Sol Campbell interview image

Sol Campbell exclusive: Stay injury-free and Arsenal can win title

2016-11-03
Former defender impressed with Gunners

“It’s not mentality, it’s just injuries. That’s what has hurt them all these years – key injuries to key players in key moments. Not just a few games out but for six months. If they can keep a fit team they can go all the way.”

Having overcome an opening day defeat to Liverpool, the Gunners presently find themselves joint top and in a rich vein of form. Yet Campbell is reluctant to pin his colours too firmly to Arsenal’s mast, not while the league summit remains crowded with an array of genuine challengers this year.

“Every team has got something in their own way. Manchester City at the beginning blew teams away before stuttering a bit. Tottenham have been steady. Arsenal started out blasting then scraped a couple of results so they are there. Liverpool have been industrious and street-like and then you have Chelsea with a new system that Conte seems happy with. They look slick. Manchester United are trying to be involved but something is not there, something isn’t right.“

A lack of a goal threat can partly be attributed to United’s woes, which is hardly a concern for Arsenal right now who can’t stop scoring. Indeed Alexis Sanchez has single-handedly put away just five short of the entire United squad despite playing in an unfamiliar role up front. Even so his repositioning has led to serious discussions on where the Chilean is best employed, a discussion that Campbell holds little stock with.

“Maybe Arsene doesn’t want an out and out centre-forward this year. Maybe that’s the key and he wants to mix things up, to have players in the groove. While you’re banging in the goals why go to systems? Sometimes it needs someone to look at these guys and allow them to be free and see how long it lasts. If it doesn’t go the whole season then there is always Giroud to come in and change the dynamic. You can be too structured sometimes and it’s better to go with the flow.”

The 42 year old has clearly been impressed with the flourishing partnership of Shkodran Mustafi and Laurent Koscielny that has added some much-needed steel to the Gunners’ spine.

“I like the mentality between them. They have the right guys in there now who have the willingness to defend and that is key. They’re mobile but calm; they can pass the ball around the back or pick the right ball or find row Z if needed. There is a nice balance between those guys.”

That balance needs to be right this weekend as Arsenal entertain their local rivals Spurs in a momentous derby. Having left one for the other in controversial fashion back in 2001, Campbell will be keenly observing the clash that has infinitely more than just three points at stake. In fact such is Spurs’ transformation under Mauricio Pochettino there are some who claim the Lilywhites are slowly becoming the top dogs of north London. The former idol of the Lane is having one of it.

“You have to look at it over the course of five or ten years. It’s not down to one or two seasons but how to find a consistency even when a new batch of players come in. That’s the difference with Arsene who has had various different teams and the philosophy has changed a bit but whoever he has brought in has been at the top. That’s how you look at it or you can’t make a proper judgement.”

As for this Sunday’s game, who better to ask for their thoughts than a defender who played several times apiece on each side of the divide. If you’re a betting man Campbell suggests you back late goals once the chaos has given way to tired legs and minds.

“Arsenal will be geared up for Spurs’ pressing because you cannot do that relentlessly all of the time, only five or ten minute spells. They will be concentrating on how to get past the second press and that’s where you open them up. That’s why the last twenty minutes will be key because a side that has pressed will have spent up a lot of their energy. You have to get used to that frequency and be savvy, especially on a big pitch. Go between the lines.”

Looking further down the fixture list, the man with 73-caps to his name is relishing the prospect of England taking on their ‘auld enemy’ Scotland in a crucial World Cup qualifier on November 11th. Yet their recent choice of manager Gareth Southgate is hardly afforded an unequivocal thumbs-up.

“They believe he’s the right man because he’s gone through the ranks and done everything right. He has ticked all the boxes. Whether he is going to be the one who changes English football – whether anyone can change English football….”

“He’s the right man for now because he doesn’t rock the boat. But that’s all we’ve got which is a shame really. It’s disappointing that we haven’t got anyone else to choose from.”

Could that choice be extended to include Campbell himself in a few years’ time? The question is met with roars of laughter as he compares the chances of a black manager becoming England’s national coach to the UK voting in a black Prime Minister. As regards to club management however Campbell is chomping at the bit to take on the challenge.

“I’m ready now and looking around and putting my name out there. I’m ready for all options. I want to get on to that ladder and however I have to I’ll get on that ladder and work through it.”

SOL CAMPBELL’S QUICKFIRE QUESTIONS

  1. Arsenal v Spurs score prediction?

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  2. Who will win the Golden Boot?

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  3. Who will finish top four?

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  4. Who will win the Champions League?

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