PGL: Morning Insiders and welcome to another ‘Ask the Oppo’. This we go to the Riverside to face Middlesborough, a side many feel are our bogey team. I’ve been talking to Andy.
Here’s what he had to say about this weekends tie:
PGL: Can you give us a brief ‘Middlesborough: the season so far’…
Andy: Inconsistent. Picking up four valuable points away at Villa and Everton and then one out of the following nine against Bolton and Newcastle at home and Hull away has been a microcosm of our season so far.
PGL: Have expectations changes from the start of the campaign now we are 16 games in?
Andy: No – I thought we would finish 13th this season and we are currently sat in 12th. We have a young squad who lose concentration in the “Red Zones”. If games were 80 minutes long, we would have 10 extra points now and we would be sat level with you in the Champions League places. As it is, we are frustratingly naive and lacking in experience so it looks like another season of mid-table mediocrity and little progression.
PGL: Two men have been arrested over racist chanting aimed at Mido. Do you think this sort of disgusting behaviour is creeping back into the game?
Andy: I don’t think so. The Kick It Out campaign has been a massive success and the fact that this (and the incidents during the Portsmouth v Spurs game) are receiving so much widespread Press coverage is because such incidents are so rare nowadays. The vast majority of fans will not tolerate racism or homophobic abuse but as usual, a small minority of idiots have tarnished the reputation of the game for everyone else. The lack of a Football Banning Order from the Courts on Tuesday for one of the men, however, does not send the right message.
PGL: You’re entrenched in the Premiership mid-table scrum, what does Gareth Southgate need to take the club forward for the rest of the season?
Andy: We need experience. We have the youngest squad in the Premier League and this is reflected in the naivety we show towards the end of games. As I have said, we have dropped ten points late on in games this season and had there been a few more experienced heads in the side who knew how to play the game out, I don’t think we would have conceded so many late goals.
We also need to improve the confidence of Afonso Alves and get Mido back in the side. We need to be scoring more goals than we are as if we do – late lapses in concentration won’t prove so costly.
PGL: Southgate has spoken in the past about his admiration for Wenger and Arsenal. Some of our fans have been openly critical of both club and manager this season, from an outsiders point of you, do you think they’ve got a point?
Andy: It’s a different league when you are one of the “Big Four”. Most sides will be delighted to be challenging for silverware on all fronts season after season so I doubt you will get a lot of sympathy from fans of other clubs. Having said that, because Wenger has set his standards so high in the past, Arsenal fans now feel frustrated that you are no longer reaching them. You are behind Chelsea and Manchester United and Liverpool are threatening to overtake you too (in both the CL and PL) so I can understand why Arsenal fans are openly critical about Wenger and the club. The question is though, is this beneficial for Arsenal FC?
PGL: Two of your stars have been linked to moves away from the club, Tuncay and Stewart Downing are supposedly being monitored by Chelsea and Spurs. How important is it that you keep them? Or do you think this is just the start of the silly season?
Andy: We have heard these rumours time and time again, particularly about Downing. The Downing to Spurs story is wheeled out during every transfer window yet nothing has ever come of it. Downing and Tuncay are both vital to our club and if they leave, it would devalue the competitiveness of the League. Arsenal have a fantastic scouting policy so rarely buy from other PL clubs but there is a habit of Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool of taking all the best players from the other sides in the League and this reduces the competitiveness and the quality of the PL in my opinion. Boro’s scouting system is good – Tuncay and Digard have been two major finds in the last two years – so I have confidence that Downing and Tuncay could be replaced but I think it is detremental to the progression of a club like Middlesbrough if we had to do this.
PGL: Where do you think the key battles will be on Saturday?
Andy: Midfield. If we can close down your flair players and don’t let them play then we have a chance of winning. We have often been good at this in the past – hence our previous successes against you at the Riverside – but this young team is more flair than grit itself so I think it will be an open game. We need to make your players know that they are in for a battle.
PGL: Will keeping Fabregas off the ball be Southgate’s priority?
Andy: It will be one of them but with a team like Arsenal, there is threat everywhere so if you focus on just one player, there is a chance that another player will damage you.
PGL: And finally what’s your prediction for the game?
Andy: I don’t really see anything other than an Arsenal win, although it pains me to say it. If we get stuck in and raise our game then we can beat you but if we play as badly as we did against Chelsea then I worry. The problem is that Boro are so Jekeyll and Hyde that a 5-0 victory would be no less surprising than a 5-0 thumping. Anything could happen.
PGL: Cheers Andy. I don’t know what we’re going to see today. We’ve be so erratic this season predictions seem pointless so I’m going for a 4-2 to the Arse! Honestly, I think I’d have to agree with Andy and say this could be anything. I think we could see Diaby, Cesc, Denilson and Eboue play across the middle, and although there is enough talent in that quartet to get a result, our lack of pace down the flanks is becoming an ever increasing problem. We need RVP and Ade working hard and getting into the old fashioned inside right and left positions opening out the midfield allowing Cesc some room to operate. 3 points are a must.
Over and Out