Interview translation: Arsene Wenger on his German players, his philosophy and developing Arsenal over 17 years
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 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.
It’s a rarity these days that an Arsenal game compels me to write a blog post on it in the aftermath. We have so many writers in the Arsenal fanbase, which means that every man and his blog has an opinion and most of the time someone else is saying what you’re saying, but after the Swansea victory I’m not really fussed – there are a lot of things I want to talk about, and Twitter doesn’t quite cut it.
I think more or less every player deserves a paragraph after the match that we had, so I’ll start with Wojciech Szczesny. The Pole has been doubted by just about everyone for a while, but Arsene Wenger’s faith hasn’t wavered enough for Le Boss to sign a new first-choice goalkeeper. He may have dropped Szczesny in favour of Fabianski, but it seemed the kick up the butt that Wojciech needed, and he duly responded with some fantastic form. He wasn’t actually called on much against Swansea, but I thought he was reliable each time – a Nathan Dyer snapshot that he was alert to springs to mind, while every single aerial ball was his. I thought that @gunnerthoughts made a good point about Arsene’s faith in him.
I said the other day that I thought Bacary Sagna deserves more credit this year, and most agreed, but with the compromise that, despite the fact that he’s playing at full capacity right now, his 100% now compared to a few years ago isn’t quite as good. Fair enough – the Frenchman was quite sluggish in his tracking of Ben Davies for Swansea’s goal, but other than that Sagna was solid and reliable, which is exactly what I hope to see in a full-back. It’s worth remembering how badly he played at points last season and comparing it with now. A full pre-season has him looking quite a lot like his old self. Give that man a new contract.
Speaking of new contracts, Per Mertesacker has been linked with one, and based on his form this season alone, he absolutely deserves one. An impeccable reader of the game, which is how he makes up for a lack of pace – although I’d genuinely posit that he’s become quicker/more agile since signing for Arsenal – Per was more or less flawless yesterday, other than getting caught underneath a wonderful Wilfried Bony ball for the goal. 29 today and showing no signs of slowing down in the mind, let’s hope we continue to see Per proving me and others wrong for having doubts over him. Happy birthday big man.
Alongside him, Laurent Koscielny did his usual thing. There weren’t many individual moments from our defence to talk about, since we defended so well as a team – more on that later – that the defenders didn’t really have to perform any miracles to rescue us. Other than that, Koscielny was solid as usual, without making his occasional error. As you can see from Culann’s video compilation of his performance, his distribution was near-impeccable and pretty much everything he did was positive. I particularly liked how well he kept stepping in front of Bony/Michu as Swansea tried to break us down near the end. Great stuff from Koscielny.
Then we have Kieran Gibbs at left back, and, like Sagna, I think his performances this season have been typical of what a full-back should be: solid and reliable at the back, as well as offering a useful presence going forward. The latter part of his game didn’t quite feature so much against Swansea, other than a penalty appeal after linking with Özil and some nice interplay with Jack and Aaron. Still, the attacking players hardly seemed to need much help, so that’s okay. Another no-frills solid performance from a member of the much-vaunted British core.
Since I’m doing this in formation order, I’ve got a decision to make – was it a 4-2-3-1, or was it more of a 4-4-1-1? I’d say in defence it was definitely the latter, while going forward there was so much freedom of movement that there wasn’t really a structure. Given that we spent a lot of time defending, I’m going to call it a 4-4-1-1 and talk about the guy who started on the right of midfield for the third game in a row.
I was really impressed by Serge Gnabry against Stoke last weekend. I thought he slotted in with minimal fuss to the first team, and didn’t look one bit out of place, which is just so encouraging for a young player. If people were dissatisfied with his performance against Stoke because of a perceived lack of confidence, I don’t think that was an issue for anyone yesterday. He was the player to break through the monotony of the first half, making a great chance for Giroud with a superb dribble and pass, and should have been rewarded with an assist. No matter – he consoled himself by capping off a superb team move with a goal. That’s what I mean when I say he didn’t look out of place – he was on the same wave-length as the rest of the players during the move, and finished it off with the quality you’d expect from a seasoned first-teamer. He got into a great position, checked back so he’d be onside, took a composed touch and fired low past Vorm. I couldn’t have asked for any more from Serge.
Moving across the midfield to the centre, let’s talk about Aaron Ramsey a bit more. Other than a great drilled effort from range, he was pretty much on par with the rest of the team in the first half, in that he wasn’t quite at full capacity. That changed in the second half as he was instrumental in both goals – he set up Serge with an extremely intelligent pass, before capping a thrilling counter-attack with the coolness we’ve come to expect from him. He could’ve had another assist when he laid it onto Özil after the first. He is absolutely on fire right now.
Then we have Mathieu Flamini, the free transfer from Milan that was widely derided by many. The sensible Arsenal fans I know were fine with the move, although it was concerning for lots that he was the only central midfielder brought in (Mesut definitely isn’t a central midfielder). I wasn’t sure he still had it after a few years in Italy, but he seems almost as good as he was when he left. His displays aren’t as all-action – he’s more side-to-side than box-to-box, which is fine as Aaron has the latter role nailed down – but he’s just as useful. A cynical foul and booking after the first goal just summed him up – willing to do anything for the cause, and he demonstrated that with a committed, solid performance in front of the defence. His partnership with Ramsey is such that I’d struggle to break them up if I was the manager. A good headache to have with Arteta returning.
Jack Wilshere lined up on the left again, and I think he deserves a lot of credit. It’s important to recognise that he’s just getting to grips with that position, so he should be given time to overcome the initial shaky form that comes with that territory. Despite that, he played a huge role in both goals. For the first, he was part of the flowing passing that sliced Swansea apart, whereas he was integral throughout the second. Running onto Ramsey’s delightful flick, his desire and skill saw him emerge with the ball and as soon as he leapt to his feet, it was on. A brilliant give-and-go with Giroud before slipping in the Frenchman for the assist, and Arsenal were 2-0 up thanks to the finish from Ramsey. He may not have been brilliant from start to finish, but during that five minute period he had a huge influence on the game.
In front of the midfield was, of course, Mesut Özil, who showed off his skills with a cheeky gum trick in the warm-up. LOOK AT THAT CHEEKY GRIN. All in all, Mesut was a little quiet, although he was involved in both goals early on. Though he was at times peripheral, what’s important is that we didn’t need him to step up, so it was more a case of him stepping aside to let others do the business, and when he did get on the ball, he was excellent. He’ll need time to hit his stride as he gels with the team, and once he does we can expect him to dominate games. Until then, we can enjoy the flashes of brilliance which are definitely a sign of things to come.
Up front, Olivier Giroud toiled in the first half, not getting much joy in any area of his game before wasting a great chance. The key difference in Arsenal in the first and second halves was that we countered as a unit more effectively, and we got players close to Giroud. We were able to create triangles in the second period and that’s how we opened Swansea up, and Giroud deserves a lot of credit for being the attacking pivot, having a hand in both goals. He doesn’t look out of place in a fluid Arsenal side so far this season. Let’s hope he, like the team, continues to play at this higher level.
Focusing on each individual player has, I hope, highlighted that everybody is playing at a high level, but that’s not the point I was hoping to make when I began writing this post. As you can infer from the title, I thought we were solid for just about the full 90 minutes – I’m not sure if we can call Davies’ goal a lapse, given how well-worked it was – but hit our stride in the five minutes between 58 and 63. That’s when our goals came, and also when Mesut spurned a chance to get off the mark for us, and I think it really highlighted our quality.
Excitingly, though I shall try not to get carried away, it reminded me of the Invincibles. Solid and resilient throughout the game, but flicked the switch going forward for a brief period and blew away the opposition. The way we dissected Swansea was magnificent to watch in that time-slot, with the football quite breath-taking. That’s the fluidity that comes with continuity and having a core of quality players remain together for a good period of time. It’s what we lacked in the previous couple of seasons, which explains why our football was often so dull (not that the onlookers seemed to notice).
I think everyone deserves credit for their performances but Arsene also deserves credit for building this team – a team he always maintained faith in, especially a few choice individuals. It’s ridiculous how many important players Arsene has seen taken from other teams in stronger positions than us, and he responded the only way he knew how: by building a new team, and this time he’s not only been able to keep the team together but to add to it with Germany’s best player.
Now we’re in the position of power. Top of the table, on a fantastic winning streak, playing great football, with arguably the league’s most talented player yet to fully gel with his team-mates. Not to mention the absentees – Theo Walcott, Santi Cazorla, Tomas Rosicky, Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would all add massive strength in depth to this side, which is a ridiculous thing to say for players of their quality. People talked about our bench yesterday but given our injuries, a bench of Fabianski, Jenkinson, Vermaelen, Monreal, Arteta, Ryo and Bendtner is still quite strong.
It’s amazing how things change in football. Sitting slumped in my seat as thousands around me jeered the team and the manager off against Aston Villa was one of the lowest points of my time supporting Arsenal, and now, just over a month later, I’m more satisfied with the team than I have been in years, genuinely. The key now is to kick on and try to keep our lead at the top. Extending it would be even better. We’ll need some luck with injuries in certain positions. That was always clear. But with that luck, we can go places. Up the Arsenal.