Hats off to Tony Merakli, editor of the Arsenal fan site Gunnersphere, for stepping in gamely at the last minute when we were let down by his counterpart at another Gooners’ blog. Tony fears, as do most ‘Who are you?’ interviewees these days, but believes we are a massive club whose fans deserve so much better. He also has a liking for ‘that Watmore kid’ but thinks we are in for a heavy defeat against his side on Saturday …
Salut! Sunderland: I have admired Arsene Wenger for as long as I can recall but he has always had his Arsenal detractors and their voices have grown louder. Where do you stand?
Tony Merakli: For what he has done for the club in his earlier years, he has my total respect. However, in recent years, he has failed to live up to previous achievements. Why? Because he hasn’t adapted as football has and doesn’t have a plan B. So I’m sitting on the fence at the moment.
If not covered above, what represents the Arsenal supporter’s minimum expectation of success, given that most of us – and especially us – would give an arm for your level of failure?
It has to be top four for me. I don’t think any Gooner would except anything less. Wenger once said finishing in the top four is like winning a trophy. If that was the case then our trophy cabinet would be full.
Great result in the Champions League, albeit against limited opposition, but what are your chances for the rest of the competition?
We have started off well in the Champions League this season and it looks almost certain that we will qualify to the knockout stages, but I can’t see us winning it, unless we get extremely lucky. Barcelona, Bayen Munich, Real Madrid and Atletico are just too strong in my opinion, one of them will win it.
Second top as I write and crucially, I imagine, for you, above Spurs, you look to be heading for another good first half of the season. Will the second half, a bit of a problem in recent years, see you remaining as high?
We always start off well, but come November and just after Christmas we crumble. I hope it doesn’t happen again, but wouldn’t be surprised if it does.
Who are the key players this season and where are there still weaknesses?
Mesut Ozil, Laurent Koscielny and Alexis Sanchez for me. Their weaknesses? Well Mesut doesn’t really perform against the big sides, neither does Sanchez, and as for Koscielny, at times he gets a bit clumsy in crucial games.
Where should Arsenal be in the English pecking order and what will it take to ensure you’re where you want to be?
Right at the top, winning the Premier League. I think we have one of the best squads in England, but we just fail to get there due to poor results against the lesser sides in the league. We need luck to become champions, playing good football and for those around us to not be performing to a high standard.
So the obvious question: this season’s finishing top four?
It can be out of seven teams but I’ll say Arsenal, Liverpool, Man City and Chelsea (don’t want to say Spurs, although they look a decent side).
And – no need for mercy – the bottom three?
Hull, Stoke City (I want them to go down) and unfortunately Sunderland.
Your own highlights as an Arsenal supporter?
Without a doubt witnessing the Invincibles and the 1997/98 double season. Also, travelling to Dortmund, yeah we lost 2-0, but what an atmosphere it was.
And the lowest points?
Three stand out in my mind. Firstly, the Bergkamp penalty miss in the FA Cup Semi against United (the best FA Cup game ever in my opinion). Secondly, our loss to Barcelona in the Champions League final 10 years ago and thirdly, When Henry left the club, I was distraught.
From an enviable list of fabulous players – without looking anything up I think of the Invincibles esp Bergkamp, Henry, Vieira and Pires (the diving apart) – who are the greatest you’ve seen in Arsenal colours? I knew you were a massive Henry admirer.
Other than the Invincibles, the old back four from the George Graham days – they were a class defensive unit. Another few are Marc Overmars and of course Ian Wright.
And who should been allowed nowhere near Highbury or the Emirates?
So many players I could take up a whole page. The ones that stand out are Nelson Vivas, Gus Caesar, Abou Diaby, Denilson, Andre Santos, Igor Stepanovs, Francis Jeffers, Marouane Chamakh, Mikael Silvestre, the list is endless.
Talking of Highbury, how much do you miss it?
I do miss it, but you can’t live in the past. The Emirates is Arsenal’s home now.
Daft question but it there anyone in our team that you’d welcome, even as bench fodder?
I like the look of that Duncan Watmore kid. I think he’s got potential.
If our time is finally up, do you have a view on why that is the case?
I do think Sunderland are destined to go down this season, you’ve just been flirting with relegation for far too long now for it not to happen. Why? Is that the case? I just think the players are simply not up to the challenge and changing the manager over and over isn’t good either.
Any other thoughts on Sunderland – the club, the fans, the city/region, David Moyes?
They are a massive club and should be doing better. I don’t think David Moyes is the man to get the club back to where it should be.
On to diving – the Eduardo one v Celtic once formed part of this question – is it now so prevalent (I do not exclude SAFC) that we may as well give up and write it up in the coaching manuals? Or do we try to stamp out this and other forms of cheating?
It’s become so normal in the game now that you can’t do anything about it but laugh to be honest. When you have pundits saying he should have gone down to get a penalty rather staying on his feet, you sort of just have to accept it for what it is. It’s become an art in the game, and players are getting better and better at it unfortunately.
Best ref, worst ref?
I think they are all at the same level. One day the best might be the worst and vice versa.
Club versus country – which is your priority?
Club for me, purely because I spend most of the time watching club football as opposed to England or international games in general.
Will you be at our game? What will be the score?
No, I’ll be enjoying it with my dad at home, with the luxury of a free drinks when I want. Because we are in good form and it’s against Sunderland (sorry), I can only see us winning this one. 3-0.
* Tony Merakli on himself: I’m 30 and edit the Arsenal blog Gunnersphere. I’ve been supporting Arsenal for as long as I can remember, through the highs and the lows.
Interview: Colin Randall