[Soccernet] It is a fairly well established stereotype that ice hockey is the sporting focus in Canada. How'd you end up following football?
[GZ] Like all good Canadians I used to follow hockey very closely (especially growing up in Edmonton during the Wayne Gretzky period) as well as playing a variety of sports (including, as I call it now, â€śproper footballâ€ť in reference to what North Americans typically call soccer), so it would be fair to say I am a sports fan.
My love affair with football started with the Dennis Bergkamp wonder goal in the 1998 World Cup against Argentina. Iâ€™d typically watch all of the Euro and World Cup games, and that year BioWare was still early in its genesis so I could find the time to watch all of the games during the day. After seeing that amazing display of skill and craft I was hooked, and was a huge fan of Dennis Bergkamp and started researching him (I tend to do a fair amount of research on stuff that interests me). I started following football more closely after that, though it was a little tricky back in the late 90â€™s as most games werenâ€™t televised and the internet was just getting started as well.
[Soccernet] Why Arsenal?
[GZ] As folks may recall SEGA sponsored Arsenal in the late 90â€™s as part of their Dreamcast campaign. We happened to be working on a Dreamcast game called MDK2 and after showing it to the SEGA team in London one of the guys there (Mark Maslowicz, also a Gooner) offered me some tickets to a game at Highbury. Little did I know that would basically change my life.
August 22nd, 1999 Arsenal played Manchester United at Highbury and SEGA was gracious enough to provide seats behind the net (Arsenal wizards may correct me on this, but I think it was in North Bank stand). I still distinctly remember the game; Alex Manninger was in net, I remember seeing Bergkamp during the warm-up and I also recall Davor Suker also got his first play time with the team that game. I also remember that Man U scored a cheap goal to win in the net right in front of usâ€¦
The amazing atmosphere, the passion and incredible investment of the fans sold me on the team and Iâ€™ve been following them ever since (and it helped that my favorite player was the centerpiece of the most beautiful club football on the planet).
[Soccernet] Does your love of Arsenal start with the day you started supporting the team or have you found yourself looking into what is a fairly glorious past?
[GZ] Iâ€™ve done some looking into the past, certainly when I hear a name Iâ€™m not familiar with I just onto Wikipedia to get a quick look at the person and their significance, but I am by no means an expert. The only semi-historical book Iâ€™ve read so far is â€śFever Pitchâ€ť by Nick Hornby (which was amazing), but my to do list includes the multitude of great books I see being given away on Arseblogâ€¦
Iâ€™d say that the one person (in addition to Arsene Wenger) Iâ€™ve read the most about is Herbert Chapman. I remember in one interview when I listed him as my idol I had to explain in detail his role in modernizing the game and paving the way for football as we know it today. Again, Iâ€™m by no means an expert on him, but that kind of foresight appears once in a generation.
[Soccernet] Manchester City have really brought a new financial dynamic to the Premier League. As a fan not only of Arsenal but the Premier League do you feel this is good or bad?
[GZ] I think itâ€™s bad. Itâ€™s not bad for the big teams, itâ€™s great for them, but itâ€™s bad for everyone else. I donâ€™t think anyone that doesnâ€™t spend huge money (or have a great fundamental business model) can ever have a hope of cracking the top 4. Thereâ€™s a reason why most of the North American sports have moved to team salary caps and thatâ€™s because maintaining strong competitors is vital for a vibrant league. Itâ€™s impressive how some of the teams without big financing can challenge the big guys on occasion (e.g. Burnley), but that doesnâ€™t mean they can crack the top 4. It seems to be in vogue for global billionaires to own a premiership team, but I doubt itâ€™s because they love football. In my ideal world there would be reasonably generous salary caps across Europe that would allow for talented teams to be created, but without the extreme elitism and narrowing of talent in the current leagues.
[Soccernet] Two of City's biggest recruits this transfer window were Toure and Adebayor. There's a school of thought that says it was a win win for both clubs increasing the quality at City and an addition by subtraction at Arsenal. Your thoughts?
[GZ] I think it was pretty obvious there was some unrest in the Arsenal dressing room last year. Certainly a lot was made out of the potential rift between Toure and Gallas and I think that showed in the performances on the field. I was sad to see Toure go because he was a real trooper, and one of our more experienced players, but Iâ€™ve been extremely impressed with Thomas Vermaelen. That might be the positive from the negative in that case.
I think the situation with Adebayor is a lot more complicated. He was a very good player; the focus and work rate he brought to every game two years ago was amazing, and he did very, very well. He gained a lot of fans that year, but last year he just didnâ€™t seem the same. Again I think there must have been some kind of rift cause him to be less engaged than he was previously, but who can really say. Everyone seemed to say it was because he got his new contract, but I doubt it was as simple as that. He scored some great and meaningful goals for us, but we also have some other great strikers (not the least of which Eduardo being back) that I think can step in by supplying goals. So far this year, with the exception of the Man U game, you canâ€™t argue with our goal production.
[Soccernet] Adebayor is off to a great start with City. Do you think he suffered from "Not Henry Syndrome" at Arsenal?
[GZ] I think the situation with Adebayor was very unclear. Many times last year he was accused of making vague statements of commitment to the club and potential desire for play for someone else, but one thing Iâ€™ve seen following the news every single day is those statements could have been generated by his agent, the press or any number of other sources in order to destabilize him at the club. That confusing messaging, combined with the fact he didnâ€™t come right out and clarify his position (in the way the Cesc consistently does when linked with Barcelona) caused a falling out with fans. And that likely hurt his performances last year; if he felt the fans no longer supported or appreciated him he wouldnâ€™t put in as much effort. That vicious cycle was the beginning of the end.
There was an interesting dynamic when Adebayor started as he was living in Henryâ€™s shadow, and I think that helped him in that the entire attention and pressure to perform rested with Henry instead. They also seemed to really hit it off as well; I remember that goofy dance they used to do together with a bit of fondness. I couldnâ€™t help but think it felt a little forced, but again, who am I to say what they really thought of each other.
[Soccernet] Arsenal are thick in the middle of two current controversies. The first is the now infamous dive by Eduardo in the game against Celtic. Do you agree with the condemnation of Eduardo and the subsequent two game ban?
[GZ] Iâ€™m actually somewhat sickened by the situation as itâ€™s patently unfair to him, heâ€™s certainly not the first play to ever dive and he wonâ€™t be the last. The problem is in the consistency of how diving is treated (which also opens up the big video replay debate). There are lots of situations Iâ€™ve seen where a successful dive has been the definitive stroke to win a match (two that come to mind are the end of the Invincibles and Italy v. Australia), and people are congratulated as a result. I donâ€™t think anyone would believe that was the definite stroke in the match against Celtic, but I can certainly understand the frustration it caused. Ultimately if youâ€™re going to use video evidence, as they did in the case against Eduardo, do it consistently; use it every game and catch every diver and give them 2 game suspensions. Donâ€™t just do it because people complain loudly; be consistent!
[Soccernet] And the second controversy is the signing of under 18 players. Arsene Wenger is one of the few to come out in support of such player movement. Is there a solution?
[GZ] I have no idea how to solve this one â€“ it certainly has exploded into a big controversy - the 2 transfer-period ban on Chelsea did come as a surprise to me. I like the fact Wenger is building a team out of some of the most talented up and comers (though I wouldnâ€™t mind a little more experience in the lineup), and I believe heâ€™s the kind of person that would do it above board. I think the big issue is interference with the existing contracts of these young players; often they donâ€™t have the sophistication or representation to understand what theyâ€™re getting into and more dubious types can certainly take advantage of them.
[Soccernet] Do Arsenal need a Patrick Viera type to be successful?
[GZ] I remember seeing the potential links with Lorik Cana and though he might be a good lynchpin to the midfield, but I think like most people Iâ€™ve been extremely impressed by Songâ€™s performances this seasons. Iâ€™m worried we donâ€™t have a ton of coverage for him as Denilson seems to be better in a more attacking role. I was extremely upset with the departure of Flamini; he gave 110% every single game and was often our most fierce competitor. I think a career partnership of Flamini and Fabregas would have been unstoppable; maybe something to wish for in the future. I think Song can definitely do the job, but Iâ€™d like to have another player in there with a bit of muscleâ€¦
[Soccernet] What weaknesses do you see in the Arsenal team? Are there are any players you'd like the club to sign in January?
[GZ] I had historically been worried about our defense and was concerned to see Djourou get injured as he was also starting to show some impressive form. We do have Big Phil Senderos back so he could potentially provide some additional coverage at the back, and thereâ€™s also Silvestre, so I think we might be ok there. In the midfield, as I note above, Iâ€™d like to see someone else with the aggression and tenacity to be a strong defensive midfielder. I remember Gattuso was talking about switching clubs; heâ€™d be an interesting pick based on experience and skill, though heâ€™s getting pretty old. It would have brilliant if the whole Barry to Liverpool happened last year as we might have ended up with Alonso â€“ that would have been brilliant.
[Soccernet] Favourite Arsenal player past or present?
[GZ] I have 3: Dennis Bergkamp was the one that brought me to the club and Iâ€™ll always respect his elegant play and classy demeanor, Thierry Henry simply has magic in his feet and he surprised me with the many ways he could score and finally Cesc Fabregas is the future!
[Soccernet] Who are the players you most enjoy watching in the Premier League?
[GZ] Iâ€™m obviously biased so I really love watching Arsenal, with some of the new kids like Wilshere and Ramsey showing shocking maturity and skill.
[Soccernet] Any unsung player that you really enjoy watching?
[GZ] I think Song is getting his due this year so I canâ€™t include him on the list, but one player Iâ€™ve always liked is Scott Parker â€“ heâ€™s a real workhorse and puts in a very good effort every time he plays.
[[Soccernet] Arsenal are off to a terrific start this season. Where do you expect them to finish? Any silverware?
[GZ] Iâ€™d love to see something happen this year, and I believe that if we can keep relatively injury free I think weâ€™ll be challenging for silverware, though the league is going to be awfully tough. I believe we can beat anyone, so I think our biggest chance may be in the FA Cup. I still remember the 2005 victory â€“ I was at the E3 Expo in Los Angeles and went to some pub in Santa Monica at 5am to watch the match and can still see Vieiraâ€™s winning penalty â€“ lots of yelling and screaming ensued.
I also think we can be a force in the Champions League; we got awfully close last year and I think weâ€™re even better this year.
[Soccernet] And finally where do you expect City to end up this season?
[GZ] I think youâ€™ll be sixth; Iâ€™m not sure you have the team to break the top 4 yet, I hope...