An Invincible with Arsenal, Lauren shared his thoughts with AmericanGambler.com on the Europa League Final, and why Aubameyang and Lacazette will be the difference in an otherwise 50-50 match-up. Lauren also said that if Emery could sort out Sanchez’s mind-set, he would be a great addition to an Arsenal squad losing Aaron Ramsey in summer. Lauren also heaped praise on Liverpool’ s Trent Alexander-Arnold, claiming him to be the best right back in the world at the moment, but that Sol Campbell was a better defender than Alexander Arnold’s teammate Virgil Van Dijk.
What are your thoughts for the Europa League final and what’s your prediction for the game?
I think it’s a 50-50. Both teams are in a great position after reaching the final and both teams have played very well to get there so it could go either way. I hope it goes to Arsenal because it would mean a great year for the lads because it’s a long time without winning this trophy and it would put the team through to The Champions League, so I hope it goes to Arsenal!
Do Arsenal have a special place in your heart as well?
Yes I feel I identify with the club and it was my home for a long time with players that I love, playing for seven years there. I loved the place and identified myself with the club so everything that Arsenal do in winning trophies and playing Champions League, I’ll always be very happy as I always love them to win.
Where do you think that the final will be won and lost?
Well we’ll see but I think as we’ve seen in the semi final but attacking with Lacazette and Aubameyang, Arsenal have a lot of options to help them win this trophy, and Torreira gives them that balance offensively and defensively. I think it will be key on Lacazette and Aubameyang playing, the way they have throughout the Premier League and in the semi final, with Lacazette coming in to the middle – he understands the game, not only scoring goals, but he understands what the team needs. He comes in to the middle, links in with the midfield players. Aubameyang gets in the positions where he can take on the centre backs, and if they are at their best, Arsenal have a strong chance of winning the Europa League. That is one of the key areas of the game.
How important is it for Arsenal to win and qualify for the Champions League, so that they can have a good transfer window?
The fact that a win would see them in The Champions League, it gives the club the margin to go looking in a different market. If you’re playing in The Champions League, you’ll have more budgets, more options of who to sign if Emery needs to buy and reinforce some areas of the team.
Arsenal have never beaten an English team in Europe. Do you think it makes it harder playing English opposition in the final?
I don’t think it matters. It’s a big opportunity and Arsenal will be focussed on the win and that shouldn’t be a factor. The most important thing is that it’s a final, it has been a long time since Arsenal won a European competition and this is a big chance for them to make history again and life the Europa League. The rest doesn’t really matter.
How do this year’s Man City team compare to The Invincibles?
We can’t compare this Man City team to The Invincibles – they haven’t been invincible so we can’t compare them! Man City in this time have different players, a different style of game, a different way of approaching the league so we cannot compare.
The Invincibles found a way of beating everyone; do you think The Invincibles would have found a weakness against Man City?
Probably! They’ve been shown that they have been beaten this season in the league and The Champions League so there are definitely gaps in that team. They’ve been brilliant to win four trophies in one season but there are gaps, and we would find a way of exposing them.
Could Liverpool go unbeaten next season?
What I like about Liverpool is that they have been progressing every single year. Last year they improved on the season before, and they’ve improved again on last year, and I think they should win this year’s Champions League. I HOPE they win the Champions League! I don’t want Tottenham to win and the fact that Liverpool managed to qualify against Barcelona was just unbelievable. They were the better team against Barcelona and they proved that without Salah, Mane, Firmino. This team has been absolutely brilliant for the last few years and I want to see them win the Champions League because they’ve been absolutely amazing. They press high up, they keep the tempo, because sometimes teams have the idea to play a pressing game and passing the ball but suddenly they stop for 10-15 minutes and then go again, but this Liverpool team look like they can play the same way for long periods of the game. They are super and I hope they win the Champions League.
Is Trent Alexander Arnold the best right back in the world right now?
He is a very very good player, he’s intelligent and reads the game well and he goes up and down. It’s a shame for Bellerin because I like Bellerin and he’s had injuries over the past few seasons, because his progression was fantastic, but at the moment Alexander Arnold is one of the best if not THE best right back in the world. There are a few other good right backs but he is the one that has been outstanding.
You played next to Sol Campbell in The Invincibles side; who was a better player, Campbell in his prime or Virgil Van Dijk this season?
Van Dijk has improved the Liverpool defence, as Liverpool were very good going forward in the first year under Jurgen Klopp but they had big problems defending. Van Dijk has been super and given them the ability to defend, but I’d have to say Sol was the better player because he proved that with Tottenham that he was one of the best, he proved with England that he was one of the best and at Arsenal he was a top player so I have to stick with Sol Campbell. Sol didn’t just win one Premier League, but won it twice. Sol Campbell was one of the best defenders in the history of football.
How did Arsenal manage to maintain such a high level of performance throughout the whole season?
Because we didn’t think about. We only ever thought about one game, and then the next game and then the next game. We didn’t about the long-term or being invincible or unbeatable; nothing like that. There was such a quality of players such as Denis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Patrick Vieira – we had big players. Top players. But we were all just thinking about the following game.
Was Thierry Henry the best player that you ever played with?
Without disrespecting the rest of the players like Denis Bergkamp and other top players like Kanu and Pires, but I have to say Thierry because he is the top scorer in Arsenal’s history. That tells you how big a player he was, scoring more goals that Iain Wright, scoring more goals than Alan Smith, which tells you why he became Arsenal’s top player. He was the best every single game, every year, and maintaining his level of concentration and scoring rate was not easy. He was the best. He proved that he was the best.
Do you see a lot of similarities between Henry and Aubameyang?
There are some definite parallels in the way they are both quick and score goals, and what I like about Aubameyang is that he has progressed from St Etienne to Dortmund, from Dortmund to Arsenal, he has proved that he can still score goals in the top teams and been important for those top teams. He is going to be one of the top Arsenal strikers ever if he maintains his level.
How do you think Sylvinho will get on as the new Lyon coach?
Sylvinho is a lovely guy and a fantastic person and he has experience as the assistant manager at Inter Milan, he has worked with Brazil learning how to manage teams. Now he has the experience, I think it’s a good opportunity for him to do well at Lyon because he knows football. Sometimes players finish their careers and go straight in to managing but he’s gone step-by-step and he has empathy because sometimes it’s not about using your knowledge of football, but it’s about how to connect with players, all 25 members of the squad and that comes naturally to him. He can connect with people in as little as 10 minutes, and he can take that into management – he will do well with Lyon.
Just how good was Arsene Wenger and what made him such a special manager?
Wenger knew how to connect people; he knew how to manage all 25 people in the squad. He took players from nothing and made them into big stars, so his legacy is there. He was top manager, a fantastic human being and a great coach.
What do you think of Emery’s first season in charge of Arsenal? Has it been a success?
Absolutely, it has been a success. For his first season in the Premier League, when you don’t know too much about the league as English football is very different to Spain or France; it’s a special league. Taking a side to the Europa League final in his first season shows that it has been a great season and fantastic for Unai Emery. It’s not easy to be there fighting with Liverpool and Manchester City but I think it’s been great so far.
Are there any areas of Arsenal that you think they need to improve in summer?
It’s not my duty but I think that the team looks very good and the people working at the club will know where we need to invest.
Do you think that replacing Aaron Ramsey will be the number one priority for summer?
It could be, and it’s something that Unai Emery will be looking at – he will know who needs to come in. Ramsey is a top player and there’s no doubt that he has been outstanding, and what I love about him is his professionalism. He knew that he wasn’t going to be at Arsenal next year having not renewed his contract, but he has been committed, scoring goals, playing like it is the last game of the season every game. This is the commitment that we need from players, that can show their willingness to perform well and to show Emery their desire and determination to be part of the team. We need a player to come to the club with this kind of example, because it’s a big team and this is the way that they have to perform. Sometimes if players know they are not going to be at the club there is a lack of commitment, players not playing the way they should be, but it has been spot on from Ramsey.
Have you seen much of William Saliba of St Etienne, who Arsenal are reportedly interest in signing?
Yes, he looks a very good player. Strong, tall, can come out of the back with the ball and an international for France. He reads the game very well, which is important for a player at the back, you have to anticipate and he looks very good at just 18, so the future is bright!
Would you take Alexis Sanchez back at Arsenal?
Sanchez is a top player and top players are always welcome at Arsenal. If Emery could get him back mentally because it has been a while without him playing, then he could be a good addition. It depends if he is the kind of player that Unai would enjoy having at Arsenal.
What are your thoughts on Cameroon’s chances this summer at the AFCON?
They have a good chance. The last time they won the AFCON, they had a good mentality and they will have the same willingness to win it again. They are one of the favourites, but having seen Nigeria in the World Cup, I think they will be the other favourites as they have a lot of quality players and they put in good performances in the World Cup. It will be a good test for them ahead of the next World Cup.
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