Press conference

Arteta on... team news, West Brom and confidence

Mikel Arteta was back on a Zoom call with the media for the final time in 2020 on Thursday as he looked ahead to our match at West Bromwich Albion.

Our manager discussed the upcoming transfer window, the latest team news, Bukayo Saka, Reiss Nelson, and more.

This is what he said:

on the latest team news…
We will see today, some players had to come in yesterday to get assessed after the game, we had a couple of knocks. Then we had players that have been through all the Covid regulations with different individuals which I think we will recover for the game against West Brom, but it will be between today and tomorrow to see who is available, who is fit and how everybody is feeling.

on Bukayo Saka’s fitness…
I hope he is available, we will see today if he is training or not. He has played a lot of minutes as well. I am confident he will be okay for the game.

on what back-to-back wins has done for confidence…
We needed those results, that’s for sure, but we need a much longer run than that. There are things we have done much better to get the results in the last two games, but there are things that still we have to do better and improve. Confidence-wise it is a completely different scenario when you are winning football matches, everybody plays with more freedom, more belief, the pressure gets released a little bit and that is always a positive thing towards performances.

on West Brom’s two matches under Sam Allardyce…
Two very different matches, the first one against Liverpool where they had a really clear plan and they executed it really good. Even going 1-0 down they didn’t really change anything at all, they knew they would have their moments, they grew and got into the game and were much more efficient in the second half and put Liverpool in trouble. Sam is very efficient about what he does, he has a very clear philosophy of playing, he always picks up results, he always makes it really difficult for you and he is not going to be different. His teams are always really well organised and know exactly what to do, so it will be a tough test again.

on the release of pressure on him personally…
I think it has lifted on everyone, but honestly there is certain pressure of course we understand, but most of that pressure on wanting to do so well and disappointing people more than anything else - and trying to find ways to improve the situation as much as possible. Sometimes in this game it is difficult to explain the reasons why you are losing football games and doing much better than the opponent you lose it, and sometimes when you don’t deserve it that much you still win football games. It is what it is, but what was clear was that we had to win football games to release the pressure on everybody, we have done that but there is still a long way to go.

on whether Bukayo Saka is always desperate to learn more…
Yes, but that should be a given by any player, that they are always trying to earn and get better. ~for me the biggest thing he has done in the last few months is the personality he plays with and the responsibility he takes in the decision he is willing to take when things are not going well, and the impact he has had for the team to get results. At that age, it is not common at all. But that is his nature, and he wants to evolve that - you could see that his team-mates trust him and want to give him that responsibility, and that’s great because then you don’t have one or two players, you have more players. He is a great example as well, for any young player to play with that commitment, that passion, and that courage, when you play for a big team.

on whether he understands the calls for a break in the Premier League…
Absolutely, we are all concerned with our own health and what is going on around us. But at the same time, with all the protocols we have in place, everything we do around the training ground, around football matches, the fact that we play our sport outdoors, it minimises the risks a lot. If you see the records since we began to test, it is incredibly positive and I think as long as we can, we have to keep on doing that. Obviously we can’t put anybody at risk but I think we have shown that the system is working, okay in the last week or so something has happened and I think we will have more restrictions and more tests to try to be as efficient as we were before but I think it can work and I think we can carry on doing it.

on Sead Kolasinac...
I cannot confirm anything yet. We are working on a couple of things and obviously the window is going to bring a lot of news. Some are true, some are not. Whenever we have something to say, we will announce it.

on whether there is any truth in the reports linking Sead with a return to Schalke...
We've had some conversations around a few players and whether we can find some loans because the numbers we have in the squad at the moment are really big. Again, we cannot confirm anything yet.

on whether he thinks it's good for mental health for football to continue...
Well, the importance of football in this society is massive I think. When you ask and you talk to people and discuss what it means to have football games in this difficult period for everybody where there is not so much to do, I think it's really, really important and what we have to do is just try to do it in a safe way, as we have been doing recently. I think there are many, many positives.

on him being a different man to speak to this week after two wins...
I am the same man! I am obviously happier and more relieved but results in this industry change everything and the perception is completely different when you win matches. We all know that. I am happier.

on whether he thought talk of a relegation battle was over the top...
But when you lose the games that we did and you are in the position that we were in in the table, at the end it is what it is and you have to accept that. There is nothing worse for me than trying to run away from that reality. For me, the worrying thing for me was the way that we were losing football matches and why we were losing them. That obviously brings a sense of fear that 'wow, with them doing nothing they can still beat you' but we've broken that tendency now and we're in a more positive run. But again, there is a lot to do.

on how important it is for him that our young players kick on in 2021...
We know that our club has a history of bringing players through the academy and it's in our DNA. We want to keep doing it and I think I've done it since the day I came through that door. But they need the right process, they need the right players around them and you have to respect the timing of their development. There is nothing worse than rushing those players when they are not ready. If they are ready and they respond, then keep doing it. You don't have to hold them back because you know their energy, their passion and what they want to do. They can run and sprint and do whatever they want, but they need [experienced players] as well. Eleven kids is impossible. When you have the right mixture then these kids start to become more senior players and they start to have a little bit more experience and they are in a good development phase, let's go for it. But you have to be cautious as well.

on what represents a successful season...
I never got that far [to publicly setting end of season targets]. For me, the important thing is the next match and how we do that and if we can get a result there and how we get that result. What is our performance, how are we evolving. And when you don't [get the results], okay, we look at the things that we have to improve and see how we react when things are not going well because it's a real assessment for your squad, for your staff, for the players and as a club. We've been through a lot in the last few months. Some really positive things that we have been able to change, some things that we didn't expect to have and as well, a lot of disappointments recently in terms of results. For me to plan - especially in this world - what is going to happen at the end of the season and what is good or bad, it's impossible to say. We know the aims for this football club and that's to win every competition that we are involved in and it has to be nothing less than that. But as well, we have to understand the context that we are in and respect that but always have the mentality to change it as quickly as possible.

on whether he can see any similarities between last season and this season…
Well, it’s different because I’ve already been here a year and I’ve got a much better understanding of what is going on, what is working, what has to be changed and how we can do that. But the challenge is not very different. I think we know better how to deal with it.

on whether he has a New Year’s resolution…
For me, it’s honestly that the people around me are healthy and safe. That’s all I can ask for. I’m privileged to do what I do and I’m happy to do what I do, so I cannot ask for much more from myself.

on Reiss Nelson’s absence…
Yeah, he had a little niggle and he’s not been feeling 100 per cent. He had a muscular issue and he’s been in and out of training. He’s not 100 per cent and it’s a shame because I felt like he was getting into his performance levels and he was starting to have some really good games. He was starting to build that momentum and this little injury has set him back a little bit, but I think this week has been much better. It was my mistake to not verify the situation with what’s been happening, but he’s not been 100 per cent fit and that’s the reason why he’s been out.

on the need to trim our squad in the January transfer window…
Well, we have a large squad, we knew that and a lot of things we wanted to do in the summer, we couldn’t accomplish for different reasons. There are some players that are going to go on loan, they are going to leave, and that’s the priority at the moment. We cannot sustain the numbers that we have in terms of substitutions. We are looking to do that and then we will see if we have the right opportunities in the positions that we need some more help. We are working with the club to find that.

on whether a loan deal is more likely than a permanent deal…
We need to be careful with that (stifling the development of a youngster), but obviously financially, it’s only only us, it’s every club in the Premier League who has been hit with big numbers. We know that this is not going to change from the last year or so and we are going to have to add some of how we want to improve the team in different ways financially. We will decide whether it’s a loan or buying players in relation to the opportunity that we have in the market.

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