Gilberto Silva on Arsenal, Arteta, Aubameyang, Ozil and more
The first North London derby of the season takes place this Sunday, and after speaking with ex-Tottenham goalkeeper Paul Robinson earlier this week, now it’s time to get a viewpoint from the red side.
Gilberto Silva spent six years at Arsenal, becoming an invincible in 2004. And ahead of his Tottenham v Arsenal Ladbrokes 5-A-Side selection, we grabbed just a few words from the Gunners’ former Brazilian maestro…
On Arsenal’s problems
“If you analyse Arsenal over the last few years, even if you go back to when they moved from Highbury to the Emirates, the group of players that were preparing to replace my generation all left the club, so as Arsene was trying to rebuild the team, many of the players who he brought in to replace the previous generation had decided to move on and it was hard for Wenger to build chemistry.
You can say Samir Nasri, Alex Hleb, Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie, Alex Song, you know, those players were supposed to replace my generation. And the moment they started progressing at the club, they left. This was tough for Arsenal to respond to. Meanwhile, the other clubs in the division are continuing to invest heavily in top players and improve and Arsenal could not compete. They were always one step behind. Combine the changing of stadiums and the financial restrictions that came with that, with the drop in quality of players and it explains why Arsenal started to fall off.”
Then after Arsene was replaced by Unai Emery, it seemed like his life in England was quite hard. People didn’t really accept him and he didn’t build good chemistry with fans – despite the fact he had a good first season.
The thing for me now is that this will take time. You can’t expect change overnight. You have to give Mikel Arteta time. I’m really positive about him but in the meantime I think they need to sign a few more players to make them more competitive.”
On Mesut Ozil
“Mesut Ozil is a very interesting case. It’s been very tough for him since last season. When he was given a chance last season he wasn’t performing as well as we’d have liked. Maybe it was down to where he was playing on the pitch, in a middle three out to the side. Maybe that didn’t suit him.
I’d love to see him play in that Dennis Bergkamp role just off the striker. Let him be the guy who gets the ball last before passing it on to the striker. I don’t think anyone has really tried him in that role alongside, or just off, a striker.
His situation is very tough. It’s sad to see him in the position he’s in at the moment. I’d love to see him on the pitch, helping the club. He’s got ability, he’s a World Cup winner, he’s played for big clubs. It seems like the relationship between him and the club has broken up.
This is the time for Mesut Ozil to make the decision of his life. If there is no possibility for him and the club to find a way to work together, what’s the point in him staying there? I don’t think it’s helpful to anybody. Because he is still young, I think he can have many years in front of him playing football and being happy, but I don’t think this is a situation that you can sustain at a club for such a long time. It’s not the best way for anybody. I don’t know if I could stay in his situation for so long.
The one thing he does have, for me, is quality. It’s about finding a way where you can fit Mesut Ozil, find a way to protect him, to help him be the best player he could be. If Arsenal have to play with two strong midfielders to protect him, he could easily fit in the system playing behind the striker. But this is about the manager, and I’m just expressing my opinion from the outside looking in.
Would Arsenal right now be a better team with him in it? It’s tough to answer. He had opportunities last season that didn’t go well for him or the team. But this kind of thing happens all the time. It’s about finding a way to get the best out of him. How can Arsenal use him in their favour? This is something the management has to work out. Does he still have something to offer the club?
If there is no other way where he can help the team or have an opportunity, then I believe it’s time for him to think about what can be good for him, for the rest of the season and for his future.”
Advice for Aubameyang
“There’s no doubt for me that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is a fantastic player. He has been so great for Arsenal since he joined the club. In the last few games he hasn’t performed in the way everyone has expected in comparison to last season. But it’s time for everyone to stick together and support the guy.
Make his life easier. Pass him the ball. He has to be more involved in the game. Look for him, get it to him on the floor, where he can face players one-on-one. Give him a good ball to work with. If you watch the last game against Wolves, there were a lot of crosses coming in for him, and it was tough for him against the Wolves defence, where everyone was very well positioned. But if his teammates can make his life easier, then I have no doubt he can make as big an impact as he did last season.”
On Arteta’s appointment and first year in charge
“I don’t think I was the only one who was surprised when Arsenal appointed Mikel Arteta. After Arsene Wenger, they tried Unai Emery and then decided to change when that didn’t work out. From outside we expected someone with more experience in the job. Someone who has been in the position before. It was a surprise, of course, for most of us.
But his approach has been good. When I see him speak, I really like the way he talks about the club, the team and his ideas. He’s very clear and very honest, and that’s important, because you’re in one of the toughest jobs in the world. You must be very confident and have a strong mentality to be in that position.
I think you have to trust his project. You made the decision to appoint the guy. I believe they interviewed other managers and decided to go for Arteta – so if you change your mind now just because results haven’t been the best so far this season and he hasn’t had instant success in the league, then you run the risk of being back at square one and having to start all over again.
I believe Arsenal need to give Arteta time. This is his first full season in charge of the football club. Results haven’t been the best, we know that. But that’s not only because of him. It’s time for the players to stand up. Stand up and realise which club they are playing for, who they’re representing. It’s time for them to pull together motivate each other.
Sometimes it’s not about if you play bad, it’s about what you leave on the field, and the desire you must have. Run for your teammates. Fight for your team. It’s that fighting spirit which Arsenal needs now from everybody at the club in order to turn results around. I’m not saying there’s no fighting spirit there already, but what they’ve been doing has not been enough in order for them to get results. They need to put more in.”
On where Arsenal could strengthen
“If we want to talk about Mesut Ozil, then he’s actually the kind of playmaker that Arsenal really need. Arsenal need someone to come into the side and create chances – to give the ball to the forwards. I thought that player might have been Willian when he was brought in but he’s been playing out wide.
Ozil could be the type of player Arsenal actually need to sign.
I like Jack Grealish. I’ve spoken about him a lot. He has done an amazing job; he’d be a good fit for the team. If you see the way he plays, his ability and desire. He’s got quality, there is no doubt about that. He has been sensational this season.
Good players are not cheap; this is the reality of football, but they make a huge impact. If the club decided in the future that they wanted to bring in a Jack Grealish, then they know it’s not going to be cheap. They’ll have to spend big. It’s not easy to find quality players at a good price; you have to understand the market very well and be at the front of a long list of many, many clubs who are all looking for similar players to improve their squads.”
On Arsenal’s summer signings
“I think Gabriel has done a great job in defence. He’s been very consistent at the back. Willian is a great player, I don’t doubt that at all. I’ve read some criticisms of him, but the point is that Arsenal have been inconsistent. It’s tough for everybody – so it’s not just Willian that’s suffering; it’s everybody. But in terms of the signings, I think that Gabriel has had the biggest impact so far.
He’s been a regular in the team, and while Thomas Partey was a player that Arsenal really needed, he’s currently injured which is tough to take. It’s hard for the manager to deal with because he clearly had a plan with Partey and things have had to change because of his injury. You spend so long trying to get a player that you really want, like Partey, and now you have to watch him sit out with injury. It’s tough.
I believe Partey has the quality to be an important player for Arsenal; that’s why they bought him in. They needed a player with character and quality, someone who was ready to come in and perform for the club straight away. A player like Partey comes with a mass of expectation; he’s here to solve your previous problems, but it’s not all about him.
You must understand in the case of Arsenal, the question is ‘who are your leaders in the team?’ They can be Partey, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but who else can be part of that group of leaders, holding the pressure and bringing everyone together? This is very important; yes, you can bring in good players, but they must be leaders as well. If they are not, then the manager and the staff must help them to stand up and take responsibility.”
On Arsenal’s central midfield conundrum
“Before they signed Thomas Partey, I’d spoken many times about Arsenal’s need to bring in another central midfielder, and they’re unlucky their new signing has been out with an injury recently. But Granit Xhaka has been the regular player in that position in the last couple of years.
But Partey played alongside Mohamed Elneny in Arsenal’s game against Manchester United a few weeks ago and I thought they worked really well as a partnership, despite the fact that they’re not the kind of players who get that much credit for the jobs they do – Elneny especially. But I think he can be a key player for Arsenal this year. He’s not an inconsistent player, he always performs well and in that role you need someone who is going to consistently do a job for the team. It’s an area of the pitch where you need stability, and I think that Elneny could be the player who fits that role alongside Xhaka or Partey.
Every good team is very strong at the back, that back three or back four, and then equally as strong in the middle of the pitch. After that, you worry about the forward players. Arsenal have the forward players who are capable of performing well and scoring goals, but they need to strengthen the middle part of the field.
I think Lucas Torreira had a good start to his career at Arsenal. He played some really good games, but then last season he played some not-so-good games and was dropped to the bench as a result. In the end he moved to Atletico Madrid on loan but I still believe he has a chance at Arsenal. At some point players will believe they don’t have a chance at a team – especially when a new manager comes in – but Torreira definitely has quality. He’s a great player.”
On Gabriel Martinelli’s return
“I hope Gabriel Martinelli returns 100% fit, and that the injury becomes a part of his past. It’s important for every player when they return from a long-term injury. It’s tough for him, because he had a great start in his first year at Arsenal, but I believe he has the quality and ability to help the club in the future.
I believe he can be one of the bigger names at Arsenal.
It’s important he works hard now in his recovery, and works hard when he’s back on the field. He should always have it in his mind that Arsenal is a great place to be. It’s important for his career to improve every day; every day he should be learning something new, something extra to improve his game. I trust him and I believe he’s a good player. He’s fast, and he has that feeling of knowing where to be when the ball comes into the box. His anticipation is excellent; he can come out of nowhere and he’s difficult for defenders to play against.
It’s too early to compare him to Thierry Henry; he’s a legend. But he can treat Henry as his inspiration. If he has the same passion and love for the game as Thierry, I believe he has the ability to achieve great things.”
On Arsenal post-Wenger
“Arsenal’s start to the season has not been the best and it’s not the kind of start that fans like myself would have liked to have seen. It’s been tough, but to be honest it’s been tough since Arsene Wenger’s departure. It’s always going to be tough to adapt when someone like that leaves the club and it hurts a lot to see them suffer over the last few years. They’ve just struggled for consistency and that’s one of the most important things in football – especially in the Premier League. If you don’t have consistency, you aren’t going to be successful.
After Arsene, everyone knew it was going to be hard. It’s a tough job for someone to come in and replace him having been so successful in his time at the club. I expected something similar to what happened at Manchester United with Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure. It’s never going to be easy replacing those guys. They were at their clubs for decades building something unique and special. After that, if you don’t have a very good team during that transition, it’s going to be tough to replicate.
If you look at other teams in the league compared to Arsenal, they are on a different level – a much better level. When you look at the results on the field compared to their rivals, they’re struggling to keep up.”
On Arsenal now versus Invincibles
“It’s a totally different team, now. The mentality of the players we had around the squad, many of whom were very important players for their national teams. All of that experience they brought back to Arsenal was very important and made a huge impact to the club.
The players were all very well respected all over the world. Whenever we went to games, people respected us. When we went unbeaten, we’d stand in the tunnel and the way our opponents would look at us, you knew we were going to win that game.
But we earned that respect because of how we played, the way we respected the game, and the way we worked for each other on the pitch. We were all tall guys, big guys, strong physically, good technically and fast on the ball.
We worked together as a team, not just on the pitch but off it as well. And not just the players, but the guys behind the scenes. The backroom staff, the coaches, everyone worked together to make sure everything ran perfectly.
I hear the word ‘invincible’ quite a lot every day. It’s great. I feel proud. I didn’t want Liverpool to match our record last season, I can say I was quite happy when they lost to Watford, but I say that as a supporter. But I believe that records exist to be broken at some stage/ If at some point, a Premier League club matches our record, we have to respect that and give them a lot of credit, because it’s not easy at all. The game has changed as well from our time compared to nowadays. Liverpool were close, Manchester City have been close as well. At some point it will happen; you have to prepare for that and respect that.
For sure I will say that I was a part of the best team that has ever played in the Premier League. The quality players we had was something, but it was more than that. It wasn’t just about the quality of the player, it was about the quality of the person.
We had so many people in the dressing room who were good and supportive teammates, family guys. Every day they would support each other and help each other improve. My six years at Arsenal was full of joy. I knew my responsibility. Everyone in that team knew their job and what we wanted to achieve to make ourselves crowd, but to also make the fans proud. We wanted to give something back to them for all the confidence they had in us as each and every one of us signed for the club.
Everyone behind the scenes, too; they were amazing. The backroom staff and the coaches were very generous and very helpful. It was like a family. The atmosphere around the club translated onto the pitch with our strong mentality, all guided by Arsene.
It’s strange to see Arsenal and Manchester United where they are now. For somebody who played for one of those sides and had a great rivalry with the other, it’s hard to see. But things change, and there are bigger teams now. The process of transition has been painful.
Predictions for Arsenal’s season
“It’s tough to say right now where Arsenal can realistically finish the season. I don’t want to be too positive now and then see them struggle through Christmas where we’re then in a completely different scenario. I’d rather wait until after Christmas to make a full assessment on where I think they’ll end up. From now until the Christmas period there are a lot of things which can change. Many things can happen and I just hope it’s for the better of the team.”
On Gilberto’s time at Arsenal
“I have no regrets. Sometimes I think about the year I left. I reached a point where I had to make an important decision in my life. The season before I left I spent most of my time on the bench. It was tough for me after five seasons of playing, I was full of expectation and in good form, but things change. I still had another year on my contract at the club when I left. But it was very important for me at that time because if I had to spend another season on the bench, then I may not have played at another World Cup for my country. I had to balance everything out.
I love Arsenal, there is no doubt about that. But I couldn’t take the risk of spending another season on the bench, so I left. Some other players left that summer, too. And you never know how it’s going to go when you make that big decision. It’s not always going to be the right decision, but you have to take responsibility.
I’m very grateful for the years I spent at Arsenal. Honestly, if you asked me before I left the club, I’d have said I really wanted to finish my career at the club. That was something I really had in mind. But considering all the other aspects I decided to move on. London Colney and the Emirates are two places that are and always will be very special to me. It’s in my blood.
On Tottenham v Arsenal
Match Prediction – 1-0 Arsenal
“I had a good record against Tottenham, I scored two penalties against them in one game. It’s a tough game, always. When I was at Arsenal, we were in the situation that Tottenham find themselves in right now in the league. If you look at the league right now, then Arsenal are the underdogs. But sometimes it’s not bad to be the underdogs. It doesn’t mean that just because you’re playing a better team at the moment, that they’re going to be the better team on the day.
I’m always positive with Arsenal. I do believe Arsenal are going to win 1-0. It’s a familiar scoreline.”