Arsenal can bridge the gap to Liverpool with Bissouma and Hakimi, says Thomas

Bissouma Thomas Hakimi
The 53-year-old lined out for both teams and will have mixed feelings watching Saturday's game at Emirates Stadium

When you think of Arsenal and Liverpool, there are few players who come to mind as quickly as Michael Thomas.

He was the man who famously broke Liverpool hearts in 1989 when his dramatic injury-time strike won Arsenal the league title at Anfield in the final game of the season.

But then, just two years later, he swapped north London for Merseyside and went on to make 163 appearances for the Reds and scored the opening goal of their 1992 FA Cup final success against Sunderland at Wembley.

Thomas still lives on the Wirral and now has a role as a mentor within the Liverpool academy, working with the Under-10s through to the U14s. The club holds a special place in his heart, but he has never forgotten his time at Arsenal.

Now 53, Thomas admits to supporting both teams, but when they meet during the season, he cheers for whoever is at home.

So, on Saturday evening his allegiance will be with Arsenal when Jurgen Klopp brings his champions to the Emirates Stadium, with both sides looking to breathe new life into a season which has faltered badly.

“It will be a very open game as always,” Thomas tells Goal. “Neither side are in the best of form, so I am not sure who comes out of this on top. It will probably be a score draw, which won't be ideal for either team.

“Arsenal's league form has been so inconsistent. I watch them game by game and I'm never quite sure what mentality the team is coming out with. In fact, it can even change from half to half.

“They are a team with some experienced players in there and amazing young players. [Mikel] Arteta just needs to get the balance right, which I think is coming slowly, and when he gets a few more of his own players in come the summer, you will start to see the team performing more consistently with his style of play.

“I do think they will finish in the top six or seven, but I am definitely more concerned with winning the Europa League right now.”

Michael Thomas quote

Thomas added: “Liverpool still have an outside chance of finishing in the top four, but would need to win against Arsenal.

“Fans not being in the stadium has played a major part in how the season is panning out and injuries also don't help with Liverpool, although that of course is something that can happen to anyone at any time.

“I think Liverpool needs some fresh blood in the middle and they need to add a goalscoring striker to take some pressure off [Roberto] Firmino.”

Thomas returned to Liverpool at the end of last summer to work within the academy, joining former players such as Steve McManaman, Rob Jones and Robbie Fowler in passing on their invaluable knowledge to help guide the youngsters coming through.

But it’s not just on the training pitch that Thomas is helping share his experience.

Earlier this year, Liverpool also launched a partnership with Phoenix Sport & Media Group, the company Thomas co-founded in 2016 with several other former professionals, including Andy Cole and Brian Deane.

The partnership gives youngsters who were unable to make the grade at Liverpool’s academy access to the training and education courses that Phoenix offer, which range from courses on financial planning to mental health awareness.

It’s a subject that is close to Thomas’ heart, with the former midfielder openly admitting to finding himself in "some dark places" following his playing days.

“I play a role of helping educate the young players with what it means to become a professional and the things that come with that,” he said.

“Being a professional footballer is the dream but managing all the responsibility and people that come with it is another.

“So, I offload my knowledge of how to invest, where suitable help can be found and how to deal with the mental struggles that players can go through.

“I am extremely grateful to be given this opportunity with the partnership of Phoenix Sport Media Group and hope that the young players take it in and become the best version of themselves, in and out of football.”

Michael Thomas Yves Bissouma Arsenal Brighton GFX quotes

While the majority of his time is now taken up by the crucial work he does with his Phoenix Sport & Media Group, the bond Thomas has with Arsenal remains as strong as ever, even if he does have to watch events at his former club from afar.

During his time in north London, he won the league title twice, as well as the League Cup and was part of a club that had built up a winning mentality under the guidance of George Graham.

That was a mentality that initially continued under Arsene Wenger, but it’s one that Thomas believes has been allowed to erode in recent years – with the team’s current mid-table plight the end result.

“The recruitment hasn't been the best at times but the culture at the club has allowed them to get into a head space where they're almost happy to just be there, not challenging for the majors,” he said.

“Credit where it's due, Arteta looks like he is bringing back what it means to play for the shirt. He has a no-nonsense policy.

“But it’s going to take time and good recruitment to close the gap that has opened up. Liverpool are on a different level of the process right now.

“I do believe, however, that except for Manchester City, Arsenal are very capable of beating all the teams above them right now. But can they perform week in, week out? That's what we need to see.”

So, where does Thomas think Arsenal need to strengthen this summer if they are going to improve next season and reel in the likes of City and Liverpool?

“There are a few areas,” he said. “But it can all depend on the finish to the season and whether they qualify for Europe or not.

I think a right-back is needed and I am liking the links with [Achraf] Hakimi at Inter. I saw him at Dortmund and thought this guy has an engine with some quality.

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“Cover at left-back is essential. [Kieran] Tierney is fantastic and seems to only be getting better, but someone with experience who can still offer something, like [Ryan] Bertrand, would be good in there.

[Yves] Bissouma of Brighton would be my pick for a partner to Thomas Partey in central midfield. Both are solid, can use the ball well and are 90-minute players.

“Finally, keep [Martin] Odegaard! He has great vision and works extremely well.”