The Dugout - O'Leary: Vermaelen to solve defensive problems

Fri, 28 Oct 12:44:00 2011

EXCLUSIVE: Former Arsenal star David O'Leary believes the return of Thomas Vermaelen will help cure the Gunners of their defensive vulnerability.

David O'Leary - 0

You have recently finished working in Dubai for Al-Alhi: how was that experience and what is the standard of football like?

"It was a fantastic experience. They are working hard to improve the standard of football in Dubai. The most successful team is the one with the same owners as Manchester City, Al Jazira. They had a coach with a three-year programme and he had time to build things and he did really well."

Having experienced football in the Middle East, what is your view on Qatar being awarded the 2022 World Cup?

Personally I was surprised that Qatar was awarded the World Cup for a couple of reasons. I've been to Doha many times and I love the place. But to have a World Cup with all the stadiums situated around Doha would be like having a World Cup in and around somewhere the size of Leeds.

The other reason is the time of year, which is already being talked about . I don't think the time of year should change, the World Cup should be held when it is always held. There's no point now trying to get into a debate about how warm it will be when everybody knew that when the tournament was awarded. When I was managing in Dubai we had to adjust to the climate and alter our preparations accordingly. We trained at night, at about half nine in the evening, but it could still be a cool 41 degrees. We would kick off friendly matches at midnight in the summer, and the temperature would still be getting on for 40 degrees at that time of year. What they will have is fantastic stadiums which will be purpose-built.

Are you looking for another job in management, and if so where would be your preferred location?

Yes, I would love to go back into management. I would go back into management this afternoon if I got the right job. You tend to get jobs at the moment which do not have much purpose in them. I hope to get offered a good job. The Dubai job came out of the blue, I thought to myself 'let's go and experience something new'. I had been there on holiday, but it was nice to go and experience a different culture and a different type of football. If I could go abroad again somewhere, and it was the right opportunity, I would love to do it. So I'm up for any challenge if it's the right challenge.

Despite having a proven and consistent record of success in management Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has been criticised in some quarters. What are your thoughts?

Arsene Wenger is a fantastic manager. When I left Arsenal we were a big club but Arsene Wenger has moved them onto another level. They've even built a bigger stadium because they outgrew the old stadium. He has been amazing in that way. Everybody knows they play great football but they haven't won anything in recent years which people keep referring to; they will know they need to put that right. They have started to leak more goals but I am sure they will be working to rectify that as well.

Why do you think Arsenal have conceded an uncharacteristically high number of goals this season?

First of all I'm an Arsenal fan so I have to put my loyalty to one side. They can play great football, but consistently they have conceded too many goals and shown frailties in defence. When they are one up, they might be dominating the game but you often feel the other team has got a great chance of equalising. Bringing Mertesacker in will give them a bit more height which will help when they concede free-kicks and corners. I think other teams know when they play Arsenal that they are vulnerable in that position, and that gives them great heart.

You were a world class defender; who do you view as Arsenal's ideal central defensive partnership if everybody is fit; who impresses you?

The main two are Vermaelen and Mertesacker. The others are lads that can fill in, really. Koscielny does ok but I don't feel that he's going to get into the best teams that Arsenal are playing against at the moment. Mertesacker is a good reader of the game, but pace wise I sometimes fear for him a little bit. Once Vermaelen comes back from injury they'll form a stronger partnership together. They look like probably the strongest pair they have had at Arsenal for a few years.

Upfront you can see Arsenal's reliance on Van Persie. He is an amazing player, and if they were to lose him it would be a big blow. You see what he does when he's on the field, and what he does when he comes off the bench. I hope we're proved wrong, but his injury record of staying fit over the whole season unfortunately hasn't been great.

The contract issue with Van Persie is potentially a difficult one.

Arsenal are a great club and they'll be able to offer him a fantastic deal. But he may be thinking to himself: 'Are Arsenal going to win anything, can I go to a club that has a chance of winning the Champions League and could maybe offer me an even more amazing contract than the one I'll be offered at Arsenal?' I hope that he stays at Arsenal for many seasons to come .

How pleased are you to see Leeds United in contention for a return to the Barclays Premier League?

I think the city itself is such a fanatical football place, that if they get back into the Barclays Premier League it will be booming more. Everybody looks forward to the game on a Saturday or in midweek, and it's unique in that it's the only big city with just one club. Everyone supports them, and it would be fantastic for the city, the supporters and the Premier League. But the Championship has got a lot of good teams and is very difficult to get out of. I thought they would get into the top six last year and was disappointed for them that they didn't. The first step for them this year is to get into the top six and you just never know in the play-offs.

Are you frustrated that Leeds's fall from grace has overshadowed the team's remarkable achievements under your management; you did after all lead them to the semi-finals of the Champions League?

They've had a lot of managers since, and they can all give their own opinions. The Leeds United fans treated me fantastically well and it's sad where they went to from where they were, but eventually I think they will get back in the Premier League, consolidate and move on. I think it will be fantastic for the Premier League if Leeds get back in. I hope that comes sooner rather than later.

What lessons can be learned from the club's decline after you left?

Whoever is running a football club has to make sure it is sustainable - you can't expect to get into the semi-finals of the Champions League every year or rely on television revenue every week. You have to set your budgets so that what you need to keep the club going every year is not an unrealistic target. That's what good chief executives do. In many ways that's what Arsenal do, and yes they might take criticism for it, but they spend what they can afford.