Was the hardest thing across your two years changing the culture of the dressing room?
That’s been one of the most challenging things for sure. It takes time and it takes effort every single day and it takes a lot of actions not words because if you don’t follow words with actions, they mean nothing. Now they have a real meaning and I think everybody tries to follow because we all agreed. It’s not my thing, it’s what we all agreed that this is what we need if we want to move forward in the direction that we want. It takes time and it will take more time because it’s something that you have to do every single day.
How exactly do you do it?
First of all, it’s analysing what it’s been like and if they agree with how it’s been. And once you’ve got that it’s looking at if they are happy with that or if they want to change it. Then it’s a common thing. So, if you don’t like what is there, then you have to do something about it and that’s all of us.
Then you need some rules and you need certain commitments, individual and collectively to establish that. Then it applies on everybody and we know what we all expect from each other. Then from that day you just try to improve it day by day.
It’s been a great year for Bukayo Saka. Are there any moments in particular where you’ve really seen his maturity?
No, what I see is not only him, it’s young boys with incredible enthusiasm and passion for this club that are really willing to bring success and they are dealing with really difficult situations in a positive way. That shows as well, the education that they had, the background, the environment, the families that they have, and how supportive the club has been with them throughout their careers in the club.
But it’s not normal at that age to be able to do what they’ve been doing. We have to be prepared that when they cannot cope with something, we have to be there straight away to identify that and act straight away.
Did you think you might lose Bukayo at the start of last season with the contract talks?
Well, I was worried with everything that happened in the summer with him. But when I first met him after the holiday period, I realised that he’s going to cope with it well because his reaction was incredible. Then the support that he had from everybody in football, I think it was something that gave him a big lift and a lot of reassurance and security and really pushed him forward to say ‘OK,La Masia
this is just part of the journey.’
Now you’re in the top 4 is there a chance to really cement that with some signings in January?
Well, if you can tweak what you need to tweak in that period obviously it will be really helpful. We are working on that to see the necessities that we have and if we can find the right solutions to that.
You were at La Masia (Barcelona’s youth academy). How important is it to implement a similar long-term vision in this Arsenal academy?
Well, the reason we have spent a lot of effort and energy and we have been very consistent in our decisions, it’s because we have a huge amount of young talent at the club. But that young talent has to be tough in the right way. The best way to see this is acting. For me how much I coach them in movement and tactical and decision making, is less important than the environment that they grow up with. They need that and now they have the perfect place to grow.
They have the senior players doing what they have to do they have a culture that is set. They have people that are really and genuinely willing to help them and a club that is fully supportive of them and willing to give them opportunities. This is what they need to raise and fulfil the potential. For me this is the reason why I think they are doing it, not the culture or anything else.
What are your memories leaving home to join La Masia when you were younger?
I was living in La Masia and in a bedroom of eight I have Pepe Reina, I have Victor Valdes, I have Andres Iniesta, I have Carles Puyol. They were all in my bedroom. Internally there was competition, because we’re all at the same age and want to be first team players, and we could not all get there, but what I learnt is that you really have to understand that internally you have to look after each other. And that was a big, big lesson in that period for me.
That will be the same for the youngsters like Saka, Smith Rowe and Charlie (Patino) now won’t it?
Some of them, they are still my best friends. And it’s because you go through stuff in a really important moment in your career that stays for life. Those relationships are unbreakable.
Are you aware that this is the first time for a while that Arsenal have had a crop of young players actually come through their own academy and what impact do you think that could have for your successor if they’re all here?
That their purpose to really transform this club and have success with this club is even more genuine because they’ve been raised all the way through our system. That’s again credit to all who have been involved in our academy.