How happy are you for Emile Smith Rowe after his goal for England after initially being left out of the squad?
First of all, I was surprised because it (Smith Rowe’s call up) happened just after the game, but I am extremely happy for him. I know the expectations that he had, there was a lot of talk around it and he really enjoyed it. I saw him yesterday and he was delighted to score a goal for his country. It’s always something special. He made us proud. Not only for him but to see as well Bukayo and Aaron starting for the national team. I think it’s a great sign for the club.
Will this game against Liverpool at Anfield be your ultimate test?
Well it’s always a test. It’s a fascinating stadium to play football. You have to be at your best, you have to raise your level to the maximum standards emotionally, physically, technically, because if you don’t, you’ll get exposed. To go to Anfield is always a test, but if you’re able to do all that, there aren’t many grounds where you feel as though you are a proper footballer.
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What have you made of Jurgen Klopp’s side this season?
Well, it’s difficult to judge just on this season because of what they’ve built in recent seasons. I think Jurgen and the staff have managed to bring the club to the best moment in their history and to sustain it which is probably the hardest thing to do.
They have transformed, first of all, the behaviour and the energy around the place. I think the cohesion and the energy that they’ve created in that stadium is something special. Jurgen has done that in other clubs, so it’s a talent that he has. They have built from there and obviously they have been extremely successful.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has applied more pressures than any other striker. How do you get him scoring and maybe even to become the top goal scorer this season?
Keep doing the same because he’s getting in great positions. He’s had chances and things will happen again. He already scored quite a lot of goals but we always demand more and we want more. He needs to continue showing the attitude he’s showing but also the implication he has on everybody around the team and the club as well.
Auba came back early from international duty. Was that pre-planned?
No it wasn’t pre-planned. We had to assess him and see how he is and make decisions. We have a lot of players who have been through different games, issues, little injuries. So today we have to test everybody and see how we are today and tomorrow.
As far as you’re concerned he didn’t come back because of any particular injury?
Let’s see how everybody is. We have to see them today before assessing and making a judgement on how everybody is.
How’s Thomas Partey?
Same again. He couldn’t play for the national team. He really tried to do that because obviously they had a massive game and he really pushed for that one, but it wasn’t enough to do that. Again, that’s something we have to assess today because until today he hasn’t done enough.
Is it about time Aaron started more regularly for England?
I don’t know. He was given the chance and I think he took the chance. It shows the progress and the quality that he has in his performances because in the end they trusted him to put that shirt on and start for England.
Is the unbeaten run a boost going into Saturday’s game? Do your players feel they can go to Anfield and win?
They are confident they are in good form, but they know that every game is different and we have to go game by game. It is a long run, the Premier League is such a long competition and you will have different moments, but obviously we want to maintain the moment, maintain the form. The best way to do that just perform at the highest level, which is what you have to do in the Premier League, and for sure at Anfield, to go there and win the game.
How much of an incentive is it that if you win you can go into the top 4?
That would be the objective. The standards that we have at the club, the objective is always to win the game. It doesn’t matter where you play, you always have to prepare the game to win it, and that is the way we will do it to go to Anfield to get the result.
Have the expectations changed because of this run you’ve been on? Can you now even think beyond the top 4?
The targets are always linked to the expectations of this club, which is to be the best, always to be the best. It doesn’t matter where you compete, in what moment or what project you are, it is always that demand. That should not change because it is attached to our culture, our ambition. Every player here has to be thinking that tomorrow is the most important day, and we have to win the game. The rest will take care of itself.
Do you think it’s a three horse race for the title or could it now be a four horse race if Arsenal win on Saturday?
I don’t know what will happen, no one can predict it. This league has given a lot of surprises in recent years to everyone. Again, from our side we know what to do. We know where we were, what we want to be and the best way to do it is to go game by game.
Last time Arsenal won at Anfield was in 2012. You played in the game, could that be a bit of an omen?
I hope so. It’s been a while, as you mentioned, so it’s time to do it again. I have experienced both, winning and losing and I know why you lose matches at Anfield and which is the mindset emotionally and the preparation that you need to go there convinced and make sure that you are at the races to compete in that stadium.
As a Rangers man what’s your view on their new head coach (Giovanni van Bronckhorst)?
Well, it obviously was a surprise. First of all, as a Rangers fan, I must say thank you so much to Stevie [Gerrard] and the coaching staff for what they did for the club because they turned the club around in such a difficult moment. To manage to win the league in the way they did obviously was a big boost. Football is like that, people want to move, people have other expectations. Now I just wish the best to Giovanni and the club and see what happens
Why can’t Arsenal teams win in the league at Anfield? What’s been the reason for so many defeats in so many matches?
I don’t know. Obviously the quality of the opponent has a big say. It’s not a coincidence that last year as well before we went to Old Trafford, it was I don’t know how many years before we won at Stamford Bridge the same. First of all you have to believe that you go there and believe that you can beat them, that’s the first thing. If somebody is not with that mindset, they should not put the shirt on and go to Anfield tomorrow. Then, as I said, you have to raise individually your game to your best, emotionally, physically, technically and tactically. You have to be able to suffer in the right moments, because there’s going to be moments where you’re going to have to do that. Then as a team you have to have very clear ideas of what you’re going to do on that pitch to beat that side.
Do you believe you can beat them tomorrow?
Because of all the reasons that I said, what I see and because if not, there’s no point travelling. You always have to find the reasons to believe that your team can go there and beat them.
Have you got a special plan to stop Mo Salah?
We have a plan like every week with the strength and weaknesses for every team that we have to minimise and expose the weaknesses that they have.
Do you think this will be the toughest test that your defence will face?
It’s one of the toughest places to go in the league, that’s for sure. For the environment, for the energy that the stadium creates, for the quality of the opponent, for the quality of the coach that they have, for many reasons. That’s why they’ve been where they’ve been in the last few years. But we have to focus on what we can do and what we have to do.
Was Anfield your favourite stadium to play at and is it your favourite stadium to manage at?
That you really feel, as a footballer, you are in a place where you really have to give your best. When you do, it’s an incredible feeling, because you have overcome a really difficult and challenging situation.
When you don’t, like it has happened other times, after you feel regrets for things that you haven’t done or you should have done differently, or you haven’t approached the game in the right way. I think it’s one of those places where you have to go there and believe on the day and show why you want to play football.
Is Auba still on penalty duties?
We will make those decisions in regard to what we want to do.
Does going away on international duty give the England lads in particular a boost in confidence?
Well, I see it as a reward. In Emile’s case, because it was his first time, not only for what he’s doing on the pitch but the maturity he’s shown to handle many different situations that happened very, very quickly for him in his career and in the last few months. I just see enjoyment and happiness. For them to be bonding together in that elite environment I think it’s very, very beneficial.
Both Emile and Bukayo have come through the Hale End system. How well did you know about that before you came here?
Well, I knew about it about because of my time here as a player. I had already seen some of the talent come through and I played with some of them. It’s part of our identity, to raise players. We have a great academy, we have coaches that deserve so much credit for the education that they are giving those players, and for how they have been coached. And then, like anybody, they need opportunities, they need game time to prove that they can do it at that level.
How does the Arsenal academy rate compare to City, Chelsea or Liverpool’s academy?
I cannot rate compared to others. What I can say is that I’m really happy and proud, and that this is not stopping here. We have to continue to evolve it, to improve it, and to keep providing players, because it’s a huge boost for the club, and obviously it’s very beneficial for many, many aspects.
When you’re looking to add to the squad or the team, do you look externally first or do you look at who’s coming through the ranks?
Always in our system. Whether it’s a player, whether it’s a staff member, whether it’s in any part of the club. If we need some recruitment, first of all we look inside, what do we have, can we promote them, do they have the qualities to do it. If we don’t, then obviously we have to start the process outside of our club.
After a poor start the Gunners are finally firing
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There was a story that Lacazette might be offered a one year contract before January. Is that right?
I don’t know there is so much stuff. What I can say is I’m really happy with what Laca is doing and that’s it. We’re not going to be talking about any of that until the end of the season
Reports from Egypt have suggested that you might terminate Mohamed Elneny’s contract at the turn of the year.
Again, I cannot go into that. I’m really happy with Mo. If not I would be discussing individually all the players and it’s not the time to do so.