Seite 2: „Lehmann was the last piece in our puzzle"

There was only one signing before the Invin­ci­bles season: Jens Leh­mann.
He was the last piece in our puzzle that was missed. He was a winner through and through. I had long dis­cus­sions with him before reaching an agree­ment to sign him for us. Back then I got an impres­sion of how dif­fi­cult this guy could be. But I thought; If he is as deter­mined and straight on the pitch as he is in the nego­tia­tions, I am fine with it.

He wrote in his bio­graphy that he had fights with you for twenty minutes and after­wards you both talked to each other about pri­vate mat­ters, like not­hing had hap­pened.
That is cor­rect. I like him very much. He is a straight guy and goes for it. And most import­antly: He is reli­able. He doesn’t like to be average.

Is it true that after you won the Cham­pionship at Spurs, there was an argu­ment in the dres­sing room bet­ween you, Sol Camp­bell and Jens Leh­mann?
We were deba­ting about the penalty for Spurs in the very last minute that Jens caused. The three of us were obsessed with win­ning and on this day, we won the title but just didn’t win the game. It might sound hard to ima­gine but these guys were dif­fe­rent to others. They didn’t accept a mistake. It took a while to calm down after the game. If you had ent­ered this dres­sing room in this moment, you wouldn’t ever, ever have thought that we have just won the league. It was an aggres­sive atmo­s­phere, people were shou­ting: Why did you cause that penalty? What is your pro­blem?

So you didn’t cele­brate?
We cele­brated later. The job wasn’t finished. I told the guys that they might have won the league, but now they should become immortal by win­ning the league without a defeat. It wasn’t about the title, it was about immor­ta­lity. There were still four games remai­ning. 99 per cent of the title win­ners lose the game after. So there began my chal­lenge. At Ports­mouth, I had to play Johan Djourou right-back, we had a lot of inju­ries and Ports­mouth were strong. We were lucky to draw. In the very last game versus Lei­cester, we went 0 – 1 down and I thought: F***s sakes, how stupid can we be to lose the very last game.” But in the end, the pride of my guys always took over – we won 2 – 1.

Were there other moments during the season when you feared that the dream was over?
Many. We had 26 wins and 12 draws. Every draw could pos­sibly go in the other direc­tion. It helps to have good players, but you need to be ani­mated by some­thing deeper. That is the inte­res­ting lesson: The players refused to lose because they had some­thing to lose that was more mea­ningful than a game.

The past teams of Bar­ce­lona, Real Madrid or Bayern Munich in their prime, they were all tech­ni­cally better than today’s teams“

The style of Arsenal’s play really stood out. Spea­king about the Spurs game when Vieira scored, it took your team only 11 seconds from win­ning the ball inside their own box before put­ting it into the net at the other end of the pitch. Counter-attacks looked like cho­reo­gra­phies. How dif­fi­cult is it to prac­tice that?
The con­di­tion for it to be pos­sible is based on the qua­lity of the players. When you have that, two things are important: the timing of the pass and the qua­lity of the decision. In the modern game, foot­ball has become more indi­vi­dual. It has become common to have fab­ri­cated stars. I told my players at Arsenal that they have to dig deeper into the game to see what they can get out of it tog­e­ther – rather than for their own indi­vi­dual well­being. In that case, foot­ball can give you more. Today, the phy­sical side has taken over the tech­nical side of the game. That is why I believe that we have to adjust the player’s edu­ca­tion.

Do you want there to be more focus on kicking than run­ning?
Today you have mons­ters at every club who run 100 meters in under ten seconds. It is all about phy­si­ca­lity. But the past teams of Bar­ce­lona, Real Madrid or Bayern Munich in their prime, they were all tech­ni­cally better than today’s teams.

Is this the reason why 16-year-olds get into the game, and 31-year-olds end their careers early more often?
I don’t know. What I can say is: If you take a young group of pro­mi­sing players under 20, you can say that there is talent but before the age of 23, you can’t really tell how a player will develop. At the age of 20 you have the first sepa­ra­tion bet­ween good and average. At the age of 23, you have a sepa­ra­tion bet­ween the excel­lent players and the good ones. Then you can see the Messis and Ronaldos evol­ving just by their con­sis­tency, by how they are absor­bing and coping with dif­fi­cul­ties on the pitch.

Which player deve­loped better after the age of 23 than you had expected?
Thierry Henry. He deve­loped so fast. I put him up front as a centre-for­ward because I saw him in this posi­tion at Monaco. After­wards he lost his instinct, was placed on the wing, and I tried to revi­ta­lise his senses. When I took him in trai­ning, all I focused on was the timing of his runs. So it all was about for him to rea­lize when it was the very best moment to start a run and from where.

He was emble­matic for the team because he tended to move to the wing to create some space for his runs. Every posi­tion in that Invin­cible“ team seemed to be fluid in attacking, because there was always ano­ther guy who filled the gap auto­ma­ti­cally.
Henry was quick to ana­lyze the game of the oppo­nent. After ten minutes he knew for example that a cen­tral defender was too much on the left, or weak on the right foot. Henry rapidly knew where to move to exploit the weak­ness of the oppo­nent. And Robert Pires syn­chro­nized his moves with Henry’s. Robert was unbe­liev­able and ready to serve Henry. Even when he was 45, I invited him for trai­ning with the cur­rent Arsenal squad and he was still tech­ni­cally one of the best players.

Wenger Getty Images 1214933534 RGB WEB
Getty Images

You spoke a lot about the intel­li­gence of players (on the pitch). And you made tests for players exami­ning how much infor­ma­tion they handled before taking the ball.
Yes, it was about the infor­ma­tion players con­vert before they get the ball. Where are my team­mates? How much space and time do I have? Where is the oppo­nent? If you play simple foot­ball, you wel­come the ball, take a decision, and exe­cute your decision – that is all. But what I tried to ana­lyze is what you do in those ten seconds before. Because this is really important for your decision. I worked with a uni­ver­sity and we put cameras on players which observed their move­ments and views. The great players take 6 – 8 infor­ma­tion, the good ones 4 – 6 infor­ma­tion. So the more you know about your sur­roun­dings on the pitch, the better you play. Great players keep tur­ning their head around before they get the ball. Do you play foot­ball?

On an ama­teur level.
So, up there you maybe take zero to one infor­ma­tion. (smiles)

There are some myths regar­ding your trai­ning ses­sions. One is you let 11 players play against 0 one day, the other day 11 against 11 – but one team wasn’t allowed to move.
True. I wanted to train the con­nec­tion of the players, their pas­sing and move­ment without obsta­cles.

Second myth: When you dressed up for trai­ning, the first thing you put on was your stop­watch.
Also true. The evo­lu­tion of the game is that a manager gives his team to a spe­cia­list. At the begin­ning of my career, there was only me and the team. So I had to inter­vene ins­tead of just obser­ving the ses­sions. I myself was a fit­ness coach, tac­tical coach and ever­ything else. I needed a stop watch. I kept it – and I still time my life. Timing is ever­ything. I timed exactly every game and every trai­ning.

You talked about the phy­sical side of the game. There are a lot of ex-players at Arsenal who say that their phy­sical strength came from your change of the nut­ri­tion. Alcohol became for­bidden, you put chi­cken on the table ins­tead of chips. It felt like a revo­lu­tion back in those days.
I don’t think that this was the key for our phy­sical strength. It was a part of it. You have the visible trai­ning and the invi­sible trai­ning which means: nut­ri­tion, sleep, pre­pa­ra­tion for the game. A club has to create an envi­ron­ment that allows the team to per­form well. Nut­ri­tion is an important part, but not the only one. It is like the petrol you put in the fuel tank. In modern day foot­ball, a coach has to per­suade or con­vince the players of his methods, he has to speak to their indi­vi­dual needs. I myself am not the best nut­ri­tion spe­cia­list, but I brought in a spe­cia­list so he exp­lained to the players why some things might help them to per­form better.