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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Unai Emery's arrival, Arsene Wenger's departure and not forgiving Robin van Persie: Arsenal fans on the club's past and future

As the London side prepare for life after Arsene Wenger, Andy Mitten spoke down with five supporters to discuss life at the Emirates Stadium

Arsenal fans are hoping for more to cheer in the future as they prepare for life without Arsene Wenger. Peter Powell / Reuters
Arsenal fans are hoping for more to cheer in the future as they prepare for life without Arsene Wenger. Peter Powell / Reuters

It is a time of change for Arsenal as they prepare for their first season in 22 years without Arsene Wenger as manager.

As the club starts life with Unai Emery as their manager, The National sat down with five long-time Arsenal fans who travel across the country, and Europe, to support the Premier League side, and have never felt inclined to appear on a fan video channel, to talk about their club.

They are Edward Crosbie, 41, of South Woodford. Terry Shaw, 41, now of Manchester. Larry, 56, of Essex, Brian, 41 of Hertfordshire and Ben Ward, 29, of London.

Unai Emery, left, will be Arsenal's new manager next season as he replaces Arsene Wenger, right. Franck Fife / AFP
Unai Emery, left, will be Arsenal's new manager next season as he replaces Arsene Wenger, right. Franck Fife / AFP

What did you think about the appointment of Unai Emery?

Terry: We’re a club that needs uniting. I wanted Patrick Vieira as manager, then I was relieved that it wasn’t Mikel Arteta as I wanted someone with experience. I was a bit underwhelmed when I heard Emery; I wanted a Massimiliano Allegri, a Diego Simeone. But the more I think about it, the more I think Emery is a good fit. He was successful with Valencia, Sevilla and PSG and he was successful without superstars in Spain.

He improves players and Spaniards like Hector Bellerin, who has been poor, need improving.

Emery will get a chance and support from fans. We’re desperate for change because Arsenal has not been a nice place to watch football. I just hope the club back him financially because while fourth or fifth has become the norm for us,

I’d like the team to compete for a title, not for the season to be over by December.

I admired Emery speaking English in his first press conference when it would have been easier not to. He’s got balls.

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Was it right for Wenger to leave?

Ed: Yes, he should have gone ten years ago. He won three FA Cups in the last five years which is fantastic, but Arsenal haven't challenged for the league for too long. I didn’t grow up thinking Arsenal had a right to win the league, but I felt it was time for a change a long time ago.

Shaw: He should have gone after beating Hull in the FA Cup final in 2014. I love and respect him, but his stubbornness was his downfall. Football changes and he didn’t, but he was hung out to dry by those above him. Sadly, I can’t see Arsenal changing just because of a change in manager. Even if we had Pep Guardiola, I don’t think we could be champions without more backing from above.

Larry: He’s been great for Arsenal, but the game passed him by in the end. We had the same repeated failings on the field and fans had had enough.

Brian: I didn’t like the manner in which it happened. He’s done an awful lot for our football club, but it’s Arsenal not Arsene Football Club. He was too true to the owners. We overachieved for so long when top four was normal and not seen as an achievement as it is now. Now, our competitors have caught up and overtaken us.

Arsenal suffered from the economic downturn because it came at the same time as we moved to our new stadium. The debt had to refinanced, with more money leaving the club, yet Wenger still got us in the Champions League every year. I was going to Barcelona and Bayern Munich thanks to that man, but he should have come out and said that he did not have enough money. He should have been treated much better. I’m not greedy, but we’re Arsenal, the biggest club in Europe’s biggest city. We should be competing for the biggest trophies.

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Read more

Unai Emery's target: to make Arsenal Premier League title challengers once more

Richard Jolly: Unai Emery's obsessive intensity could be the alternative to Arsene Wenger that Arsenal need

Arsene Wenger 'surprised' as offers flood in ahead of Arsenal departure

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From the outside it seems like there was a civil war among fans about Wenger.

Ed: The civil war has been going on for ten years, it’s not new. I see Liverpool fans all supporting their manager. We’ve not had that. We were divided between people backing Wenger and people wanting change.

Terry: We went to West Brom and there was a plane flying over the ground with a banner saying ‘Wenger out’. Two minutes later there was a plane trailing the message ‘Wenger in’. In the last year it went from 50/50 to 70/30 and then, by the end, 90/10. Very few fans wanted Wenger to stay.

I respect what he’s won, but in 1999 if we finished second and won the FA Cup that would have been a bad season, now it would be seen as a really good one.

Larry: I’ve seen half a dozen punch ups between Arsenal fans in recent seasons because of those different opinions. It’s really destructive when that’s happening at your club.

Brian: The behaviour of fans when the games have kicked off has not been acceptable. Whether you were Wenger in or out, we should have been supporting our team during games. A minority of idiots caused problems and it wasn’t nice, especially with kids around.

Ben: The problems were all down to Wenger. He went from having no money to having money to spend and didn’t spend it well.

Arsenal fans are hoping they will have more to cheer from their players in the future. Tony O'Brien / Action Images via Reuters
Arsenal fans are hoping they will have more to cheer from their players in the future. Tony O'Brien / Action Images via Reuters

But how could Arsenal counter the rise of Chelsea and Manchester City, with their massive financial backing?

Ben: That knocked us back two places, but Leicester winning the league showed that teams can still be successful. We should have won the league that year.

It simply has not been good enough. I’ve been to every away game this season and I’ve seen us win three times. That’s not Arsenal.

Your greatest moment as Arsenal fans?

Ed: Standing on the North Bank in 1991 when we won the league. That or Copenhagen when we won the Cup Winners’ Cup.

Terry: Anfield, 1989, though I was too young to be there. Winning the league at Spurs was incredible.

Larry: The 1979 FA Cup Final. 2-0 up and coasting against Man Utd, who then scored twice at the end. I thought we’d lost, just as we had the season before in the final against Ipswich. Arsenal fans thought we were beaten. Then Alan Sunderland scored the winner. Most of us missed it because we were sitting down on the terrace because we still had our heads in our hands.

Brian: For those at Anfield in 1989, that was the climax, but for me, beating Inter Milan 5-1 away. We’ve had so many good experiences as Arsenal fans.

Ben: Aaron Ramsey scoring in the FA Cup final against Chelsea in 2017. We’d been rubbish that season, but winning the cup meant a lot to us.

Lowest point as Arsenal fans?

Ed: I’ve been to Wales once, to see Arsenal at Wrexham. Mickey Thomas scored and knocked us out of the FA Cup in 1992. I’ve refused to go to Wales since, even though Arsenal have played there.

Terry: Gascoigne’s brilliant goal against us in the 1991 FA Cup semi-final against Tottenham. Brilliant goal, brilliant player, but I cried my eyes out.

Brian: That goal should have never happened. Our goalkeeper should have saved it. He went with the wrong hand.

Larry: Losing the 2001 FA Cup final against Liverpool. We battered them – and lost.

Ben: Champions League final, 2006, Paris. We were 1-0 up and it all fell apart and we lost against Barcelona.

Greatest Arsenal player that you’ve seen

Ed: David Rocastle. I met him as a kid when my parents were going through a divorce. He gave me the thumbs up and I thought that everything was going to be alright.

Terry: My favourite player is Tony Adams, the best I’ve seen is Denis Bergkamp. If Denis played well, we played well.

Larry: Tony Adams. We missed him so much when he wasn’t playing.

Brian: Bergkamp’s the best but my favourite was Robert Pires.

Ben: Pires – he always scored against them [Spurs].

Who do you consider as your main rivals now?

Ed: Tottenham.

Terry: Spurs, yet the most intense rivalry I’ve seen was with Man United in 1998-2009. I had a lot of respect for United.

Larry: I live in West Ham territory, but it’s Spurs. For years they weren’t an issue for us. They are now. I was also gutted when Chelsea won the Champions League – the first London team to do so. I hate that ‘Have you ever won the European Cup?’ song that they sing to us.

Brian: Any team in the top five now – but our immediate peer group is Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham. The rivalry with Man United was so intense in the late 90s.

Ben: Spurs.

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Name the players you should definitely keep

Ed: Holding, Wilshere, Aubameyang, Ozil

Terry: Bellerin, Wilshere, Lacazette, Aubameyang. We need a new goalkeeper.

Larry: Wilshere, Monreal, Ozil, Lacazette.

Brian: Ramsey, Mkhitaryan, Ozil. The remaining players in our squad need to improve.

Ben: Ramsey above anyone else, Ozil, Monreal, Lacazette, Aubameyang.

Which player have you felt most let down by?

Ben: Robin Van Persie. Had he stayed rather than join Man United in 2012, I think we would have won the league. I can’t stand him.

Brian: The players who’ve left have been victims of circumstance. They’ve left for more money because we were not willing to pay. People more for more money and greater opportunities in every occupation. Why should football be more different?

Larry: When Van Persie and Thierry Henry left, they actually won things to vindicate their decisions. I was very disappointed when Cesc Fabregas left. He was so good at that time.

Terry: Van Persie. We stood by him for years when he was injured and he was a class player. Ashley Cole leaving hurt as he’d come from the youth team, but I couldn’t care less about Alexis Sanchez.

Ed: I wasn’t around when Frank Stapleton left for Man United or when Liam Brady left, but I know fans were hurt. In my time, Van Persie. It was like admitting defeat when he went.

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Are you optimistic about the future of Arsenal, with an improved Tottenham building a slightly bigger ground down the road?

Ben: Tottenham don’t win trophies. Arsenal? We’ve not a got a bad squad, but the football is rubbish. I’m hoping the new manager can sort that out.

Terry: Not being Wenger will help the new manager, but then we have an owner who won’t speak at press conferences and AGMs. That doesn’t help.

Larry: It’s not just about changing the manager. I’m not convinced that we have the right owner. We’re Arsenal, a huge club from one of the best cities in the world. We should be very attractive to investors.

Brian: I’m apprehensive rather than optimistic. Our owners hide, they hid behind Arsene Wenger when things didn’t go well – I felt sorry for him. It’s now time to move on.

Ed: We have to be optimistic. We have to get behind the new manager and support our team like any normal supporter would do. I’m sick of moaning about Arsenal.