Jeremie Aliadiere, Middlesbrough
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Jeremie Aliadiere tips winning start for Gunners, says he didn’t enjoy Invincible campaign and reveals biggest regret

| 04.08.2022

In the third part of Ladbrokes’ interview with Jeremie Aliadiere, the former Arsenal forward discusses Friday’s Premier League opener against Crystal Palace, the Invincible season and his regrets at leaving the club.

You can read the first part in which he discusses Gabriel Jesus and the second, where he talks about Matteo Guendouzi, by clicking on the links.

If Gunners want to achieve something special this season, it has to start on Friday night

It’s always so difficult to predict that opening game of the season, and just because a team has been flying in pre-season it  doesn’t necessarily mean that’s going to carry over into the first game. We saw last season how long it took for Arsenal to get going, despite the stature of some of those names on the team sheet. In those first few games, anything can happen.

But I expect Arsenal to win against Crystal Palace on Friday – even if we struggled last year against them, both home and away. It won’t be an easy game, but we’re in a much better place than we were this time last summer. We’ve progressed so much, we’ve had a great transfer window and an incredible pre-season. Confidence should be so high in that team right now, I can’t see Arsenal starting the game feeling shy or not confident.

I just pray we can come out of the traps early this season, because last year those three defeats in a row really affected the team, and you’re playing catch-up right away. It’s tough to mentally get back on track, so if there’s a real belief that something special is going to be achieved this season, it has to begin on Friday night.

Arsenal had become ‘too comfortable’ when I returned in 2011

I had the pleasure of being invited back to train with Arsenal to bring my fitness levels back up to speed in 2011, and I could definitely notice a difference at the club. I’m only talking about my own experiences, because I’ve been able to see how things were in those early years and how much they changed when those bigger players had all moved on.

Those older boys, Tony Adams, Martin Keown and so on, they taught all of us foreigners what it meant to play for Arsenal Football Club. They taught us the English way. We grew up with our way of thinking and playing but adapted it to suit their way. You put your body on the line and you die on the pitch for the club.

Martin Keown, Arsenal

It was crazy how those senior players trained compared to how they played on a weekend. In training it was all very calm, everyone would have a joke, and then game day came along, once you’re in that dressing room ready for kick-off, it’s a completely different mentality. They were soldiers.

When I returned in 2011, I just saw a completely different mentality. It felt almost that are Arsenal had become too comfortable. They still wanted to play nice football but it felt it was missing some of the passion and the fighting spirit that we had back in the day. It had gone in the space of four or five years, as all the older guys started to leave one after the other.

I don’t think it was just an Arsenal problem, though. I think it happened at every club. Football – and the Premier League – has gone very European, rather than the British way.

I didn’t enjoy the Invincible season

If I’m being honest with you, I can’t really say I enjoyed that Invincible season. When I think back to that time, I know I wanted to play more. I wanted more minutes on the pitch, I wish I had been more involved. I just wasn’t happy being on the bench all the time.

Listen, I understand why I was on the bench – when you’ve got Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry, Nwankwo Kanu and Sylvain Wiltord in front of you, it’s going to be very hard. But I always wanted to play, I was always disappointed being on the bench. For me, as much as it was a great achievement as a team, there was a part of me that was disappointed that I couldn’t participate more than I did. I felt like I was giving everything I could every single day in training to impress the boss, to show him that I was good enough to play.

Looking back at it now, in the position I’m in today, it was an amazing experience and I wish I’d have enjoyed it more, but I was young at the time and I didn’t enjoy the position I was in, though I’m incredibly proud to have a Premier League medal from the Invincible season for the 10 games I played in.

Fans live for football and their clubs in England, unlike France

Stepping up into that first team, especially with the calibre of players within the club, it was tough – of course. The French boys helped me settle a lot. I’ll always be grateful for Sylvain Wiltord in particular. He was a few years older than me but he was still pretty young in his head and I loved spending time with him. He helped me so much – for me, him and Patrick Vieira were like older brothers. Vieira was awesome with me, he just wanted to help me as much as he could.

I spent a lot of time with the younger English lads, Ashley Cole and Jermaine Pennant. Jermaine was closer to the first team than I was so I tried to spend as much time with him as possible because I knew he’d have my back as a fellow youngster in the team.

Tony Adams, Arsenal

It took me a bit of time to familiarise myself with the older English guys. Players like Martin Keown and Tony Adams, those guys are from a completely different culture, but I spent long enough in the academy learning about this culture before mixing with the first team, and that gave me a helping hand. I adopted the English mentality, the English humour, the English lifestyle.

Football has moved on a lot over the years, and I do think we miss that old school English mentality these days. It taught me about desire and what it meant to play for Arsenal Football Club. These days you don’t really get that, so I’m grateful I came through the academy when I did. I love the club and everything about it, and it’s because of those early days. I know what football means to the fans. They live for their club. You don’t get this in France – it’s nowhere near as deep as it is in England. Over here, you’re born supporting a football club, and I completely bought into that culture.

I regret leaving Arsenal and wish I’d known what a great position I was in at the time

I have two answers when I think about regrets from my time at Arsenal. It’s quite simple. The man I am today and the person I was at the time are completely different. At the time I was happy to leave. I was moving to a team who were offering me a starting place every single week in the Premier League. I had to force an exit as well, because Arsene Wenger didn’t want me to go.

I was supposed to leave in the January before but Robin van Persie picked up an injury. I was knocking on the door every single day, because I already knew Gareth Southgate wanted me at Middlesbrough. I was knocking on Arsene’s door every day, telling him I didn’t feel wanted and that he didn’t believe in me. Despite being at the club all those years, I felt no further up the pecking order than when I first joined. It felt I wasn’t moving forward.

Gareth Southgate, Middlesbrough

But I look back now and wonder whether I was working hard enough. Did I have the right mentality? Was I too impatient? I felt like I was owed something. You brought me to a club and you’re not playing me. Why? You’re supposed to believe in me. And maybe I wasn’t showing the boss enough to warrant getting a starting place. I never stopped to ask myself any of these questions at the time, it’s only in later years I’ve done so.

My answer today is that I regret leaving Arsenal. I wish I’d have stayed. All those times I was sat on the bench, I was getting frustrated and angry with Arsene Wenger and the club. I would sit there thinking ‘I can’t wait to leave and show you what I can do’. But I should have thought about things differently. I was at a top club and should have enjoyed myself. I should have played with a smile on my face every single day, because my time would have come. I’ve realised in my career that I’ve played my best football when I was smiling and having fun. I wish I’d have had that mentality when I was at Arsenal because I believe I’d have had a completely different career.

I wasn’t old enough or experienced enough to open my eyes and realise that being on the bench at Arsenal at the age I was, with the players I had around me and ahead of me, wasn’t a bad thing at all. I took it personally and felt like I wasn’t good enough, and that was the completely wrong mentality. So looking back now, because of all of those negative thoughts I was having, maybe I was not training as well as I thought I was, or as I could have been.

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Alex Apati

Alex has been with the Ladbrokes PR team since 2017 having previously worked for the news department. From sparring with Peter Fury to talking interviews on the Duke and Duchess' baby names, he's covered a range of sports and novelty events.

A frustrated West Brom fan who is no stranger to an oche, Alex is originally from Dudley, although he's worked hard to rid himself of the Black Country twang.