Despite having a tough reputation on the field, ex-Arsenal fan favourite Emmanuel Frimpong, recently sat down with PlayOJO, the fair online casino, to give his animated take on how VAR is creating a fairer playing field. The man known for the phrase ‘Stay Dench’ also had his say on the Arsenal bench.
FRIMPONG ON FAIRNESS IN FOOTBALL
As a former player yourself – how important do you feel it is that footballers today embody the spirit of fairness, for the next generation to aspire to?
Football is all about fairness, I’ve always believed that. I hate players that cheat to get people sent off. But when the competition starts, you want your team to have the advantage, so you do whatever you have to do to get the win. Sometimes players go over the top and do some crazy stuff, but I feel like football should always be about fair play and long may it continue.
How do you assess the impact of VAR on the Premier League this season? Is there anything you would change about VAR to ensure more fair decisions are reached?
I’ve loved VAR, yes it slows the game down but at the end of the day we get the right decisions being made. When goals are scored, I think it takes far too long for the referee to make a decision or to award a penalty or red card, but at the end of the day, if they’re making the right decision – that’s all that matters.
VAR has arguably helped the Premier League get ‘fairer’ by ensuring, for example, you can no longer get a penalty for diving in the penalty area, as it would be overturned. Do you think we’ll see better behaviour and fair play from players knowing that VAR will catch any ‘cheating’ out?
Yes, definitely because the players are now so aware that there are always cameras on them. The cant get away with diving so they have to be very aware of how to behave on the football pitch. VAR will keep players on their toes and stop diving and cheating so I’m all in on it.
The Premier League recently (December 3rd) agreed a £50m deal with League One and Two clubs to keep them going during this terrible COVID-19 period. Do you think that’s fair for the smaller clubs to expect help from the Premier League?
Yes, I mean they don’t have the finances to keep the clubs afloat. Especially in England, football clubs mean so much to the people living in the local area, so I feel like the Premier League has done a great job to help these clubs out. Most people in the UK have been impacted by COVID-19 so I think it’s fair that the Premier League have stepped in to help these clubs.
FRIMPONG ON ARSENAL
How do you assess Mikel Arteta’s year in charge of Arsenal? How tough is it for Arsenal to be his first managerial experience?
At the start it was very promising, we won a couple of cups, but to be fair I don’t think the problem is Arteta, I think it’s the players and the investment the club has made in the players. To be fair, when you look at the Arsenal squad, it’s not the best of squads. Of course, we are all thinking Arsenal should be in the top four, based on the history of the club, not based on the current players or where the club is at the moment. The fact of the matter is Arsenal is not a top four team at the moment, with the players we have, the structures in place, the club’s investments just haven’t been good enough. Sometimes they do pay a lot of money for players but unfortunately when they join, they do not perform. For example, players like Pepe and Xhaka haven’t performed to the standard that we thought they would. I’m not happy with the way the club is being run, but at the same time we have to honest and say they have put money into the club, it’s just that the players that they’ve been bringing in haven’t worked.
I do believe in Mikel, he doesn’t have the experience but given the right platform, and the right players, I think he can push Arsenal to the next level.
You played alongside Arteta in your days at Arsenal – did you sense he would make it as a manager?
Yes, I always did. Mikel was one of the senior players at the time and he used to be in the gym all the time and giving advice, so it was no surprise that he went into management. He’s in a very very difficult situation but I’m hoping he can turn the season around and win some games.
Given the poor form this season, do you think his position is in any danger?
Of course it’s in danger. Not just at Arsenal, but at any level, if you’re not winning games then your position will be in danger and I’m sure Mikel will be aware of that. He needs to win games to stay out of trouble. The players need to perform for Mikel at the moment.
What do you put Arsenal’s form down to this season?
It’s down to a lack of competition in the squad. The players are not good enough. When I was at Arsenal, there was what you could call mediocre squad players, even at clubs like Real Madrid you have this structure, but at the moment, when you at looking at the Arsenal team, who are the stars? There are no stars in the team. There is no player in the Arsenal squad where you think “I’m going to get off the sofa and go watch this guy play” and that’s the problem. The players are just not good enough for a club like Arsenal. Until we bring in new players, the club is going to continue to struggle. The problem isn’t the manager, it’s that some of the players aren’t good enough for a club like Arsenal.
Obviously you have strong opinions about the players not being good enough and despite scoring recently, Aubameyang hasn’t hit the heights of the last few campaigns, what would you put that down to?
Players like Aubameyang feed off service and at the moment they’re not getting it. He’s not getting enough chances to score goals. That’s down to the midfielders. The same can be said for Lacazette. I have to say I’m very disappointed in Lacazette. When he first came, I thought right – here is a player who can help Arsenal. You can never fault Lacazette’s effort and he always puts in 100%, but as a striker, that is not good enough, you are paid to score goals. In the same breadth, when Aubameyang doesn’t score, the pressure falls on him too. This is one of the areas Arsenal need to address. You can’t blame Aubameyang because he has saved the team so many times. You can’t keep asking him to do it on his own.
Granit Xhaka has received criticism for his red card showing a lack of discipline. How do you assess his role in this current Arsenal team?
With Xhaka, I don’t know if he is a defensive midfielder or an attacker, I really don’t know his position. Defensively, I think he’s far too slow and offensively, I don’t know if he can see a pass. All I know is players like Xhaka, and I don’t mean any disrespect, but are they great players? Are they players to carry Arsenal to the next level? In my honest opinion, I think the answer is no. They’re not bad players but I just don’t think they’re good enough for Arsenal, when you think about the history of the club. The next couple of investments made by the club are very important. We don’t want Arsenal to become a club that keeps falling off the pace of the top four. I hope the owners put some money into the club to get Arsenal back to where they belong.
Is this the worst side Arsenal have in recent memory?
Yes. No doubt about it. The league table says it all. I can’t remember the last time an Arsenal team was in 15th at this stage of the season. The current situation is very very bad for everyone involved with Arsenal. I feel like this squad is probably the worst squad in a very long time. They have capable players to climb up the ladder, but obviously top four is going to be very difficult, but they need to find the inner drive to win games. As a footballer, being a good player isn’t enough, determination, focus and showing willing to fight every minute on the pitch is what they need to climb back up the table.
What do you believe Arsenal can hope of achieving this season? Do you think there is a chance they could get relegated from the Premier League? Where do you think Arsenal may finish in the Premier League?
Where they at the moment, they could get relegated – but that is a longshot. There is no way that Arsenal are going to get relegated. If they finish in the top 6, that will be a very good season for Arsenal, especially with the start they’ve had to the season. Hopefully if they do that and can build and start again next season.
You recently made some comments in relation to Xhaka and replacing him in the squad, do you think you would make the starting eleven currently?
Obviously that was a joke. But it shows how frustrated I am. I feel if I was fit I would have a place I this Arsenal team. Obviously Xhaka is a very good player and plays at international level but when I see the Xhaka playing for Switzerland vs the Xhaka that plays for Arsenal, they are two different players. We’re not getting the best out of Xhaka. I feel it is down to the manager to get the best of the players and find the Xhaka that plays for Switzerland and replicate that for Arsenal.
Just on the managers handling of the player, how do you think Mikel Arteta has handled the situation with Mesut Ozil? Was it fair to exclude him? Or do you think he should bring him back into the fold given the current league standing?
I think every player should be given a chance. I don’t know what’s happened between Mikel and Ozil but I think he needs to be given the opportunity to start games and fight for a place in the squad. At the moment it’s looking very unlikely that that’s going to happen. At the same time, when Ozil was playing for Arsenal, was he doing anything exceptional? No not really. Was he on top form? Not really. Is he the player to get Arsenal out of this situation? I don’t think so. I think the problem is more the defence and the midfield, not the attack.
Let’s move away from the negativity now, who has impressed you from the Arsenal squad this season?
I feel like Saka has played well this season and performed. We can all see he is a player for the future and it’s a shame we’re relying on a 19-year-old, but he is one of the players that has impressed me this season.
How do you assess the Arsenal squad? How important is it for Arsenal to make signings in January? Are there areas of the pitch you’d look to strengthen or individuals that come to mind who could be realistic targets who will improve their squad? Isco from Real Madrid has been linked with a move to the Emirates – would he be good signing for the team?
We need a centre back and a full back and midfielders. It’s very important we get some players in because I feel in defence we are weak. When teams attack us, we look vulnerable. We’ve had this issue for many years and we haven’t sorted the situation out. Quality signings are the only thing that going to help the team at the moment. Isco is a proven player, he’s won the Champions League and played for Spain and could definitely help Arsenal, but the problem isn’t attacking players, its defensively we need help.
Can Pepe deliver on his transfer fee and help improve Arsenal’s season?
When I look at Pepe, I don’t see any aggression and determination. When he makes a mistake, he smiles or laughs and for me, I find that frustrating. There was a lot of hype about Pepe coming to Arsenal and he’s been very disappointing. He’s another player I think needs to step up his game and if he doesn’t, we need to get him out and bring in other players to help push us up the table.
Do you think it was a mistake to sell Emiliano Martinez to Villa?
When Emi played, he deserved the chance to wear the number one shirt but on the other hand, Leno is a very good goal keeper. It was a difficult situation to let him go because the club wanted to keep Emi but he obviously wanted to play first team games, but they got some very good money for him. I think it worked out for both teams and Aston Villa also got a great goalkeeper.
Another ex-Gunner has had a bit of a resurgence recently, Theo Walcott, what do you make of this?
Theo has always been a player that needs to told that he is loved and at Southampton, it looks like he is getting that attention and grabbed the opportunity with both hands, as he is performing very well. For me, I would rather have Theo Walcott back in the team than Pepe. Theo Walcott is scoring goals and playing really hard and Pepe isn’t. I’m really happy for Theo at the moment because he is doing really well.
Just back to the wider team, some Arsenal fans booed their team off the pitch after the Burnley defeat last week – is that fair, is there ever a place for that from fans?
Yes, it’s more than fair – if I was there I would’ve booed the players! Fans just want to see a positive performance from the players and 100% effort and at the moment the players aren’t doing that, and the fans are finding this frustrating. The players deserve to get booed. They’ve given mediocre performances so the fans should let them know. It’s up to the players to rise up to the occasion and perform better.
Do you think the recent form may make some fans appreciate Arsene Wenger more for what he achieved at the club over such a long period?
Yes, definitely. When he was at Arsenal, we were always in the top four. But I do believe the competition in the league is much stronger now, than when Arsene was the manager. But then again, he did a great job on a very small budget and he managed to keep us in the top four and competing for trophies. Some fans felt he was there for far too long and we needed a change, but obviously the change hasn’t worked out and most of us wish Arsene was still there.
Would you take an Arsene Wenger return if it didn’t work out with Arteta this season?
I hope it does work out with Mikel, but I would take Arsene back due to his experience. He has the capability of bringing very good players in because he has the respect and he would attract very good players. However, I don’t think Arsene has any intention of coming back to Arsenal as a manager. We just need to move forward we what we have and that is Mikel and I believe he is good enough for the job.
I know you’re not just a former Arsenal player but you’re also an Arsenal fan, so it must pain you to see Tottenham’s current league position? Do you think they can win the league under Mourinho?
They have no chance of winning the Premier League. If I’m honest, they have performed well and they have a strong attacking line-up in Son, Kane and Bale. Looking at the Tottenham squad, its much stronger than the Arsenal squad, which showed the other week when we played them. I’m still hopeful we can overtake them before the end of the season!