Arseblog News pottered down to Puma’s flagship store in Carnaby Street last night where we unashamedly quaffed free champagne before being treated to a sneaky peak at our new kits and a ten-minute roundtable chinwag with lego-haired, Spanish beauty Mikel Arteta.
Back in pre-season training after a summer soaking up rays on the beach, he reflected on Spain’s demise at the World Cup, his own future at the club, the pressure facing Aaron Ramsey and – in light of the news announced just moments before we sat down – the prospect of working with new signing Alexis Sanchez…
Mikel, Arsenal have just announced the signing of Alexis Sanchez! What do you make of that?
I’m really happy; everybody has been waiting for a big signing like this. He’s a proper player, he has good experience, he’s got the technique and he’s got the pace. I met him this morning and he looked very excited, I think he’s going to be a good fit.
How’s his English?
[Laughs] His English is not great…as is the case with 99% of the South Americans, but he will try. He was very interested…although perhaps a bit worried about it, but he’ll be fine. We have a very humble squad and the players will look after him. He’s got plenty of Spanish lads to talk with. We’ll look after him.
How good is it to secure his transfer ahead of a rival like Liverpool?
It’s true, he had many options and he’s decided to join us. This makes us really proud. He likes the Arsenal style because it’s very similar to what he’s experienced at Barcelona.
How encouraging is it for the players to see the club sign such a big name?
I think it’s a big statement from the club to say early on, “OK, let’s go and get one of the best strikers in the world.” They’ve convinced him to come and we’ve done it. We’ve been lucky to get that pace and that creativity that he can bring to the club. I can’t wait!
Do you think the dynamic of the team will change with Sanchez?
I think he brings pace and I think we were missing that last season when Theo [Walcott] and [Alex] Oxlade-Chamberlain were injured. At one point we were playing with Cazorla, Wilshere and Giroud with all three coming in [to collect the ball]. Arsenal is a team that enjoys breaking quickly, we need that speed to break teams down. [With Sanchez] we get that back and we become more powerful and will be harder to deal with.
Has this summer felt different, have you been able to enjoy it more after the FA Cup success?
Yes! When you win something it’s a different summer. We took a lot of pressure off our shoulders. The way the final panned out as well, going 2-0 down, they [Hull City] made us work really hard. This has to be the start, I don’t think one year [of success] is enough for Arsenal football club, we have to aim for bigger things. I think we have the capacity now to fight with all the teams and we have to start showing that consistency over the next few years.
You spoke back in May about your desire to sit down with the club to discuss a new contract, has there been any progress on that front?
I had my conversation with the manager, he knows my opinion and I know his opinion and we’re all good. That’s all I can say. I can’t stop the rumours, but you can be sure that I’m really happy here. I feel valued, I’ve been given a lot of responsibility and I like it. Until the club thinks something different about me, I’m happy here.
You’re wearing the ‘Forever’ [home] shirt, so you kind of have to stick around for a little bit…
[Laughs] I wish! If only I was 20, I’d be around to see all the different kits, but it’s not the case. But yeah, I’m happy here.
Seeing as you’ve had a chat with the manager, who’s next on the shopping list? Who have we got coming in?
One of them is almost done I think. We have to see, I don’t think it’s going to stop there. They’ve got more targets. I don’t think players should get involved in that at all because we’re doing our work. It’s another part of the club and they’re doing really well so let’s just be patient.
What’s it like working with Arsene Wenger?
He’s a very demanding manager. He’s a very straightforward manager as well. You know what you’re getting with him and you know exactly what he wants from you. If you’re fair, you’re right and you’re honest you’re never going to have a problem.
What did you think of his header on the beach in Rio?
[Laughs] Yeah! I was surprised. He looked younger than what he is. He’s a very fit man. He’s probably one of the few who could wear the tight fit shirts! You [pointing to Robbie from ArsenalFanTV]…I’m not so sure!
Arsene’s still out in Brazil while you guys are already doing your push-ups and press-ups at pre-season, is that a cause of amusement in the camp?
Yeah, Arsene’s still there. I think he’ll be back with us on Monday. It shows you how much he loves football because even when he has a break he keeps watching football. [In the meantime] I think the fitness coaches are going to be keeping a real close eye on us given how we’ll look in these tight shirts.
There’s a lot of young guys training with you in pre-season, are there any you’d pinpoint as ones to watch this season?
I wouldn’t like to give names but there are a few. Arsenal have always been one of the best clubs in Europe for producing young players and you’ve seen some of them [the new crop] already. I’ve got one which is my preference but I prefer not to give any names. He’s a number 10…
Have you enjoyed the World Cup? What did you make of Spain’s early exit?
I was disappointed but I can’t really criticise them as they’ve been absolutely amazing for the last four to six years. What they’ve given to the country is outstanding. It’s the end of an era probably but it’s not the end of ‘tiki-taka’ because now we have the Germans doing something very similar. I think everybody has been enjoying [watching] them a lot. I think Spain had the best generation of midfielders that Europe has ever produced but it looks like the Germans have taken over.
Have you had a favourite moment?
Being Spanish I haven’t had a favourite moment yet! Hopefully if the Germans win the cup it’ll be a very nice moment and I’ll be really happy for them.
What did you make of Brazil’s semi-final thumping?
I felt so sorry for them. Unfortunately last season we had similar disappointments against big teams. When they were suffering that defeat I was really feeling sorry for them especially in front of their own crowd. That makes it even harder. I think it’s going to be tough for them to digest.
How did you cope with the big defeats against Liverpool and Chelsea last year? They must have been very deflating, but you came back to win the FA Cup…
I still don’t think I’ve really digested it [the Chelsea game]. As soon as you mentioned it I felt something in my stomach. In that moment you just want to dig a hole and go down it. You’re not honouring your club, the shirt…you’re very frustrated. But these things happen in football and you have to accept that and you have to learn.
Are you confident that those lessons have been learnt? And are you optimistic going into next season?
Yes I am, I am because I know the quality we have, the desire, the character. Also because all the players have shown a very good mentality when things haven’t been going well. When everybody is winning, when you’re lifting the trophy and being told you’re the main man, it’s easy. When people criticise and ask questions of you, then you see how people really are. I’m telling you with this group it’s top drawer.
You played a lot of games next to Aaron Ramsey last year, how good do you think he can be?
The improvement he’s made is going to be very demanding on him as everyone is going to expect something big…those seasons aren’t easy. Aaron has the character and the ability to do it again. The way he trains, the way he prepares himself is top drawer and he knows now he’s one of the main guys. He needs to stand firm and deal with it [the pressure].
How good is it having Abou Diaby back?
He’s one of the players I like the most. I’ve felt so sorry for him; he’s been so unlucky with injuries throughout his career. When you look at him after a month of training some of the stuff he does is amazing, his physical ability is great. If we can add that to the squad it’ll be amazing.
You’re setting off for New York in a few weeks to play the Red Bulls, are you looking forward to a first pre-season in the USA?
It’s going to be big change. Last summer it was a very busy schedule in pre-season, this year it’s very quiet. I think those three or four days in New York will be very good, we play against the Red Bulls which will be a good test. Hopefully we’ll enjoy it.
And you get to catch up with Thierry Henry again…
Yes…and Tim Cahill!
Thanks to Puma for their impeccable hospitality last night. You get the feeling they really want to pull out all the stops for Arsenal having sealed such a big deal. It bodes well for the future given the night’s much repeated mantra ‘Stronger Together’.
Tip of the hat to @Gunnerblog, @RobKelly2, @ArsenalFanTV, @GeezyPeas whose questions all feature in the above transcript. There were a couple of other participants, but sorry I didn’t catch your names…