What have you made of Xhaka’s improved form and the relationship he has with Thomas Partey in midfield?
I thought he was excellent the other night against Wolves. He’s been really consistent and improving game by game. His partnership with Thomas is getting stronger, they haven’t played much together and that chemistry has to flourish. They make eachother better and we have a good balance between left and right footers in those spaces. His leadership level as well, I think he’s matured a lot as a player and has a big importance in that dressing room. On the pitch I think he’s doing much better than before as well.
It’s not just the Burnley game. He’s had two big episodes. We can overcome one of those but the second time it shocks you and you say ‘I don’t want to go through that again’. This is why we’re here to try and support our players. I think the club was exceptional trying to give him all that support, we tried to do the same, his team-mates did the same and now he’s getting a lot of praise for how he’s playing. It’s down to his character and to how much he wants to succeed at the club.
Does he have a long term future at this club?
He’s a really important player for us. Since I’ve been in he’s played almost every game and there’s no better way to show how much you like and value a player than to give him minutes on the pitch.
What does Pepe need to do to sustain what he’s been doing the past few games?
If you ask me personally what I think about his overall performances in all the phases of the game I think this is the best he’s played. His contributions to those aspects is the best he’s done and he needs to sustain that. When you have momentum in football you cannot lose it and in order to do that you have to keep the basics right and keep doing what you’re doing, if not you know somebody is going to be knocking on your door.
How much does he need guidance from you?
I don’t know how much he wants but he needs guidance and clarity in what he wants to do. Then he needs the discipline on the pitch to do what he wants to do and obviously he needs the freedom in certain moments to express himself as a player and you can’t restrict that for sure.
What do Nelson, Maitland-Niles and Willock need to get back into the team?
Joe’s situation was very clear for me. We talked in the summer about a possible loan. I said to him I wasn’t comfortable with that because I wanted to give him minutes. He was going to play in different competitions and in my opinion it was the right thing to do for his development. I think he’s played 17 or 18 games in this period which is a lot. He’s played to a big level and now we have less competition and I thought he was going to have less time and I thought another 14 or 16 games in the Premier League would be a really positive thing. He completely agreed, we found the right club, the right manager and coaching staff to do that so hopefully it’s going to be a really successful period for him. With Ainsley he’s in a different phase of his development. He’s 24, he’s an England international and he just wanted to start football games and wanted that guaranteed. In my position it was really difficult to do that. He was willing to experience something else, he’s never been alone like Joe and I decided to allow him to do that. He can play in different positions, he might have the possibility to play in midfield which for him is important. When a player’s main will is not financial and just to play football it’s really difficult to stand in his way when you don’t feel like he’s going to start many games.
Do you expect Maitland-Niles to come back and be a starter for you?
I expect all the loans to come back and we’ll make a decision in the summer.
How difficult has this period for Aubameyang?
I think it shows the spirit around the dressing room and how much we care for eachother. When things are difficult you need to see ‘are you thinking of me?’ ‘are they supporting me?’ and the answer is a big yes. He’s a player who is very much liked because of his character and what he’s done at the club. He totally deserved that support. Individually for him it’s been tough because when you see a member of your family suffer and go through a difficult period emotionally it drains you. He did the right thing to be next to them.
Has he shown his qualities this week?
Yes it was difficult because he wants to be here, he wants to be training and win football matches. He doesn’t want to miss football matches and wants to play every single competition. He was having the responsibility to be there but at the same time wanted to be here, he was training on his own and I think he’s managed that really well.
His qualities are up there with the best?
I think you touched on the key word. Every player needs that confidence to produce the moments and score the goals. It’s unique and he’s got that ability.
Partey dominated the game against Wolves. He’s going to be an important player for you?
Yeah obviously, that’s the reason we signed him because we believed that we needed a player like him to impose himself in games, to give us that steel and dominance that he brings to the team. We have to see more of him. More minutes, more games and slowly get partnerships and chemistry around the team. He needs to be one of our leaders.
Does Partey remind you of anyone? Does he need to shoot a bit more?
He had a shot the other night when he should have passed the ball! He needs to shoot when it’s the right moment to shoot. He’s got that ability to get in the opponents box, run forwards with or without the ball and have that pressing. At Atletico Madrid he scored a few really good goals and that’s something he needs to do more.
Does he remind you of anyone?
I wouldn’t like to compare him with anyone, sorry.
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