Moments after arriving in Switzerland this evening, Mikel Arteta held his pre-match press conference ahead of tomorrow night's Europa League group stage opener against FC Zurich.
The boss tackled questions from the local and travelling media at St Gallen's Kybunpark stadium on a host of topics, including team selection, injuries and local idol Granit Xhaka.
Here's everything he had to say:
on bringing a strong squad - and if that’s an indication of trying to qualify as quickly as possible:
We don’t have that many players available, unfortunately, with injuries we’ve picked up in the last two weeks. This is a competition that we want to take very seriously, against an opponent that is going to make life difficult for us. We want to start the competition the right way and maintain our momentum.
on us having not won a European competition for almost 30 years:
That’s a long time and I would like to be the first one to break that negative record. You have to start somewhere - that’s tomorrow. We need to start well and earn the right to win the match.
on if we are seeing the benefits of managing Gabriel Martinelli’s minutes in the past:
I don’t know - we just tried to make a decision based on what we see, where the players are at and the space they have in the team. When we believe they are ready to step in and give their performances and expose them where it’s fair for the players to demand certain things that you’re exposed to at this club. Now you see a player with tremendous talent who is performing consistently at a very high level. He needs to keep doing that and keep improving.
on if he was surprised at Thomas Tuchel leaving Chelsea:
I was - it was right before the training session when we got the news. It’s always sad for any colleague in this profession to get fired. Unfortunately, we know how this works. I wish him the best of luck. It’s not pleasant to hear that news.
on if it makes him appreciate the stability he has:
What it makes me realise is what I always told you: that we have a profession that at some stage, this [can] happen. We have to prevent it, enjoy the journey and enjoy every day, because you never know when that’s coming.
on Emile Smith Rowe:
He felt discomfort in an area that [he’s been dealing with] now for a few weeks. He wasn’t comfortable after the game and he hasn’t trained in the last few days, so he’s out of the squad.
on Xhaka’s new role and his evolution in it:
He has a different role this year - he’s in more advanced areas and I think he’s playing really well. He’s been really consistent this season and is a really important player for us.
on Tierney and how he’s reacted to not playing when Zinchenko’s been fit:
Well, first of all, Kieran went through a period of three or four months with injury. He’s come back, he’s in a good place and what we want is to have competition in every position. His position is no different.
on how he convinced Xhaka to stay three years ago:
I gave him my opinion about the situation and I tried to explain the reasoning around why I thought leaving in that moment wasn’t the best idea. Knowing his character and how he is, I thought he was going to regret it. After that, day by day he has earned the respect of everyone at the club, of all our supporters and he’s been playing really well for us.
on Fabio Vieira and if it’s helped him to be out of the spotlight at the start of the season:
We were looking for players that could play in three positions in the frontline and in the attacking midfielder positions. We were looking for very specific qualities in the market and when I saw him, I really liked what I saw. Straight away, I was convinced that he was a player who can help us go to the next level and that he had the right personality and character to play for our club.
It’s a shame that we detected an injury when we were doing the medical. He had no pre-season and everything has been delayed, but hopefully you’re going to see a lot more of him in the next few weeks, and I’m sure that you’ll enjoy it.
on how he rates FC Zurich - and what might the biggest danger for us be:
The biggest danger is that, after the season they had last year, they haven’t got the results that they expected. You can see how willing they are to win football matches. This is a different competition, a different context and I expect a team that is going to be very ready tomorrow.
on Bernd Leno’s comments after leaving the club - and how he’d clarify those:
I’m really surprised. I don’t know if he was talking about the politics when he was starting every match or the politics when he wasn’t playing. I’m really surprised about it.
on if there’s a plan to give Bukayo Saka protection in terms of minutes ahead of the World Cup:
We will try - if the squad and performances allow us, we’ll try our best to manage his load and get him on the field in the best possible condition. After November we have something that we have never experienced before.
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