Q: What do you take away from your draw at Villarreal in the Champions League?
A: That my team has a really surprising mental strength for such a young group. We told ourselves: Let's carry on playing the way we know best, without panicking and all will be fine. Then we came back in the game.
Q: Would you say that qualifying for the next round is nearly done?

A: Let's be cautious here, the second leg on Wednesday will be a difficult one. They (Villarreal) really impressed me during the first leg. I hope that their game is different when they play away.
Q: Does your team still surprise you?
A: Yes it is an astonishing team. When you think about it, the average age is only 21. When I think of our game in Rome where we won on penalties after missing the first one, I have to say that my team is mentally very strong.
Q: Was this the turning point of the season?

A: Yes it was. Before this game in Rome, we wouldn't lose but our football wasn't very convincing. Since Rome, we are once again scoring goals and our game has come back to us.
Q: You have now been unbeaten for 17 league games. Doesn't this fill you with regrets?
A: It certainly does. We have been unbeaten for 17 games which means we lost 5 during our first 14 games of the season. No one can have any hopes of winning the league with such a poor start.
Q: How do you explain this poor start?
A: I think I got it wrong as I probably underestimated the negative effects of last season on the team's productivity when we lost the title in the last few games. Hleb and Flamini have left the club. The Adebayor incident, who was leaving the club one minute and staying the next. This has also played a major part in our poor start. But, we also had defensive problems. Our defeats were not due to the players' lack of spirit or their lack of quality but rather to an attack-defence imbalance.
Q: Was it an error to put your belief into such young players?
A: I am not invulnerable but I know what my plan is. People have criticised me for not buying new players. I admit that at some point in time, you become a prisoner of your own policy. I cannot say I believe in Song, Diaby and Denilson and buy three players to replace them.
Q: Can you understand that some people have doubts with regards to this policy?
A: The problem people have is that they want you to play youngsters and  then ask you why you did not buy Gareth Barry or Xavi Alonso. For me, buying these players is killing altogether Song, Diaby and Denilson. At some point, playing youngsters will cost you some points. That's the way it is and you have to accept it. When you play a 20 year old, you take risks. I can say that Arsenal's future is very promising.
Q: Have you been disappointed by the way your team has sometimes played this season?
A: I was very frustrated. Not only because we couldn't score but because our game was nonexistent. You have to wonder why our game started to  crumble despite using the same players. The influence of psychological factors in football is much more important than you can imagine. We have now recovered our game.

This interview first appeared in Le Parisien.

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13 Apr 2009