Former club captain and Highbury legend Tony Adams sat down with our current skipper Martin Odegaard to discuss Wednesday’s big clash against Manchester City and the remainder of our Premier League season.
Tony won four top-flight medals with us during his time at the club, spanning over three decades and 669 appearances, and used his time with Martin to share his experiences of fighting in a title race, pass on some advice to the Norwegian midfielder as well thank him for what has been achieved already this campaign.
Press play on the video above to watch the full chat, or read the full transcript below:
Tony: Six games to go, how are we feeling?
Martin: Of course, a bit disappointed after the last few games, but everything is still in our hands and we have a big game coming up so we’re all just excited and looking forward to Wednesday and take it from there. The spirit is good, even though we haven’t had the results lately, the spirit is good and the confidence is still there.
Tony: It’s difficult, going back to my first title - six games to go, that’s all you’ve got. You win six of them and you’re champions. I know from personal experience, I can identify with what you’re going through lately and if there’s any comfort it’s not going to be the decider, there are a lot of twists and turns.
I’ll always remember my first title in 1989, Liverpool were 19 points behind us in February, and they went top with three games to go. We had to go to Anfield like you’re going to the Etihad and actually win, which really made up our minds about it. What am I trying to tell you? Relax, it’s a game at a time but it’s a massive game. How are you and the squad feeling?
Martin: It’s like you say, no matter what happens on Wednesday there is still so much to play for. Both teams have so many tough games after, so it’s not like a final, but of course it’s an important game, it’s important to get the momentum. As I said, the team is confident, even though we didn’t win the last three games now I think the team is confident. I feel like we can go there and do something.
I think the last few games against them we’ve shown some really good things, especially the game at home I think we were the better team to be honest, it gives us a good feeling going into the game.
Tony: From my experience, these games take care of themselves, they’re such big occasions that you just get up for it and you go and play, and it will be what it will be. We’ve got the talent, and I think the stability of the back four has been incredible, we’ve missed [William] Saliba but Rob [Holding] has come in and done brilliantly and there’s no reason he can’t do brilliantly against City.
Let’s explore that midfield three. Thomas [Partey], yourself, and Granit [Xhaka], I can really identify with the 1998 side, I had Emmanuel Petit in front of me, Patrick Vieira and Dennis Bergkamp. How did you fall on that? How did it happen? What did the manager do in that respect?
Martin: First of all it’s how we play as a team and the principles we have in the team for everyone. It’s really clear from Mikel the way we want to play where each player has to be on the pitch, when to move to different places depending on what they’re going to do and what we do as a team. I think that’s the main thing, and then we have the collection between the three of us, and the different types of players we are.
I think we’re good together, we have Thomas who is always there, strong, wins his duals and plays the simple balls, and kind of cleans up the pitch a little bit. Then you have Granit who’s doing a lot of things. He’s a fighter, he’s a killer, and he’s also arriving into the box more this season. And then me, there are different qualities, more for the last pass and all these kinds of things. I think the way we work together is the main thing.
Tony: Well, it’s very exciting to watch, and even Granit the other day scored one of my goals - with his head! It’s brilliant to watch, and you’ve got the two kids on the wings [Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli] who are pulling up trees. You’ve been brilliant this season, the atmosphere is a credit to you guys, it comes from the team.
Does Mikel to rotation in training and stuff? It seems to me the rotation has been brilliant. We had a great coach back in the day for England, a guy called Terry Venables, and we used to work at it continually. And even under Arsene [Wenger], I did it with Emmanual Petit, we used to swap. Your team scores goals, and I think defensively it’s so important. I’ve seen the balance in the last few games, West Ham away is a tough game - everyone’s built it up - and Liverpool away, a point is a great result!
Martin: I think it’s because of the position we set ourselves in, because we’ve been so good the whole season, and we’ve been at the top for a long time, so I guess at the start of the season a lot of people would take a point at Anfield, but at the moment and the position we’re in, it makes people more disappointed. I think that’s a good thing, it shows how far we’ve come and what we’re fighting for. It’s a good thing that we’re disappointed with these types of results and that’s the way it should be.
Of course, you have to look at the bigger picture as well, and when you look back at the game we could have lost it in the second half, so I think you just have to take the point sometimes and move on and that’s what we did. Unfortunately, it happened twice again, but that’s football. In this league, it’s so hard. All the teams - like Southampton - will come to Emirates and make it difficult. That’s the Premier League and that’s what we’re playing for.
Tony: If it’s any consolation, when we were going for the title in ‘89 we lost at home against Derby County, we drew 2-2 with Wimbledon. It’s really tough, they’re really tough games. How have [Gabriel] Jesus and Zinchenko been with you? Because they’ve obviously won a title before and this is unknown territory for the majority of the squad.
I was a kid, when we won it I was 22, I was turning up, Rocky on the right, Paul Merson, we were all kids together, we didn’t know what we were doing! We had a player called Kevin Richardson who had won the league with Everton - he knew when I was losing my head and he would say ‘woah, calm down’, and you need those leaders in the group.
Martin: I think with Alex and Gabby they’ve won it before a few times with Man City, so apart from the quality they bring to the team they also have this mindset, the right mindset. They have the experience and they use it in a brilliant way. They’re two different characters but in different ways, they give the team so much. Gabby with his energy and Alex off the pitch off the pitch as well is really a character.
Tony: Good, that makes a difference!
Martin: Yeah, they give us a lot and have been terrific for us this year.
Tony: That was my next question, off the pitch. What are you doing as club captain? Have you done anything to galvanise the squad?
Martin: I’m not doing too much myself but it’s the way the whole club is working from the top to the players, we work together with the fans as well and I think that’s maybe the biggest difference from a few years back, we’re so connected and everyone is working together and the team spirit is top, and everyone is so together. You see it, especially, when someone makes a mistake. How we come together and how everyone supports each other, and I think that makes a difference.
Tony: Man City - here we go, let’s get on to that. You’ve got your mate [Erling Haaland] as well, by the way, call him when we beat them! Can I call him for you? When you’ve got a hat-trick!
Martin: Haha, you can call him, for sure! It will be a great game, I think everyone is looking forward to this game. Two good teams.
Tony: I’d love to give you a hand, to be honest with you, I’ll find your mate and give him a good kick - fairly of course!
Martin: It will be a great game, two great teams, a lot of good players. These are the games you want to play, you want to play the big games, you want to fight for things, so yeah, we’re just looking forward to it and I think it’s important we really enjoy this game and play with a smile.
Tony: Listen, good luck for Wednesday night, you’ve done us all proud already. Like I say, I’d love to give you a hand, but I’m having a wonderful experience, it’s been a long time!