For the first time in 25 years, Arsenal have been left without experiencing the trials and tribulations of European football in midweek. A second consecutive eighth-place finish under Mikel Arteta, combined with losing out in cup competitions, saw their season end on a disappointing note.
It was a strange new sensation for the supporters on Monday night as fans flocked to the Emirates Stadium for a home fixture against Crystal Palace. That would be the first of two fixtures at their north London home over the space of five days, with Aston Villa visiting on Friday night.
Meanwhile, their Premier League ‘Big Six’ rivals were competing in midweek. Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool all won in the Champions League, West Ham and Leicester in the Europa League and Tottenham are part of the newly-created Europa Conference League.
Much like turning up to a swanky private members’ club without the secret password, Arsenal were left out.
For one season, missing out on Europe is not a disaster. One can look at how Chelsea, on the back of a disastrous title defence and Jose Mourinho’s sacking, finished 10th in 2015-16 — only to claim a second Premier League crown in three seasons under Antonio Conte the following season.
But if it becomes a long-term problem, Arsenal could struggle to attract big-name players. Their revenues could fall, and as evidenced by their cost-cutting measures during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, they need to find ways to boost their incomings. Qualifying for continental competition is arguably the best way to find an extra £50m.
Losing their first three games of the season by an aggregate scoreline of 0-9 was hardly ideal preparation. But Seaman, speaking exclusively to Mirror Football, is hoping the club can use this season to put things right.
“It was a rocky start, you know. What happened in the Brentford game wasn’t expected,” the Gunners legend said.
“When you’re playing Chelsea and Man City, you can get beaten by both of them. For me that wasn’t a surprise. But losing three in a row, with Arsenal bottom of the league and Tottenham at the top, that was murder.
“But we’ve changed that around now and that’s a credit to Mikel and his team. I would say that finishing eighth or ninth is not Arsenal, it’s not the way it should be. We need to be in Europe again, and it feels really strange that we’re not playing week in, week out like the others.
When asked where he can see Arsenal finishing this season, he replied: “Anywhere in the European spots, the top six, would be good.
“We need to be back in Europe, it does feel so weird that Arsenal are not even involved. But from where we’ve come from over the past 12 months, I think the fans can see we’re improving. Hopefully we can get back to where we belong.”
Seaman is always warmly received when he returns to the Emirates and it doesn’t take long to understand why. A key part of the side that won the Premier League and FA Cup double in 1997-98, Seaman made 564 appearances for the club, putting him sixth on the all-time list.
His voice is assuringly deep and his delightful chuckle has an uplifting effect, even though his company can only be appreciated virtually due to a congested work schedule. But even considering the brief nature of our conversation, it was enough time to gain a sense of just how much Seaman cares for the club, although it is almost unrecognisable from the Arsenal he left 18 years ago.
They have since departed Highbury for the £400m Emirates Stadium, Arsene Wenger left in 2018 after 22 years in charge and the club have not won a league title since the Invincibles’ season in 2003-04.
But the club are gradually trying to bring back the glory days back to north Londonwith significant investment in player recruitment, following years of limited budgets and departures of key players.
This summer, Mikel Arteta spent the most out of any manager in the division, splashing out around £150m on new signings Aaron Ramsdale, Ben White, Martin Odegaard, Albert Sambi Lokonga, Takehiro Tomiyasu and Nuno Tavares.
After their poor start, Arsenal have gone five games unbeaten since losing their first three matches of the season — and Seaman has called for patience as Arteta pieces together his squad.
“It’s not like he’s gone and brought in one or two players,” he said, speaking at LloydsPharmacy’s ‘Give Flu The Boot’ initiative.
“These are six players who were only going to get better and that will take time. What I like is that the board have backed him, and I hope that continues.
“From what I have seen on the training ground, Mikel is really impressive in the way he organises training and works with the squad.”
No one could blame Seaman for wanting to take things easier after achieving legendary status for club and country in an exhausting 23-year career.
His various daytime commercial activities to keep him busy, with Seaman recently visiting local Rotherham outfit Swallownest FC in a bid to raise awareness and tackle flu this winter, urging fans to get their flu vaccinations while they can.
He also his still contributes to Arsenal on a voluntary basis, helping out the Under-23’s goalkeeping coaching team by offering his expertise to held their budding stoppers coming through the system.
“I’m watching them train. It’s not a fully qualified or full-time job, I just want a free lunch!” He joked, with that chuckle prominent once again.
“Most of my role is spent sitting with the Under-23 goalkeepers, guiding them and trying to help them improve. That’s where I’m doing most of it. If the lads want to chat to me, they can and I can help them. Sometimes they join in with the first-team goalkeepers.
“I just want to give something back to the goalkeepers. I’ve got a lot of experience, experience of the good times and bad times. I’ve won trophies, so I just want to pass that on.”
One goalkeeper who may appreciate a word of advice is Aaron Ramsdale, the £30million arrival from Sheffield United this summer.
It was understood that there was stern opposition from the club’s fanbase to signing Ramsdale, particularly after letting Emiliano Martinez leaving for just over half that amount. But the 24-year-old has enjoyed a fine start to his Arsenal career, keeping four clean sheets in his first six matches and usurping Bernd Leno to become Arteta’s first-choice goalkeeper.
And Seaman has been impressed with how he has reacted by doing his talking on the pitch, reminiscing about a time when he was faced with a similar situation in 1990 when he signed from QPR.
“It reminds me lot of what I was used to when I joined Arsenal,” he said. “The fans all used to sing that ‘John Lukic is better than David Seaman’. I remember them saying “you’d never play for Arsenal” and I proved them wrong!
“I have seen him [Ramsdale] in training and in games as well, and I’m really impressed. He’s improved a lot. He’s got a great character and looks to be settling well.
“A lot of Arsenal fans weren’t too sure about him signing but he’s proved them wrong so far.”
As if he wasn’t loved enough already, Seaman had some choice words for people (and Tottenham fans) who continue to taunt him over errors made in his career, including when Ronaldinho lobbed him from 42 yards during the 2002 World Cup.
“I was doing a function last night in Bradford and they mentioned that. My answer was: “It doesn’t f’ing matter, it went in”, and it’s the same now! A lot of people remember.
“Then there’s the Nayim one. When Tottenham fans give me stick, I just get the big guns out and show them my trophies. I say ‘here, have a look at these!’
“It’s the life of a goalkeeper, they only remember the goals that go in against you, but you have to just get on with it. It’s that one mistake that can make a difference between winning or even losing.”
Fortunately, his days are more relaxed now. Now 58, Seaman — who once joked he had to fish Paul Gascoigne out of a lake during International duty with England — has his sights set on angling for some barbell in his local ponds.
“I’ve loved it, being retired. I love my fishing, I love my golf,” he said. “Amongst all my other commitments, I still haven’t got enough time to go fishing! But I’m enjoying life after football.”
But there is a feeling, with his affection for the club, Seaman would enjoy his post-football life a great deal more if Arsenal, the club he adores, could get back to those days of domestic and European glory.
Ex-England football legend, David Seaman joined forces with LloydsPharmacy and local Rotherham football club, Swallownest FC, to raise awareness of the importance of getting your flu vaccination this winter. For more information, visit: www. lloydspharmacy.com