There’s a bit of an overlap in the questions the Swiss midfielder answers but also some interesting new material including a proper dig at Alan Shearer and his take on the incident at Heathrow that saw him questioned by police.
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Four defeats from the last five league games, Arsène Wenger is facing heavy criticism.
That’s all true. Let’s take our game against West Brom: This defeat was hard. We were the better team, but we conceded two goals from corners, and that was enough to lose.
On BBC Alan Shearer got going. “No hunger, a totally disturbing performance”, he said.
What kind of analysis is that from these experts? What am I supposed to say? They don’t see what’s going on at Arsenal, I’m sorry. It’s better I refuse any further comment. Let’s make it short: At the moment we lose matches we shouldn’t lose. Against Bayern it was the same at our stadium. For 60 minutes we were clearly the better side, had chance after chance. But then there was the penalty, the red card, and then it became difficult. Against Bayern you even struggle at 11 vs. 11.
And in the end it’s the same score line as in the first leg: 1:5.
Exactly, and the 60 good minutes are forgotten.
How do you perceive the intense agitation that’s been surrounding your manager lately?
A lot of things are written, especially on Social Media, that don’t leave you cold. If a player says he doesn’t care what’s happening around him, he has no feelings. I’m hurt for the manager because I’m aware: In the end it’s us players who are responsible for how we perform on the pitch. In order to find our way out of this low there have to be even more fighting qualities.
Are you convinced that Wenger will stay?
Why? Is it the love for football?
I can’t answer that. I only know that he is an outstanding manager, an outstanding guy, very open and direct. Unfortunately in football only the current state is examined and what was yesterday, in the past years, is forgotten. The people demand a title from Arsenal, above all the Premier League. But they forget we had to integrate a couple of new players – and that no coach manages to win the league title with a lot of new players straightaway.
Do you feel the criticism is over the top?
The expectations are high, so we know: If we fail to meet them, there will be criticism. And we have high expectations ourselves. We are not happy with 4th, 3rd, or 2nd place either.
In Mönchengladbach it was a lot calmer.
We didn’t have the goal to win the title or to qualify for the Champions League every year.
But you were looking for that: a club with higher ambitions. Are you afflicted by the situation?
No. I can deal with it.
And what is the media criticism you’ve been facing in London doing to you?
Always those experts… Anyone can remark something, and when I get a red card anyone can accuse me of being a dirty player.
…Former Liverpool player Danny Murphy said that…
I hate it when people judge me who don’t know me at all.
When you have to read of yourself as being a reckless, even brainless player, it has to affect you, hasn’t it?
I am aware of it. But if all these accusations were true I wouldn’t be at Arsenal. That doesn’t add up for me.
What could be the motivation of the critics?
No idea. I only know: Nobody destroys me. They can write and speak what they want. I know my qualities, and the boss knows them, otherwise I wouldn’t be where I am today. I believe I have a bad reputation for referees. I have been shown two red cards this season, okay. But when I compare them to the Zlatan Ibrahimovic incident, who was not even shown a yellow card for an elbow, I struggle to understand it.
Do you think the referees have a special eye on you?
I can’t get rid of the feeling – as often as I have been booked after the first foul.
Are you more cautious in your tackling?
Not at all. If it happens, it happens. I go into a tackle where it’s necessary. To pull my foot out, that’s not happening.
What is Wenger’s advice to you?
That I stay on my feet.
He also said that tackling is not your strength.
I have read that. But sorry, that doesn’t mean he really said it like this.
Vladimir Petkovic (manager of the Swiss national team) agrees with Wenger. He says you have to learn that.
Let’s put it this way: I am not the player who has to slide-tackle ten times each game.
Supposedly there is no tougher league than the Premier League.
Yes, thank you! (laughs)
During your time at Gladbach you said after the red card against Sevilla that you had not reflected enough. And that you have to learn to be cleverer. Is the process not finished yet?
Against Sevilla it was two bookings, and I have to confess it was stupid from me. What I have to learn is not to let myself get provoked as quickly. And until today what happened against Sevilla has not repeated, so I’m on a good path.
Apart from your sending-offs you are in a comfortable position at Arsenal – you are an indisputable starter.
After seven months in London still a lot is new for me. Still I have settled much quicker than I did at Mönchengladbach. The first six months in Germany and the first six months at Arsenal – they are different worlds. At Gladbach it took far more time for me to settle.
Are you sometimes surprised by yourself? After a suspension you get back into the side right away.
I would not have expected to start in Munich against Bayern in the Champions League. For me, though, it was a clear signal which did me really good. So far a lot has worked out for me, of course also because I have been spared from injury.
In certain games you manage 100, 120 touches. What does that tell you?
That’s my style. If I don’t have the ball at my feet it’s difficult for me. I need the ball.
Wasn’t it a change from German to English football?
Yes, of course. In the beginning sometimes I felt my thigh since English football is more intense in terms of physicality than in Germany, completely different football. I like it. I am glad to have made the step.
Do you miss the Bundesliga?
Yeah, yeah. But it’s not like I want to go back tomorrow. Maybe the day after tomorrow. (smirks)
How is life at Arsenal?
At Gladbach we often went out for dinner with a few team-mates, at Arsenal we usually train in the morning – after that everybody goes their way.
Do you miss the social part after training?
Sometimes yes, if you have known that for four years. But I’m not alone in London, my fiancée is with me. So it’s okay.
Who is the leader on the team? Mertesacker? Koscielny, Özil, Sanchez?
I can’t settle for only one.
Do you have ambitions yourself to climb to the very top of the hierarchy?
I do have goals. But I don’t want to repeat the mistake I made at Gladbach.
To open my mouth unnecessarily. When I arrived in Gladbach I was 19 and had a big mouth. I told everyone everything about my goals. Nowadays I think first, I weigh up. And I observe a lot and watch players like Mertesacker or Koscielny who have 500 games in their legs.
How must one imagine life in London?
Very calm, very cool. I enjoy living here. Sometimes we go to the city, sometimes we stay at home.
And sometimes you go to the airport…
Yes, and from there to the police station. I know what you are referring to. I have never experienced something like that before.
When you took the brother of your fiancée to Heathrow in January there was an argument with an airport employee – and allegedly you were detained. What happened exactly?
I’m happy to tell you since I have already told the police. The brother-in-law checked in, handed his bag in, we were early enough. I told him: “Let’s drink a coffee. We have enough time.” Okay. When he wanted to go through the security check suddenly that was not possible. That was 30 minutes before departure. We were astonished. One of the security guys, who had taken a photo with me five minutes earlier, claimed the brother-in-law had not checked in. We asked: “Why can’t he fly? He has to work tomorrow.” We asked British Airways what the problem is. The employee said “you haven’t done the check-in yet. And now you are two, three minutes too late.” We couldn’t believe our ears, looked for a flight to Nordrhein-Westfalen (Germany) but couldn’t find any. We returned to the British Airways desk and asked the lady at least to give us the bag back.
She replied: “Over there on the left” and turned away. I started talking in Albanian with my fiancée and brother-in-law, and suddenly four police officers showed up, all of them armed, and asked what happened. I replied: “No idea.” The officers told me I allegedly called the lady a “white dog”.
White dog? What’s up with that?
Yeah. Absolutely absurd. Then they told me I had to come with them. After that I spent four and a half hours at the police station, until 1 AM: Interrogation of everyone involved, documents check, etc. For the first time ever I was baffled. I thought: This can’t be. And I asked my fiancée and my brother-in-law: “Where is the hidden camera?” That’s how I was feeling. During the interrogation they put the allegation on the table that I had called the employee a “white bitch”, not a “white dog”. Surely something could not be right here. I expected the story to be shut. But the next day, boom!, it looked different: Headlines from England to Spain, and it lasted for days. I was even accused of racism.
Did Wenger reproach you?
No. I told him the story the way it went. He just laughed. He said: “You don’t have to worry. You have the protection of the club.” He probably knows that as well.
And he was right.
Yes. Just the next day the police said there was nothing in this record and that I was completely innocent.