How are the five key players missing doing and how much of a blow is it to be without them?
Yeah it’s unfortunately the situation that we have at the moment. They’re all doing really well to be fair they’re a little bit ahead of schedule. We don’t expect them for Everton I think. We have the doubt with Martin, let’s see how he is in training. The rest will be out and let’s get them as quick as possible back in the team.
How have you managed to keep all your players focused?
I’m getting used to it. Since I joined it’s been a rollercoaster and more things have happened in those 18 months than probably did in the last 20 years. Dealing with it trying to maintain the unity and the commitment of everybody, trying to be clear and transparent with the news that we have and try to move on.
It’s been a really challenging week for everybody in world football but we have to move forward. There’s a lot of lessons we can learn from it but we have to reflect and try to put football in a better position.
Everton are just one place above you, how big is this game?
Yes again they’re having a really good season. We’re not getting the results that we want against Fulham. When the results was disappointing apart from the performance that in my opinion we deserved to win the game. We need to win every game now in the Premier League to give us the best possible chance to be in Europe next season through that competition.
Is it special for you to face a club you know so well?
Always. I had an incredible seven years over there. It’s a lot of people there that I love, a lot of feelings towards the club, towards their supporters and I’m always grateful because I had some amazing years there and will never forget them.
You’re four games unbeaten now. Do you feel like there’s some momentum growing?
Yes, I think we do, and the way we are playing as well. But the Fulham game, not winning that game it was a real shame for us because that would have put us in a much better position. But we have to move on, we still have a lot to play for in the league and playing the semi final of the Europa League. So, we are all excited about the way we can finish this season.
Will you have the Villarreal game in the back of your mind?
No I want to focus just on Everton. We still have more than 5 days to prepare the game and how we get there it will depend on how well we do against Everton and that’s the only focus for the team.
Do you remember the goal you scored for Arsenal against Everton back in 2014?
I do remember yes.
It was a penalty.
Usual for me. It cannot be any other way
Can you tell us when and how you found out that Arsenal were signed up to the European Super League?
Yeah I found out just a little bit before the news was leaked. And then everything was completely out of control and the world reacted in a really unified manner. Not really time to think about it reflect evaluate or anything because by the time that that was out a big tsunami came on to it and basically killed it.
Who from the board has spoken to you and what have they said?
Well, Vinai spoke to me and explained a little bit what was happening, the process just before that was announced. He was very clear and transparent with me. I understand the reasons we could not know, why we were not involved in the decision and we understand the logics of it.
Has anyone apologised to you and the players?
Yes. Starting from Vinai, the ownership, and everybody that is involved in the process. All of them with the right intentions to defend the club and put the club in the best possible position for now and for the future but accepting that the way it’s been handled obviously has had terrible consequences and that it was a mistake.
I have to really respect that when people have genuine intentions to do the best for this football club, but if it doesn’t happen they can stand up here and apologise. I think, I’m talking for myself here, but I think I’m talking for the players and the staff and everybody working at the club, we have to accept that and move on because I think the way it’s been handled has been really good internally.
Has Stan Kroenke or Josh Kroenke spoken to you?
Yes I had some communication with them as well. I spoke with them yesterday. Those communications were in the same terms. As always when we need something or when something is happening they are straight away ready to act to give the answers that they can do to give the support that they can do. They’ve done it again.
Did they apologise?
Yes absolutely. Obviously, they have the maximum responsibility to run the football club and this is what they said. Apologise for disturbing the team by doing that, not having the capacity or the ability to communicate in a different way earlier and to explain the reasons why and pass on that message to the players. That’s all you can ask for and the way they’ve done it I have to accept it completely.
How much damage has been done between Arsenal and their fans and what can be done to repair the damage?
Well I think this has given a big lesson and it shows the importance of football in the world, and it shows that the soul of this sport belongs to the fans and that’s it. During this pandemic for a year we’ve been trying to sustain this industry with no fans in the stadium. But when the fans have to come out and talk they’ve done it really loud and clear.
They sent probably the strongest message that has ever been sent in the football world. Every club, leaving their interests apart, has done the right thing which is, they are the ones, we have to listen to them and kill the project. That’s a massive statement I think for the industry of football.
Could any of the so-called ‘big six’ have any complaints if there weresanctionsin the form of fines and points deductions?
I don’t know the legal details to respond to that question. When you act there are always consequences but I don’t know the extent of consequences. I think here we have to understand the principle and reason why those clubs were trying to achieve something. But if it wasn’t done in the right way, yeah, there is always consequences and we’re going to have to accept them if there are.
Why did your club think it was a good idea to join the European Super League?
Well I don’t know but I know the people that works in the organisation. First of all they are very caring for the interests of the football club and secondly they are very intelligent and professional people. So I’m sure that they have the right reasons to start something but it clearly didn’t work, or it wasn’t the right time, it wasn’t done the right way and it was time to step back.
It says a lot about the people who are involved in those decisions again to undo something straight away and show the importance to the people that really have the importance in this industry which is the fans and the reason why we are all sitting here.
Do you see a new proposal eventually happening in another guise?
Football will evolve for sure like any other sport like any other aspect in life. Like technology, the way we are interacting with eachother. It’s a lot of things that are going to change in the next few years. What I’m just hoping is that everything is constructive protecting the wellbeing of football. The competition has to be the priority and after the rest will take care of itself. After if it’s done with the right reasons and unify interests I think very important achievements can be done.
But it will depend. Now everything is damaged and we have the responsibility, again with you guys sitting here, to rebuild that trust and put football back in the right place so we can move forward. The world is looking at us and we have a lot to say.
How do you feel the Kroenke’s can rebuild their trust with the Arsenal fans
Well I can talk with my experience since I was a player a captain and now a manager. We have always had great communication from the ownership. That goes down to every member of the football club. I think the most important way to show it is in the most challenging period in this football club the way we have done things and the way we have reached out as a club and the commitment that every single person at the club has shown in difficult moments not just to be there and when they had to help the club they were there. That makes me really proud.
The fans have to express it’s their right and they have to do it freely. For me what it shows is the power and the capacity that they have when they have that determination to achieve what they want. If we can use this with our fans to support the team, I think that will be incredibly powerful and it will make us much, much stronger. So it’s time to leave them space to express themselves and now somehow we have to get them closer to us, believing in what we do. If we do that we will be in a much better space.
How important is it to get through the Everton game without picking up any more injuries?
I want to win the game. Then, hopefully, that will come as well. But I don’t even want to think about it. We had so many injuries in recent weeks that put the team in a difficult position. But the other players are reacting well, the team is performing well and let’s go and win today. As well it’s the best medicine, always, for everything that happens to win football matches.
Is Everton the most special game for you?
It’s a very special one. Again, for the memories that I have and the experiences that I had and because I am really attached to that football club and the people who runs it as well.
Did you agree with Arsenal joining the Super League
I didn’t know anything about it. I was informed in the last few months that there were some conversations, but I didn’t have any detail to evaluate or have any opinion on it. Before I could start to read or evaluate or have any opinion on it the competition was dead already.
Is it a concept that you agree with?
I don’t understand the concept yet and how that concept evolves and how that concept allowed other participants to join, how this is shared, what’s the merits behind it. I don’t have the information.
Fundamentally it is a competition where you can’t qualify and issue?
I think the competition and the ability to participate has to be earned. And that has to be earned on the pitch. I always believe and defend that.
Does communication with fans need to be improved?
I think in a club like Arsenal and in football in general and we have to understand them. As I said before, and I don’t want to repeat myself, this has shown the importance of fans in world football and that they are the soul of this sport.
How much has your squad been affected?
I don’t know. We tried to speak to them, Vinai explained to all of them what happened, so hopefully they are in a good place. It was a big shock for all of us to go through. A lot to read, a lot of opinions and a lot to digest. But It’s not an excuse we have a game tomorrow this is the most important thing. Let’s go and beat Everton.
Did you see the protests at Chelsea and what did you make of them?
Again, that people and fans are free to express their feelings. If they decide to do it that way, we have to respect that. We have to listen to them. World football listened to them and that’s why they made the decision to withdraw from that project.
If you lose thisgamedo you feel the only way to qualify for Europe is through the Europa League?
I think till mathematically that’s possible we will give it our all knowing that it doesn’t depend on us.
When you first heard about the planswereyou worried about the fans’ reaction?
It didn’t give me much time to be worried because I saw the reaction straight away, so it wasn’t just what will be my perception. It was loud and clear that no one was having it. So, I think by the time it came out, it was already dead.
Did you speak to Pep about it at all because he said that he didn’t agree with the competitionandI was wondering if you felt the same?
I was going to, but again, by the time that was happening, it didn’t even give us time because we knew what was happening. It was clear that we were going to get out of it and it wasn’t necessary.
He said it wouldn’t be sport is that something you agree with?
Well, the main reason why we are here is because we have the uncertainty of winning or losing, and we can dream. We can dream about winning against anybody, earning the possibility to be in a better place, and as well, the risk of being in a worse place, and that’s what keeps everybody alive.
Would it have been a task to keep Arsenal competitive in the Super League?
Well it’s depending on what the details were behind it. What resources we were going to have, what was the timing of it, depending on many, many aspects. So it’s difficult to answer that.
Do you feel let down by theownership?
No, I feel very supported by everybody at the club. I feel privileged, again, and I will say it loud and clear, again, the way we have dealt with this pandemic internally ,with all the issues that we had in recent months, there have been loads and unprecedented for this football club, internally and externally, I still see everybody coming here with a smile on their faces and proud to represent this football club.
That for me is a big achievement and something I’m really proud of because everybody is contributing to that, from the top to the bottom of the club.
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You found out on Sunday evening. When did the players first find out because Hector shared some social media posts saying he wasn’t too happy about it?
Again, they are free to express themselves. Obviously, we weren’t involved in the process, so you have to respect that when you don’t do that, people are going to have different opinions with information that they can read or guess, and that was the case. Hector made a post and he was free to do it and express his opinion.
Thomas Tuchel said Chelsea were poor on Tuesday because they were distracted. Are you keen for that not to happen tomorrow night?
Well, I will try to prepare the team in the best possible way so that isn’t the case. We know that we might have a situation outside the stadium because our fans want to express their feelings, and our job is to try to make the team as focused as possible just to perform on the pitch.