When Monaco walk out at Emirates Stadium on Wednesday, one face will certainly be familiar to our supporters as Takumi Minamino aims to once again find the net at our expense.
The Japanese international scored his first goal for Liverpool against us in the 2020 Community Shield, and then got on the scoresheet again in a 4-0 win at Anfield the following year.
However, these days he now dons the red and white of another club, as last summer Monaco, seeking to add speed and vision to their squad, pinpointed the talents of Takumi and negotiated a reported €18 million deal with Liverpool to take him to the Principality.
The man from Izumisano in the south of Japan had a low-key first season at the Stade Louis II, playing 24 games and scoring once, in a 3-0 away win at Flo Balogun’s Reims. He did, however, continue to be an important player for his country, for whom he has scored 17 times in 47 games and played in three of Japan’s four matches at the Qatar World Cup.
A new season and a new man in the dugout in Adi Hutter means that Takumi is keen to impress as much and as soon as possible, including in the Emirates Cup on Wednesday.
“A new coach has arrived at the club with his two assistants and we are in the middle of a really good pre-season,” says the 28-year-old of the club's preparations so far. “Personally, I have good feelings and I’m feeling better and better. Every pre-season is very hard and with two training sessions each day, we are training with a lot of intensity. This will allow us to be ready for the beginning of the season.
“It also allows us to strengthen the players’ cohesion, but we have a very good squad,” he adds. “Several young players have joined the group for this pre-season and we try to give them the best possible welcome, this is very important.”
For Takumi, the trip to Emirates Stadium marks a return to the country where he spent two-and-a-half-years, making 40 Premier League appearances. It's a competition for which he has the ultimate respect.
“I think the Premier League is the toughest league in the world,” he says. “I enjoyed my time playing in England a lot. The level is very high and the atmosphere is very good. I still really like to watch the Premier League on TV.
“I have played against Arsenal a few times and it’s always nice to play at Emirates Stadium – the atmosphere is amazing. It will be a tough game, but it’s 11 players against 11 players and we have to show now to the coach what we are able to do. We are all pushing to do the best we can.”
Takumi may well come up against a compatriot and a friend today in Takahiro Tomiyasu. The pair have played alongside each other on numerous occasions for their country, including when young Tomi made his full international debut as a 19-year-old against Panama back in 2018.
“Yes, I know a lot of players from Arsenal but more particularly Takehiro, he is a good friend of mine,” says the left-winger. “We play for the national team together but I know he suffered some injuries last season so I don’t know if he is going to play against us, but it would be nice if he did.
“Overall I thought Arsenal played really well last season and this match will be a very tough one for us. We have to make sure our preparations are good and we are ready to play this team.”
Ligue 1 kicks off on the same weekend as the Premier League and thoughts for Takumi will soon turn to Monaco’s first match, away to Clermont on Sunday, August 13 and a season ahead when the Monégasques will want to better last season’s sixth place, which meant they missed out on European competition.
That was tough to take for a club that has so often graced the continent’s premier competition, including reaching the final of the Champions League in 2004.
“Our goal is to finish the season as high as possible in Ligue 1,” says Takumi. “We want to be back in the European competitions too – we are going to do our best to reach the Champions League and we also have big ambitions in the Coupe de France too.
“Personally I would like to help the team as much as I can, scoring and making assists as often as possible.”
This interview appears in the Arsenal v Monaco matchday programme which you can purchase online, and don’t forget you can watch the Monaco game live on Arsenal.com and the official app from 6pm on Wednesday.
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