How hard it is mentally to start a season three weeks after the end of the last?
“It’s not hard because we really like our job and we have the privilege to work in this industry but we needed time to reflect on what we did. As well to put our minds a little bit away from football.
I think we have the chance to do it not as we normally do, but enough, and the players seem in good condition mentally and physically so we are ready to go. We have no choice, we have a cup to play on Saturday.”
What have you made of how William Saliba’s settled in?
“He’s been training really hard. He stayed here in London to do a better preparation and you can tell he looks ready.
There are a lot of things that are new for him and he will need to adapt but certainly he has the right qualities for this football club and the right attitude to keep improving and showing the player he can be for our future.”
What shape are the squad in?
“We’ve had two training sessions so you can imagine this game comes in the middle of our mini-pre-season but we haven’t had much time to lose the condition. It’s not an ideal moment to play this final but the players are motivated, it’s another opportunity to win a trophy and we will go for it.”
Where are you with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s contract?
“I keep being positive. We have some really good talks with him and his agents and I am pretty confident that we can find an agreement soon. That’s my feeling.”
Which will be a massive lift to everybody, won’t it?
“Absolutely, and for him as well! I think he should be very happy if he is able to stay at the club for a long time and I think he will be delighted with the news.”
Is this squad ready for a serious top four challenge?
“Let’s see how we look at the end of the transfer window. It just started, everything looks slow at the moment, not many teams moving aggressively so a lot of things are going to happen from now to October 6. It doesn’t matter the squad we have, we will challenge for the top 100%.”
Willian said he joined to win the Champions League… Gabriel possibly coming in. Can you talk about them?
“Well, it is the right spirit! I want players who are optimistic and willing and they want to win for our club.
That is the feeling I got from the first day I met Willian: he is not satisfied with what he has done in his career, which is a lot, and he is going to bring some special qualities for our team, and the type of attitude and mentality that you just mentioned in your question.
“Regarding Gabriel, we cannot announce anything yet, the deal is not finalised – you all know he is a player that we have followed for a long time and hopefully we can get it done.”
Is everything okay with the Gabriel deal?
“Well, everything is okay when both parties sign, and the player agrees the terms and he goes through the medical – sometimes that, in the final stages, is not as easy as it looks. But we are pretty positive that we can do it.”
Did you face competition for Gabriel? You must be pleased…
“Again, when we get it I will be very pleased. He’s a player that we’ve followed and we’re very determined that it was the right profile for us to improve our squad. If we are able to finalise it, we will be delighted.”
Can you bring us up to date on Ainsley Maitland-Niles?
“Yes, we are reading a lot of news about our players which is not bad that other clubs want him but with Ainsley, he’s a player that I’ve said since I joined that I really like.
The best way to show that is that I have played him in the most important games of the season and he responded really well, so that’s where we are with the player.”
Would you be open to him leaving?
“I am always open to listening to what the player is feeling at every stage of their career and then I can give them my opinion of how I see them, what I expect from them and if we have the right understanding, then we have to move forward together.
If there is something that doesn’t work then we have to assess it with the player and the club and then find the right decision for both of them.”
What have you made of the Lionel Messi stories?
“He has been linked everywhere, you know? He has more clubs than any other player in history after him.
I’ve been a Barcelona fan since I was young and it’s always sad to see, who in my opinion has been the best player in football history, leave that football club. Let’s see what happens, if he comes to England we’re all going to enjoy it.”
Even against Arsenal?
“It doesn’t matter. It’s good for football. We’ll have to find a way, if it’s not here we might find him in the Champions League, you never know. You want the best players in your league and for me that’s the best thing, to have the most competitive league in the world.
The Premier League has always had that. The times with Ronaldo, I played against him and it was great because it raises the level of every individual and every team as well.”
How close is the Gabriel signing. Has the medical been had?
“We are trying to finalise a deal. That’s what I can tell you at the moment.”
In midfield will Matteo Guendouzi be reintegrated?
“I have been really clear that everybody starts from zero all the time in football. What you did two weeks ago or two years ago doesn’t really matter. It’s what you are able to contribute to the team now. Everybody is going to have the same opportunities.
They’ll have to show with their performances and their attitude that they are better than their teammates or somehow contributing to what we want to achieve this season.”
Have you spoken to him in the off-season? “Yes.”
Are you happy with what’s gone on?
To tell him exactly that he’s going to be part of the team and at the moment he’s like any other player in our squad. He deserves first of all to be treated exactly the same and I will do that to my best capability.
Are you trying to bring Dani Ceballos back on loan for another season?
Well, we have some talks and Dani knows really well what I think about him. He was pretty clear with me as well that his intention was to remain with us but obviously Real Madrid is involved and I don’t know yet what they want to do with the player.
But he’s a player that we are interested in because we really saw, in the last few months of the season, what he is capable of bringing to us.
Does Mohamed Elneny have a place in your squad moving forward?
Well, I know Mo really well. I played with him, so I know what he can be and I know his strengths and weaknesses really well.
He’s a really positive character to have around and he has some really good qualities as well and like anybody else, in the moment that he is with us, he will be given all our support and the best possible environment for them to perform as high as they can.
Do you expect him to stay?
We don’t know. The sixth of October is still too far, as I said. It’s pretty unpredictable to know what’s going to happen.”
Will Bernd Leno start as your No.1?
I love to have two goalkeepers at the level of Bernd and Emi. Last season, when Bernd got injured, if somebody had some doubts about Emi’s character or qualities then he’s shown what he’s able to do and he didn’t do it for one game, he did it for 10 or 11 games in a row.
I’m delighted to have both of them. But they both know that on the first day of pre-season, you start again and fight for your place and show us who is the one that deserves the chance to start.
Is it possible to keep them both happy?
I don’t want to keep them both happy, I want the one that is not playing to be upset. But upset and then challenge the next player to make him better, or if not, earn his place to do that.
It’s not easy to do that. I personally don’t see any different with goalkeepers to full backs. They know that, I’ve been really clear with them and hopefully they can make each other better and hopefully the team better.”
Is Leno fully fit?
Yes, Bernd is fit. He was almost fit for the last game against Chelsea in the FA Cup final. We didn’t want to take the risk even to get him involved in the squad but he ’s been training throughout the summer and he is in perfect condition now.
What was Leno’s reaction to Martinez’s form?
He’s not upset. I think he’s really happy because he really understands Emi’s position and he knows Emi’s history at this football club and how patient and how much he’s been fighting to earn his place and earn the right that now everybody likes him and Bernd is such a great character as well for us and he’s not someone that’s going to be upset about that situation.
Is Martinez upset about quarantine rules?
Well, that will be the case probably. We obviously had a plan with all the players to make sure that we have as many as possible.
Can fans expect to see William Saliba and Willian against Liverpool?
I don’t know. We’ll make the decision tomorrow on who is going to play and who is going to be involved, but for sure they’re going to see our signings playing a lot of minutes this season.
How pivotal was the win over Liverpool in July?
“You’re right, I think it gave us a big platform of confidence and belief that we could challenge and play against the top teams at that level as well and beat them.
And you know, always finding a way to win a game, after we did it with Man City and we did it with Chelsea but I agree that that moment probably was a moment where the team clicked a little bit and went into more of a belief mode.”