Glen Johnson on GTA 6, the Premier League title race & Arsenal "peeing into the wind"
Glen Johnson has racked up over 350 appearances after starting his career at West Ham, and the London-born England international represented his country more than 50 times, too.
We sat down with Johnson to talk Liverpool's title chances after they opened up a 5-point lead at the top of the Premier League, Arsenal's chances of bouncing back after a rough December, and how he feels about GTA 6.
With all the recent hype surrounding the trailer for Grand Theft Auto 6, we just wanted to ask you if you, or your former teammates, were big fans of the franchise.
I was a fan of it in the earlier days. I don’t think I played it once I turned professional, but I remember people discussing whether kids should be allowed to play it or not when it first came out. It was certainly a good game back then, but I have no idea what the recent ones have been like.
After their victory against Newcastle United on Monday night, Liverpool now have a five-point gap at the top of the Premier League table. In which ways do you believe the team has improved this season compared to last?
I think they’ve got their sharpness and their zip back. They’re carving through teams and I know they’ve scored a couple of worldies during the season, but they just seem as if they’re breaking teams down and making the perfect pass at the right time. They’re scoring more tap-ins and defences can’t stop them. They’ve sharpened up mentally too and they’re getting in behind teams and making it easy for themselves to score.
When good players, which they all are, work hard and have that mental zip back, then they’re going to be hard to peg back in the title race.
Are Liverpool now the favourites to win the Premier League title in your opinion?
Today they are. They have a decent gap, even though it’s not huge by any stretch of the imagination, and what’s most encouraging is the way they’re winning games and that they keep on winning. A few weeks ago, they were quite rubbish by their standards when they played Fulham at Anfield, but they still managed to win late on. That’s a sign of champions.
Now they’re playing well, then of course they’re going to win games. It’s always simple to say they’re favourites because they’re five points clear at the top of the Premier League, but it’s the manner in which they’re winning games at the moment that’s the most impressive part for me.
Do you believe Arsenal are still firmly in the Premier League title race after dropping eight points in their last three games?
I do, but they’ve certainly made it ten times harder for themselves. In their last few games, they haven’t looked like a team that’s going to win the Premier League title because you’re really peeing into the wind if you’re picking up just one point from your last three games.
I do believe though that they’re still a fantastic outfit and they’re only five points off the top spot. They’re still in it because things can change quite quickly, but they need to get out of this lull they’re currently in as soon as possible. It would be very impressive if they go on to win the league after this current spell of form.
Do you believe Mikel Arteta is going to come under pressure at Arsenal if they fall away even further in the title race?
I don’t believe he deserves to be under any pressure at the moment. They were really struggling before Mikel took over and he’s been able to get them to where they are now. Yes, he’s had a bit of investment, but he’s also improved them tenfold. To win the Premier League is a very difficult task when both Liverpool and Manchester City are back in form. Whoever wins the league this season is really going to deserve it considering the competition they’re up against.
As long as Mikel Arteta keeps Arsenal competing with the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City, two great teams, then I believe the club will be happy and I believe people just need to remember where that club was when Mikel took over. That’s the key thing for me.
Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United all reportedly want to sign Joshua Kimmich from Bayern Munich, if reports from abroad are correct. Can you seriously see Kimmich leaving Bayern Munich for the Premier League at some point in the future, especially as his contract is expiring this summer, or do you believe he will want to see out his career in Germany? How wonderful a signing do you believe he would be for Liverpool in particular?
I think he would be absolutely perfect. He’s very experienced and has played at the very top level for the majority of his career. We hear about players being treated like a king at Bayern Munich, so it all depends on whether he’d be prepared to give that up and if he actually wants to leave.
If he’s actually available on a free transfer, then of course the top clubs are going to be looking at him. He may want to move to the Premier League to see if he can be successful in the best league in the world. It’s all down to what he wants. If Liverpool has the chance to go for him, then they have to.
Fulham’s Antonee Robinson is reportedly on Liverpool’s radar as your former club is believed to want to bring in cover for injured left-backs Andy Robertson and Konstantinos Tsimikas. Do you believe a signing in this area for Liverpool is necessary and do you believe Antonee will end up down the pecking order in the long run or do you think he’s good enough to play week in, week out for your former club?
I think Joe Gomez is doing well for Liverpool at left-back at the moment and it’s helpful for him that the rest of the team is playing well too. However, it’s unfortunate that they have both their left-backs out injured, but to sign a player to do a job for maybe six weeks or so is something which I don’t believe is necessary.
I believe the move would appeal to Robinson, but he may not be playing regularly in six weeks time if this move were to happen in January. If I was him, I would prefer to be playing regularly at Fulham and see the season out there. He can weigh up his options in the summer instead if a move is something that he wants.
Football Insider has claimed that Liverpool, as well as Tottenham Hotspur, are interested in Wolves’ Hwang Hee-chan. The South Korean international has 10 Premier League goals this season and has been a standout player for his side, but do you believe he’s good enough to make the move to Anfield?
Before this season, his stats and performances for Wolves weren’t particularly impressive and for me, that doesn’t indicate that he has the track record to prove that he’s good enough to play for a top, top side. Of course, clubs are going to be interested when you’re scoring goals, and rightly so, but we’ve seen bundles and bundles of players that have one good season and then don’t do much after that.
We’re only halfway through the season, so he needs to be careful about making that sort of jump right now. I’m not saying that he’s not good enough, but you need to be careful when there’s no track record to suggest that you will be a success.
Do you believe Chelsea still have a chance of qualifying for European competition this season?
The players need to have the ambition of qualifying for European competition this season, especially when you play for a huge club such as Chelsea. I believe finishing in the top four is out of the question for them this season, but they need to believe that they can qualify for next season’s Europa League at least.
However, with the squad they’ve got, I don’t know if they will want to play in the Europa League next season because their main focus will be finishing in the top four and they may think that the additional fixtures that come with playing in the Europa League could have an impact on that. However, for the sake of personal pride, the players should be aiming to finish as high up the table as they possibly can this season.
How desperately do you believe Chelsea need to sign a new striker in the January transfer window?
I don’t believe they need to sign a striker desperately. Most of their goals are coming from their wingers and midfielders, which is a very good thing, but if they were to move for a striker in January, then I believe they need to sign an out-and-out number nine because they definitely need one.
I don’t want them to sign another forward that’s lightning-quick and likes to come deep because they already have those types of forwards in the squad currently. If they can get a proper number nine that can allow the other forwards to drop deep and ping around, then that would definitely help the team.
It’s only a matter of time before the wingers and midfielders that are scoring currently stop scoring as regularly and then they’ll be up against it again. If these guys had a focal point, then I believe that would help the team massively.
Tottenham are reportedly in the market for in-form Bournemouth striker Dominic Solanke, but do you believe Chelsea should be considering a move for him too? He has 12 goals in the Premier League so far this season and is a product of Chelsea’s academy.
I think a move like that would be too soon for Dominic. He’s beginning to show a better end product and he’s beginning to realise the potential that Liverpool saw in him when they signed him. It’s great to see him scoring regularly in the Premier League, but for me he hasn’t done it for long enough for a club like Chelsea to sign him.
He came through Chelsea’s academy, so he would probably jump at the opportunity to move there. If he continues to score goals for the rest of the season and starts next season in the same fashion, then he could be of interest to the big clubs. I just don’t believe he’s ready to make that jump right now.
Victor Osimhen supposedly has a £112 million release clause in his new contract with Napoli. Do you believe he’s worth that amount of money if Chelsea decides to move for him in January?
I don’t believe he’s worth that sort of money and neither does Napoli because that’s why he has a release clause in his contract. They’ve put that figure in because that’s what they’d be happy to accept for him. I don’t believe he’s worth that money but he’s evidently very good in front of goal, but the huge question mark is whether he can do it in the Premier League. I know you have to take a risk at some point, but I don’t believe you need to take a £112 million risk.
To pay that much money for a player, they have to be a dead cert for me. Harry Kane cost less than that and he’s gone to Bayern Munich and scored a load of goals already and everybody knew he was going to do that because he’s proven himself previously in the hardest league in the world. Osimhen hasn’t. Osimhen has the potential to be a success in the Premier League, but I wouldn’t pay £112 million for him.
The Evening Standard have claimed that Chelsea have approached Sporting Lisbon regarding the signing of Viktor Gyökeres, who was at Coventry City last season. Do you believe he could be a success in the Premier League at a club as big as Chelsea? He has 18 goals in all competitions so far this season.
I believe that’s a move they should avoid. There are not many players that can be playing in the Championship one season and then play for one of the Premier League’s biggest teams the next. If he was good enough to, then he should have been scoring 35 goals-a-season in the Championship and showing that he was streets and streets ahead of everybody else and he wasn’t.
At Sporting Lisbon, he’s playing in an easier league than the Premier League and yes, I realise he’s scoring goals, but I definitely have question marks over him.
Arsenal are said to be leading Chelsea in the race to sign Ivan Toney from Brentford. Do you believe he will improve the Gunners' title chances this season if he moves to the Emirates in January?
I think he would. I like him, but it just depends on how Arsenal intend to use him in their system. I don’t think he’s going to play ahead of Gabriel Jesus down the middle and I don’t know if he can play wider, but it would be a good move for them if they intend to play two strikers up top. However, if they decide to play with three, then I don’t know how he and Gabriel Jesus can play in the same team. I do believe Ivan will help them as he’s a proper number nine, but I don’t know where he would fit in at Arsenal because if Jesus is fit, then Jesus plays.
Ivan is a more traditional number nine than Gabriel Jesus, but I believe Jesus is a better footballer. He understands the game, is good at linking up with other players and he may not score 30 goals a season, but he will score 15 and create 15. He has the licence to do what he needs to do and if he’s asked to play a bit deeper to accommodate Ivan Toney, we don’t know how that’s going to impact his game. However, having the two of them in the same squad would be a good thing for Arsenal. If Mikel Arteta can find a way for them to play together, then Ivan could be a very good signing for Arsenal.
Rumours are suggesting that Chelsea could sell Conor Gallagher for £40 million to Tottenham for the benefit of FFP. Would that be a horrendous decision by your former club to allow him to leave for a rival club mid-season?
For me, Chelsea have to do everything possible to avoid that move happening. Even when they’ve been struggling this season, Gallagher’s been the one that’s grafting in midfield and trying to pull the team forward. If he left before the start of the season, Chelsea would have been in an even worse position than they’re in now, so I think they’ve got to do everything they can to keep him at the club.
West Ham United reportedly want to sign Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah. How highly do you rate Eddie as a striker and do you believe he would help strengthen the Hammer’s European ambitions if he makes the move in January?
I think he’d be a good signing for West Ham and if the money’s right, then it could be a good deal for both parties. Nketiah’s shown a lot of promise and potential, but he’s never been a regular starter for Arsenal. For a striker to find their form, they need lots of gametime and if Eddie makes the move to West Ham, he’ll probably be playing every week and then he can show everybody what he’s really capable of. If West Ham can get him, then they should and if West Ham go for him, then he should go.