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Interview translation: Arsene Wenger on his German players, his philosophy and developing Arsenal over 17 years

arseneper

I did not conduct this interview – it was published here on ZDF’s website in German, which I then translated.

Arsène, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us. You have been the manager of Arsenal for more than 17 years, what has developed in this team during that time?

The development is very very strong, I believe that it is the responsibility of a manager in England to ensure the development. When I arrived, we had no training ground, we had an old stadium, so at the time we built a new training ground, bought the land, built everything, then of course we built a new stadium, which also cost a lot of money – just for the land, for example we paid £128 million. In Germany, for example Bayern Munich got the land for just €1. So you can imagine what kind of difference there is there. Therefore the club had had financial restrictions in the last six or seven years, because we had to pay a lot of money back every year [for the stadium debt]. But despite that the club has developed, for example when I arrived at Arsenal we were 80 – today we have 450 people. A share at the time was £400 – nowadays it is £17,000! So, despite that, you can say that the club has economically developed a lot. On the sporting side, in the first years, of course we won cups, but then we have had a period when it wasn’t so successful. But despite that, we remained in the top four in the Champions League with less money and we were very often there for the championships. We were a bit young to win in championships. But now, we are over the period, I believe that in the position to battle with any other club (to take it up with any other club).

I know how hard it is to talk about yourself, but how would you describe your own development in these 17 years?

Very very difficult for me to decide that, I believe my job is a public job, and therefore I give my best and I let the other people assess how good or bad I am. We have an influence on our careers, on the lives of the players, on the style of play of the team, and the impetus and the idea which we can give to the club, and we try to have an influence on these three levels.

Another question like the last about yourself, how would you describe yourself as a manager and as a person?

A person who loves his job, who has sacrificed his life for football. But that has cost me nothing, because I love it so much. Someone who has tried to have a positive attitude towards people, and to influence their lives positively.

You have said you have sacrificed things. Has it been that you have had enough time for hobbies and your family?

No, of course not, I have to realise that.  I have indeed always said that this is a job for people who aren’t married, and of course my family have also sacrificed a lot so that I can do my job.

There have been offers from other clubs – Bayern Munich in 1994 was very close, there were other big names – Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, everything that has been reported… Why have you stayed so constantly at Arsenal? Many people think “I have to change, I have to get a new impetus.” How have you always managed to find motivation?

Only because I don’t think a good manager is connected with a transfer. Always try to develop, and you don’t need to transfer to a different club, because I have always had the feeling of what is important to me in my job – that’s freedom to work, to be able to push through my philosophy and a big freedom. I believe that when you get up, you should think: “Today I can work in a good atmosphere.” For me, that’s the most important thing. I have to say that, but I have also always had the backing from my board, they always stood behind me and have always supported me.

You have spoken about your philosophy. To live your philosophy is important to you – what is your philosophy?

To play a style of football that is built around mobility and technical skill, creativity and also speed, and therefore I have developed many players. You can see in the history of the players that have come to Arsenal that they have developed well and the majority have made a great career with Arsenal. Therefore I believe that the philosophy of a club and the style of a club is very important. The career of a player depends 90% on the club where he is, and I believe that Arsenal is a club that has had a very very big positive influence on its players.

The interest in Arsenal in Germany has grown, because Arsenal have five German players in the squad. When I say the name of the player, could you please briefly describe them. For example as the first we will take Lukas Podolski…

Lukas Podolski – super-talented. He can score goals, can play very well with other players, super-power, sometimes he can score free-kicks, he can score from anywhere. Good crossing of the ball. But he can still improve himself – with Lukas Podolski you always get the feeling that he is playing at 80% or 90%, and you want 100% from him. And the 100% of Lukas Podolski is, for me, world class. I believe that his future is to raise that in the next few years.

What would you say of Per?

Per – super attitude, very intelligent and very respectful, very professional. He has technically developed very well with us, and tactically as well. For me, today he is one of the best defenders in the world.

Then somebody who hasn’t been long with you yet, but surely was able to give you some first impressions, Mesut Ozil. How would you describe him?

Mesut Ozil is a dream, because he was born for football. Everything that he does is class, he makes it look simple, and yet he works very hard, very good physical qualities. A natural world-class player. And I believe that in the next few years he will be recognized by everyone as the top top top player in the world.

Serge Gnabry?

Serge Gnabry has massive potential, I believe very strongly in him. I have already shown a lot of trust in him, he can play behind the striker, on the wings, he can be decisive, score goals, dribble, has a lot of power. Very intelligent as well, and now the first phase of his development is to find his position in my team and I think he can manage it.

Finally, Thomas Eisfeld. He’s already scored a goal in the Capital One Cup against West Bromwich…

Thomas Eisfeld is a very talented player who came from Dortmund as well – a very intelligent player, very good technically. I believe as well that he will develop well in the next two years, because he is a little bit behind the others in his physical condition but I believe he has developed well in the last six months, and every time he has played, he has played very very well.

I have to ask you: in a few days you will play Borussia Dortmund, how do you rate your chances and how must your team perform in order to beat Dortmund?

I think firstly we have to play our best level, with a lot of rhythm, and we must of course keep Dortmund’s best players quiet. That means Lewandowski, Reus and other players who are dangerous at the front. But the most important is to play to our level, and we will have a very good chance.

Last question: what are your goals for the future, both in terms of career and private life?

Privately to make my family happy as often as possible, and in terms of my career, Arsenal is a big club and our responsibility is to bring joy to all those who love Arsenal.

Van Persie, The Ox, Bould, Coquelin and more

Hello Almunia-ites. The blog has been rather bare lately, because I’ve started my internship with Sabotage Times in London. But fear not! I’ve still been tapping away at my keyboard and articles have been flowing freely from my finger-tips. I’ve not had the time to commit stuff exclusively to CoA, but please enjoy Sabotage Times’ sloppy seconds over the last week or so…

June 27th – a piece on Francis Coquelin & Emmanuel Frimpong, comparing the two and weighing up their chances of breaking into the first team proper.

June 29th – why I think Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will eventually be a central midfielder for Arsenal.

June 30th – thoughts on Steve Bould‘s appointment as assistant manager.

July 2nd – in praise of Cesare Prandelli after the EURO 2012 final.

July 4th – some words on Cesc Fabregas‘ role for Arsenal, Barcelona and finally Spain.

July 5th – and of course my reaction to the Robin van Persie statement.

Bonus piece! Have a read of my review of the new Futures album, The Karma Album.

Indesit Football Event

I was invited to the Indesit Football Event, but due to school commitments couldn’t make it (that means it’s education 1-0 me), so they sent this Michael Keshani fella in my place. Well, I put his name forward, and with good reason – he’s a brilliant follow on Twitter. What are you waiting for?

On 16th May 2012 I had the pleasure of attending the Indesit Football Tournament at the magnificent Emirates Stadium, among the esteemed company of Sian Macalarny, the GoonerholicRob Marrs and Dan Mobbs, among others.

Before the actual football started, we were congregated on the pitch, by the dugouts, when Dan and Adam took a football and despite not strictly being allowed, ran onto the empty pitch. I quickly followed, and here I opened my Emirates Stadium account; an account which was promptly closed a few minutes later. But still, I’m basking in the glow of scoring a rebound tap-in at the Emirates, after my attempt at a Panenka-esque chipped penalty was saved.

The four teams competing were Arsenal, managed by club legend Robert Pires (more on him later); Shakhtar Donetsk, managed by the brilliant Jean-Pierre Papin; Paris Saint-Germain, with Gianfranco Zola at the helm and AC Milan, who were being coached by former Milan forward Daniele Massaro. The first game was contested by the hosts and their visitors from Ukraine. The final score was 4-1 to Shakhtar, in a comprehensive victory, illuminated by a glorious chip on the 18 yard line by the one Shakhtar man with no number on his back to make it 3-1, as well as a free kick closer to the centre circle than the penalty box which put the proverbial icing on the cake, paving the route to the final for The Miners, and confining Arsenal to the third place play-off, wherein they would face the loser from the game between PSG and Milan which would follow.

While the Parisians provided a stronger challenge for their counterparts than Arsenal had Shakhtar, they were cast aside by the eventual champions. Milan had an unrivalled efficiency and verve in their games, and eventually ran out as deserved winners, reigning victorious in the final. Although Arsenal took the lead in their third place play-off with a delightful outside-of-the-boot shot from their only female – and incidentally their best – player, they were unable to stop PSG clawing them back and grabbing the lead, and taking the third place spot. Third and Fourth places both got trophies for their troubles, which I am sure will have delighted Arsene Wenger, in the ground his side call home! On Arsenal’s team, there was a player clad in the number 2 with the surname ‘Pastore’ above his name. Was this perhaps a first Emirates outing for a potential Arsenal signing?

The main event of the day for me personally was the half an hour granted to the other bloggers and me to talk with Robert Pires. In spite of his slightly fractured English and my worse French, the six of us were engaged in a conversation which took in everything from his favourite goal for the Arsenal to his potential plans for the future and whether he wished to make the leap into management, while not yet being retired from the game. The former number 7 managed to look resplendent even in a white Arsenal tracksuit, and does not appear to have aged a day since 2002. If anything, he may even look slightly younger.

The highlights of our conversation were his description of Arsene Wenger as a “second father”, saying he was “fantastic” both as a man and a manager. His favourite goal, unsurprisingly, was this piece of artistry against Aston Villa, while he confirmed the rumour that in his short time with the Villains, he did in fact stay in his flat in the Highbury Square Development and take a taxi up to Birmingham every day. He discussed the idea of becoming a manager, but admitted that the pressure of the job would be difficult to handle and that his preference would be a role in the backroom staff (although there are no instant plans).

What was very heartening to hear was him talk about the friendships he has retained from his time at Arsenal. In recent years, yet far less so this season, Arsenal have had a very split squad, in contrast to the Invincibles, whose unity one of their overriding features, and was no small factor in their success. He talked about the contact he maintains with Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp, as well as Jens Lehmann, with whom he played five-a-side a few weeks previously (though claims he was “not very good” outfield), although he has forgiven him for his Paris (ahem) misdemeanour. Another he mentioned was Patrick Vieira, whose Twitter feed makes for painful reading for Arsenal fans, but he alluded to his happiness for his friend, Gael Clichy and Samir Nasri, the latter of which was greeted with something of a swift silence among the Arsenal contingent at the table!

Though this silence was nothing compared to the brief moment of terror caused by a brief miscommunication on the part of the language barrier. Sian, asking a question so many Arsenal fans have asked of one another, asked of Pires “what do you think of Tottenham?” Those who knew the terrace chant smiled among one another, though these smiles were swiftly wiped upon his answer of “I love Tottenham, Tottenham are my team”. The table was stunned at this answer. Either he could feel the surprise emanating from us, or he had pre-planned this beautiful play on words as he continued “I scored many goals against them”; the smiles returned to his and our faces as the conversation continued. I prefer to think he knew the reaction his saying “I love Tottenham” would have among Arsenal fans.

Following the end of the conversation, autographs were signed and pictures were taken, at which point I was confronted by a brief moment of horror, realising that I had forgotten my old ‘Pires 7’ shirt at home. A look out of the glass front of the Emirates showed not only a Highbury engulfed in rain, but one confronted by a nasty bout of hale stones. Still, with an H&M umbrella as my only means of protection I sprinted from the Diamond Club, umbrella aloft, flailing in the wind, probably looking oh so ridiculous, toward Arsenal Station, from whence I ran faster than I have in some time, picked up the shirt, and restarted the sprint. Only thankfully now the thunderbolts and lightning (which had been very, very frightening me, though I have no idea what Galileo would have made of this all) had ceased. Upon returning, a more haggard form than the me that had left the Diamond Club 15 minutes earlier, Pires signed my shirt. As a man of Arsenal, it was my very own religious pilgrimage (round the corner and back).

The day was completed with a tour of the Emirates Stadium, which was even nicer than I remember it being on my last tour, just after its opening, back in 2006. We visited the home dressing room and the media area before returning up to the Diamond Club, to end the day.

I’d like to thank Adam and Jess from WeAreSocial for organising the day, as well as Indesit for creating the whole competition. And a final, massive thank you to Sam for recommending my name for it. As you can probably tell, I had a great time!

This first appeared on Michael’s blog, Roaming Libero.

A quick message

This is a pretty important game. We’ve lost some good players, including our captain. However, we have a new captain, and we have some new players. So, how about, instead of letting their first experience of the Emirates being animosity and negativity, we show them an atmosphere to be proud of?

No booing, no negative songs – and that includes towards Samir Nasri. As long as he’s still playing for Arsenal, it’s detrimental to the team to abuse him so let’s get behind the entire team. We’ve had a difficult summer, so we really need this. Liverpool will be up for it. Let’s be more up for it.

I don’t need to remind you how loud the Emirates is when everyone is working together, so let’s use all our energy positively and get behind every Arsenal player out there. And make sure you read Friday’s post.

Newcastle, Cesc, Udinese and more

Apologies for my lack of posts recently – your ‘make-up present’ is a post split into four; basically the four things I would have written about in each post that never came… (if that makes sense)

Newcastle

Despite our solidity at the back, it was a very worrying performance. Once again we struggled going forward, failing to create any real opportunities and it didn’t seem like we would if the game went on for another 90 minutes. In that respect we desperately missed Fabregas, and to a degree, Nasri.

The biggest problem seemed to be the lack of a link between midfield and attack. Without Jack that was emphasised even more. I thought Rosicky actually had a decent game, he was trying to make things happen and wasn’t getting much help. Ramsey didn’t have the best of games, sort of struggling to impose himself on the match, while Robin seemed to lack any decent support.

I think usually that without Fabregas we need creativity to come from the wings, and while Arshavin did fashion one chance for van Persie, he was pretty ineffective. Gervinho on the other hand was constantly finding himself in good positions, only failing to deliver the right final ball. Reports from France did say that his decision making needed a little work, and from what we saw on Saturday that does seem evident.

The problem was though, when Gervinho did deliver a ball into the box, or when anyone else did for that matter, there was only really van Persie in there, and when you have one striker amongst five or six opposition players, you’ve got little chance of scoring. What we needed was probably a few energetic runs from midfield from Ramsey, arriving late in the box giving Gervinho another option.

Cesc

Well, it’s the end of an era. Once again, our best player has left for supposedly greener pastures, although again I can’t think he’ll be loved as much as he was here. There have been countless tributes to Cesc – surely none better than this from Sian, but I’m going to avoid that kind of sentimental piece. I’m sure everyone knows that Cesc’s my favourite ever player, but I’d rather not dwell on the past and instead focus on the future.

I’m still clinging onto the hope of seeing Juan Mata arrive at the Emirates as a replacement for either Cesc or Nasri – more on him later – especially seeing as Valencia have just tied up the signing of Sergio Canales, a similar type of player to Mata. It all makes sense to me; the transfer merry-go-round would be complete and I think everyone would be relatively pleased.

Of course we do have Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere, but I can’t see the two of them being ready to carry the entire creative burden at the club. With Walcott and Gervinho looking to be our first choice wing pairing, we won’t have much creativity from the wings – both will look to get in behind the defence, so we’ll need our two most advanced central midfielders to be creating most if not all of their opportunities.

We may well see a change in the dynamics of our game, perhaps focussing less on possession and more on direct attacks now that Cesc is gone. I should imagine Aidan will have something to add to what I say in his latest column on Friday, but on every other day you’re stuck with my primitive tactical mind. Deal with it.

Udinese

It was important to get a win, and that’s what we got – although people still managed to find reason to complain. I’d rather focus on the positives: we kept a clean sheet, we looked relatively safe at the back despite some scares – Vermaelen and Koscielny looks a terrific partnership – Theo made some intelligent runs and made a good overall contribution and we did really well to carve Udinese open for our goal.

It was a shame we couldn’t build on it, although we came close once or twice; Handanovic’s stunning save from Walcott’s effort springs to mind. However, it’s important that we won and managed not to concede. The crowd got behind the team for the most part, and the team responded at times. There didn’t seem to be much negativity, and while at the same time positivity was sometimes hard to come by, at least the fans tried being patient with the players instead of bemoaning every missed pass.

Everything else

Nasri is apparently set for a medical with Manchester City in less than ten minutes. My source? Some bloke on Twitter. I actually hope he’s right. Nasri’s stalled for too long and I’d rather have players who want to play for Arsenal.

I really think Nasri has taken the fans for granted. If he thought we were going to support him as he basically damaged the club over the summer with his indecision and apparent lack of enthusiasm at the prospect of staying, he was wrong. It makes you wonder why players are so ready to throw away the love they get from supporters.

Robin van Persie is our new captain, and it’s good to have a skipper so clearly 100% committed to the Arsenal cause. I’m sure he won’t tolerate any slacking or lack of commitment either. Thomas Vermaelen will ‘assist’ him, obviously meaning that he’ll be vice captain (why didn’t you just say that Arsene).

It’s a decent leadership partnership, but I’d imagine Vermaelen will still act as if he’s captain, just not taking on all of the official duties of skipper. Instead of having van Persie clearly ahead of the hierarchy (not always a wise idea) I reckon Vermaelen will be right next to him on any posters.

As for signings – the moment you’ve all been waiting for – nothing’s reallly happening. There have been murmurs that we’re going in for Mauro Zarate, Lazio’s ex-Birmingham forward, who can change a game, but I can’t see it. Mainly because his agent’s doing all the talking and it’s not the first time. L’equipe claim we had a loan deal for Marseille’s Lucho Gonzalez, formerly of Porto, rejected out-right, because they wouldn’t be able to find a replacement.

That’s about it for today, hopefully we’ll have some good news to be talking about sooner rather than later.

Members’ Day: more questions raised than answered

So, what did we learn at Members’ Day today?

Well, not much actually. We learnt that Aaron Ramsey is allowed to eat cream cakes, and that Theo Walcott has a ‘naughty drawer’, but other than that… not much.

The club managed to avoid making a decision on the squad photograph until a while longer, so we’ll have to wait and see whether Cesc is included – he may even be gone by the time it’s actually taken. He did, however, have an individual photograph for Sky Sports and the like, but that and the squad photo are completely different matters. In fairness, we did learn that he’s quite clearly not injured, because he was always at the forefront of any running, and didn’t have to sit out of anything.

There were a few other things of note to occur – Nicklas Bendtner trained as normal with the rest of the team, while Samir Nasri, Manuel Almunia, Emmanuel Eboue and Jack Wilshere sat out completely, with Theo Walcott doing some light running. It would seem that Nasri is injured, but perhaps there’s more to this one than meets the eye.

It was interesting to see that Bendtner did train, while Eboue and Almunia didn’t. All three had seemed on the brink of an exit, with Eboue reportedly close to sealing a deal to join Galatasaray. If that’s true, it would indicate Bendtner is most likely going to stay, with Almunia also on his way out with Eboue. I wouldn’t be surprised if we couldn’t find a club for Almunia, in which case we may well just release him.

As for Bendtner, he’d been strongly linked with Borussia Dortmund and then Sporting Lisbon, but denials came from the other camp on both occasions, so it seems like he could be staying. Personally I’m glad, because he’s someone I rate quite highly, unlike some others. It’s easy to use the “arrogance” stick to hit him with, but at least he’s ambitious, instead of willing to settle for second best. Chamakh seems content to be second choice, while Bendtner has his heart set on playing and being first choice. Which attitude is better? Bendtner’s, by far.

And I was impressed with him today too. He scored two cracking goals in the small matches – one where he chested it down and thumped a volley into the roof of the net, and another where he powerfully curled the ball into the far corner from the left. To those who still doubt Bendtner’s quality, have a look at this goal he scored against Portugal – the technique and execution are absolutely spot on. A better player than people give him credit for.

Another player who caught my eye was Benik Afobe. He had some neat touches, and his low centre of gravity serves him well. The other youngsters who trained were Emmanuel Frimpong (Mr T haircut and all), Ryo Miyaichi and Henri Lansbury, and according to the reliable Young Guns, all four have been promoted to the first team. However, Lansbury responded to a congratulatory comment about his promotion negatively, saying ‘not me’, referring to being promoted of course.

The situation with Lansbury is a little unclear, because it had seemed like Arsene was a big fan of him, with the noises he was making and the opportunities he was giving Lansbury, but it appears that his contract is reaching its conclusion, with no extension around the corner. Wenger had rejected claims he was ready to move Lansbury on, and this twist is another to add to the puzzling Arsenal career of Henri Lansbury.

Personally I think he’d be a very handy player to have around, he’s versatile, skilful and strong. However, we have a lot of talented young midfielders who Lansbury would have to play second fiddle to, and I’m not sure he’d be content with that, so it may well be that a lack of future playing time means he looks for pastures new. A few lower level Premier League teams seem to be interested, so we may well be saying goodbye to Henri soon.

That’s the only problem with our youth production line – sometimes we lose promising players because we can’t promise them quite enough playing time, because there are others ahead of them. When those ahead of them turn out not to have it in their locker, it’s even more frustrating; Fran Merida and Mark Randall are two that I’d probably include in that bracket.

After the training session I had some interesting conversations with other bloggers in the WM Club at Club Level about the Champions League draw and technology in football, and it was good to get their opinions, before a Q&A session with, predictably, Kieran Gibbs, Theo Walcott, Johan Djourou and Aaron Ramsey. A lot of the questions were pretty much the same, and so cliché were the players’ answers that you could have predicted what they were going to say.

In the end, two signed shirts went to the askers of the best questions, which were apparently “Favourite TV programme” and “Can you eat cream cakes”. What an imaginative bunch of fans we have.

Dennis Bergkamp: a tribute

Today marks the birth of an Arsenal legend: Dennis Bergkamp.

I called upon my Twitter followers to send in their tributes to the great man, and they came flooding in. Here they are, every single one.

@Thegoodwillout: the most beautiful footballer i have ever watched. Happy Birthday ice man 10. I want the DB10 times back again

@TomRichardson19: Happy Birthday DB! I went to his Testimonial at the Emirates and got the DB10 t-shirt 🙂
No matter what anyone says, the best DB moment, the goal against Newcastle.

@Tom91Gunner: Happy birthday Dennis,Thanks for everything you done for the club , A class act on and off the pitch. A legend.
Remember Dennis Bergkamp day at Highbury , scrored a great goal vs WBA. Legend

@GoonerKal: the best there was, the best there is, the best there ever will be —> DB10

@Jconnell1988: happy birthday dennis you are a legend and its ace because its my birthday today aswell haha. (Happy Birthday to you too!)

@tinythegooner: happy birthday Dennis…..the best player to wear the red n white,,,,my hero …..a true legend!!ps come back as coach pls
one of my favourite bergkamp moments wasnt even in arsenal shirt. his last minute goal in world cup against argentina.CLASS

@DBCloggy: Everything about Bergkamp was class. Touch, vision, movement, awareness. God, I miss him! So many great moments. But my favourite from games i’ve seen was the Leicester hat-trick. Summed him up.

@gsgooner75: Happy birthday DB10. True Legend, True Hero, irreplaceable. Arsenal through & through

@richardmiah1971: says everything you need to know about DB10,every gooner wishes he was back.simply the best.happy birthday den.LEGEND

@Goonerforlife52: Happy Birthday to Dennis Bergkamp Arsenal legend and scorer of the best goal football has ever seen.

@Hendo_IRL: Dennis Bergkamp. The only player to have a set of eyes on the 4 sides of his head. An absolute wizard.

@EmmineffinNBG: after Bolton game to qualify for Europe, he leaned out of dressing room window and our eyes met. Magic moment.

@ArseGunn: how about: don’t be afraid of flying, just come back and be our Flying Dutchman of a manager?

@jonnyth14: Club legend, best player I’ve ever seen put on an Arsenal shirt!!!

@Tilley_96: happy birthday Dennis. Figurehead of arsenal in his time. We need him back in his prime!

@JP_the_gooner: bergkamp is a legend 1st ever arsenal match i went to was DB day and it was amazing and we won to top it off what a player

@robjh15: If there’s one player I’m gutted about only seeing just the once, it’s Bergkamp.. he just played with elegance & swagger!

@SettsEl: When DB left Inter, Moratti said that we’ll be “lucky if he scores 10 goals this season” DB gave us more than just goals…

And that is what the Arsenal fans have had to say about Dennis Bergkamp, who is 42 today. A true club legend, and I was privileged to run out on the pitch at his testimonial and wave a flag with other JGs. Never forget that day. Sadly, as I leaned forward to get a high five from the man himself in the tunnel, some fat lady pushed me out of the way. Hmph.

So, which is your favourite tribute or Bergkamp memory? And what is your tribute to Dennis Bergkamp?