Pre-Match Report

Nagoya Grampus v Arsenal - Preview

Dragan Stojkovic and Arsène Wenger
Stojkovic and Wenger at their pre-match press conference

Some pre-season friendlies are more 'friendly' than others, and there's no doubt there's a huge amount of mutual respect between the two teams - and managers - that will go head-to-head in the Toyota Stadium here in Nagoya on Monday.

Grampus Nagoya coach Dragan 'Piksi' Stojkovic played under Arsène Wenger for nearly two years when the Frenchman managed the J-League side in 1995 and 1996, and now the Serbian former Yugoslav international is in charge of the team himself - a position he's held since 2008.

The two were reunited at a press conference in Nagoya on Thursday afternoon, and it's clear that the 48 year-old Grampus coach holds Wenger in the highest esteem.

"Arsène Wenger is the best example for a football manager," the ex-Red Star Belgrade and Marseille man said. "He is intelligent, he loves football - it's a real passion for him - and he's very loyal. He works for and loves his club 110 per cent.

"He's somebody who has a gift: he can see something that other people don't. This is the power of Arsène Wenger.

"He had a lot of influence on me to become a coach. This is not a joke, it's a very serious story.

"Of course to be Arsène Wenger is impossible, to replace him is very difficult, but to follow the way he works - yes I agree absolutely with that. This is my way of working too, and exactly what I'm doing with my team is practically the same as what he is doing with Arsenal. He is the best example for me and I want to follow that direction.

"So I was really lucky to work with him as a player, because I recognised how football can be really, really nice under his control. With other managers though it was very hard."

'Piksi' has had his own success already. In 2010 he led Nagoya Grampus to their first ever J-League title - surpassing even Wenger's achievements with the club. Then, the following year, he won the Japanese Super Cup - something Grampus had only managed once previously, under Wenger in 1996.

So it's no surprise that the Arsenal boss was equally glowing in his appraisal of Stojkovic: "He is a young manager, so we have lots of hope for him. He has his future in front of him. He's 48 and has had his first positive experience.

"I believe the next five or six years will decide the course of his career as a manager. As a player he obviously proved himself as one of the best.

"He has had a good start as a coach and now it's important that his next stage is a positive one, because a career is about continuity. He has had a strong start, now he must take advantage of that. He has made a reputation as a manager, now his next decision, his next step, will be important. But I believe he has the qualities for an exceptional career. I hope he achieves it."

There were even questions in the press conference, from local journalists, as to whether 'Piksi' could one day tread the same path as Wenger did, and leave Grampus Nagoya to become Arsenal manager.

"Well, I have not finished yet!" Wenger responded. "Anyway, it will be the people on the Arsenal board who will decide that, not me."

As for Stojkovic – the man who won the Champions League as a player in 1993 – he was relatively coy, saying only "why not?" before adding with a smile "I think I will have to wait 10 years for the chance!"

Arsenal have waited more than 10 years for the chance to play in Japan again. It's 45 years, to be exact, since the Gunners were last in this country. They won three out of three friendlies back in 1968, the last match of which was played in front of a then record crowd in the country of 70,000.

Another sell-out is expected this Monday at Grampus Nagoya's 45,000-capacity Toyota Stadium, as Arsenal look to make it three straight wins on the Asia Tour 2013.

The goals have been flying in so far - Olivier Giroud (five) and Chuba Akpom (three) are the goalscorers in form, but eight different players have got on the scoresheet in the two matches, and each of the 24-man touring squad has featured at some point.

Arsenal have stepped up their preparations in the last few days, and with good reason. Grampus are exactly halfway through their league season, and are 12th out of 18 in the J-League at the moment. They beat bottom team Oita Trinita 2-1 away in their last match on Wednesday, for their third win in the last four.

And we are assured a competitive match this Monday evening. When asked in the press conference for what he wanted from the match, Stojkovic responded simply: "a win."

Clearly the mentor/protégé relationship goes only so far.

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