We caught up with former Arsenal ‘Invincible’ Jeremie Aliadiere and discussed the Gunners’ stellar form, their transfer links, Middlesbrough’s FA Cup run and also Wolves and West Ham. Aliadiere, who turned out in the Premier League for Arsenal, West Ham, Wolves and Middlesbrough, mentioned how impressed he is with Martin Ødegaard and more.
Who do you think is Arsenal’s most important player at the moment? Who do you see as the one who’ll be the x-factor in getting them back to the Champions League?
“At the moment for me, the one that stands out is Martin Ødegaard. I think he’s fantastic.”
“He had a tough start to this season and it’s been a bit difficult at times, he found it a bit hard to find his feet in the team. The fact is, that when Emile Smith-Rowe was on fire he was starting every game and he (Martin) lost his position in the team.”
“As soon as he (Ødegaard) got his opportunity again and he scored a couple of goals against Everton and Man Utd, from there, he’s just pushed on.”
“He’s the one. Everything goes through him, you know, everything at the moment, he dictates the tempo and he’s got such a great understanding with (Bukayo) Saka. Them two combined so well (against Watford) for the goal.”
“He is, at the moment, the player that is very, very important for us. The fact that Smith-Rowe is out now, ill for the last couple of games and has been on the bench lately, we really need him (Ødegaard) to carry on performing, the way he’s been doing.”
“He’s been fantastic so far.”
Arsenal’s transfer activity at the start of the season was ridiculed – Ben White, Aaron Ramsdale, Takehiro Tomiyasu and to an extent, Martin Ødegaard- Do you think these players have done enough to silence the doubters?
“I was probably like a lot of the Arsenal fans. I was a bit, ‘god, did we really need to spend £30 million on (Aaron) Ramsdale?’. You expected, not obviously bigger on money because £50 million for Ben White, it’s a lot of money, but you expected bigger names, more proven players at the top level?”
“But I must say, I was completely wrong.”
“For me, Ramsdale is the signing of the season. He’s been amazing, has kept us in so many games. If you think about all of the saves that he’s made, if he wasn’t there, we wouldn’t have been near the top four, for me.”
“Then signing (Takehiro) Tomiyasu, I didn’t know much nothing about the him, but I’ve been so impressed.”
“Actually, I’ve been quite disappointed that he hasn’t been in the team for a while and been out injured because for his first season in the Premier League, he’s been top class.”
“All of those signings were perhaps not what we expected or wanted at the club but they have done fantastically well, but it’s a long season and you can only look back at the end of the season. Obviously there is still a lot of football to be played and a lot of games to win and gain that top four.”
“You never know, we can finish top three. We could go and nick Chelsea’s position, as we’re quite close now, we’re getting back. So yeah, I’m really excited and positive about how the end of the season is going to turn out for us.”
“The players seem to be on form. I think the fact that there was no Europe this season, they’ve managed to really focus on the Premier League. Now there’s no cup competitions left, they only have one game a week, we see the same starting XI, they all seem to really go in the same direction, fight together, fight for the club and it’s great to see.”
“I really hope we will end up in that top four.”
Arsenal are locked in with Man Utd, Tottenham and West Ham for that all-important Champions League spot. Do you think they can get it? Where do they have the advantage and where do they lack, compared to their rivals, to get this spot?
“I’m really optimistic. I think, you know, everything’s in our hands now with the win over Watford and obviously Man Utd losing against Man City.”
“If you look at the table, we’ve got one point and three games in hand. I know Spurs still have games in hand as well but we’ve got six points on them.”
“The fact that West Ham and Man Utd still have Europa League and Champions League as well to play, that’s a massive advantage. You know as much as I was disappointed, as I love Arsenal as a fan, when we got knocked out of both cups in January, I just feel that can be a positive because at least now all we have to play for, compared to other teams, is just the Premier League and really push to finish in that top four.”
“(Against Watford) was not maybe the best performance we’ve seen this season from the boys but I feel like they find a way now. We see the same starting XI, the same team shape, very organized, they know what they’re doing.”
“We just get the result, which is the main thing.”
“The most important thing will be to not lose when we play against those rivals. When we play Man Utd, because we got them big games coming up. That’s going to be decisive for the rest of the season.”
“Playing Spurs, Chelsea, Man Utd, we still have all them teams to play.”
“If we manage not to lose them games, you know, play not to lose it, even if you only get a point and you win the other games you’re supposed to be winning, then we should be fine. Definitely.”
Arsenal are being linked with a whole host of strikers at the moment – Gabriel Jesus, Joao Felix, Jonathan David, Luka Jovic, Lautaro Martinez, Alexander Isak and, incredibly, also Robert Lewandowski. Who, in your opinion, is a realistic target for the club and what are the club’s needs?
“We’re going to need some strikers. We’re going to need someone who’s a number nine, somebody that plays up front.”
“As much as I love (Alexandre) Lacazette, obviously he’s been on his own lately with the departure of (Pierre-Emerick) Aubameyang. Lacazette might end up leaving as well. So we definitely need to attract some players and buy some players up front.”
“It’s all going to depend on Champions League football. If you do, big monies come in, players just think you know, ‘I’ll go to Arsenal now, play Champions League football’.”
“If you don’t, then it’s obviously a different kind of player you can attract. It’s all related to this.”
“For me Alexander Isak seems like a really good buy. I like his style. I think we need somebody that runs behind the defender, makes runs behind. Arsenal have always been that kind of club that has a striker that makes runs behind, stretch the opposition.”
“And so far, as much as I love Lacazette, that’s not his game. That’s what we had Aubameyang to do.”
“Lacazette is more of a ‘come-and-get-involved in the play’, a little number nine-and-a-half, ten, you know, role.”
“A striker who makes runs, who stretches the defense, that is what we need and I think Isak offers that. He does that.”
“He’s still very young, got a lot of energy and I think in that team with a manager like Arteta, who’s still very young, you would not want very, very experienced players that might have a bit of an ego.”
“I think getting younger players that are still proven, still very good players, I think that’s the way forward for the club.”
On the Aubemeyang Transfer
“I think it was a bit disappointing for everybody. We don’t really know what happened there.”
“It’s one of those (the Aubameyang transfer), if it doesn’t work out, the player’s not happy, the club’s not happy, it is better to just separate ways and move forward.”
“So far, it seems to have obviously been the right decision because we seem to be still winning games and performing and it looks like we don’t really need him. So hopefully, we can carry on.”
What about Alexandre Lacazette? Should Arsenal look to offer him an extension?
“For me, one hundred percent.”
“I just think he’s one player that is different from a lot of other strikers. I think what he offers is passion, hundred percent commitment, desire. He might not score as many goals as we would expect or love him to score, this season in particular. But for me, he’s a top player.”
“He’s got a great footballing brain. Them two setups that he did against Watford, that’s world class. You haven’t got any other number nine that’s got the football brain, to give them passes.”
“I’ve seen the movement of his teammates to give him in such a great condition.”
“There’s a lot of fans that complain about his goalscoring record this season and what I say is that he offers so much more. You’ve got to stop just looking at him as a number nine, purely on goalscoring because what he does for the team and the club is insane, it’s crazy.”
“For me a player like this, with his experience, I know him personally as well and I know how much he loves the club.”
“The club, it’s a no-brainer, they should definitely offer him an extension and hopefully try to keep him at the club.”
The Gunners also need to reinforce the midfield with Ruben Neves, Fabian Ruiz (of Napoli) and Franck Kessie (of AC Milan) being monitored. Would either of them be a good addition? What type of midfield player do Arsenal need to bring?
“I think (Ruben) Neves would be a great addition. I think he’s a top player. Obviously got Premier League experience, which is a major factor these days. Because we’ve seen so many players coming in from overseas taking a while to adapt, and sometimes don’t even adapt and leave again.”
“I know he might cost a bit more, because he plays in the Premier League, I just personally think that Neves would be great.” Arsenal already have (Thomas) Partey in there, and getting a player in a similar play style, I don’t think we need that. But I think Neves offers something different – as (Granit) Xhaka does at the moment.”
“That’s why they are getting on so well those two (Thomas Partey and Granit Xhaka) – they combine their work together well. They understand each other. It works because they are so different. And you don’t want to get a central defensive midfielder, athletic like Partey. You need somebody that’s going to get the ball and bring it forward, and get more involved in the team play in the final third. That’s why I think Ruben Neves would be brilliant.”
“Obviously he’s got that shot from outside the box as well, which is something I think Arsenal is lacking. I know Partey has been trying, but he still hasn’t scored from that range. Xhaka has got it as well but so far, this season, there hasn’t been many goals scored from outside the box. Neves would definitely be a good addition to the squad.”
Your former team Middelsbrough have now beaten both Tottenham and Manchester United in their impressive FA Cup run and now find themselves in a quarter final. Could they upset Chelsea also and how should they go about it if they want the best chances to proceed?
“I think they’ve got to carry on doing what they have been doing. You can see they are playing with freedom. I think they’ve surprised Manchester United and Spurs with being a team that has got nothing to lose. That’s the magic of the cup.”
“You always have a team that is fighting hard in the league, and they get a breath of fresh air from the cup, and then they just play with freedom.”
“They have to carry on with the same mentality and mindset, and just go against Chelsea with the same attitude, but I still think Chelsea will be at a different level. I think it will be much harder for them to do it against Chelsea, but who knows. Anything can happen.”
“As an ex-Boro player, it was great to see. And obviously beating Spurs was even better!”
At Wolves, Joao Moutinho is nearing the end of his contract, which is set to expire at the end of the season. What do you think he should do? Try for an extension or look elsewhere?
“I think when you see that he’s 35 years old, and see the level he still plays at, it is incredible. It’s magnificent. So I just personally think that if I’m Wolves, I’d do anything to keep him. I’ll give him what he wants and then I’ll make sure he stays at the club.”
“From his point of view, obviously you get to a certain age where you might not still have that passion and desire to play at a top level, or you maybe fancy going to a more exotic place where you can earn big money and have an easier life.”
“It all depends on the player and the drive that he’s got. Does he still want to play at the top level? Because obviously the Premier League is a tough league. I just feel at that age, when players go to the end of their contract, 9 times out of 10, they want to move on. They feel it’s the right opportunity for them to just move and get a nice last big money contract, somewhere where it’s maybe not as intense and pressured as the Premier League. Maybe have a couple more nice seasons before retiring. He might be one of those boys that just want to play at a top level until he retires. It’s all personal stuff.”
“All those guys, same with Cristiano Ronaldo, you always think they got some connection with their country, with Portugal, so you always think if they’ll finish their career back home in Portugal and finish it with the family near and stuff over there. You just never know.”
“From a Wolves point of view, I would love him to stay. I just think he’s a top player and it would be nice to have him in the Premier League next season.”
West Ham have Declan Rice and Jarrod Bowen currently stealing all the headlines. Is it realistic West Ham hold on to those two players? If not, where could you see them going?
“Personally I think they might lose (Declan) Rice. I think at some point, he’s not going to want to stay.”
“As much as he probably loves West Ham, at some point you want to play at a world class top club against the best teams in the world in the Champions League. And as much as West Ham has been doing fantastically the last couple of years, playing Europe and with what they are doing in this season as well, I still think they will be a bit short in making the Champions League this season.”
“I think at some point Declan Rice is going to think, ‘it’s good staying but I want to go and play for Chelsea, I want to go and play for a top club and play Champions League and win trophies’. I think they might end up losing him at the end of this season.”
“I think Jarrod Bowen will stay. As much as he has done great, and he’s a top player, I still think, on an international level, he’s still not quite at the “Declan Rice”-level. Moving from West Ham to, I don’t know, Chelsea or Manchester United, I’m not sure that is the right move for him right now. I still think he’s got maybe another year to prove himself in the Premier League, and do what he has been doing this season for another year, to make sure when he moves to a bigger club, then it’s not just to be on the bench, but it’s to play.”
“Because that’s the worst thing to do. To move on thinking ‘yeah I’ve had a great season, let’s move to a better club’, and you end up not playing. If you look at (Jadon) Sancho at Manchester United, moving to Manchester United was brilliant and Sancho has done probably more than what Jarrod Bowen would do. But Sancho is finding it tough. Getting to the Premier League to a top club. It’s always good to want a big move to a big club, but sometimes a bit of patience, and when he’s hopefully doing it at West Ham again next season, it will work out for him.”
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