You wanted your players to be brave and play their football, did you see that today?
Yeah absolutely. Really pleased. They’re a top side, it’s a tough place to come, not much went our way today. We conceded an unlucky own goal, then a VAR penalty, so it’s not like everything was falling in our favour as well. Just a real character and resilience the boys showed, a real belief in the kind of team we want to be, even though there was times today when it was difficult to do that. They just kept persevering and persevering and that’s a credit to them
You had many young players out there and some on yellow cards, are you pleased with the maturity they showed?
Yeah, that’s all part of it. There’s a real will and desire to become the team we want to be, which includes making sure that you’re disciplined and you’re buying into the team ethos and we had a really young team out there today.
Vic, that’s his first derby, Destiny, Van de Ven, Pape Matar Sarr, Brendan, they’re all in their early twenties, Porro, even Kulusevski is only 23, so it was a young team but just super proud of the experienced players we did have in there.
Romero was outstanding, Bissouma has been brilliant all year and Maddison and Sonny were just on a different level, not just his goals although they were outstanding, but his work rate, his work ethic was incredible.
How are Brennan Johnson and James Maddison injury-wise?
Not sure with Brennan, it seems like he felt something, I think his hamstring. We’ll assess that. Madders and Sonny weren’t 100% going into the game but they got through it which suggests that it’s nothing serious.
Are you happy with the draw today?
It’s not about being happy with the result, for me it was about the performance. You can get a result here, a draw, and like I said before you can walk away knowing that ‘you know what, we escaped’, but I don’t have that feeling now. I think we went toe to toe with a top team and at times I thought we really asserted our dominance on the game. At times they did but that’s what happens when you face top sides.
Even if we had lost today, and I don’t like losing, but for me to keep pushing these guys, they need to feel that out there that what we talk about and work on, they can see it come to fruition and when it does against a top team, being brave with our approach, that’s the key thing. For me I’m pleased.
Why do you think after some slow starts elsewhere the players have taken on your ways so quickly here?
I don’t know, they’re all different. From my perspective it doesn’t change where I think we’re at. I said before the game that we’re still six games in irrespective of the outcome. I think what’s pleased me most and it’s player driven is that they’ve created a really good environment for themselves in there where they push each other every day. They’re willing to follow, in terms of becoming the team we want to become, follow what what we’re trying to provide for them in terms of information and structure. When you get that kind of belief from the players’ group, I think that accelerates growth. We’ve still got a long way to go and from that point of view, the start is still the start for me, but just really proud of the way the players have embraced the fact that we’re going to be this kind of football team.
What was your view on the penalty?
Mate, I couldn’t see but I’ve got no idea about the handball rule. I really don’t. I saw the one yesterday at Wolves and it just seems if it hits your hand it’s a penalty and then other times if it hits your hand, it isn’t a penalty. I’ve got no idea. It is the one rule in the game I just don’t understand. Unless we start developing armless defenders I don’t know how you are supposed to block things and be in a natural position. It is what it is mate. You kind of hope these things even themselves out over the course of a year but I don’t understand the handball rule. I have said that to referees in the past and I don’t know how they see it to be honest.
A lot was made of Kane’s departure and the absence of goals, but how happy are you with the goal return of whole team and Sonny?
He’s been outstanding as a leader and as a player. We have put him in that nine position now and he just works so hard. He is so team-first orientated, it is just incredible. His first thought is what is best for the team and when he puts himself in those positions then has the quality to finish. I thought Madders was outstanding with both assist and Sonny was there to finish them off. Pleased for him because he’s really invested in what we’re doing. A lot of the team environment I talk about is driven by him and Madders and Romero, then guys like Bissouma out on the field so it is great he is getting his reward.
With Sonny and Maddison, is there a similar relationship building to what we saw with Sonny and Kane?
It depends. If you’ve got good players out there, they will find an understanding for sure and Sonny and Madders are on the same wavelength at times in terms of the way they see the game, which helps. The pleasing thing for me is we’ve scored a lot of goals this year and they’ve been fairly spread out. There are a couple of games now where Sonny has got multiple goals but even today we were a goal threat from different areas as well. Brennan was really unlucky not to get a goal. I thought it was an outstanding save by Raya, so we need to keep doing that. We will not just be reliant on one or two players.
With the handball, do you want more clarity?
I think any clarity would be good because I have got no idea, mate. That is probably just me but I have no idea what the handball rule is because I’ve seen all sorts of handballs given and all sorts of handballs not given and they look identical to me. I don’t know. I don’t understand it.
Are you pleased with how they kept going even after making errors?
That’s the most pleasing thing because it’s going to happen. You’re playing a top team. You’re not going to dominate Arsenal for 90-100 minutes at their place, no chance. So you’re going to have some wobbly moments where maybe things don’t go our way, a couple of mistakes on the ball.
But what you’re looking for is reaction. Their reaction was outstanding, we just kept playing. We didn’t get flustered, we didn’t lose belief. That’s a great sign because we’ve got challenges ahead, for sure, we’re going to hit more road blocks, more obstacles we need to overcome. We’ve just got to maintain our belief in being the team we want to be.
Are you ahead of schedule?
I don’t have a schedule. When you don’t have a schedule, you never know where you are. So I don’t worry about it. Wherever we are, it’s a good place to go further. That’s the way I’ve always looked at it. I’ve never put any timelines on it or said, it’s going to take a while.
The undeniable fact is that we’re six games in with basically a new team. I don’t know how many of these guys today will have started the last North London derby, you guys would know better than me, but I would reckon one or two would have started.
That’s a fair turnover and the way we’re playing. Irrespective of are we ahead or behind schedule, what we do know is we’re six games in and we’ve had an encouraging start and we just need to keep working on that.
Destiny Udogie got booked early on and kept going, is that the kind of maturity and bravery you like to see?
Spot on. I thought both our full-backs had difficult jobs today. Arsenal’s wide players are outstanding players and that’s where their threats are.
Destiny getting booked early, it could have made it difficult. But the way he dealt with it, in the end I thought he was the dominant player on that side of the pitch.
He finished really strong and had to contend with having a yellow card. It’s a great learning experience for him and for all the guys. They’ve come through that, going toe to toe with a top side.
You would much rather win and wouldn’t be happy if you lost, but if you put the result to one side, you walk away thinking, ‘OK if we continue down this road, we can be a team that competes against the best.