Last month the boss revealed his pre-match routine, detailing his movements and procedures from the team hotel the night before the game, right up until the big kick- off. This month we bring you part two, in which Arsène explains what he does during and after the game, both at the stadium and back home in the evening, all based on a regular 3pm kick-off on a Saturday afternoon.
Before we leave the dressing room just prior to kick-off everyone is encouraged to speak. Anyone can have the last word. I talk the most, but Steve Bould talks on the pitch with the players during the warm-up. Then when they come back into the dressing room it’s me, then the fitness coaches encourage and the players encourage each other. Per Mertesacker, Tomas Rosicky, Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta – everybody talks. “Come on, let’s go,” they say, and then most of the time I talk last.
I change my tone depending on the situation. Sometimes they need calming down, sometimes they need waking up. It’s not always the same. Sometimes when the team is too confident, they need to be reminded how much it hurts to lose a game.
Sometimes when the confidence is low, they need be reminded how strong they are when we do things well. So you have to adapt your speech to the mental circumstances of the team at that particularly moment.
What is difficult in our job is that confidence goes quickly and comes back slowly. It’s human nature to quickly think life is easy, but also to quickly think life is too hard. You always have to keep that competitive edge. We are like an animal in the jungle. He wakes up in the morning, he has to look right and left to make sure nobody’s there to eat him. You need that level of urgency always.
But daily life can make you forget that. When you win a game, everybody says, “Well done, you’re the greatest, nobody’s better than you, you should be in the national team.” Then suddenly Saturday comes, and you’re not ready. But somebody against you is ready to eat you. So if you forget that level of urgency, you can be eaten. Before you wake up the game is over – it’s only 90 minutes and sometimes you can lose a game in just one minute.
So you always have to find that right level of balance between urgency and confidence. That is the most difficult thing because if you are too tense, that doesn’t work either. If the level of urgency was the only secret we’d say to the players, “If you don’t win today then we’ll kill you after the game.” Then they would win all the games. But it’s not like that. You have to find that good mixture of urgency and confidence.
At half-time we get the players back in and I speak to them again. There have been some speeches that I have been proud of, but also you don’t want to give yourself too much credit because you can never measure the impact you have had. Sometimes it can be a guy in the team who has said something that you don’t even know about that wakes everybody up.
I just go home after every game and try to think about whether I made any mistakes in my decisions, in my speeches or in my preparation. The difficulty of our job as a manager is that we never know how much we contribute, either to a defeat, or to a victory. What is for sure is that we get too much credit for both! When we win we get too much credit, and when we lose we do as well!
More and more I speak to the opposition manager after the game. Often the other manager likes to know what my impression of his team is, and what thoughts I have, so I’m always happy to talk to him about the performance of his players. I also like to know what kind of impression he got from our team, because sometimes you feel the strength of the team better from the opponent’s bench rather than on your own bench.
Most of the time they come to my office after the game, we give them a glass of red wine or good beer and we have a talk. Many times over the years it has been a team who has been lower down the league than us, and they like to know what I think about their team. They like to be encouraged as well because sometimes they are battling to go down.
I’ve suffered so much over the 30 years in my career that I feel for people who are fighting not to get relegated. When you fight not to go down, that’s the real battle. Then you know the existence of the club is at stake. When you fight for first, second or third place it’s different. It’s stressful as well, of course, but the real stress is down there. Then you feel the responsibility that the whole club could go down.
If you look today in the Championship, I’ve played against nearly all of them during my 18 years at Arsenal, because they’ve nearly all been in the Premier League in that time. They’re all struggling to come up again, and that is the real fight.
I don’t like to shout at players after a game because you can do too much damage after the match. It is true that sometimes it is very tempting though! But sometimes I’ve gone overboard after games, so most of the time I really try to control myself because I go red in the face and think to myself, “The damage is big, don’t do more.”
?Sometimes you can say to an individual player, “It’s your fault that we conceded a goal on the cross.” But then later you look at the tape and it turns out it was not his fault at all. Then you’ve accused somebody who’s not responsible. So when you really know, you are really sure, then you can talk. It can be confusing though and you have to be careful about what you say, because you can cause a damage that is very difficult to repair. The last thing you want as a player is to be accused of something that you are not responsible for.
Then as a manager after that you have to say to the player, “Sorry, I was wrong.” It’s better when you say something that you’re sure about it. Sometimes you say just general words to the whole team like, “That’s not acceptable. Our performance was poor today and I won’t accept it.” But to go into individuals is very dangerous because you have to check first that you have all the facts. Most of the time when you concede a goal, there are four or five mistakes involved from four or five different people.
There isn’t really a moment when you stop thinking about the last game and start looking ahead to the next one. You never forget the last game, or the last defeat, let’s be honest. That lives with you forever. You have an emotional state after the game.
The process is that you then check those emotional conclusions by watching the game again. Then you check the game against the objective data that we collect. After that, your emotional state becomes a little bit less important and your objective analysis becomes more important. Then from that, you can draw conclusions for the next game.
If you think that it wasn’t a very bad performance but you have to change the player, you do it. But most of the time, you make sure that your emotional state and objective analysis is verified by what you get from watching the game again and from your objective data.
When I am on the way home after a game I can never switch off. I don’t switch off ever. I just can’t do it. If we win the game, then you have the good moments and you go out with friends and have dinner. So that’s kind of a switch off, but I never go out for dinner after we lose a game. Never. I just sit at home miserably and think about why we lost, what I can do better.
Over the past 30 years of my career I’ve had periods in my life where I’ve stayed at home for two or three days. If we have not got a game for a while, and we have lost the last one, there are times when I have not gone out at all for days. Maybe people don’t realise how much it hurts, but I think it hurts the fans as well. It really hurts to lose the game. If it doesn’t hurt, you will never survive in the game. If you want to stay in this job, it has to hurt when you lose matches.
Maybe it is important to try to switch off for a bit, and you try to do that of course, but it always comes back. People who live around you suffer with you, so the only thing I can do is to try and get out of other people’s way and not damage anybody else’s health or mental state. I try to be like a dog who is sick – I go away into quarantine and come back when I’m cured!”
??In the evening sometimes I watch Match Of The Day to see again what happened here and there, and to see how we have been perceived. Sometimes I think it would be better to watch it with the sound turned down! It depends on my mental state – sometimes I like to hear what they have got to say and I have got enough experience to put the comments into perspective and think, “No, he’s wrong about that, I don’t agree with it,” or, “I do agree with that.”
The only thing that upsets me is if the intention behind it is wrong. I accept criticism. When the intention is just a fair assessment, I accept it, but when the intention is just to hurt, of course it’s upsetting.
A matchday can be very draining. It always hits me the next day at 4pm. The next afternoon you decompress a little bit and then you start to feel the fatigue. Until then, most of the time I’m still under pressure.
I never tend to sleep well on the night of a game. If we win I sleep a little bit better, but still very short. I only sleep for two or three hours after a game. I go to bed late and get up early. I get up at 6am every morning but normally after the games I watch television late or read and I go to bed at 2 or 3am.
Copyright 2023 The Arsenal Football Club Limited. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source.