Arsenal held an official media open day ahead of Saturday’s Cup Final and Tim Stillman went along for Arseblog News to empty the London Colney coffee machine and pocket the free biscuits.
Gunners skipper Thomas Vermaelen enters the press room at London Colney with that impossibly steely eyed stare that has almost become a trademark. There are few that execute a workable ‘blue steel’ better than the Belgian. Vermaelen’s serious expression is well earned. The captain, sporting some tape just above his right knee, faces a race against time to be fit for Saturday’s F.A. Cup Final with Hull City.
“Everybody knows how special a cup final is,” he tells assembled members of the press, “Every player wants to play in a final. I am trying my best to be fit for Saturday.”
Even if he is passed fit, the former Ajax defender knows he is still likely to watch the match from the same vantage point that he has viewed most of the season from. The substitutes’ bench.
It’s Arsenal’s FA Cup final media open day, three days before the Wembley showpiece. This is basically an opportunity for the press and the official Arsenal media outlets to obtain interviews and hunt for soundbites en masse before the squad goes into lockdown ahead of the Final. Predictably, many of the questions focus on Arsenal’s nine year trophy drought. Vermaelen remains patient and unaffected as the inquiries focus expressly on the pressure that Arsenal players will be under,
“We know there has been a lot of talk about us not winning trophies. It’s very important to win this. We know it would give us a boost in the coming years. There is a lot of potential in this team and we have good players, so it would give them confidence for the future.”
Perhaps picking up on the word “them,” he is pressed about whether he belongs to that Arsenal future. Vermaelen is non-committal, “My future is not important at the moment. My focus is on the final,” before batting away a follow up question on the same subject, “My future is not important at the moment.”
The past gets similarly short shrift, when quizzed as to whether the Birmingham final of 2011 would feature in conversation amongst the squad this week, “Every game is different, so we don’t talk about that. That was in the past, but we’ll try to make sure that doesn’t happen again. It was a very disappointing result, everybody knows that. We can’t think about that, Saturday is a different game.”
Assessing the press pack with a straight bat, Vermaelen dismisses the idea that the pressure on Saturday will make the final markedly different to this Arsenal squad, “Look,” he says with a semi shrug, “When you play for Arsenal, there is always pressure. The players are used to playing under pressure because we have to win in every single game. So Saturday won’t be different because the pressure is always there. We know what we have to do on Saturday.”
It’s only at the end of the conference that his composure cracks for a second. A journalist asks politely whether his colleagues can ask some questions in French. Vermaelen stares blankly for a second, “French? No I don’t speak French.”
“Sorry. Flemish. Can we ask some questions in Flemish?” The journalists asks, correcting himself.. Vermaelen visibly relaxes again and fields questions in his native tongue. Having been quizzed at length over the 2011 Carling Cup Final, Arsenal’s trophy drought, his future and his fitness, it was possibly a relief to Thomas to escape the language of anguish for a few minutes.
Let’s hope it’s a tongue he is no more conversant in come Sunday. LD.
Follow me on Twitter @LittleDutchVA