Liverpool is playing Arsenal on Saturday. Where does this fixture rank in terms of big fixtures? Is this a game you’ll be looking especially forward to, as a player?

“When I was playing for Liverpool trying to catch the likes of Arsenal and Man Utd was a very different proposition. It was a huge game because we knew then, if we weren’t at our best, they would roll us over.”

“It’s very different now in that Liverpool have become a much more dominant force compared to Arsenal. Probably over the last few seasons it’d be fair to say that Liverpool expect to pick up 6 points against Arsenal when they play them.”

“When I played you certainly didn’t expect the same. When you played the likes of Henry, Bergkamp and Vieira, they were monumental battles and not very often you’d come out on top.”

“In the last few years, Liverpool generally brush Arsenal aside. I know there’s been the odd result that’s gone Arsenal’s way but not many.”

“I think this is probably a bigger game this weekend because of what’s gone on before rather than the fact it’s Arsenal. For Liverpool, the fact that they lost the last game to West Ham and drew the last home game to Brighton, makes this game bigger than it could have been. On top of that you’ve got Arsenal’s recent run of form, playing with a bit of confidence. So it gives a bit more spice to the fixture.”

“It’s a game now you’re looking at thinking I’m looking forward to that, that could be a good game. Whereas a month ago you probably be looking at the fixture, going, check that for a home win.”

“I think there’s lots of ingredients that make this a really appetizing fixture. You never know with games after international breaks, when players have been away – sometimes they let you down and sometimes not.”

“It’s a test for Arsenal to see where they’ve come because they’ve beaten Leicester in this run as one of the teams they’re competing with. I suppose with Spurs’ demise recently, it (Arsenal’s win) was on the cards but I understand that’s a big game to win.”

“It’s a good test for Arsenal because there’s been a lot of talk in recent weeks about how they’ve progressed and look better. They look more well balanced and have stability in their selection which has definitely helped them. They’ve got their best players fit and made one or two decent signings. This is a real test for them.”

“I think Liverpool will be like a wounded animal. I fear for Arsenal in this fixture and Liverpool could really come after them and give them problems.”

 

Any Arsenal player in particular you would worry about as a Liverpool supporter?

“I wouldn’t particularly nail down one. Emile Smith-Rowe is a wonderful player and is in great goalscoring form. But I think if you focus on one player when you’ve got the likes of Saka and Aubameyang in the team, you got to be careful that you don’t apply too much energy and focus on one player.”

“I think Liverpool, the way they play and have done at the club for many years is a reverse of that. I think they let their opponents worry about them. Is Emile Smith-Rowe going to track Trent (Alexander-Arnold) all game? Is he going to put in the yards to stop Trent making Liverpool’s chances? Because not many left wingers do that. Is Saka going to be disciplined enough to keep tracking Robertson (if he’s fit) back?”

“From Liverpool’s perspective, it’s more a case of can you cope with us? Can you stop Salah scoring, can you stop Mane getting in behind you, can you stop Jota from getting chances?”

“There’s probably more fear in Arsenal fans, probably not the players as you do not know their mindset, of Liverpool’s team than the other way at the minute.”

 

Do you think Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson will be key for results? We’ve seen that previously because it’s the full backs where most of it starts for Liverpool

“They play a huge role in Liverpool’s attacking play. They get forward at will because they have midfield players covering them. With Trent’s passing and crossing ability, he can open you up four-five times in a game. It’s phenomenal talent and vision that he’s got. If Robertson doesn’t play then you’re worried about one side that you can try and cater for.”

“Both have wonderful energy and desire to get forward. It’ll definitely be something Arteta will work on stopping because if you stop that supply then the front three don’t get much of the ball. But it’s very difficult because what you’ve got with Liverpool’s front three is such pace and willingness to run in behind that you have to drop off because you cannot play a high line against them. Which means full backs do get possession of the ball, the key is how high up they get possession. And when they get possession it’s stopping the passes and the crosses.”

“It’ll be a huge factor on the day how Liverpool’s full backs do.”

 

Mohamed Salah is playing lights out at the moment. Would you agree that he’s currently the best player in Europe? Should he win the Ballon D’Or? 

“I haven’t seen anyone play better than Salah in Europe. Granted I don’t watch as much German, Spanish and Italian football, but I still keep an eye on it. But, there’s nobody playing with that “wow” factor that Salah’s got at the moment. Some of the goals, some of the creativity, some of the confidence and the skill level. He’s hit new heights with some of the quality goals we’ve seen.”

“He deserves great credit for that because what people forget is how many games he’s played over the last few years. His durability is equal to his talent. He plays nearly every game, takes whacks but he’s out there all the time. He never looks like he’s tired or lost sharpness. Even when he’s missing a few chances, he’s in there isn’t he?”

“I really hope they get his contract sorted and tie him down because he’s obviously become Liverpool’s main man. Couple of years ago, although he was scoring more goals, there was an argument that Mane was contributing in equal amounts. I think Salah has become the player now that when Liverpool need something, the fans and players are thinking that can Mo produce something? He’s been phenomenal and has a great chance of winning the Ballon d’Or.”

“We’re talking about elite footballers aren’t we and there’s always going to be few people with differing opinions. I think I’m correct in saying that the Ballon d’Or is a bit unusual in that it’s given for a year rather than a season, so there is a bit of crossover from last season. The second part of last season wasn’t ideal for Liverpool.”

“There’s no guarantees that he’s (Salah) going to get it but he’s certainly in the running and rightly so. But Lewandowski has been absolutely phenomenal also and you couldn’t really argue if he would get it. It would be nice for Salah though.”

“I haven’t met him (Salah) but he seems quite a humble guy. I’m sure if he won it he’ll keep it very close to his chest. But the bigger picture is for him to continue his form and get Liverpool back to winning something again. Last year was a disappointment wasn’t it? The determination in the squad and himself by the looks of it is greater than ever to bring silverware back to Anfield.”

 

What should Liverpool look to do about Joe Gomez? He can’t seem to stay healthy and build up any continuous form. 

“It’s always a difficult question when you’re asked about players when you don’t see them outside of the injuries and how they’re training and also the mindset. In my career there were some players who were just damn unlucky and had wonderful ability like Gomez and the club try to get you back to fitness and back you and support you because they know how good you can be.”

“There’s some players who, there was a mixture of luck and bad injuries but also having mental weakness in terms of thinking he’s injured or its worse than it is. I’m not saying that about Gomez but I’m giving you the things I don’t know because I’m not involved on the training ground.”

“My gut feeling is that with the talent that he has and the age he is then it’s worth the risk of sticking with him and trying to support him to get physically right again.” 

“He’s an England international and I remember speaking to Steve Holland about him a couple of years ago and he thought really highly of him and Steve’s a great judge of a player. That was in the early days and I hadn’t seen enough of him and was thinking is he going to be good enough. Then of course he had that great run in the side alongside van Dijk and people talked about the great partnership.” 

“I think he’s shown enough that he’s capable to play at the top level and be a really good defender for Liverpool. Based on that alone, and his age of course, if he was in his late 20s and earning huge money, then there would be a different conversation, but right now I think it seems obvious that Liverpool will support him and try to get him back to his physical best so that he can compete with Matip and Konate to get in the team alongside van Dijk.”

“It’s quite ironic when you talk about the lack of centre-halves last year and now you’ve got Matip playing at his best, Konate looking strong and dominant and Virgil has gotten back into it like a duck to water.”

 

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s contract is set to expire in a year and a half. Should the club look to offload him soon in order to get some value off of him? Where do you think he could go? 

“I wouldn’t be looking to offload in January, unless you’ve got someone coming in. Liverpool need all the numbers they can get. Obviously they’ve lost Harvey Elliott, Wijnaldum left and Milner has struggled to stay fit at times, Thiago’s struggled to stay fit. I wouldn’t be looking at getting rid of anyone unless you had someone coming in. You need the numbers.”

“I’ve been a fan of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s footballing ability for many, many years, when I first saw him playing right wing and then midfield. I remember talking to Roy Hodgson about him when he got injured before the World Cup in Brazil, and really raving about him and he would have started. This is a super talented guy who’s had a lot of injury problems and we’ve only seen glimpses in a Liverpool shirt of his brilliance. But if he is fit, and he’s over his problems and raring to go, this season especially I would be looking to keeping him.”

“Getting somebody of Oxlade-Chamberlain’s quality is going to cost a lot of money and then of course in the summer you have a different debate and a different argument because you assess the squad, the finances, what the player wants as well. There’s not many players who are continually happy to sit at one club and not play. I know that’s been quite the case with Oxlade-Chamberlain because he’s been on the bench more because he’s coming back from injuries all the time. In terms of talent, he’s good enough and he’s shown glimpses. I think hopefully he stays fit and we see a big second half of the season from him. I’ll wait until the summer to make any decision.”

 

Klopp was out praising West Ham United winger Jarrod Bowen, and Bowen has been rumored to go to Liverpool. Is that a transfer you would like to see? 

“I did hear those rumours and I was a little bit surprised. I say surprised not because I don’t like Bowen, I think he has adapted to the Premier League well, I think he’s shown a real appetite to improve his game and get into that West Ham side, playing off the right hand side. He scores goals, has nice finishing, good feet, does his defensive duties and you can see that he plays for the team, he’s not got a big ego or hide away from the work.”

“If you’re looking at winning Champions Leagues and Premier Leagues each year, I’m not sure yet, maybe he could get to that level, we’ll have to wait and see. I have to say that the recruitment at Liverpool has been really good. I did have a question mark over the signing of Jota which only shows what I know.”

“I think Liverpool are going to be buying forward players thinking more long-term, thinking of Salah’s age, Mane’s age. I’d be looking at players who are on par near that level and can go straight in and be good as. If you’re talking about Salah leaving, Salah doesn’t sign a new contract and someone came in with huge money, do I think Liverpool supporters would be content with Bowen coming in and filling in his shoes, I’d say no.”

“That’s not saying I don’t like him (Bowen), I do like him. I’m just talking about filling the boots or competing with the likes of Salah and getting into the team and I just don’t think he’s at that level.”

 

Any areas on the Liverpool squad you consider to be in need of improvement?

“I quite like the balance of the squad. The midfield, they’ve got enough quality when they’re fit so you have to be realistic with the fitness levels. Just because a few of them are injured doesn’t mean you go and buy more and all of a sudden you have nine midfielders. I think the midfield’s good enough.”

“I suppose if you’re being ideal, I would probably go for another forward player of real high quality to add to the front four. Firmino’s injured so we’re down to three and you’ve got the African Nations (AFCON) coming up. And probably another right-back. I know Milner’s filled in there and I was surprised that he was there instead of Gomez because I’ve seen him play right back many times and he’s got that defensive know-how there and the athleticism. 

“Another right back to compete with Trent, the problem there is that you’re only getting a right back to be an understudy to Trent. You’re going to do well to find one to take his place. Unless you find a Brazilian somewhere who’s going turn into the next Josimar.”

“Ideally, another forward player. Again the same problem lies there. When you’re looking at bringing players in and you’re asking someone to sign with Liverpool and having a chat with them and they say, well who am I up against and you say Salah, Mane, Firmino and Jota. Maybe that’s why someone like Bowen has been mentioned.” 

“But it’s unrealistic to talk about someone like Jarrod Bowen anyway for me because West Ham are doing so well and have a chance of going to the Champions League. Why would he want to swap that to go to Liverpool? Of course I would always like to play at Liverpool instead of West Ham but if he’s not going play at Liverpool and he’s got a chance of playing Champions League at West Ham, why would he do that other than finance?”

 

Tottenham’s best rated player this season has been Pierre-Emil Højbjerg. How do you feel about him as a player and how does he fit into Conte’s way of playing? 

“I have to be really honest, when he signed for Tottenham, I was a bit underwhelmed. I didn’t realize, until watching him in probably the last 12 months – well even a bit of last season, the Euros where he was terrific, and the beginning of this season, he has been one of Tottenham’s best players. “

“Maybe it was the position he played in in Mourinho’s system that hid the fact that Pierre actually got more to his game than just breaking up play and playing simple. “

“He’s actually capable of a lot more – his passing can be very productive when he’s playing confidently, and he’s got wonderful energy to get forward and actually steal a couple goals. He scored a couple of really good goals. So I have to say, I really like him.”

“I think if he’s given the right role in the team he can be a really effective midfielder. I think he’s got more to him than just being a holding player. I am excited to see how he evolves that talent in Conte’s team. “

“I hope Conte gives him the freedom and license to express himself from that midfield area and doesn’t restrict him like Mourinho did into that more “mop up in front of the back four” role, where he doesn’t use that terrific energy. “

“But I like Højbjerg. I think he is one of those players that you can trust regardless of whatever manager came in through the door, Højbjerg was always one of those players you can trust and build the team around. “

 

What do you think is the reason for Harry Kane’s dip in form for the Tottenham side? He keeps scoring goals for England. 

“I think there’s a few things. I think confidence is an issue. It’s the first time in his career he’s had some stick out there from his own fans. Which can affect even the strongest minded footballers, including Harry Kane.”

“I think he has lost a little bit of confidence and been playing with a bit of fear in terms of the crowd being on his back in the last few weeks. It’s never easy to come through that – always difficult. I’m sure he will, but you can see that it has affected him.”

“I think Kane is also one of those players, because of his build and athleticism, he’s somebody who, I think, always needs to be on top of his game physically, as in his fitness needs to be really good.”

“So maybe the end of the Euros and the lack of preseason, and coming in late to Tottenham, physically he wasn’t at his best, I think that would be fair to say.” 

“So if you are not physical at your best, you then go into a team that’s struggling, and you get a bit of stick, and your confidence drops, you’re trying to get your confidence back and try scoring goals when you haven’t got your true fitness and sharpness back. Mentally that’s really, really difficult.” 

“I also think he’s been playing on a very poor team. As in, not players that a not capable of feeding him, but the way they were set up under Nuno, they became very pedestrian and predictable. There was very little creativity in the team and he was suffering for it big time.” 

“I think there have been a few factors, and in some respects it will be interesting to see how he comes through it, because he will come through it, the class he has and the quality he has I’m sure he will. I know he’s a really hard-working lad, I don’t believe for one second that he ever walks onto the pitch thinking “I’m not going to try today”. I think it’s more of a physical thing, but it’s going to be interesting under Conte, how he uses him differently to Nuno and how he feels he can get the best out of him.” 

“One thing you can say for sure, in those last couple of England games, although playing pub-teams, his desire and running off the ball, and his sharpness looked really improved. Maybe that’s because of Conte, maybe in-spite of, I don’t know. The fact is, that’s more like the Harry Kane we know.” 

 

What are your predictions for Steven Gerrard’s first game in charge of Villa? They host Brighton. 

“I think the atmosphere is going to be amazing. It’s going to be a really carnival atmosphere at Villa, which is ridiculous when you’ve lost 5 games, but it shows you what a new manager can do. “

“I think the fans are on board with the appointment, they see the owners making a statement with bringing Stevie in and I think they are going to back him financially, so I think it will be a good game for Villa. I think they will beat Brighton.” 

“I don’t know who’s coming back injured or fit from internationals, but I think this could be a really good game for Villa. A high energy game. I think the crowd will be right behind them. One of Villa’s problems since the Wolves capitulation was the last couple of home games I saw, one game in particular, they certainly struggled with the fans’ discontent. The players were really nervous in the game and that’s not going to be the case now. Everything is going to be positive. The whole energy of the stadium is going to change, and that makes a big difference as a footballer. You can feel that everybody is behind you because of the manager. So I think Villa will win. I think this could be a good first game for him. I’m looking forward to seeing how he sets them up.” 

You think he is ready for a Premier League side?

“I don’t know. Don’t know if he knows. My initial feeling with it was that it was a huge risk, because can he get Villa to be top 6 clubs against the power houses of our country and the world class managers we got, when all he’s got behind him is a couple of years in Rangers. Well, the answer is, we don’t know.”

“Because obviously the club will have to back him, his going to be given funds to bring in his own players and stuff, but what I thought when i actually thought he was going to do this, is he’s got wonderful self belief in himself and is taking the Villa job a bigger risk than when he took the Rangers job?” 

“When he took the Rangers job, he only worked at Liverpool academy, and Brendan Rodgers, an experienced manager, was dominating the Scottish game with Celtic, if Stevie had gone to Rangers and failed miserably he could have been in the wilderness, you know the Liverpool dream could have gone.”

“So he took a risk there, so why wouldn’t he believe in himself to go to Villa and make them competitive, if the owners have reassured him that they are going to back him?”

“It’s Steven all over. When he first came into the Liverpool team as a young lad, he never doubted himself. You could see the confidence and belief he had in himself, so the more I thought about it and the rumours grew, the more I thought he’s going to take it.” 

“And of course, geographically he’s closer to home. He’s a family man. He’s been up in Scotland a long time, so that’s a factor.” 

“And working in the Premier League, arguably the best league in the world, for myself, it’s always more exciting and intriguing when there’s a manager in charge of a football team that you know. You understand him and how he thinks a little bit, and I sent Stevie a message to wish him all the best.” 

“He will do everything he can to succeed. It’s going to be really interesting. If you look at someone like Conte going to Spurs, wonderful manager, won everywhere, but he’s going into a job where he’s trying to compete against Chelsea, Liverpool, City with those brilliant coaches they all got, it’s a risk. Even though he has done what he has done, it’s still a risk.” 

“I suppose you have to applaud Villa in a way. Because what they have done, instead of being predictable, they’ve gone outside the box and taken a bit of a risk themselves. They’ll back him and we’ll see how the project goes, but I’m really excited to see how he does against the Pep Guardiolas and Jurgen Klopps of the world and I’m sure he’ll do well and I still think we’ll see him in the Liverpool dugout at some point.”

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