Welcome to The Insider! In this first installment of Lynsey Hooper’s monthly blog, the BBC broadcaster, Premier League reporter for IMG and Offside Rule Podcast presenter gives you the inside track on what it’s like to be a football reporter.
You may mistakenly think I’m an Arsenal fan if you follow me on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. That’s because this season I have spent a lot of time either loitering (with intent) outside the Emirates, attending Arsene Wenger’s press conferences and interviewing players at London Colney.
Thinking back, I must have been at Arsenal most Fridays bar a couple since August. It’s worth it just for the array of biscuits us reporters fight over when we set up early in the morning.
Covering Arsenal is never dull, I’ll give you that. Well, apart from deadline day… that was dull. And all of my own doing as well. I had the choice between Arsenal or Spurs. I went with geography (I’m a West London dweller). Of course you want to be where all the stories are, where chaos may ensue and where outlandish reports are emerging from. In the end neither club had a busy day. In the pit of my stomach, I knew Arsene’s business was done long before I turned up. Again.
After all of the clamour for the Arsenal manager to sign more players in the summer, he completed one of the most astute pieces of business in the window – bringing in Petr Cech from champions, Chelsea.
In my experience, Arsene has always been very professional and friendly. He was one of my first sit-down interviews of the season ahead of the Asia Trophy and what strikes me is how much he lives and breathes football, to the point of being an obsessive; he has as much passion for it as when I first interviewed him years ago.
What’s more he’s never been one to shy away from criticism – and, rightly or wrongly, he’s faced a hell of a lot in recent years. This is the first season we’ve seen him threaten to walk out of a press conference when asked about some Jose Mourinho comments. I remember him not reacting too well to a jibe about Martin Jol (then Spurs manager) many years ago, but this is the first time he nearly pulled the plug completely. Naturally, all this happened the one week I was at Chelsea. Mourinho was having a real dig. There’s definitely no love lost between those two.
Mourinho’s Chelsea might have finished the 2014/15 season as Champions, but Arsenal top the bill in the form table for 2015. Notoriously, Arsenal end the season well despite not always being the best starters. There’s no arguing that they’re one of the steadiest teams in the league and when they hit a good streak, they’re very difficult to stop. With eight wins from 11, it’s looking good for the Gunners. Having said that, I’ll wait until Christmas before I declare them title contenders.
Keeping their key players fit will be one of the biggest challenges. Arsenal without Alexis Sanchez are a completely different prospect: he is the difference like Luis Suarez was to Liverpool two seasons ago.
Theo Walcott is also coming into his own, taking on the responsibilities as striker, a role he has always maintained he prefers. His interview was one of the best I’ve done. Intelligent, down to earth and funny… his response to my question about what’s changed since he burst onto the scene with Southampton? “I’ve no longer got a baby face! (Points to his beard)…”
He also told me that Arsenal are enjoying their football. And you can tell. They’re playing with smiles on their faces and who can blame them after some impressive recent results (Capital One Cup excluded) against Manchester United and Bayern Munich.
Their performance against Bayern goes to show they can shut up shop and play counter-attacking football when they want to – and when Arsene allows them to. Deep down he knows that sometimes possession-based football doesn’t cut it. It was the perfect game plan against the German champions. I’m encouraged – as a neutral, rooting for English teams in Europe – by what I saw against Bayern.
But all I’m left asking is: how did you let those first two games slip away?! It must be so frustrating for the fans.
That’s the kind of inconsistency the north Londoners need to address if they really are going to challenge on all fronts. Only then will they silence some of the dissenters who have been calling for ‘Wenger Out’. There’s a real split between the fans on Wenger; his mission was to administer the move from Highbury to the Emirates and to maintain Champions League football throughout the transition.
Now, he has to deliver on trophies, as he’s done for the past two seasons with the FA Cup.
Everyone knows he’s coming towards the end of his career – and whether he delivers the league back to the London Borough of Islington before calling time on his tenure remains to be seen. What he has ensured is that Arsenal are one of the best run football clubs, not only in this country, but also in Europe.
Which is why I like going every week.
See you on Friday, Arsene. Put extra digestives out for me.
Follow Lynsey at @LynseyHooper