‘A Sit Down With Charlie Nicholas’ -10th June 2022

As clubs begin their summer transfer activity, BonusCodeBets caught up with ex-Arsenal legend Charlie Nicholas. The Soccer Saturday pundit shared his thoughts on Arsenal’s inexperience, Manchester United’s lack of DNA, and why Mané is a bigger loss to Liverpool than Salah would be.

Charlie Nicholas Exclusive: Mikel Arteta is building something at Arsenal in the right way

“Arsenal didn’t hand Mikel Arteta a new contract too early, despite them missing out on the Champions League and having spent a fair amount of money. 

“The reason to be supportive of his new contract is because of the way the owners were going about things after Arsène Wenger left. There was a committee of six individuals who all had a different opinion [on footballing matters], which doesn’t work. It didn’t work for Arsenal. They needed an in-house representative, and Arteta is that.”

“Arteta and Arsenal are ahead of schedule. 

“But it’s so painful that Arsenal blew it, with their opportunity to land Champions League football this past season. They also did the exact same thing last season, even though it was a smaller opportunity. 

“You can’t always blame Mikel Arteta for that though. He’s building the team and club in the right way and is going about things correctly. Sure, he’s made some mistakes along the way, but what manager hasn’t?”


Charlie Nicholas Exclusive: Arteta should use ‘The Invincibles’ as a benchmark for success

“There’s a large question mark over just how far Mikel Arteta can take Arsenal, and whether it’ll be to the same heights as Jürgen Klopp with Liverpool or Pep Guardiola with Manchester City. 

“You’d like to think that Mikel could do the same, but if he can get us back anywhere close to the Invincibles side of the early 2000’s under Wenger, then that would be wonderful.

“In general, Mikel Arteta knows the positions that are required to make this team better and the types of personalities they need to improve. 

“I don’t expect Arsenal to challenge for the Premier League title this coming season, but they will be in the frame for third or fourth – and the club will certainly improve again.”


Charlie Nicholas Exclusive: Gabriel Jesus can be Arsenal’s 20-goal-a-season striker

“Whether Gabriel Jesus is the kind of player Arsenal need right now is entirely down to the individual opinion. 

“Arsenal really need a finisher, someone who gets into the box. But with the way Mikel Arteta wants to play, I don’t know whether a number nine can be like that. That’s why Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was such a good goal scorer. He wasn’t a proper nine, he was a number 11 playing off the flanks with his pace. 

“I’m very mixed in the Gabriel Jesus debate. Under Pep Guardiola he wasn’t a favourite and didn’t always play, but if they get him at a decent price, I’d be amazed if he doesn’t score at least 20 goals in the league for Arsenal. 

“That’s what Jesus likes to do. He likes to play around the edge of the box, with a lovely burst of pace, and that’s what Arsenal miss. It would be a very good signing if they could nail him down.”


Charlie Nicholas Exclusive: Arsenal’s bottled the Champions League due to a lack of experience

“After letting Alexandre Lacazette go, there is certainly a risk that Arsenal could field a side next season with very little experience. 

“Some of these kids are playing as part of the youngest squad in the Premier League. But they have a good level of experience now; they’ve been in this team for a decent period. 

“Although they kind of bottled the Champions League place in the last four games, the players like Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka were trying their best. They just didn’t quite have the know-how. They need that kind of experience. 

“Thomas Partey will be much fitter and better next season. They’ll also sign a central midfielder to come in and replace Granit Xhaka who is experienced but is too individual in terms of looking after himself. 

“Mikel Arteta will add experience this summer, even potential signings like Gabriel Jesus have a lot of it. He’s won the Premier League a few times, has been involved in massive games and would help. 


Charlie Nicholas Exclusive: Arsenal’s defence is too soft 

“The fundamentals for Arsenal are what I worry about next season, in particular the defensive frailties, they’re still just a little bit soft.

“It will be interesting to see if William Saliba is going to come back from Marseille and finally nail down a spot in the first team. They’d like Kieran Tierney and Takehiro Tomiyasu to both be fit, and a new right-back to cover. 

“Mikel Arteta will force the point that two more experienced players will be beneficial to this side. It’s still a very small squad, certainly too small to get into Europe and to hit the top four. It needs strengthening this summer.”


Charlie Nicholas Exclusive: Manchester United have lost their way

“Under the ownership and guidance of the Glazers, Manchester United completely and utterly lost their way with the people who were supposedly representing what the future was going to be for Manchester United. 

“We can look back five years when Marcus Rashford was coming up through the ranks and Jesse Lingard was just slightly earlier than that. We’ve also seen Scott McTominay breakthrough in recent years, but he’s not the most technical player. 

“Manchester United seem to want to go out and buy individuals but they’re not buying individuals like Eric Cantona because someone like him would bring the team together, and that’s what made Cantona different.”


Charlie Nicholas Exclusive: The United dressing room is a disaster and full of selfish individuals

“Manchester United have been signing individuals who are only happy to be an individual, and if things go well, people will say that they’re good for the dressing room and people will like them. But that means nothing if they’re not producing all the time.

“As soon as I saw the scary price that they signed Paul Pogba for, I couldn’t believe that no one in the club went to Sir Alex Ferguson and asked what his issues were when he was younger that meant he was happy to let him go because he could have said that unless Pogba has changed his attitude and become a team player, then don’t touch him. He’s been a disaster!

“Pogba has a brilliant CV as a footballer, but it’s not a United CV. And of course, some of the coaches that came in, it was always about the individual.

 “Louis van Gaal and José Mourinho wanted to be bigger than the players and that’s not Manchester United. I look at Manchester United now and they’ve lost their identity. They don’t have a DNA anymore. 

“The dressing room is a disaster and Manchester United have made an absolute mess of the situation. It’s going to take them at least another three years to get anywhere close to Liverpool and Man City.” 


Charlie Nicholas Exclusive: Erik ten Hag must replicate Ajax at Manchester United

“People get a bit carried away when talking about tactical adjustments. When teams get the tactics right, people say that they have the right personnel to execute them. 

“The most important fabric of all is that you have a heartbeat in the dressing room that is united and works together. There will be one or two players who are going to be unhappy if they’re not in the team or they’re not the new coach’s favourite but that’s part and parcel of football.

“Erik Ten Hag is going to be given time by the supporters, but he has to replicate the fabric he created at Ajax. It’s a style thing that comes into the dressing room. He can build stars and make players better because they play a certain way and Ten Hag will get time.


Charlie Nicholas Exclusive: Ten Hag should seek advice from Sir Alex Ferguson

“Manchester United have found the right kind of guy but it will take him time because the Premier League is so different to the Dutch league where Ajax dominate almost every game. 

“He’ll come here and all of a sudden they’ll be under physical pressure from Crystal Palace or Brighton. Ten Hag comes across as a straight talker, and he’ll say, “this is our style, and this is how we play.” But he’s going to have a plan B, as well as a plan A. 

“He’ll go back to some of the youngsters to try and get what he wants but his dressing room is key. I’d be amazed if he hadn’t already spoken to people like Sir Alex Ferguson to make sure he gets the dressing room right.” 


Charlie Nicholas Exclusive: Donny van de Beek will be a key player for United next season

“Donny van de Beek is going to be involved at Manchester United next season. Bruno Fernandes has done pretty well and has been one of their best players in the last couple of seasons, there’s no doubt about that, however he is a bit sulky and temperamental. 

“Cristiano Ronaldo has gone to United and has done very well in terms of goals, but he looks as if he’s trapped, as though he’s not been given the freedom to be the best player which has upset him. 

“Whereas Dutch players don’t have that. People used to say that Dutch players were arrogant, but they’re arrogant in the right way. If Manchester United can get Frenkie De Jong, that would be a wonderful signing for them because I think that kid is a lovely footballer and would fit in in the Premier League, no problem. 

“One of my favourite positions is midfield runners. Players that run beyond the striker and don’t always need to take the ball to their feet. They’re great options for a team and it gives them something different. Van de Beek had that at Ajax, and I’d be amazed if he’s not a major part of what the new manager wants at Manchester United.”


Charlie Nicholas Exclusive: Losing Mané would be a bigger blow than losing Salah

“Liverpool should not break the bank to give Mo Salah a new contract. I have tremendous respect for what Salah has done, but this is Liverpool Football Club. They’ve returned to the heights and Jürgen Klopp has taken them to an incredible level. 

“The signing of Diogo Jota was clever. He’s not as good a player as Salah, but his goalscoring record is fabulous. I’m a massive fan of Roberto Firmino, he reminds me of Dennis Bergkamp, and I love those types of players. 

“He doesn’t have the speed of movement that he once had and because of that, Luis Diaz is now in the side. 

“Sadio Mané leaving Liverpool would be a bigger blow than losing Mo Salah. Whilst Salah’s goalscoring record is better, Mané does a lot more for the team.”


Charlie Nicholas Exclusive: Liverpool have ready-made replacements for Mané in Jota and Díaz

“Diogo Jota and Luiz Díaz can definitely fill the gap left by Mané. Jota’s energy levels, without being supremely technical, are breathtaking. 

“Luis Díaz reminds me so much of Luis Suárez, he’s terrifying. It’s non-stop pace and movement. There’ll be days that it doesn’t work but these guys only need a couple of minutes on a football pitch to make the difference and Jürgen Klopp knows that. 

“Over the last year or two, Liverpool haven’t spent that much. They spent big on Allison and Virgil Van Dijk, but the way Liverpool do business, in terms of the low fees they pay for most players, is breathtaking.

“If both Salah and Mané left, it’d be problematic, but all Liverpool fans would say “In Jurgen We Trust” and he would bring another one into the party.”


Charlie Nicholas Exclusive: Rangers will be stronger than Celtic next season

“Rangers will absolutely be stronger next season under Giovanni Bronckhorst. Van Bronckhorst has done well as a new coach, and it’s okay saying the fundamentals are okay but Rangers were just in freefall at the time and Celtic started to overtake them in the Scottish Premier League. 

“It stabilised it a little bit during the season, but van Bronckhorst didn’t have a number nine. He wasn’t trying to play like Pep, Morelos was just injured, and no one else was available. 

“Kemar Roofe, in all honesty, is not a brilliant number nine, but he does do a job for you. Van Bronckhorst stabilised the squad, got it together after a few injuries, and some movement in the transfer window. 

“I thought he did a magnificent job taking them to a final in the Europa League and they will get stronger next season. He needs five or six players to make this a strong squad, challenging Celtic and in the Europa League.”


Charlie Nicholas Exclusive: Postecoglou would never park the bus at Celtic 

“I absolutely love Celtic. They’ve been dynamic and relentless for the first 25 minutes in games and could sometimes be three goals up. They will want a much stronger bench, the players they bought in January have come in have done well.

“Their defence is still a little bit vulnerable, they did well in the second part of the season, but there’s a little feeling that they’ll be vulnerable at the back because they play the same way Brendan Rodgers did when he came to Celtic; its attack- attack- attack. I love it. 

“I never wanted to be a defender in purely defensive minded teams. Celtic do need a stronger heartbeat in their defence, so they’ll probably need at least one full-back, and probably another centre midfielder.

“I admire what Ange Postecoglou is trying to do and I’m all in on him no matter what. He does have a plan B, and it does not involve parking the bus, he doesn’t believe in it.” 


Charlie Nicholas Exclusive: Celtic had a better season than Rangers 

“Celtic winning the league title was a bigger achievement than Rangers reaching the Europa League final because just over a year ago, Celtic were in turmoil. There was a mix of coaches and managers who would only answer to the board, and then they finally got in a man who said ‘stop, don’t get involved.  

“Also, Ange Postecoglou got them straight back into the giant pit of Champions League. Not qualifiers, no embarrassment, just straight in.

“He’s brought Hollywood back to Celtic Park. When I was a kid and followed Celtic, I followed the Lisbon Lions and in the latter years I remember them beating Rangers on many occasions. The European names were so fantastic. Liverpool, Celtic and Borussia Dortmund have something special about European midweek nights under the lights. The atmosphere is unbelievable, and Celtic have always had that. I can’t wait for those games to come back. There’s something that gives me the vibe that Celtic are ready to take the big scalp again at Celtic Park and memorable nights.”


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