TV star Brooker: Wenger has taken Gunners as far as he can
TV presenter Alex Brooker doesn’t mince with his words when it comes to his beloved Arsenal – and he has called for a summer of change at the Emirates.
Brooker, who is forging a successful broadcasting career after being uncovered as part of Channel 4’s Half a Million Quid Talent Search prior to their coverage of last summer’s Paralympic Games, is disillusioned with the lack of progress being made under Arsene Wenger and believes the time is right for the Frenchman to step aside.
The Gunners are locked in a four-team battle to qualify for next season’s Champions League with Chelsea, bitter rivals Tottenham and Everton.
Opinion over Wenger’s future among the Arsenal faithful is as divided as ever as the club struggles to compete on and off the pitch with the likes of big-spending Manchester City and Manchester United.
Wenger joined the Gunners in September 1996 and has gone on to become the club’s most successful manager, having won three Premier League titles and four FA Cups as well as being responsible for unearthing and nurturing some of the best players in world football over the last two decades.
A transformation in fortunes has laid the foundations for Arsenal to move stadium, but an eight-year trophy drought, a string of high-profile departures and a series of ill-fated signings has cranked the pressure up on Wenger.
In an exclusive interview with Ladbrokes, Brooker assesses the current situation at Arsenal and gives his frank views on the squad.
There seems to be a real divide among Arsenal fans this season about Arsene Wenger’s future at the club. Do you think he’s still the right man or is it time for a change?
Alex: Recently the results have picked up so the criticism for Arsene hasn’t been as forthcoming. I think that the consensus among the fans is that something isn’t quite right at the club right now and needs to change.
Some think it’s the board, some think it’s Arsene, everyone thinks the players need changing.
I personally think Arsene may have taken us as far as he can. There is no progression really. You can’t keep selling your best players, replacing them with those of lesser ability and expect the fans to be happy.
I also think the wage structure is wrong too. This idea of having everyone on similar wages doesn’t work. You just can’t have the Diaby’s and Denilson’s of this world on £45-60k a week. Because as we’ve seen with Denilson, Chamakh and Bendtner, you can’t get rid of them.
Too many of Arsene’s recent signings such as Gervinho and Andre Santos have been poor. I think there needs to be some fresh ideas in there.
Was there a particularly moment when you realised that Wenger has probably taken you as far as he can?
Alex: I think the Bradford defeat, albeit on penalties, in the Carling Cup was a massive shock. I also thought the derby defeat to Spurs was one of the most obvious things I’ve seen.
I’m no football expert but to me, I think right, Spurs away – Bale and Lennon are quick, Mertesacker isn’t, we can’t play a high defensive line. What happened? We did and it was a gift.
Admittedly, more recently we’ve been a bit more solid. Vermaelen has been dropped, so has Szczesny. But for me, that happened far too late. Something is wrong with the preparation somewhere.
Who do you think should succeed Wenger at the Emirates?
Alex: I would’ve loved to see Guardiola, but obviously he’s gone off to Bayern Munich. I quite like Jurgen Klopp, the Dortmund manager. They play good football.
A lot of people talk about Michael Laudrup, but I think he did inherit a lot of good work at Swansea from Brendan Rodgers.
Let’s focus on the remainder of this season. Are you confident about finishing above Tottenham? Is third place a realistic target?
Alex: If you had asked me after the Spurs away defeat, I would’ve said no chance. But recently they’ve bottled it a bit and we’ve picked up.
Although I’m under no illusions. To finish in the top four now, we have to show a consistency we haven’t all season. We can’t afford another defeat and I wouldn’t be so sure with Arsenal now. It will tough, we might just do it.
Assess the current Arsenal squad. Which players do you feel have performed well this season? Who has disappointed you? And who would you like to see depart/arrive in the summer?
Alex: I know Gervinho has had a couple of assists recently, but he is one of worst players I’ve seen for Arsenal.
I also think Vermaelen has had a poor season, Sagna has also been inconsistent. These are senior players and they haven’t really stepped up. I mean Vermaelen was captain, but he didn’t do a great job.
I think Andre Santos was laughable at times, while Szczesny has clearly got far too over confident. That boy needs a reality check.
I think Wilshere has been brilliant since he came back, Cazorla has been a great signing too. I actually think Carl Jenkinson is improving and I love Mikel Arteta, even though he has been a bit overplayed this season.
We need to get rid of Bendtner, Santos, Denilson, Chamakh etc. Basically all the dead wood. I think Giroud is good, but not world class so we need another striker. I’d argue another centre back, I think a top goalkeeper to push Szczesny is needed too.
Once again Diaby has been injured this season, and while he has been unlucky, we can’t rely on him anymore. Another centre midfielder is needed. Someone who will do the donkey work. But then, how long have we been saying Arsenal need a player like that?!
Being an Arsenal fan in recent seasons has been bittersweet, so let’s reminisce about the good times. Pick out your three favourite Gooner moments and favourite player ever.
Alex: This is in descending order………………..
3. Jens Lehmann’s penalty save against Villareal in the Champions League semi final in 2006. It was the last minute and he saved from Riquelme to send us into the final. I couldn’t look, I was in tears. I couldn’t believe we’d got to a Champions League final.
That season, we were struggling in the league and it was amazing. Ok we got beat by Barcelona in the final, but my god that semi-final second leg I celebrated.
2. My first north London derby at Highbury in March 2000. There is nothing like a derby match and we were sat right on the touchline. I remember we won 2-1. The atmosphere was amazing.
1. This is easy, May 15th 2004. It was my 20th birthday and we beat Leicester to complete a season unbeaten and got the Premier League trophy. It was baking hot at Highbury and I’ve never seen so many happy people in one place.
That Invincibles team were so good it was ridiculous and I think at the time we were so spoilt that the fans didn’t take it in. I feel very lucky to have been there to experience it. See, Tottenham might deservedly finish above us this year, and their fans will give it large.
But ultimately, an Arsenal fan will always remain smug because we know they’ve never experienced anything like we have. Not to mention the fact that season, we also clinched the title at their place. I enjoyed that too.
Time to forget about Arsenal now and talk a bit about you. It must have been an incredible last 12-18 months for you becoming a TV presenter for the Paralympics and now forging a successful broadcast career. You started off as a sports journalist. Do you see yourself moving into sports broadcasting?
Alex: It’s been ridiculous. I remember when I took the job for the Paralympics, I was worried about being unemployed at the end of it. Fortunately for me everything went well and I got put onto The Last Leg.
Now I’m lucky enough to have this great job on the show. I love working with Adam and Josh and I generally spend most of my week laughing.
I recently did some reporting at the Grand National, and it was good to get back into sport. At the moment, my career has kind of gone down the comedy/entertainment route, but I still want to do sport one day. I’m just grateful people like what I’ve done so far, I’m not thinking too far ahead.
What’s the best/worst part of being a celebrity? What’s the daftest rumour you’ve ever heard about yourself? Attracted any Twitter ‘trolls’ yet?
Alex: The best part of it is pretty much what I said before about doing The Last Leg. It’s so much fun. I wouldn’t say there is a worst part as such. It’s more difficult dividing my time between friends, family and work, but I still love what I’m doing.
The scrutiny on Twitter did take some getting used to, I’ve had the odd abusive tweet but nothing too major.
I did a beginner’s guide to the Grand National the other week and some bloke on Twitter called me a ‘melt’ for not knowing anything about horse racing. But I was thinking ‘It’s a beginners guide, that’s the idea’! And who uses the word melt anymore anyway?! It’s not 2004 anymore, The Football Factory hasn’t only just come out at the cinema. I would’ve wrote this in a tweet back, but I couldn’t be bothered and that answer was comfortably more than 140 characters.
But so far, I’ve been very lucky that I haven’t had too much abuse. But that’s not an open invite!!