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Aug 15 / Jamie Hardesty

Carrying Coals invites Arsenal supremo Naz Haque to discuss the upcoming season

With the return of the Premier League now less than 48 hours away, the cure to our withdrawal symptoms is almost in our grasp and finally, sanity can soon be restored! Newcastle fans however will have to wait a little longer of course, as our season kicks off at the Etihad Stadium, against Manchester City, at 8pm Monday night.

The Premier League is almost back…

In the meantime, Carrying Coals will be bringing you a season preview this weekend but before that we have a little treat to get your Premier League, anticipation juices flowing! Until the recent loan signing of Loic Remy, Newcastle United were yet to make a summer transfer signing and are still yet to pay a transfer fee to bring in a new recruit. However, we aren’t the only Premier League side yet to spend some capital outlay…

I caught up with a man gaining a growing reputation in the Northern Twittersphere, despite his wannabe Southern disposition, who not only knows has a wealth of Premier League knowledge but also provides expert opinion on his own club, Arsenal.

I’d have liked to introduce this in an ode to ‘Lunch with the Financial Times’, conjuring some sort of guise that Naz and I wined and dined in a glitzy Highbury restaurant, discussing the beautiful game over Mongolian lamb and steamed turbot (don’t worry, I don’t know what it is either!) although, who would I fool?!

We’re just two normal guys who share a passion for talking and writing about football. It’s really that simple. Not that we’d look out of place wining and dining in a glitzy Highbury restaurant… Anyway, sit back, enjoy the views shared and join our uncontained excitement for the recommencing of the greatest sports competition on Earth!

Hi Naz, we might as well start by diving in at the deep end! On the final day of last season we saw Arsenal snatch a 1-0 win against Newcastle at St. James’, securing 4th place. Freddie Ljungberg and Thierry Henry later criticised the players’ post-match celebrations. Does this criticism hold merit or was it unfair?

Times have changed drastically since the likes of Freddie and Thierry were in an Arsenal shirt. They were used to premier league titles and we have been inconsistently off the pace for a few years now. I understand why they would say what they did, 4th place isn’t a trophy and “if your not first,  your last” but securing champions league is the difference that’s  keeping distance between us and the likes of Liverpool, not to mention the ugly sister on the other side of North London. Without Champions league we would be a far less appealing team to transfer to. To be heralded a “top 4 team” is imperative to reputation and mentality at the club. Arsene deserves a great deal of credit for doing the business year in year out with the clear lack of signing quality players over the last five years.

In terms of signings, are you surprised at the recruitment made by Newcastle of late? The likes of Cabaye, Sissoko and Mbiwa all hail from France and were signed cheaply. Very ‘Arsene Wengerish’ you might say?!

 

Newcastle’s Yohan Cabaye was once linked with a move to Arsenal

 

It really is. It leads back to the point I was saying before about Arsene not signing much in the way of quality. Yanga and Cabaye were linked with us for a long time, but these sorts of signings are really reminiscent of signings like Flamini et al, I would say Vieria or Petit but let’s not get carried away. Pards clearly had an approach and stuck with it and it looked like it had worked a treat for a while. I wouldn’t say I was surprised by the signings as they are mostly players that will make a big impact at Newcastle, but I couldn’t have been the only one surprised at how in intense the rush on the French market was.

Would, in your opinion, any Newcastle players get in your team or at least make the Arsenal bench?

Definitely, there are a few players who would fit in nicely at Arsenal. I think HBA would at least make the bench for all the top 4 clubs, if Newcastle can get him fit and spurn advances from other clubs he will be a very important player. Cabaye has a clear class about him too, really composed. Santon was a great buy and has been improving ever since, if he keeps getting better it will be hard thwarting any potential suitors.

Another Frenchman, PSG defender Mamadou Sakho, has been linked with both Arsenal and Newcastle this summer. How confident are you that Arsene Wenger can make the right signings before the window slams shut?

All Football Manager enthusiasts should remember how good of a player Mamadou Sakho was on the game. (we both laugh in unison, knocking back another top dollar Merlot…) But he has shown glimpses of in reality of being a top class centre half. My faith in Arsene’s transfer policy has slowly deteriorated as he hasn’t pulled out a classic Wenger diamond since Eduardo. I have all faith in him as a manager but in terms of transfers I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t sign anyone of real pedigree this season, let alone before this Saturday’s season return. We are linked with every Joe Blog going, then have apparently wrapped up the deal, then watch helplessly as they sign for another team.

(Of course it must be frustrating for Naz, after all Arsenal only spent the best part of £40 million on the talents of Cazorla, Giroud and Podolski last year. The toon signed Vernon Anita to sit on the bench all year!) How far off the title are Arsenal?

Genuinely, I would say one or two world class players away, easier said than done, I know. If we hadn’t lost you know whose goals last season then we might have even been…..actually I don’t want to think about it, it’s too depressing!

Pellegrini could become the Premier League’s newest master tactician

With Fergie retiring and other rivals, Mourinho and Pellegrini, taking control of new teams, would you argue that Wenger’s experience could be more valuable than ever or are you losing faith?

There’s a gaping chasm in the Premier League with a host of managers and teams looking to capitalise after SAF’s retirement. Wenger will know better than anyone that this is the year he can take it back. Jose has experience in the league so will know what to expect and I really like Pellegrini’s management style, not to mention he has bought some exceptional talents in Navas and Jovetic. But for Arsene, Fergie became his Moby Dick in the latter years. Never able to recapture the days where it was a two horse race. The revolutionary management theories and style Arsene bought with him from Japan has a sense of becoming outdated, I still have all the faith in his man management and see no one else in a better position to take the club forward, but clubs like Borussia Dortmund remind me every day of the team Wenger was building before they didn’t share the same ambition and decided to jump ship.

(I nod in agreement as we mull over which champagne looks the poshest…) It seems Newcastle are making a conscious effort to improve our academy, having recently gained Category 1 status at last. Are there any emerging Arsenal youngsters we should be made aware of?

There does seem to have been a real push on youth development and signing of young players at Newcastle. The category 1 status has worked wonders for us in the past; Cesc could be a catalyst to prove that. Like the transfers though, it’s been a few years since a young player developed at the the club has burst on the scene. But hopefully that will change with players like Chuba Akpom, Serge Gnabry who played in the next gen series for us. Chuba is a powerful centre forward with great striking instinct and expect to see Srge Gnabry get much more of a run out this year.

The two other players I would recommend keeping a look out for is Borrusia Dortmund snatched midfielder Thomas Eisfield and a real talent that is exciting everyone at Arsenal is Gedion Zelalem. Remember the name Gedion Zelalem because at 16 he was invited to the pre season tour and his ability on the ball looks frightening! Arsene has already shown huge faith in him and if he is going develop and succeed anywhere, Arsenal is the place to do it.

Arsenal fans seem disgruntled with the board, with Gazidis in particular gaining the nickname of ‘Ivan the Terrible’. Although this seems bleak in comparison to Newcastle fans’ views of Mike Ashley. What are your views on Ashley’s running of the club?

I said from the day David Dein left the club, we will struggle with transfers and it has only been cemented with the loss of exceptional talents like Juan Mata for a supposed few million and apparent poor transfer negotiating. There are some similarities in Gazidis and Ashley in my opinion as I think they both see the football clubs as businesses. That isn’t the worst thing since that is there job, to make money, but sometimes there are inexcusable episodes that tip fans over the edge. Ashley has had his fair share of episodes and just when you think hes got the clubs interest at heart, he takes 3 steps back. This Joe Kinnear appointment is a clear case in point.

Kinnear’s reputation seemingly knows no limits…

 Would you say that for a club of Newcastle’s size and potential that the fans deserve better?

Being an Arsenal fan and being born and bred in Newcastle its interesting being able to take a neutral approach on what’s been happening at the club. Football is sovereign in these parts, whether you’re interested in Newcastle United or not. The fans deserve stability, I think that’s all they ever wanted. The yo-yo style Ashley has brought hasn’t gone down well at all and it has gone from being humorous in seeing the demise to just feeling sorry for the fans who pay the season tickets and continue to support the club 1000%.

(I beam with pride as I yearn for a return from Highbury to Byker) Moving back to Arsenal, is there a worry that with Spurs strengthening significantly, Arsenal could fall behind and fail to reach the top four this year? What about the Bale factor?

It’s really hard having a man crush on AVB since hes in charge of the enemy. I really like him as a manager, I always have. I think he got a raw deal at Chelsea and was always destined to be edged out by the superstars. In the end, they ended up implementing his style and signing his transfer targets, without him at the helm. Now he’s had a season at Spurs, he will have had bedding in time, and has bought in some talented players. Soldado and Paulinho are two signings in the upper echelons. Bale is going to make a huge difference to their outcome, there’s no denying there pretty flat and boring without him, I guess that’s why AVB has strengthened so well. Regardless of the talent and style of play AVB brings and the mercurial factor Bale has, Tottenham are still a few years behind us. I am more than confident we have enough quality to leave them embarrassed again. (Naz knocks back more wine and asks to be shown the dessert menu before admitting that he has to stay positive or the creeping reality may dawn on him.)

If you had the chance, would you take RVP back?

I’m going to say not in a million years. (‘‘Lies’’ I retort, not being able to control myself. It must be the fourth bottle of Vino talking…) That Judas, dishonourable, ungrateful,  ^&$*”%^ can go and enjoy his time in Manchester. The years we spent getting him fit after the well documented injury issues he had, not to mention the publicised “court case” he had pending when he joined, made it an even bigger kick in the teeth when he left. I understand about ambition but we ended up becoming a feeder club. A real embarrassing situation. (Although I silently nod, I feel a chilling sense of understanding and empathy, being no stranger to embarrassment with my own beloved club)

But at the end of the day, were not being offered him back, so therefore no comment as I don’t like to speculate on other players.

Speaking of great strikers, we have both witnessed the Premier League’s greatest. So I’ve got to ask, Shearer or Henry?

Its got to be Thierry for me. After watching this skinny winger come to the club, then blossom into one of the greatest strikers the premier league ever had was a real treat. Another player that owes Arsene a hell of a lot. Some of the things he did in the premier league and in the champions league were flabbergasting. Obviously a biased opinion but it was always going to be va va voom over flailing elbows and brute force.

(I keep my elbows firmly attached to the table…) Favourite Arsenal player of all time?

Not actually Thierry, as much as I held him in high esteem, there was only one man for me. Dennis Bergkamp. Had feet that could pick locks, oozed class like no one else the Prem will ever see. I would run out of superlatives to describe him, I mean the way he dispatched Nicos Dabizas that day, it will be a while before people forget that piece of genuine artistry. I will never tire from watching that skill, his perfect hat trick against Leicester and his goal for the Netherlands where he plucks the ball out of the air, bamboozles Roberto Ayala and scores one of the greatest international goals ever.

Current favourite?

Little Jack. Reminds me very much of Dennis. Composure and creative thinking on the ball just like Dennis used to have. They both have a ruthless streak in them as well, pit bullish winning mentality. He has had his injury problems but hopefully they were just teething issues. Once we get him fit and in a smooth run of games, the real Jack Wilshere will be dropping jaws. Anyone that claims he is overrated needs to watch him for more than five minutes. Steven Gerrard doesn’t just ear mark anybody for future England captaincy. To top it all off he bleeds Arsenal. Super Jack will become the focal point of our team. Im excited for what lies ahead in his career.

Finally, Where will Arsenal and Newcastle finish this season?

If we get either Suarez or Gustavo it will boost the club as a whole, if we don’t I’m still quietly confident of securing top 4. This is the season though that all clubs will be looking to take charge of dominating the league. I would like to think there could be some first season blues for someone in the top 4 so we can sneak in a 3rd place finish banking on Arsene’s experience.

Who knows where Newcastle could end up????  In all seriousness, if star players stay fit, and I think there is a chance of that without the distraction of Europa League, a top half finish could easily be feasible. Remy has shown in the brief stint at QPR that he’s a talent and there is a good first team. The behind the scenes action could be where the distractions come from, especially if Joe Kinnear is going to be giving press conferences again. I think 10th is the position they will finish, but I know there will be many people with opposing views.

Thanks Naz, good luck with the new season, I’ll be keeping an eye for the Arsenal results as I’m sure you will Newcastle.

(With the waiter’s back turned, we make a hasty dash for the exit. A bit like Gabby Obertan however, our initial turn of pace is let down by our inability to cross the street… Next time it’ll be pints and a packet of crisps in The Strawberry!)

You can follow Naz on Twitter (@NHAQUE13) and can see his stuff at thesefootballtimes.net, which is a brilliant website that I’ve featured on myself. Naz also co-hosts the very on the point and impressive, ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ football podcast, which can be followed on Twitter (@IDLMFP).

Look out for more Carrying Coals fan interviews throughout the season. We also welcome submissions, so feel free to get in touch.

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