Frimpong Exclusive: How Manchester United Tore the Heart out of Arsenal
Ahead of Arsenal’s away trip to Manchester United next Monday, we spoke exclusively with former Arsenal player Emmanuel Frimpong, on behalf of MetaRatings.ru. The holding midfielder spoke of his time at Arsenal, including why losing Robin Van Persie to their hosts next week was a monumental blow to Arsenal, even more so than Cesc Fabregas’ departure to his home club. Frimpong also spoke of how far Arsenal are from challenging for the title, why a defence including David Luiz simply isn’t good enough and why Koulibaly should be the main target to strengthen a flailing back line.
Just as you were called into the first team, Cesc Fabregas made the switch to move back to Barcelona. Did this come as a surprise to you? Or did you always think he would go back to his home club?
It was a bit of a surprise because Fabregas was one of the best players in the Premier League, but at the same time it wasn’t a surprise because Cesc always made it clear that he always wanted to go back to Barca. I think that Barca was the team that he wanted to go back and play for so it wasn’t a surprise but it was obvious that Arsenal would lose him; a fantastic player in Cesc and the team suffered as well, so it was a bit of a shock.
How disappointing was it to see such a talent leaving Arsenal? And just how good was Fabregas when you had the chance to play with him?
As a fan, I was disappointed, because I am an Arsenal fan. But at the same time for me, I was kind of happy because it gave me a chance to come into the first team. I remember that the same week that I got promoted into the first team was the same week that Cesc was leaving. I remember very well that I met him in the dressing room and he wished me luck, and it was very nice from a senior player like Cesc Fabregas. At the same time, as an Arsenal fan, I was disappointed that he was leaving, but him leaving for me personally left an open door for me to go on and play for Arsenal.
After the first year of your time in the senior squad at Arsenal, Robin Van Persie decided to leave to join Manchester United. How big a blow was this to the Arsenal team?
I think the problem for Arsenal has always been how do they keep hold of their best players. It’s a problem with Arsenal. I hope that trend has finished with Arsenal, because when Robin left, he was probably the best player in the Premier League at that time, and it took a lot of quality out of the team and Arsenal suffered again. That was the problem with Arsenal at that time; that we kept losing our best players and it was disappointing. When Robin was at Arsenal that year, he was fantastic – he was the captain, he was the top goal scorer, he was the best player in the Premier League. And for him to go to Man United was quite disappointing. The club knew better, and I don’t know what goes on behind closed doors, but I think there was a bit of a problem. I listened to an interview with Robin a couple of weeks ago, and he spoke about the situation at the time, you just have to respect the man in his decision. Sometimes these things work like that. You just have to wish him well because he served Arsenal very well when he was there.
Whereas Fabregas left to re-join his home club, were players more disappointed when Van Persie moved on?
I think I was more disappointed when Robin went to Man United because at that time he was the captain and he was the best player in the Premier League, and losing Robin was much more of a blow than losing Cesc because Robin was bringing goals to the game, he was winning us games. He was playing really well for us at the time so I feel like he was a big blow at the time, and more than when Cesc left. These things happen in football, and you can’t control it. It’s something that is difficult for the club when you have players who are on less than a year’s contract, they want to leave and you want to make money; it makes sense.
Was the transfer a massive blow to have lost your top goal scorer to one of your main rivals, and to see him help Manchester United win the Premier League? Had Van Persie stayed do you feel that you could have challenged Manchester United?
To be honest and as an Arsenal fan, I don’t think so, because the players we had at the time were not good enough to win the Premier League. Man United had the squad; they had the players. You can’t win the league on Robin Van Persie alone. They had Rio Ferdinand, Rooney was there at the time, and they had quality players to win The Premier League. Even as an Arsenal fan, we didn’t have that quality. We had good players, but they had great players, and even if Robin had stayed I don’t think we could have won The Premier League.
Manchester United could do with some of those players back now!
I’m really enjoying it. Manchester United are having a bit of trouble at the moment, but it’s good to see Solskjaer and Frank Lampard are playing the young players, and giving them a chance. I’m a big fan of Mason Mount; he’s a very, very good player. He reminds me of Jack Wilshere, the way he controls the ball. It’s good because if Frank Lampard wasn’t there, Mason Mount wouldn’t have had the opportunity, and hopefully the English media encourage people like Frank Lampard and Ole Solskjaer and people encourage them to bring these young players through. You would think Mason Mount is a Spanish player, the way he is playing at the moment, and Tammy Abraham is like a player from France. It takes a brave manager to give these players a chance, and Lampard is getting the reward at the moment because these young players are doing well for Chelsea.
Many of Chelsea’s recent goals have been scored by players aged 21 or under; it seems as though this is just what the Premier League and the English National team need.
I think these things have happened, because Frank Lampard was a young player who came through the youth, and understands that young players need to be given the opportunity. From what I’ve known of Frank Lampard, he gives you the opportunity, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as well at United, I have to really praise him because he’s done really well and given young players the chance. When I was a young player, I wanted the opportunity and Wenger gave me the opportunity.
Who was the most talented player that you got to play with at Arsenal?
The most talented player for me was Santi Cazorla; he was unbelievable. One of the best players that I’ve ever played with. Van Persie comes very close. I had the privilege of training with Santi and I didn’t know what footed he was. He was incredible. It was a shame later on in his Arsenal career that he got injured and that it had to end like that, but that’s football and these things happen.
Your career has sadly been cut short by injury. How do you feel day to day at the moment? Do fans appreciate how much players go through putting their bodies on the line?
For me, after football life has been a bit slow, as it was a shock to me that I had to stop playing football, but I can’t complain because my life is much better than a lot of people’s lives. The fans will always appreciate a player that gives his all to the team, and these are the fans that know and understand football. The Arsenal fans still message me on Twitter or on Snapchat, and I’m used to them wishing me well. Sometimes I even play against them on FIFA on the PlayStation! It’s lovely to see that they can still relate to me and that’s important to me, because after all I’m an Arsenal fan and I want to have a good connection with the fans.
Abou Diaby was a special talent at Arsenal, but could never remain fit and was plagued by injuries. Was it frustrating at Arsenal that he couldn’t play? How good could he have been?
Diaby was a very good player and everybody knows that. When you think about it, somebody has to get injured for somebody to have a chance. It’s a shame, it’s not nice, but something has to happen to somebody for somebody else to have a chance. If Fabregas was fit, if Nasri was fit, if Song was fit; nobody would ever have heard of Jack Wilshere. The same goes for Kieran Gibbs or any other young player who came through at Arsenal. In football you have to accept that these things happen; I don’t know about Diaby, but I have accepted it.
How do you feel thinking back to that red card against Liverpool and how much did it affect you?
I think it was a big blow for me. My mum was in Ghana at the time watching the game, and she was disappointed that I got the red card. It stopped me from playing in the next game against Manchester United, which was my favourite team to play against. It was frustrating, but these things happen. I was excited, I wanted to prove myself, I wanted to win every tackle and getting a red card can happen when you are a tackling midfielder.
Just how far away are Arsenal from challenging for a Premier League title again?
Pretty far, to be honest. I watched the game against Watford and it wasn’t good. Our defence is certainly weaker, when you compare it to Liverpool or Man City. David Luiz has been making some mistakes, and in my opinion there’s little difference between Luiz and Mustafi; I would rather see Callum Chambers selected. They need to be buying better defenders, like Koulibaly, who can make a big impact on Arsenal’s team.
Is the biggest thing that Arsenal need to do to get back to challenging Man City and Liverpool for the Premier League title to sort out the defence with a player like Koulibaly?
Yes, a Koulibaly! They have to improve the defence to challenge.
Was it nice seeing him go in the away end against Watford, and is that something that the fans will buy into?
Arsenal fans like players that try for the team and showing passion in the away end is a very good start. It will be even better if he scores on his debut for Arsenal!
Some pundits are suggesting that Arsenal aren’t moving forwards at the moment. What do you think and is Emery the right man?
I don’t know if Emery is or isn’t the right man to take Arsenal forward. All I know is that Arsenal players need someone to really motivate them because you can see at Liverpool, every game they are always motivated, they press every team, but with Arsenal I feel like players are too comfortable. They have bad games and they are still selected. Even if they have a bad game or a half decent game, they’re still going to play the next game. That’s the problem with Arsenal at the moment; their squad is just very lightweight.
At the Derby the other week, a lot of fans showed a dislike for Granit Xhaka, how do you assess him at the moment?
For me, Xhaka is a good player, a very decent player but I don’t think he is a great player who can take Arsenal to the next level.
Does Unai Emery need to ensure that he delivers silverware (League or FA Cup) and a top four finish, to ensure that he keeps his job?
I think that he needs top four; we need to get into the Champions League this year. If we get into the Champions League this year, I think he has done well. That’s how we’re going to get the better players. Players want to play in the Champions League, not the Europa League, so we have to get into the Champions League first and then we have to get better players; better defenders.
If you rewind back to the beginning of your career, I don’t think we could have ever imagined that Arsenal and Manchester United would be the two teams in the Europa League!
The Premier Leagues is getting harder every year, because better players are coming in and making it tougher. The Premier League has come a long way in the last ten years, so we just have to get better players. I believe Pep Guardiola is a top manager but without the players that he has got, he is nobody. You can’t do anything. Arsenal need to buy better players, it’s very simple.
As you have said and as most pundits have suggested, the defence is the weakness. Does that put too much of the pressure lying on the shoulders of Lacazette and Aubameyang to score goals?
Yes. And in fairness to Lacazette and Aubameyang, they have scored goals. If you’re scoring goals and your defence is conceding, what can you do? If your defence are conceding then there’s nothing you can do if the defence is not good enough.
You were subjected to racism in Russia; how did it impact on you, both professionally and personally?
I was fine because I am mentally strong about these things, and I can get over it. Not everybody is mentally strong and people act differently. But for me, when it happened, it was nothing new and wasn’t a surprise to me, so I moved on very quickly.
Do you have any of your own thoughts on what more authorities could be doing to tackle racism in football?
I would like to see more teams being deducted points. If you do that, it’s making a statement and may make people stop.
The Romelu Lukaku situation is yet another recent example of racism. What would your advice to Romelu be? Should a referee take charge of such a situation and walk off the pitch?
For me, I couldn’t walk off the pitch and away from my team, because I want to stay out there and win the game. He is a top player at Inter Milan, and he needs to just keep playing and keep scoring goals. He just has to keep playing and that’s all that he can do.
Lethal Bizzle is your cousin and I know you’ve featured on one of his tracks previously. Would you like to make a move into music full time?
I like music and I like listening to music and that’s something that I like to do in my spare time, but not something I want to do seriously; it’s more about having fun.
Do you ever watch Arsenal FAN TV, what do you think about it?
It’s quite entertaining! It’s nice to see the fans making comments about the players’ performances. I’m a fan and I subscribe to the channel, and watch it almost every weekend!
When you moved to Barnsley, you posted a tongue in cheek tweet saying 'how can I draw girls now?’
Barnsley posted about it quite positively; did you receive any banter about it from your new Barnsley teammates or former Arsenal teammates?
At the time, I was young and I thought it was a very funny thing to do. Some people thought it was fun and some people took it too seriously, but it is what it is. When I walked into the dressing room, my teammates were laughing and it helped welcome me into the team. I wouldn’t change it and I’d do the same thing again, because I’m the kind of person that I want to put a smile on peoples’ faces.