Good morning Arsene, can we start with your latest team news?
I haven’t seen everybody, because some players are coming back today and some are in tomorrow, like Alexis (So why do we do the press conferences today instead of tomorrow? -TB). The minor problem we have is with Sead Kolasinac. We’ll check him today – he has a hip problem. We lost Mustafi for about four to six weeks and I don’t think he’ll be available before the next international break. Ozil and Welbeck are back in the group in normal training.
So, Ozil and Welbeck could be available for Saturday?
I’m sure you followed how your players got on on International duty, how would you sum up some positives there?
Some people, like Iwobi and Elneny, qualified for Nigeria and Egypt. In Europe, some are in between, like Switzerland, who have to play in the play-offs. Some have directly qualified like France and England. As well we had some players disappointed, like Sanchez with Chile and Ramsey with Wales. There are mixed feelings but numbers-wise, I would say with Germany qualifying as well, more people are in a positive mood.
Finally from me, Calum Chambers has signed a new contract with the club, just how pleased are you to keep him here at Arsenal?
He’s a young centre back and you know that he’s going towards his best period now, He played a complete season at Middlesbrough. Unfortunately at the moment he’s injured, but I believe it’s important we keep our young centre backs because they blossom at 24. So, it’s important to keep them during that period.
Arsene, it’s bad news about Mustafi. Will Koscielny be available?
Koscielny has a definite final test tomorrow. At the moment, he’s not available. He trained on his own and the first signs are positive, so we decided to give him a test tomorrow.
(If Arsenal don’t have Koscielny, Mustafi, and Chambers they will be forced to play a back 4 with Mertesacker and Holding in the CB positions – unless Wenger plans to try that AMN in the right back and Bellerin in LB thing again)
You mentioned that Sanchez is coming back. What are your concerns about his mental state after that game?
I will have to speak to him. Yesterday afternoon I watched the whole Brazil v Chile game to see how difficult it was. I must say he got some special treatment – it was a very physical game and mentally I will have to assess the situation when he comes back tomorrow.
Will he ever speak to Ospina again? (Colombia qualified, Chile didn’t)
Ha ha.. yes, I don’t think that will be a problem but of course that happens some times… the coincidence of the competitions.
I mean, looking longer term though, you don’t think that without the World Cup it takes away some of his motivation for the coming season? His last few months with Arsenal?
I don’t believe so. I think that him, like Aaron Ramsey, they are winners. They want to focus on winning things and overall I believe that the World Cup is as well a stimulant – I don’t deny that – but when you don’t have it, you focus on your club and what you can achieve with your club.
Mesut Ozil’s agent’s making encouraging noises (like a bull Elk in rut – TB) about a new contract, he says talks are going well and that Ozil wants to stay in the Premier League two or three more years. Is that your understanding?
That’s my understanding, yes. I always said that the fact that we didn’t find an agreement last year doesn’t mean the player will necessarily leave. Both players look happy here and overall I hope that the situation can be turned around.
So, is a deal any closer at all?
At the moment, we are not close enough to announcing anything.
You’ve been talking too about Jack Wilshere during this international break. You’ve been talking about what a key period this is for him. England have qualified for the World Cup but to get there does he have to leave Arsenal. Really, in January.
I don’t think so. I believe that Jack at the moment is in the best form I’ve seen him in for a long time. He’s very close now to be considered like anybody else. Overall I believe he doesn’t necessarily have to leave Arsenal to go to the World Cup. If he keeps going like he’s going at the moment, he will go to the World Cup, I’m sure. I don’t see Jack being fully fit and not going to the World Cup.
You’ll really give him the games, then?
I think he’s played games already for us. You know, since the start of the season. And he will play many more.
Just one last one from me: there’s talk about Marc Overmars coming back to Arsenal in some capacity. Is that true?
No. At the moment he’s a director at Ajax. We have always been in touch, yes, but at the moment no.
So, him coming back as a director of football here is something that is not going to happen?
No. Not at the moment, no.
Regards to Watford this weekend. Do you think that they are in a better place than they have been for a long time?
Yeah. They are a strong side. They have strong results, they’re a balanced team who are dangerous and play good football. They’re tough opponents for everybody.
Do you have concerns for defensively how you’re going to fill in, especially if Koscielny..
Yes. I have. And I think about sorting out the problem but overall I will decide completely tomorrow what I will do because Koscielny will have a test tomorrow. He has worked quite hard physically. It looks like, if he survives (I’m praying for him – TB) the test, he’s capable to play. You know. If he has no pain on his achilles tendon, he can play. But I will decide that tomorrow.
Regarding Mustafi: do you think the timing in some ways could have been worse because of the fixtures and because of the way that October’s looking you could get him back.
Look it’s difficult to predict the situation because the player I expected least to lose during the break was Mustafi. First of all, I was not sure he would play. Secondly, Germany was already qualified so I didn’t expect him to be out injured as the games would be less intense. He didn’t play in the first game, and we lost him in the second game against Azerbaijan at home. We have to cope with that now.
You’ve lost key players. Man United, Liverpool, all lost key players. Is it time to look at when qualifiers take place and maybe condense the season and have the qualifiers all take place at one month in summer?¹
Yes. You would still lose players, maybe at the start of the following season but it would make more sense to regroup the competitions during one period. At the moment, the big leagues look a bit stop and start. It interrupts the flow of the competition and it’s always difficult because when the players go to the national teams, they are under huge pressure. The pride of their countries is at stake and to get them back and immediately refocused on the club’s targets is always difficult.
You said before that you think Jack Wilshere will go to the World Cup.
I WISH he goes to the World Cup.
Do you think England need him?
Do you think we have any player like him, who can make England more exciting and break down defenses?
Jack is certainly one of the players who has that more than anybody else. You have plenty of good players but he is maybe more of a No 10 than any other player. He can open spaces, can play in tight areas, can get out of tight areas as well.
Finally, one quick one. Paul Merson’s coming back into football – he’s playing in the Welsh third…
Well, I, we speak about professional football here.
Arsene could I ask you about Christmas eve football? You could be playing Liverpool, what are your thoughts on that?
I know that we have to adapt to the schedule dictated by TV, but overall I would say if that happens personally I don’t think any game should be played after two o’clock at the latest on Christmas Eve because Christmas Day in England is the 25th.
Can I ask you about the job Marco Silva’s done since he came to England?
He has impressed, because I think Watford play good football. He was at Hull where he had a very good start as well and overall I think he has done very well.
One of your former players, Kolo Toure, recently took up a job as an assistant coach at Celtic as well as Ivory Coast. He says he wants to do very well in this new job but were you surprised with his transition into coaching? And what would be your advice to him as he takes up his new career?
To keep his (unintelligible).. And first of all I would like to congratulate one of my former players, who became president of Liberia, George Weah. It is not often that you have a former player who becomes a president of a country and so well done Georgie and I would say just for (Kolo) to keep his enthusiasm and his desire to learn and to win.
Just going back to Christmas Eve. There’s been a lot of fan opposition to any game on Christmas eve. As a traditionalist would you not think..
You call me a traditionalist. Yes, why not. If it’s a good tradition I’m always for it. Personally I would prefer to be at my home on Christmas night and celebrate Christmas but I still feel that could happen if we play early on the day. What you wouldn’t like to sacrifice is the evening with the family.
But overall we go towards society where religion isn’t considered anymore in any decision and where people want as well to watch football during the Christmas period.
Just on Sanchez and Ozil and the contract thing again. I think you actually set a deadline on those talks
No. Not at the moment.
Because there’s a sort of suggestion that maybe if you get to January and there’s no agreement that you might cut your losses. Could you see that happening?
Once you are in our kind of situation you have envisaged every kind of solution yes. Yes, it’s possible.
¹This is an idea that I have long advocated for. Having qualifiers in October, then November and March is completely ridiculous for the top five European club competitions. The main opposition argument is that some club competitions outside of Europe cannot play in May because it would interfere with their seasons. I hate to break it to everyone, but this already happens in MLS. MLS matches run during the summer months and there are often weeks where MLS are playing during an international break and are missing a number of their stars. In fact, this happens in all of those leagues. It’s a non-argument.