This is your best chance to get into the Champions League isn’t it?
I think we have still a lot of games in front of us in the Premier League. We can take a lot of points, of course it will be very difficult but we believe in us. If mathematically we are still in I don’t give up, but of course the Europa League is very important for us because we know if we win it we go into the Champions League direct. I think Mikel said after the game it’s a final game, a cup game. If we win we’re through, if we lose we’re out. We prepare ourselves very good and we’re very focused on the game on Thursday.
What has this season been like for you?
It’s complicated. We started very well and after we had this run where we were not winning. We came back when we were winning. Now it’s up and down where we’re winning, losing, winning and losing. But in my opinion we need a run again, four, five, six, seven games to win and if this happens we can be in a higher position than where we are. I don’t think we deserve to be where we are at the moment. The last few weeks in my opinion was good, we have some games where we’re unlucky. The game against Wolverhampton where the first half was amazing, until the red card and penalty. But after with nine players in the end it’s very difficult to take something. We can see how we’re progressing and improving, it’s not like you can change it from today to tomorrow but step by step, our belief in our minds we know what we have to do exactly and that’s the key.
How has Mikel Arteta helped you find your best form?
It’s difficult to say if this is my best season or if I’m in a good shape. The only thing I feel is that I have a lot of confidence in the coach, I’m in a very good shape physically but as well mentally. This is key for my game, for me everything has to be clear for what we have to do on the pitch. The coach is helping me a lot. Everyone knows he is one of the reasons why I’m still at this club. I have a very good relationship with him and he’s helping me day by day, on the pitch, outside the pitch and I’m very thankful for him because if you have one coach who gives you the confidence and freedom it’s more easy for the player.
What advice has he given you in terms of freedom of the pitch adding new aspects to your game?
He was a midfielder so he knows the position exactly. This is very important for me because he showed me on the pitch where I have to have my body position without the ball, with the ball, where I have to stay, how I can improve my game as well the game from the team. Everything is clear what I have to do on the pitch, to help the team. From the outside some of the people speak and say this is good or it’s not good. In the end for me the most important thing for me is the team and the coach and the staff are happy with me. And of course myself, at the moment I feel very important with the team and I’m in a good way at the moment.
How have you found playing with Thomas Partey?
It’s a shame we were not playing a lot together. He had two big injuries but the games where we were playing together I think we looked very good, very solid. We are very good together not only on the pitch but off the pitch as well. He’s a lovely guy and he’s improving our team because you can see how much experience he has of this level and it’s good for my game as well. But as well the other midfielders in the team are improving step by step, we can feel we’re improving and we have to keep going like this. Let’s see what we can take from the end of the season.
How much has it helped to have a manager that truly believes in you?
Of course if someone believes in you everything is a lot easier. It’s my work. It’s not a surprise I’m playing under every coach. Maybe you can play under one or two coaches, but not four, five, six coaches like I have already in my career. That means I’m doing something good. I think I’m a team player, I don’t look a lot at myself, I’m not selfish. I try to help the team, I try to help the staff to be an example for the young guys we have in our dressing room. Only with hard work can you achieve something. I’m doing day by day hard work my best in training as well on the pitch. Of course the next question is if everything is going well in the game it can happen yes but the confidence the coach give me is key for a player.
Do you see yourself as an Arsenal player long-term?
If I’m honest I always saw myself in this club. I didn’t come to this club for two or three years, I came here for long-term. Of course you never know what happens in football. After what happened with the fans one year ago nobody was thinking I would still be here and speak with you guys. This is football. Sometimes things happen, you are very surprised but the good thing is how you come back. I come back very strong thanks to the help of the team, the coach and the club made it more easier. Everyone knows my contract after this season is two seasons more. I’m very happy at the moment at this club. Let’s see what happens.
Has it helped you not having fans in the stadium?
Not really. I’m not the guy who is scared to play in front of our fans, never ever. I love the club and respect the people around it as well. I wish we could play with the fans because they could push us more and more. But the situation is as it is and hopefully things can change as quick as possible to have the fans back, to work together to see we’re improving and we want to do the next step as a club. This is what I wish.
Would it be a fair assessment that your role is more focused now?
Yes everything has a particular reason. Mikel is unbelievable how he sees the game. The key for one player is to understand the philosophy of how the coach wants to play. I think I understood his game very quick. He put me in a position where I have freedom and the game in front of me. This is what I like. I don’t like to play with my back to the opponent’s goal. It’s as well something very positive from the coach. You can see that very quick in me. I’m trying to give him the confidence back that he gave in me
How important is it when you have a player like Pepe who can run into the space?
Pepe is very important for us. He has the quality. He looks very good on the left if I’m being honest. I’ve only seen him on the right but it’s important to know the players who can play in both positions. He made the difference in the last few weeks, the Southampton 1-1 game where he scored. If you have played like him who are very fast and can run behind with Cedric or Kieran on the left, they like to have the ball on their feet. You have two options open and that’s very good for me.
A study last week revealed you had received social media abuse. Some of it from Arsenal season ticket holders. Can you talk about it and how supportive the club were of you?
It’s one of many if I’m honest. If I showed the others what they write, I think I have to close my social media and I think everyone has to close their social media. I say that before, I say that now and I will say it always as well, it’s only about me I am the one on the pitch. It’s not my wife it’s not my little one, it’s not my family. If you want to criticise someone, like a person, like a player, no problem, criticise me. But don’t get other people involved because they have nothing to do with my job.
Secondly I have had a lot of help from the club. It’s something we have to speak very openly about it. We don’t have to be quiet and say ‘keep it with me’ because it’s not always easy. But the club was here for me and for my family. I was very open with the guys here. And if you have people around like this to help you it’s very important.
Is it getting worse in your experience? And what is the way forward?
The problem is only if you lose. It’s not a problem when you win. If you lose everyone hates you, everyone is writing you things where it’s not possible to understand how they’re writing stuff like this. I wish I could meet the people who write these things, to sit with them eye to eye and ask him ‘why are you writing things like this?’ Not only for me personally because it happens a lot in the past few weeks, but only to know what he’s feeling in this moment when he writes things like this. It is not acceptable, so we have to open our eyes and speak a lot because I think you kill football like this if people start to talk about a family or player or things like this.
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How hurtful is the abuse from supporters of your club?
They are not supporters for my club. I don’t see them as supporters for my club. Because the supporters for the club you have to be here, if we lose or if we win. Of course, you can criticise or say what you want about football, but not about the person, not about the family. I think this is two pairs of shoes, about the football, and about the person. If one guy is a ticket holder for the club and he speaks like this about this about his own players I don’t think he gets respect from our side first and from other people.
What can football do to tackle the abuse?
Of course you read the messages but in the end, you have to accept what people think and they write. You can’t give them an answer, because they are waiting for this. The only answer we can give is to speak with our people around the club and to tell them what happened with us. Everything else I don’t think this is our job to give them the answer. Like I said before I wish I could meet the people that are writing things like this and to say that to us face to face. I have no problem with this. But not behind the screen. Things like this it’s not the right way to do this.