Winterburn: Gunners need to win next trophy
Having played for Arsenal for over a decade, accumulating over 500 appearances in the process, Nigel Winterburn knows more than most what it takes to make the Gunners tick.
Watching them crash out of the UEFA Champions League against Liverpool on Tuesday night, the combative defender asserts that the method of his former club's exit was particularly cruel.
'I think it's going to be very difficult for the fans to get over because of the penalty decision,' he says. 'If you look at the one that wasn't given at the Emirates, and the one last night - it's a soft penalty. I think if Arsenal had got their penalty in the first leg, then it wouldn't be an issue.
'As a neutral though, the game was a real spectacle, a great advert for the Premier League. It had everything. Both legs were highly competitive with great skill and entertainment and it was a quality game.'
Winterburn won three League titles and two FA Cups, including the famous double-winning season of 1997/98 under Arsene Wenger, but with three years since the Gunners last picked up a trophy, he believes that holes are starting to appear in Wenger's ethos.
'If you're an Arsenal supporter you'll be disappointed and worried that it looks like another season without a trophy,' he says.
'Defensively frailty cost them in both legs. Lack of concentration was key and, to concede a goal a minute after scoring the equaliser, it's just not possible to recover from that at this level.
'Everyone always talks about the beautiful football that the team play, but you are always judged on what you win. This team needs to win a trophy and they might have to change the squad around in the summer to do so. They've picked up a number of important injuries this season and they just haven't got as big a squad as Manchester United or Chelsea in terms of international players.
'Defensively they haven't looked as solid as they did at the start of the season and there are one or two calls to bring in more experienced internationals - although that's not really Arsene's philosophy. He hasn't really done it throughout his career so it may be that he continues to try and blood young players instead.'
Indeed the emergence of 19-year-old Theo Walcott, who came off the bench to give the Gunners brief hope with a stunning 70-yard run and cross for Adebayor's equaliser, was a ray of light for Wenger's men, although Winterburn believes we are yet to see the best of the youngster.
'That goal was incredible, but I think Theo's progress has been a little slow since he came to the club,' he states. 'The problem is that he came with a big reputation and a large transfer fee and, when you come in with that amount of money on your head, people always expect that little bit more.
'I think there's been a massive improvement in his play since the Birmingham game (when he scored two goals) and it wouldn't surprise me if Wenger starts him in the final league games. He just needs a run in the team to build up his confidence and he has certainly shown he has the potential to make a real impact.'
Part of a famous English back five which included David Seaman, Tony Adams, Martin Keown and Lee Dixon, Winterburn admits that things have changed at the club since Wenger's arrival, but that the boss should be trusted in the transfer window.
'You have to try and respect what Arsene is doing at the club,' he asserts. 'He gets infuriated with the price tags of young English players and I remember him telling me you could go and spend £4-5million on an international foreign player with maybe 20-30 caps or £7million on an English Championship player who has never played in the top flight.
'Those figures just don't add up for him. He'd love a Gerrard or a Rooney, but I don't think he'll change his views on the valuation of English players. One thing English youngsters have to work on is their technical skills, as there is no doubt that youngsters abroad are much further ahead in their technical abilities.'
With such a young team, Winterburn does believe that despite their failure to progress this season, they will make it to another Champions League final.
'Getting to the final in 2006 against Barcelona was big for the current team, he says. 'The side I played in never had much success in the competition; we failed really and should have done a lot better than we did. Still, despite the fact they are still a little bit short, I think this team will eventually fulfil its potential.
'I remember George Graham saying after the famous brawl with Man Utd in 1991 (when both clubs were docked points for an on-pitch scuffle) that we had to pull together because everyone was writing us off. As players, we were determined to make sure that it was the catalyst for us to go on and win the title, which we did. This team have to do something similar.
'It's been a couple of years since the last trophy and next season they really have to push on. When you're not winning anything, the club and the supporters get worried and people always want success at a club like Arsenal. The manager has done a fantastic job with the type of football the team plays, but the problem is that the team have to win their next trophy and do it as quickly as possible.'
Nigel Winterburn is a contributor for a special ESPN Classic studio based show about Arsenal's great 1990/91 season to be screened on Sky Channel 442 at 10.30pm on Monday night'.