On The Champions League
The Champions League returns this week, which teams have caught your eye in the group stages so far?
There have been a few teams that have really stood out for me this season in the Champions League; teams that you wouldn’t typically expect.
I think that Real Sociedad have been very impressive. They are doing very well in the Champions League group as well as in La Liga, which is a surprise for me. I think they play brilliant football.
FC Copenhagen have also stood out. They were placed in a tough group (with Bayern Munich, Manchester United and Galatasaray) – they were unlucky not to pick up anything from their trip to Old Trafford and they beat Manchester United at home. They are a decent team; they don’t have big names, but they are doing OK.
I also think RC Lens deserve some credit too. They have been out of the Champions League for about twenty-years and were playing in the second division in France only a few years ago. It’s brilliant to see them in the Champions League when you consider the club’s budget. Despite not having the finances of some of the biggest teams in France and in Europe, they are always competitive, and they have a brilliant team spirit. They deserve a lot of credit for what they have achieved so far.
Do you think PSG will be itching for some revenge when they take on Newcastle this week?
I think PSG will be looking to get some revenge on Newcastle on Tuesday. Absolutely. PSG have an unbelievable record in the Champions League at home; they are not the same team away from home. In the Champions League, they have shown two faces.
They have changed many things at the club this season. Luis Enrique has come into the club and changed the style of play. They don’t have the same big names as last year.
I think it’s very important for PSG to put in a good performance at home. They need to win because away from home in the Champions League, both at Newcastle and in Milan, the performances have not been good enough.
PSG must finish first. We all know what has happened to them when they have finished second in the group over the last few years.
At home in Europe, they are unbeatable! Every single team that has come to Paris has lost. I’m pretty confident for PSG against Newcastle. Newcastle are missing a lot of players. PSG have a few injuries too, but they have such a deep squad with a lot of quality and are playing with so much confidence at the moment.
It is going to be very difficult for Newcastle. They are going to need to be very competitive, be well organised and come with the same spirit that they showed at St James’ Park if they are to have any chance of getting anything out of this game. If they come to Paris and let the PSG players play, they will bet hammered.
Let’s talk about PSG. For years they have flattered to deceive in the Champions League, do you think this team under Luis Enrique is a different animal?
I was very optimistic about PSG’s chances in the Champions League at the beginning of the season. I like the way they play, and I like the way that Enrique sets up the team.
Away from home in Europe, the results have been disappointing. Their domestic form has been good, but they are expected to win the league every single season with the resources that they have as a team.
When you play against the biggest teams in Europe, the most competitive teams, you have to raise your level. PSG have shown two faces in the Champions League, but at home they are very, very good.
They have changed many things at the club this season. A lot of players have come and gone; they have changed the philosophy off the pitch. On the pitch, Enrique has changed the style of play. When a club has so many changes, it takes time for everything to come together. They are doing well at the moment, but they have to win against Newcastle if they want to qualify top of the group. The last game in the group, away at Dortmund, PSG with their away record don’t want to have to go there and need to win.
On Warren Zaire-Emery
Everyone in France is so excited about Warren Zaire-Emery and also so impressed.
Five months ago, when Luis Enrique signed for PSG, Zaire-Emery was just seventeen years-old. He was part of the first team group but he wasn’t a starting player, but game after game, he has gained confidence from his team mates and he has slowly integrated himself into the team. He has the confidence of his manager, which is the most important thing for a young player, and he has shown so much quality on the pitch with his performances.
For such a young player, his maturity is unbelievable. You have the feeling that he has no stress whenever he plays, which is remarkable when you’re a seventeen-year-old playing for the biggest club in France every week and also playing for your country. The pressure is huge, but he looks like he can handle it all.
You could argue that he wasn’t expected to be such a key player for PSG this season. After three months of working with Enrique, he became the boss of the PSG midfield. Now, he is the first name on the team sheet.
For a club like PSG, who have got so many talented players in their midfield, to hand the keys over to such a young player, that is something that you don’t see often. I’ve been really impressed with his performances this season. The signal that he is sending to his team mates is brilliant. His performances will make everyone at PSG want to improve, especially the midfielders.
Manchester United have had a terrible season in the Champions League so far. Do you think they can go to Turkey and get a result?
The problem with Manchester United is you never know which side will show up; they’ve been so inconsistent this year both collectively and individually.
There is always that feeling, because its Manchester United, they will manage to compete and drag themselves over the line.
The game against Everton was the perfect preparation for this match against Galatasaray. They had to win that game at Everton, even though the score was 0-3, it was a really tough game for Manchester United. They need to go there and win, and they did. Goodison Park is hostile at the best of times, the atmosphere on Sunday was even more intense than it normally is because of the Premier League points deduction, and they handled that brilliantly.
It's always good for the players confidence to win an away game before you travel in the Champions League. I think Manchester United can show mental strength and can cope with the pressure that they will receive as soon as their plane lands in Turkey; the game starts as soon you land in the airport.
I hope Manchester United will have a peaceful night. We all know the atmosphere will be very hostile. If they can manage their emotions, then maybe they can get something from this game. It is a good test for them and a good opportunity for some of these players to answer some of the criticisms they have faced this season.
On Arsenal In The Champions League
After a rocky start in Ligue Un, Lens have found some form. How do you think they will approach this game and who are the players that Arsenal will need to keep an eye on, on Wednesday night?
Lens had a great result at the weekend, beating Clermont Foot 0-3. They are starting to show the signs of the team that surprised so many people in France last season. If you listen to the Lens players, they all know how difficult it will be to come to London, but they have a chance to spring a surprise on Arsenal. They can play without pressure because nobody expects them to get anything from the match.
Arsenal are very difficult to beat at home, but if they can play with the same spirit as they did in the opening group game, they can cause Arsenal problems. In football, if you have a chance, you have to take it.
Elye Wahi, the Lens striker, he scored at the weekend, and he is a really dangerous player. He is an individual that Arsenal will have to keep an eye on because he has the quality to hurt them.
Of course, it’s been a number of years since Arsenal dined at Europe’s top table. How would you assess their campaign so far?
I think Arsenal have performed well. They were the favourites to win the group and they look like they will do that. It’s not easy to play in the Champions League after so many years out of the tournament.
What happened in Lens when they lost shook them up a bit. They responded to that defeat with a brilliant victory away at Sevilla, which is always a difficult place to go.
It’s really important to win the group. We’ve seen teams in the Champions League finish second and get tough draws, so winning the group is the first priority.
It will be a really competitive game on Wednesday night because Lens still have an opportunity to qualify. It will be an intense game.
For Arsenal, they will be pleased with where they are after missing out on the Champions League for the last few years. Arsenal are one of the biggest club’s in the world and this is the competition they should be competing in every single year.
Arsenal have a lot of young players that are improving individually. The Champions League is a new experience for a lot of these players, and they are getting better with every game.
If Arsenal want to improve; if the players want to improve, then they need to be playing in the Champions League. If I was a player in the Arsenal dressing room, I would be thinking to myself ‘what we achieved last season was great, but we must improve this season’. If Arsenal want to close the gap on the biggest teams in Europe and Manchester City, they need to raise their level collectively and the Champions League gives them a good platform to do that.
I think there is more to come from this Arsenal team this season. They can keep improving. If I am Arteta and the Arsenal board, I’d be very happy with where the club are at this stage of the season.
Take it game-by-game
Arsenal need to take it game-by-game in the Champions League and see how far that can take them. The way they’ve played over the last two or three years has been magnificent, so they deserve to be competing in the Champions League.
They have improved so much. Credit to Arteta and his staff. There is a great vision at the club at the moment and everyone seems to be moving in the right direction.
I don’t expect Arsenal to win the Champions League, but I want them to do well in the competition.
For Arsenal, the reference point has to be Manchester City. The challenge for them is to bridge the gap between them and City, and they will start to do that by consistently competing in the knock-out rounds of the Champions League year-in-year-out.
Fatigue is my biggest worry for Arsenal
Arsenal are doing well. My main worry is players burning out by not getting enough rest because that has cost Arsenal over the last couple of seasons; they’ve lost some really important players to injury.
I think the same thing has happened a little bit this season. Odegaard is not the same player as he was last season at the moment. He looks a bit sloppy in everything that he is doing, and he looks tired mentally and physically. It’s not easy to play every three days and to also play for your country.
I’m very worried about Saka. He plays in nearly every single game – I can’t remember the last time he missed a game for Arsenal – and you can see that he isn’t playing at the same level as he did last season.
You could argue that Arsenal beat Brentford on Saturday because of their team spirit because physically and mentally, Arsenal are not at their best. Some important players look tired, they need to add more quality so they can rotate some of the key players.
Arsenal need to add two or three more quality players to compete for the title
Arsenal improved their squad, but they also lost an important player in Granit Xhaka. I still believe that Arsenal need to sign two or three more players if they want to become champions, but they won’t be able to get them in the January window because clubs don’t want to sell their best players halfway through the season.
The exception to that is the signing of Trossard last January, but he had six months left on his contract and wanted to leave. It’s very rare to get a player that good in the January window.
Every season Arsenal adds one or two high quality players to their squad. Arteta and the board are maybe copying the same approach in the transfer market as Liverpool and Manchester City where they are waiting to sign the right players, rather than signing players that offer short-term fixes.
I’m sure that Edu and Arteta have identified the perfect players that they would like to add to the group in the summer because when you play in the Premier League and the Champions League, that is a demanding work load. You cannot play with the same eleven players every week.
I think Arsenal need to improve in central defence. That is an area that needs high quality cover as does the left back position.
I think they could do with more quality in the midfield. Declan Rice has come into the team and been excellent since joining the club, but both Partey and Jorginho are getting older, so Arsenal will need more depth there.
The most important signing would be a striker and possibly a wide forward that can take the pressure off Martinelli and Saka. Arsenal are missing the striker that can score between twenty-to-thirty goals a season.
It’s a non-negotiable if you want to compete with the best teams, you need a player that guarantees you a certain number of goals. We saw Manchester City rotate the goals among their players before they signed Haaland, but then you need maybe six or seven players who will score at least ten goals each season. Arsenal don’t have those players.
I have huge respect for Gabriel Jesus and Eddie Nketiah, but are they going to score twenty-to-thirty goals a season? I don’t think so.
On why Arsenal haven’t been as fluid this season
I don’t think Arsenal can suggest that because teams are playing more defensively against them, their football hasn’t been as fluid. Manchester City are playing the same style as always, most of the teams in the Premier League set-up to try and stop them, but despite that, they are still winning games and winning them in the style that we have all come to associate with Manchester City.
Even when Manchester City change four or five players, it doesn’t affect the way they play.
I think the physical and mental freshness is the biggest issue for Arsenal. The players are not being rotated enough.
Kai Havertz popped up with a crucial winner on Saturday night. How would you assess the German’s start to his Arsenal career?
He came to Arsenal with a huge amount of pressure on his shoulders and he was still carrying a lot of mental baggage after a dreadful season at Chelsea.
Game-after-game, he was criticised heavily in the press. When you are criticised every week, that can affect your confidence as a player. He has also played in so many different roles, which wouldn’t have helped him.
I think Havertz has had quite an unsettled couple of years. It was a nightmare for him at Chelsea last year and you could see that when he came to Arsenal, he was still affected by that.
I think he needs time. I said a few weeks ago that Arteta should put him on the bench to relieve him of the pressure on his shoulders; try and give him minutes slowly. I think that step-by-step approach would bring the best out of him, and it would help him rebuild his confidence and also develop a better understanding with his team mates because Arsenal play a very different game to Chelsea.
It takes time for a player to find their best form when they change club. It’s not easy to find yourself in a new dressing room; it takes time to settle.
I was pleased that he started the game on the bench yesterday and that he scored the winning goal. It’s going to be hard for him to convince everyone, but scoring goals and having an impact is a good way to do it.
Havertz is in the right place. The Arsenal dressing room is the best dressing room that he could be in as a player. The Arsenal group are very humble guys who love to play together with a great team spirit, which is exactly what he would have needed after the challenges he has faced over the last couple of years.
Havertz needs serenity to improve
It’s really difficult for a player when you are asked to perform in different roles every single week. To improve as a player, you need serenity on the pitch. When you are played in so many positions, then you can become confused as a player and sometimes you can lose your instincts.
I didn’t think it was surprising to hear Havertz say that he didn’t know what his best position was after the Brentford victory. That can be difficult for a player, but we should only give him so much sympathy because he is one of the lucky few who get to play football for a living at the highest level.
Step-by-step, if you try to analyse the situation, you could say that there are reasons why his form hasn’t been the best for a while. I think he joined Chelsea at the wrong time. So many things were happening at the club on and off the pitch; there was a lot of instability there in terms of managers, tactical styles and players coming and going. There was no serenity at Chelsea. Can you name one player that has performed well for Chelsea over the last two years? There aren’t any really.
I can understand Havertz frustration with being used in multiple roles. I used to play in lots of different positions and had to change my game, it’s quite a useful experience for a young player because you learn a lot.
When you reach Havertz’ age, 24, you need to find your natural position and then work on improving your game step-by-step. I think it’s a shame that Havertz doesn’t know his best role. If I am Kai Havertz, I’d be waking up every morning asking myself the same question: What is my best position?
Gradually I think Havertz will find his best position because I believe in Arteta and I believe that he will have a development plan for Havertz. I think the best is yet to come for Havertz and, if I was picking his best position, it would be as the left midfielder of three with a license to break the lines and score goals.
Team spirit at Arsenal
I was so happy to see how loved Aaron Ramsdale is in the Arsenal squad. I loved the players reaction towards him at the end of the game and this is proof that the dressing room is full of good characters and the team spirit is very good.
What I saw on Saturday night is extremely rare. It’s so rare to see all of your team mates try to send positive messages and love to their goalkeeper because they will know it’s so frustrating when you’re not playing.
Mikel Arteta hasn’t got a lot wrong while Arsenal manager. The decision to replace Aaron Ramsdale with David Raya has divided opinion among the fans – what are your thoughts on the decision?
We’ve seen this type of thing happen before at different clubs who have signed new goalkeepers. At PSG, it happened when they signed Donnarumma and Keylor Navas wanted to leave and he joined Nottingham Forest on loan.
The goalkeeper position is unique. Most goalkeepers rely primarily on their concentration and confidence, so it’s not easy when all of a sudden you find yourself out of the team and sat on the bench.
When Real Madrid signed Courtois, at first, he was on the bench and Keylor Navas’ performances suffered because he could feel Courtois behind him waiting for him to make a mistake.
I can understand why Arteta wanted to create the competition in the squad – he wants to have the most competitive squad he can assemble but it can work against you in certain situations.
Last season, Ramsdale didn’t do anything wrong. He performed well for Arsenal. It’s very had for a player that has performed well to understand why he is now on the bench. Ramsdale will want to know the reason why he is no longer the starting number one for Arsenal.
I think that the way the Arsenal players responded to Ramsdale at the full-time whistle, shows you that this situation has had a wider effect on the squad. The players wouldn’t have shown Ramsdale that much love if something wasn’t wrong. You could see the frustration on Ramsdale’s face during the game and then the relief at the end. He didn’t look comfortable in the game at all, especially with the ball at his feet, and I think that is the reason why Arteta prefers David Raya to him.
Ramsdale will feel hurt by what has happened at Arsenal this season. He will think that he is the better goalkeeper, and it will sting for him to be relegated to the bench for a player that joined in the summer.
Ramsdale had to play against Brentford. I hope that he gets more minutes over the next few months.
Ramsdale is in a tricky situation because he will want to be considered for the England squad at Euro 2024. If he continues to find himself on the bench, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him try and move when the transfer window opens.
Many people believed that Chelsea had turned a corner after beating Tottenham away and drawing at home to Manchester City, they followed those matches up with a dreadful showing at Newcastle.
I think that Chelsea are looking better than last season and, under Pochettino, they are gradually improving. Some individual players have performed well this season, Raheem Sterling for example.
I think that this team is still scarred from what happened to them last season. It will take time to see the best of Chelsea as a team. There are so many new players that have joined the club and I think a lot of these players have not performed at their best level since they signed (for the club).
I think in the big games this season, they have shown character. This is not the best Chelsea team that we have seen - they can improve much more – they are starting from a position of recovery. They are learning how to walk again after a bruising period last season.
I’m pretty sure that we will see a better Chelsea team after January. I was not surprised by the result against Newcastle, they still have a lot of things to sort out, but they are on the right track.
How can these players heal the scars from last season?
It’s a simple solution, but it can be difficult for players to execute if they are suffering from a lack of confidence. I think Chelsea need to get more out of the individuals who are supposed to be the leaders of the team – it is these players that need to lead by example and show a level of performance and commitment on the pitch. That is the only way that Chelsea can improve the mentality and attitude of the entire team.
You’re looking for key players to raise their level and raise everyone else’s or, sometimes, drag you over the finish line in a game. Sterling has shown great things this season, but he is probably the only one who has performed at a high level consistently.
At the moment, when I look at the team and the performances, there are a few players that are playing better than the others. Some of the big players in this team – the leaders – they are not playing the role they should be playing at the moment.
Reece James, he is the captain, and you expect more from him. Chilwell, when he has been fit, he has been disappointing. These players should be leading the team in the dressing room and on the pitch.
Sterling has been in good form over the last few weeks, Gallagher has done well, and I like the look of Palmer, but they need more from the other players. I want to see more personality from some Chelsea players on the pitch.
Chelsea need their big individual players to start taking some responsibility. Whenever I had bad moments in my career, there were always individuals in the dressing room who would show you the light in the darkness and this is exactly what I want to see from some of Chelsea’s players.
Reece James got sent off – he showed a lack of discipline. Do you expect more from the Chelsea captain?
I expected more from Reece James against Newcastle. He is the captain of Chelsea, the leader of the team, and he lost his head. He is an international player playing for one for the biggest clubs in the world, everyone is right to expect more from him.
Also, he has spent such a long time on the treatment table. when he is on the pitch, he hast to behave like a captain.
How does Reece James learn from this?
Reece is an intelligent guy. I can understand his frustration. He is someone that loves the club – he is Chelsea through and through – the way that Chelsea have been over the last couple of years would have hurt him. You can feel that has had a massive impact on the players and the morale in the dressing room.
He would have been incredibly frustrated when he was out injured because there is nothing that you can do to help the team on the pitch. In the meantime, when you’re fit, to show that kind of temper, that sends out the wrong message to your team mates and to the manager. I expect much more from Reece James. I expect him to step onto the pitch with a better mentality in the future and to live up to the expectations that Chelsea have placed on him as their captain.
The French connection at Chelsea
Benoît Badiashile and Axel Disasi are two players with great prospects, but they are not ready to take over from Thiago Silva yet. Thiago Silva made a mistake against Newcastle, but he has been one of Chelsea’s better players this season. He is a leader, and, although he doesn’t wear the armband, he is the captain of the Chelsea defence.
Badiashile and Disasi are still looking to improve their confidence on the pitch. They are fighting for a place in the France squad, which is a good thing for Chelsea, because there are so many talented centre backs that Didier Deschamps can call on.
It hasn’t been easy for either player at Chelsea. I don’t think they have been given the best protection from the midfielders in front of them; I’ve been disappointed with the performances of Moises Caicedo and Enzo Fernandez.
There are so many players at Chelsea that need to raise their level. Badiashile and Disasi left Monaco to join the club, but the pressure of playing for Monaco and Chelsea is a completely different world. The pressure from the fans and the media, everything. When you play at Monaco, you’re playing in a cocoon because nobody really talks about them as a club in France – it is not the same as PSG or Marseille.
Badiashile and Disasi are living in a different world now. Gusto is in a similar situation. These three players arrived at a club that was in the middle of a nightmare on and off the pitch. It’s difficult when you don’t have the experience of being a player that has played at the highest level. Sometimes, you need to rely on that belief and arrogance as a player to show that you are ready to play for a club like Chelsea. I think all of those players have the ability to play for the club, but it will take time before we see them at their best.
Chelsea should be aiming for Europe
Chelsea are not playing in European competition, they have a big squad, although here are a few injured players.
For me, I think Chelsea’s objective is really quite simple. If you remove all of the troubles that have hampered the club over the last year or so and if you look at the great performances that they’ve shown this season against Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City, they need to reach that level on a consistent basis. That is the big challenge for Chelsea – play every single game with that intensity.
Focus on what they did against the best teams in the league and repeat it every single weekend. They’ve shown they can play at a high level, so the challenge is to do it consistently.
If Chelsea wants to compete for a place in the Champions League, if they want to compete with the best teams in the Premier League, they need to follow the blueprint that served them so well against the best teams this season.