“My title has changed a little bit but I’m just here to try to do my job as well as possible. It’s always nice to be recognised from the club for the job that I try to do but I just want to help the club to do the right things. When I have to be involved, great. If I can work in any area, great. I just want to bring this club to be the most successful in this country as quick as possible in a sustainable way. That’s my ambition and we have to do it together.”
How would you describe Arsenal’s summer so far? Transfers and the team’s overall development…
“Well, a very strange mini pre-season with a lot of external factors [which were] difficult to control. Today [September 11] is the first day we have the full squad training together for the pre-season. Just the day before we play the first game but we’ve been trying to put [in] the work that we needed. Obviously without some key players for different reasons. Towards the market and our squad, we bought Willian and Gabriel [Magalhaes]. Two really good recruitments in my opinion and two players that are going to improve our squad, but a very complicated market so far.”
No David Luiz or Sokratis. Does that change your plans formation-wise?
“We have a few issues around the squad and that’s something normal that we try to adapt. We’ve been trying with the players that we have fit at the moment, it’s not ideal to start the season with key players out. But again, we have enough players, really good players and tomorrow we will put the best possible plan to win our first game.”
How have Gabriel and Willian been training? Can we expect to see them?
“They’ve been training really well. They’ve been adapting quickly, they are really excited to be here with us. Really good energy from both. Big talents, both in very different phases of their careers. Someone [Willian] that is already very established in the Premier League with an incredible quality and another one [Gabriel] that has to adapt to this league but has huge potential to become a key player for us in the future.”
What are you expecting from Fulham?
“I think the team is a good reflection from the coach. A very thorough person, very committed, a very clear way of playing. He’s done a fantastic job at Fulham the way they managed to get promoted last season, it was really good. We’ve been watching them, we know it’s a very typical stadium, really tight. It will be tough tomorrow [September 12].”
You were confident last season Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang would extend. Where are we with his contract?
“I can say that I’m even more confident than I was at the end of last season.”
Will it get done soon then?
“I am really optimistic, yes.”
What are you seeing from the team?
“What I see from them is that they want more, that they are not satisfied and this is what we want to show tomorrow. That we want to go another step forward. What we done, it doesn’t count for anything. It gives us confidence and belief in what we can do, that we can compete against any team, but this is a completely different competition. It’s a long race and we have to be consistent. There is a big gap on what happened in the last few seasons when we were out of the Champions League spots, and this is our challenge for the season.”
How hard will it be to keep Martinez? What about Ozil and Guendouzi?
“We have some really good players in many different positions where some of them are duplicated so clubs are interested to get our players. It’s very difficult to promise players game time or to be the first choice but it’s part of this period in the market. We try to manage the situation as well as we can, all the time counting on what the players’ expectations are and what we can achieve with them as a club and we are making decisions towards that.”
What were your thoughts on the dropping of the Black Lives Matter logo from Premier League shirts for the new season?
“I think it’s a cause that’s had a massive impact and we’ve been very supportive. I think we have continued to do that as much as possible every time something has happened in a social environment that we can change and highlight. It’s our responsibility and I’m really pleased with what we’ve done so far with that.”
Do you think the players and staff at Arsenal will continue to take a knee?
“I think it’s an individual decision. How you feel about it. But I think the way we have conducted, it’s not an individual thing, I like more the collective things and the way we’ve done it was really well.”
Is Mesut Ozil likely to play soon?
“There’s not been any updates. All the players that we have available here and that have a contract with Arsenal Football Club have been treated exactly the same way. They’ve all been training, they’ve all been putting maximum effort every training session and this is what I expect from them.”
How pleased are you with what you’ve done in your nine months in charge?
“Well I look 10 years older, I think. It has been really challenging. Obviously, it’s my first job as a head coach and a lot of things happened, interruptions, unexpected things. But altogether we have been very consistent on what we are trying to achieve. We felt really supported, one with another. A lot of changes at the club, a lot of changes with the environment but our idea and direction is not going to change. We are aiming to achieve that and we have created some belief which is really important among the players, staff and fans. Now our aim is to continue to do that, keep building and keep getting engaged to this process to get better and better.”
Arsenal in the past were accused of having a weak mentality. Is that fair and is that gone now?
“I don’t know whether it’s gone or not, we will have to show it. What is done in the past few months in football doesn’t really count, it’s about how we start tomorrow, how ready we look, how committed we are and how much can we sustain our consistency through the year to be one of the best teams in the country.”
Should Arsenal fans be worried that Aubameyang’s deal is taking this long to finalise?
“I think they can be pretty relaxed.”
Do you expect Emi Martinez to stay at Arsenal?
“Again, I cannot stop all the speculation that we have about players coming in and out. I will say that I don’t want to comment on any individuals at the moment without having the right answers.”
Can you tell us why Freddie Ljungberg left and if you’re looking to make any further appointments?
“The situation with Freddie was very clear about his ambition and his next step in his career. He’s been very supportive for us, he was a person who was helping in the first few months to help understand the squad better. That [him leaving] left a gap to fill in. As well, I had some people in mind before I joined that I couldn’t bring in to have more specificity in our staff and a little bit more detail and improve in some key areas, so that’s why.”
When Arsenal last played at Fulham there were chants of ‘We’ve got our Arsenal back’ which were premature. Do you think fans are close to getting the old Arsenal back?
“I think it’s premature as well depending how old an Arsenal we are talking about. For example, the Invincibles. It’s great, we were able to win two trophies, we changed a lot of things at the club but certainly, things look brighter in my opinion. But there’s still a long way to go. The gap that I always talk about is still there and we have to make sure that we fill that in this season as much as possible.”
Is there more pressure with the new job title?
“Responsibility and pressure is always linked. I’m really grateful for the faith the club is showing towards me. I’m just trying to do my job as well as possible, as quick as possible in a more sufficient way back to the top. This is my aim. The players and people working in this organisation enjoy, they feel really connected to this football club, the same with our fans. Whatever I have to do in order to achieve that, I will put all the hours, all my commitment and passion to achieve that as soon as possible.”
Starting on a level playing field. More expectation on you?
“Every new season brings new expectations. The way we ended last season and started this one with a title obviously people want to see more and more and more. This is a positive sign, we want that type of energy to drive our team forward. Tomorrow we have a great test at Fulham, a very English stadium, a newly-promoted team who will be completely ready and focused to beat us.”
Can we expect whoever starts in goal to be your No.1.?
“No, I don’t treat the goalkeeping position any differently to the others. I think the one that in my opinion is training better with the goalkeeping coach has the better chance to start tomorrow and my decision will be consistent like that throughout this season.”
Would it be the starters position to lose?
“Exactly, and then its for the other one to push and make him better and when his chance comes, be ready and help the team as they both did last season. Both were fantastic in my opinion.”
Have you spoken to Alexandre Lacazette about his future?
“He is really happy here, he wants to keep improving and contributing to the team. I know how good he is, the impact he is having. He knows about the competition he has with the front players, and again he needs to demand of himself to be the best striker at this football club, the same as the rest. He was very happy to hear that and the way he has been training and conducting himself has been excellent.”
Has he told you he’d like to stay?
“Yes, I think he is very happy here. That is my feeling and what I got from that message.”
Has the situation with Matteo Guendouzi changed?
“Matteo has been training like any other player in the squad. It is a new season and we had some really positive conversations between both parties, now he’s back with the group, he is training really well, he went to France to play with the under-21s last week and played really well again, and he is here.”
Juninho at Lyon publicly said he was offered in a swap deal for Houssem Aouar. Can Guendouzi be fully focused knowing that?
“I don’t know, I am not going to discuss here what the things that happened internally. But a lot of the things they have been writing, I can tell you they are not true.”
Juninho publicly declared Arsenal were interested in Aouar. Is that a transfer you hope can happen?
“I don’t want to talk about players at other clubs that are not our players.”
Are you looking to bring in one or two more bodies?
“We are still active in the market, we are looking at different options. I would say we are active in the market for players in and out, at the moment the squad balance is not the ideal we want to achieve so there is still some work to do. We have to bear in mind the complication with this transfer market and the complexity and the timing, because you can see that clubs are behaving in many different ways and it is a little bit uncertain how this will work in the next few weeks.”
How is the squad imbalanced?
“Firstly number-wise. Some positions are overbooked, I said some others, in terms of specific qualities that we need, they are still not there. It is going to be very difficult to achieve what we want in one window or two windows. It is a process, it has to evolve and most importantly it has to be a sustainable model that we can consistently feed in using our academy players.”
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Will it take a while before this feels like your squad?
“I think so, but that is always the case. Then there are some other times with positive surprises where people give you a more positive impression than you thought as well as some more negative ones.
It is a constant evolution and it has to be assessed all the time and you have to have a very clear direction of what you want to achieve and what is your ideal. Even when you have that, you have to stop and feed it all the time.”