It was almost as if he came in under the radar. While Mesut Ozil’s deadline day move to the Gunners stole the headlines at the start of September, another international player from a major footballing power was signing on for a season in north London - and it was a move that deserved top billing of its own.
Goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano will play for Arsenal on loan from Italian side Palermo this season, the six times-capped Italian international adding to the Club’s stock of top-class shotstoppers as they vie for that vaunted place between the posts. The towering 27-year-old, who spent last season with hometown side Fiorentina on loan, has quickly warmed to his task since pitching up at London Colney - and he told us that he can’t wait to test himself in the Premier League this term.
The transfer might have happened late in the window, but Emiliano had known something was afoot for a few weeks. “I knew for about a month that Arsenal wanted me,” he explains. “They had the choice of me and some other good keepers though - and I’m so happy the final decision was an Italian! Now that I’m here, it feels great. It’s a dream for me. I’m proud to be here and I want to say thank you to the boss for making it possible. Now it is important that I work hard every day to show my quality.”
Last season Emiliano made 32 appearances for ‘La Viola’ as they agonisingly missed out on a Champions League berth. He was thrilled to represent the club from the city of his birth, but now has his eyes on going one step - preferably more - better with Arsène Wenger’s side.
“We had a good season at Fiorentina,” he says. “It was like playing for a Spanish team in an Italian league. We lost a place in the Champions League right at the end, which was unfortunate, but we did well overall. It was my dream to play there and I was proud to do that for a year. But I’m not there now - I’m at Arsenal and have a lot of motivation to do well here.”
"Now, I play in the national team with Buffon and try to learn from him, learn his secrets. I have been proud to play when he’s been unavailable, and have been pleased to train with him"
Appropriately, it was in Florence that the 6ft 5in keeper made his senior debut for the Italian national side. He played in a 5-0 win over the Faroe Islands on September 7, 2010, establishing himself as understudy to the mighty Gigi Buffon - a man who he admits to holding in high esteem along with another veteran of the Azzurri.
“Everyone born in Italy in the last 20 years, in my position, says Buffon is their hero,” he smiles. “Everybody has one idol - Gigi Buffon. When I was younger, I used to go and watch Fiorentina when Francesco Toldo was in goal - he was one of my idols too, and I wanted to be him back then. Now, I play in the national team with Buffon and try to learn from him, learn his secrets. I have been proud to play when he’s been unavailable, and have been pleased to train with him. I hope that my experience here, trying to help Arsenal win every match, will also help me get back into the Italy squad.”
His current absence from the Italian set-up can be traced back two years - when a period on the books of Inter Milan was marred by injury. “I was injured in the summer of 2011 when I played at Inter,” he remembers. “I was out for six months. It was a difficult time but now I am here, I am ready and I am happy to start a new adventure in London.”
Although the physicality and speed of the Premier League are seen as presenting a unique challenge for any goalkeeper, Emiliano’s height and build should stand him in good stead for the swirling winds and awkward set-pieces that could greet him during an English winter. “My position here won’t be much different - it is the quality of the forward that might vary,” he says. “It’s difficult to talk about my style - I’m just here to work, do my best and make the fans happy - but I guess if you are tall and strong you can make the opponents afraid. Hopefully they’ll run far away from me!”
"I guess if you are tall and strong you can make the opponents afraid. Hopefully they’ll run far away from me!"
English football is a subject Emiliano is clearly well schooled in, and he is relishing the test that lies in store. “I know a lot of things about the Premier League because I love the English way of thinking about football and sports. It is different - every team seems to have a full stadium, whether it is a small club or a small city. Of course I have seen a lot of Arsenal and its players too. This is a good team with fantastic training facilities, some of the best in Europe, and a lot of passion.”
His day-to-day routine will involve close work with Wojciech Szczesny and Lukasz Fabianski, both of whom have considerable experience in the Gunners’ first-team. He is looking forward to working in what is always a close-knit team of custodians. “I know Fabianski was a little unlucky with injuries last year,” he says. “I’ve seen Szczesny play a lot and he is a great goalkeeper. I will work hard with them both to compete, and consider it a good thing that we have other goalkeepers of such quality here. It is a positive fight. We will be at work together every day and I am sure there will be great friendship. We will help each other and, with the goalkeeping coaches, be a team of our own.”
How far can that team, within the wider team, go? While feeling confident, Emiliano is also aware that this is an intensely competitive league, with Arsenal joined by several other top sides in their quest for honours. “It is too early to make predictions about this season,” he believes. “Every year the Premier League is difficult. There are a lot of good teams - Liverpool, City, United, Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal - so it is very tough. Arsenal has a certain philosophy and every year the younger and older players always play good football together. I hope we do that again this season and that we can go a long way together.”
Read the interview with Emiliano and more in the latest edition
While Emiliano’s arrival is very much its own story, he’s more than happy to answer a question about his new German team-mate - and says that the Club’s success in luring him here is testament to its ambition. “Ozil is a top player,” he says. “He’s the kind of guy who can make a difference in every game, and that is a signal of what the Club is doing. They want to win. I think this will be a very exciting year.”
The Italian’s mixture of confidence, realism and humility is a beguiling one - and should stand the Gunners in good stead this season.
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