Ahead of today’s clash with Arsenal in the FA Cup, we spoke to Mike Harniman about all things Gunners.
The Whites step into the game with some expectation to give new Head Coach Mikel Arteta a strong test in what could be a masterclass for the avid neutral.
How long have you followed Arsenal and why did you choose them as your team?
I have been an Arsenal fan since the mid 1990's following the club from around 7 years old with my first live game being a 2-1 victory over Leicester at Highbury which was memorable for not just the day but an own goal from Leicester's Steve Walsh from practically off the half way line.
I fell in love with the club for a number of reasons not just the fact that it's fairly local being a Stevenage born lad so only a 15 minute train ride but also because of the beautiful football that we played and some of the fantastic players we had playing for us including the likes of Ian Wright my absolute childhood hero in the game, Ray Parlour, Tony Adams, Martin Keown, Lee Dixon (Who i've since met) Nigel Winterburn and of course the original safe hands himself and former Leeds keeper David Seaman with Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry amongst other favourites.
What’s your favourite moment as a fan?
Season, game or anything other occasion or mention any other football related event you’ve witnessed?
My Favourite moment as a fan has to be the year we went 49 undefeated there's no other feeling like it to know not just that your the best in the country but your breaking records while doing so is an amazing achievement and a massive high, If i was to pick one from recent years though it would be the 3-2 FA Cup final win over Hull which broke our duck of not winning trophies for a while and to come back the way we did after being 2-0 down after 10 minutes showed the character and determination of that side.
Finally if I had to pick from this season it has to be Wednesday's 2-0 Victory over Manchester United which I fully believe could be a game changer in our season not just from the performance and the result but the togetherness of everyone from players to coaching staff to fans, something that has really been lacking in recent seasons it was great to see everyone singing off the same Hymn sheet again and the players thrived off the support and put in a shift to get us a deserved 3 points.
Tell us about a player that you were proud to have on the back of a shirt, if you didn’t is there one you wished you would have?
I'm not really one to get players names on the back of shirts I prefer to stick to my own name or nickname but I did have a shirt with Ian Wright on in the past one of our yellow away ones and because he was an absolute idol of mine a really great player for us and for England and one of the players mentioned above who were prominant when i started supporting the club.
What’s your most memorable match playing against Leeds United?
It has to be the FA Cup game where Thierry Henry returned to us on loan coming off the bench to score the winner for us you couldn't write the script, to have a club legend coming back coming on off the bench to bag the winner on his return is something that dreams are made of, an amazing player who we all love and adore so to see him come back and to thrive again was a joy to behold, I was at the game after that when we defeated Blackburn 7-1 and he had a massive part to play in that game with a couple of goals too, fantastic to see him back in the red and white again and a player who loves scoring against you so your probably glad he's retired and we can't get him back.
Are you happy with your dealings in this summer transfer windows so far? Is there any player you’d love to bring into your starting eleven? (Messi and Ronaldo cannot be considered!) and who you think is the best signing a Premiership club have made?
Personally I would have to say I was satisfied with areas of our transfer business but we still have areas to address, we still need to sign a defender or 2 especially with the unfortunate injury to Calum Chambers in recent weeks who is now going to miss the season and our defensive frailities that everyone is aware of but I am a big fan of Pepe I believe that on his day he is a brilliant player, he can cause defenders lots of problems and when he has featured this season he has shown what he can do with some big performances and big goals in both the Europa League and the Premier League, I am excited to see what Business if any gets done in this January transfer window to improve the team going forward.
Out of the players we are being linked with at the moment one of the players I would definitely love for us to sign is defender Koulibaly I believe he would add some real leadership to our team although I am also a fan of Lemar who we are looking at alongside Spurs and would love to sign him to play him on one wing Pepe on the other and then Auba or Laca up top with Ozil behind, that's definitely an attack i'd love to see!
Your thoughts on Mikel Arteta returning to the club as manager?
I was with the majority who were skeptical about the appointment because of his lack of managerial experience but you can see already after 3 games that the team are fighting for him, they are showing a lot more determination, passion, desire and hunger and the game against United was huge not just for the club but for Mikel as a manager he's shown he can tactically get it right against one of the big guns and to have the place rocking in the way it was last week shows that everyone is starting to pull together and back him, It was great to see the Emirates rocking again and to show everyone what we are capable of when we are all together in supporting the team.
I am already starting to believe in Arteta and his philosophy and you can see that the players are really buying into it as well, players like Ozil are thriving, Torreira, Xhaka, Luiz, Maitland-Niles all had fantastic games against United and the fans are loving it, Arteta has the capability to be a very good manager and to work under Pep and for Pep to say the things he said about him upon leaving shows he's very highly rated by some of the best managers in the game.
What’s your hopes for this season? Do you think it a season that you will build for next season or is a Champions League place a realistic target?
Obviously at the start of the season nobody expected to see us just about struggling to make it into the top half come January but with all the changes we've had in Emery being sacked and Mikel coming in we have to look at this as a season to build although obviously while the top 4 is still in reach you have to believe too.
I believe that this season if we can have a run in the FA Cup maybe reach a semi final or the final again that would be a succesful season for fans if you couple that with winning the Europa League and getting into the champions league that way, even though it will be extremely difficult with teams such as Ajax dropping down from the Champions League places, We need Champions League football one way or another though because the Europa League is taking its toll on us we have already lost players in recent years such as Ramsey and Alexis and if we don't make it into the champions league this season could lose Aubameyang and Lacazette and that would be criminal because of their goals especially Aubameyang who finished joint top goalscorer last season and won the golden boot.
Who are your three for the drop?
Norwich City, Aston Villa and Bournemouth
Who are the teams you consider will be in the top four of the Premiership in May?
Liverpool will win the league they have shown this season they are a real quality side and could very possibly beat our record of going unbeaten.
Man City will be their closest challengers as I believe they will spend in this window.
Leicester if they can keep hold of James Maddison they could get 2nd but with teams like Manchester United sniffing around the England International will he stay?
Chelsea - Now they have their transfer ban lifted expect them to spend big too this month.
Who’s your danger man?
A tricky question to answer considered we will no doubt rotate for this game obviously Aubameyang, Ozil, Pepe, Lacazette are all danger men but not sure if they will feature much in this game so from players who will feature i'd have to say Dani Ceballos he's just coming back from injury hes got pedrigree being on loan from Real Madrid and he showed on his debut what he is capable off so if Arteta can get him to perform to that standard on a regular basis he will be a real threat in the number 10 position, I do believe also that Lacazette will play because he needs a goal so with his work rate and determination he will also be a threat and cause you problems leading the line.
Can you tell us about a rising star in the youth ranks?
I'm going to go with a player you know very well Eddie Nketiah he had a fantastic end to last season scoring a few goals and contributing in games when needed.
He also had a good pre season so was a bit surprised that we loaned him out, a very well liked lad who I believe will go far when given the opportunity to shine on a big stage.
Martinelli has been fantastic this season and featured for the first team alot more than anyone expected scoring goals in the process and becoming a very highly rated player and if he plays tonight will also cause you problems although he's been out with an injury lately, Reiss Nelson is another player who I highly rate for his attacking threat too and danger in the final third, Joe Willock in centre midfield and Ainsley Maitland-Niles who has been deployed at right back to cover for the injured Hector Bellerin and has made that position his own also deserve mentions and Bukayo Saka who has also impressed at left back in recent weeks.
Will be interesting to see if Eddie features tonight at all and the reaction he gets from the Leeds fans if he's in the squad as I believe he was well liked by the Elland Road faithful and you wanted him to stay.
Prediction and scorers for the game?
You will see a much changed Arsenal side with the lineup being something along the lines of Martinez, Bellerin, Holding, Mustafi, Saka, Guendouzi, Willock, Martinelli, Ceballos, Nelson Lacazette.
Prediction Arsenal 3-1 Leeds.
Scorers = Lacazette X2 and Martinelli
Finally I hope you enjoy your day and have a safe trip to the Emirates but that its us with our name in round 4 come 10pm. Come on you Gunners!
We’d like to thank Mike for his brilliant insight and wish him the best of luck for the reason.
A special thanks to Russ Vernon for arranging this interview.
By Keith Ingham