The Gunners boss has spoken to the press ahead of his side’s Premier League clash with Brighton on New Year’s Eve at the Amex Arena
What influence did Pele have on you?
Well everything that I’ve seen and heard of him has been through videos and people who knew him personally and a lot of relationships that I have in football. He’s someone who probably changed the dimension of world football because he could do a bit of everything. He was the most complete player the world has ever seen. It’s a big loss. We have two big losses with him and Maradona in the last year or so.
There are a few Brazilians in the squad. Have they spoken about Pele?
They probably have done. We talked about the other day and they are very emotional because he’s one of the most popular figures in Brazil. He’s a big loss.
What’s the latest team news?
Everything is good so far apart from the players that we had out. Everybody has been training well.
Yeah he’s getting closer and closer. He’s been training with us so he’s available.
He’ll be available?
What did you learn from the League Cup clash with Brighton?
That they are a really good team. They are playing at a level that dominates almost every phase of play that is relevant to dominate a football match. A team that has a lot confidence and plays with a lot of personality. They’re someone who I’ve followed for a period now.
How pleased are you with Eddie Nketiah stepping up?
That’s what we need from the players. We had a big blow with Gabi and not having him had a big impact on the team. We always said Eddie had the quality and he needed the opportunity to show that. He did it again on Saturday.
You’ll be top heading into the New Year. How does that feel?
Very good but my feeling is about tomorrow and performing at the level we need to win against a really good side. That’s the focus. We are really happy where we are, but as I said there are a lot of things we can still do better and improve and we have to show that in the coming game.
How much of a challenge are you expecting?
It is always a really difficult and tricky game. They have individually a lot of quality and composure and they are aggressive. Tomorrow they will ask big questions so we have to be at a high level for that game.
What do you make of De Zerbi?
Every manager has his ideas and he’s different. You can see a lot of similarities with what he did at Sassuolo and Shakhtar. It’s his way of understanding the game and he always plays that way.
How much closer is Emile Smith Rowe?
Very much. He’s made big steps in the last week or so. He took part in some training sessions lately and looked good. We’re really keen to have him back soon.
All your front three scored on Boxing Day in Jesus’ absence. How much confidence does that give you that you can cope without him?
It’s just a game. We need the consistency and capacity to do that every three days. We have another opportunity to do that tomorrow.
Are you aware of any plans for a statue to be built for Arsene Wenger?
It was a great day, a really emotional day. Finally it happened in a really natural way. I think he got what he deserved which is a big ovation for our crowd and a good feeling of welcome from everybody when he was around the stadium. I’m really pleased with that because he absolutely deserves it.
Shakhtar have said they’re in talks with Arsenal over Mudryk. What’s the latest on that?
I cannot talk about players that are not Arsenal.
How important is it to tie down such a young talent like William Saliba?
We have a few of those that we are willing to extend the contract. Willy is one of them. I think he’s shown in the months that he’s been with us the quality and the personality he has to play at the level that we want. We are trying to do that because we know he can be a really important part of our plans.
Are the contract talks progressing well?
I hope so. That’s more to Edu and the board to be discussing with him. What I know is that the player is really happy, the player wants to be here and that’s the main thing.
You’ve spoken a lot about the energy the team get from the fans and the improvement in results at home. Away from home, what does that come down to, is it more game management?
They are louder. There are not that many but we still have huge support and a lot of people travelling with the team away from home. It’s a different atmosphere. We have played some big games away from home already this year and tomorrow will be another one.
At the end of last year you spoke about having to understand the mood of a game – this was after Newcastle away – do you think the squad has improved with that?
Yeah, you can improve but every game is a challenge and different. Tomorrow will be a very special day, it’s New Year’s Eve and I’m sure the stadium will be pretty loud. We’re going to be ready for that.
You’ve spoken quite a lot about other sports. What are the transferable themes you see when you look at those sports?
I love sport. I’m interested in meeting people and we’re lucky because we have access to do that all the time and interchange opinions, experiences and ideas with other coaches.