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Former Arsenal defender Winterburn on Liverpoo’s invincible efforts

PUBLISHED: 12:00 15 July 2020

Arsenal's Nigel Winterburn celebrates with Thierry Henry at Highbury

Arsenal's Nigel Winterburn celebrates with Thierry Henry at Highbury

PA Archive/PA Images

Former Arsenal left-back Nigel Winterburn has had his say on what it takes to be an ‘invincible’ Premier League side, ahead of this evening’s clash at the Emirates, between his former side Arsenal and newly crowned Premier League Champions, Liverpool.

Arsenal celebrate winning the League Championship after their 3-1 win: (back row, l-r) coach Stewart Houston, Nigel Winterburn, David Seaman, Tony Adams, Steve Bould, David O'Leary, Paul Merson, David Hillier, Alan Smith, physio Gary Lewin; (front row, l-r) Michael Thomas, Paul Davis, Lee Dixon, Anders Limpar, Kevin CampbellArsenal celebrate winning the League Championship after their 3-1 win: (back row, l-r) coach Stewart Houston, Nigel Winterburn, David Seaman, Tony Adams, Steve Bould, David O'Leary, Paul Merson, David Hillier, Alan Smith, physio Gary Lewin; (front row, l-r) Michael Thomas, Paul Davis, Lee Dixon, Anders Limpar, Kevin Campbell

“I was quietly confident they’d slip up somewhere along the lines. It’s incredibly hard to do,” Winterburn told Gambling.com.

“The Arsenal team I was a part of in 1991 won the league by losing just one game.”

“People talk about how fabulous this Liverpool team are – and they are, they’ve just walked away with the league – but it just goes to show you how difficult it is to maintain that level of intensity and focus for 38 games.

“It’s almost impossible at Premier League level. I say almost because Arsenal have actually achieved it, but I think how well Liverpool and Manchester City have performed over the past two to three seasons without going unbeaten just puts Arsenal’s achievement into an even greater perspective.”

Mid-way through the 2019/20 season, there was plenty of optimism on Merseyside that Liverpool could replicate the Arsenal Invincibles side that Winterburn himself was part of, but the former full-back admitted he never saw Liverpool going the distance, regardless of how strong they’ve been all year.

“I was always confident, from an Arsenal point of view, that Liverpool would lose a game, mainly because they were so far ahead in the league.

“Even if they had gone unbeaten all the way up to clinching the title, I still think they would have switched off. With so long to go, I would have been confident that they would have been beaten in one of the remaining games.

“When you mathematically secure a title, for some reason, no matter how the manager talks to you and no matter how professional you want to be, you realise that everything you worked for to win the league has been achieved, and it just makes you drop your guard a little for the rest of the season.

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“We saw it with Liverpool themselves when they went to Manchester City and got thumped 4-0 by another fabulous team. I did get a little twitchy earlier in the season when they looked unstoppable, but I was quietly confident they’d slip up somewhere along the lines.”

Elsewhere, Winterburn has been seriously impressed with Arsenal youngster, Bukayo Saka, who he’s had his eye on for a while now and after the exciting prospect has committed his future to the red half of North London, Winterburn hopes this will pave the way for other young gunners to follow suit.

“I remember speaking to Freddie Ljungberg at an Arsenal Under-21 game when Saka hadn’t even made his debut for the U21s.

“I was asking him who is he most looking forward to seeing in the first team, and he had no hesitation in saying this boy Saka would make the first team.

“He told me he was so level-headed for his age, has a good attitude and all the attributes to make an impact at the top level once he got his opportunity. I think we’ve seen already that Freddie was right, he’s got a huge amount of talent – he’s fearless and can play in several positions and looks comfortable in any one of them.

“Arsenal had to get him signed up and it gave everyone a lift when he put pen to paper. They couldn’t have allowed to let a young talent of that calibre walk away from the club. The reaction of the fans, had that happened, would have had a devastating impact on the club, so I’m very pleased that he’s signed a good deal.

“It also should give other young players at Arsenal hope of being able to break through.”

Another prospect who has recently impressed Winterburn is Dani Ceballos, who initially struggled under Unai Emery but has enjoyed a new lease of life under Arteta and as Winterburn told Gambling.com, he would like to see the 23-year-old given a chance to shine under his new manager over a full season.

“Arsenal definitely need to have a creative midfield player,” he said. “Ceballos is a different type of creative midfield player, different to any other Arsenal have got. He’s comfortable on the ball, has a good passing range and likes to get on the ball and take risks.

“You can look at passing stats and say ‘this player has completed 95% of his passing today’ but how effective was his passing? That’s what counts. Ceballos is a player who is happy to take a risk with a pass, and maybe that means he has a lower percentage of passes completed but at least he’s trying to make things happen and often he does.

“Sometimes you need a player, either starting or on the bench, who is willing to take those risks, and Ceballos won’t shy away from that.”


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