is probably Denilson, a player who has had to curb his natural attacking instincts and work on the defensive side of his game. He needs to add a consistency of effort to his game to be truly appreciated, but his contribution at times this season has been vital, if often undervalued.
Highbury or The Emirates?
You won’t be surprised to hear it is Highbury for me, having spent so much time there. The place had an atmosphere, a feeling about it, that was quite unique.
The Grove will be that iconic venue at some point in the future. There is no doubt as a stadium it is exceptional on every level. Maybe we just need to win something there to make it feel more like home.
How do you see the club evolving over the next few years & are you optimistic about the future of the club?
The potential for the club to become a financially stable giant in Europe is evident. Arsenal has become an institution that will always be huge, and hugely popular, so in that respect I’m hopeful. The only concern would be if we do fall under majority ownership of an individual, which seems inevitable, that we do not fall into the hands of someone who would not run the club for the benefit and enjoyment of the support that has put the club where it is.
Onto Goonerholic. How have you found blogging since you began & what have been the biggest challenges?
It is a pleasure to write for knowledgeable Gooners who enjoy some healthy debate on the blog. The only real drawback comes during international breaks and close season when regularly producing pieces, while news is thin on the ground, can be a real struggle.
What does the future hold for Goonerholic?
In short, more of the same. I have a full-time job, hopefully for about another decade. I have neither the time nor knowledge to produce anything other than a simple blog in a relatively stable format. I have these vague ideas about learning whatever languages and techniques will be current when I retire and maybe expand it then, but that is a long way off.
And, with journalism and media struggling post-recession, what do you think is the future of sports journalism?
The way of providing content will continue to shift further in favour of electronically delivered reporting, but sports fans have insatiable thirst for even the smallest snippets of news about their heroes. I don’t think we will all be reading a tablet style device instead of paper in the next six months, but the demise of the conventional press will continue over the next few years.
That doesn’t mean any decline in the number of journalists however. They will more than likely grow in number, although the dividing lines that currently exist between paid journalists and bloggers will slowly disappear. People will follow what they perceive as quality, whether produced by a professional or an enthusiast.
Thanks to Dave for the interview. And be sure to check out Goonerholic, which is easily one of the finest Arsenal blogs on the net.